5 July 2015
We took the shuttle boat around Sun Moon Lake - and of course the boat was named Sun Moon Star. How appropriate!
The plan is pretty simple - you pay for a boat pass. (We were given the senior discount, and because we're staying in town and mentioned the name of our hotel we received another discount. Probably just a marketing ploy, but we're always happy to get a discount.)
The boat pass is good for a day. There's a set route, with three stops - the pier in our town, Shuishe Pier; the pier by the big temple, Long Feng Temple; and then the pier at the other town, Ita Thao. Back to Shuishe Pier - that's it. People can get off at any of those stops, stay as long as they want, or just ride in a big circle all day long. First boat leaves Shuishe at 9 AM, and the last boat is 5-something PM.
Most of the people on our boat got off at the temple, it seems to be a major place to visit. There's a huge statue of Quan Yen (also known as Guanyin), the figure often called Lady Buddha. She's a Bodhisattva (something like a saint or goddess, depending on one's belief system), and known for being the deity of compassion, mercy, and loving kindness. As a Bodhisattva, an Enlightened One, Quan Yen could ascend to Nirvana; however, she vowed to stay in the earthly realm and not enter the heavenly works until all other living creatures have completed their own path to enlightenment; until everyone and everything can be liberated from the earthly and painful cycle of birth, death, and re-birth. Compassionate and merciful indeed!
I took my photos, and the boat emptied out except for us and the crew. We set off for the next stop, the town of Ita Thao - but some of the crew came over to chat with us, ask us where we're from, are we enjoying Taiwan, the usual questions. Taiwanese people are extremely friendly and think our travels are wonderful, and are very interested in the fact that we're doing this. And talking with people, exchanging ideas and finding out about their lives and their culture, is why we're travelling. So we always enjoy these conversations, and are happy to talk with people.
Plus it was a gorgeous day, the perfect day to be out exploring the lake - warm and sunny, with a breeze to keep things from getting too hot. Beautiful views in every direction, with the water flat and calm and ranging from turquoise to deep blue. The mountains towered above, bright green foliage fading into grey blue green in the distance. Blue sky, white clouds, and the occasional huge white heron or white egret sailing overhead. One of those picture perfect days when everyone needs to be outside enjoying the world and its beauty.
As on our side of the lake, the sun and moon are common design themes for signs, markers, even light posts. With a name like Sun Moon Lake, it seems expected, even de rigueur.
We walked around Ita Thao, an interesting village. The souvenirs tended to be fabric items from the nearby indigenous-peoples village (reached by hanging gondolas stretched across several hills, no way were we doing that!) - woven clothing, beaded head coverings, beautiful bags with metal ornaments. Very tempting, but we're keeping our purchases to a minimum, so we didn't buy anything.
We found a coffee store where they gave tastes of various coffees. I enjoyed the coffee with milk, as well as the milk tea; Richard wanted to try the black coffee, so they brewed a cup just for him. We looked at a number of items, and asked why the whole beans were so pricy, while the ground coffee was more affordable. Our friendly sales guy explained that the beans were Luwak coffee - the civet coffee we tried in Bali. Civets are very cute animals, something like a mongoose or weasel, but a little more like cats. Anyway, the laws in Taiwan protect the civets: no one can keep them in cages, they have to be free to roam the forests. So the coffee growers outfit the civets with little GPS units so they can track the little animals; after the civets come and eat the coffee beans, the coffee people track the trails the civets take through the forests, and follow the route, picking up the civet poop. And then they pick out the undigested coffee bean, clean it, sterilize it, all that stuff, to make it okay to roast and make into coffee. Kind of gross, the process - but we loved the thought of civets with GPS trackers, and the farmers following them around the forest! And so much nicer for the little animals than being cooped up in cages!!! Free range civet coffee!
We watched a large group of high school students who were visiting the area - we're not sure where they were from, but the towns were too small to have that many students. The kids were in groups with different colored shirts to identify the teams, and they were called into their groups and started different cheers, one for each group. It was pretty funny, though we had no idea what was going on.
Eventually we headed back to our town, though I'd have been happy to go another round of the lake on the boat, it was just that pretty!
On Saturday, we headed back to Taipei for our last week in Taiwan. Instead of going back to Ershui, we took a bus to the major town of Taichung and caught the high speed train; we travelled about 170 km (roughly 105 miles) in just under an hour. It was very comfortable, especially after the bus - the bus wasn't bad, but there certainly is more leg room on the trains. (I do like the curtains with valences on the buses, especially with the little fringe!)
We travelled through mountains, then the foothills, until we hit the coastal plains again. Taichung is a big city, but even with highrise buildings in the distance, the people living in the outskirts of the city have rice fields covering nearly every inch of free land. We've seen this over and over again. No idea if these are community rice fields, or owned by the neighborhood, or if each person buys a plot of land and grows their own rice. And rice paddies aren't what we think of as part of the urban environment. But this is just one of those things that seems typically Taiwanese, that casual mix of traditional Chinese and modern westernized culture.
We have a few places we want to visit in our last week, which is why we returned to Taipei. The hot springs and waterfalls are just a short metro trip away. So is the cat village. Things like that.
I'm sure there will be enough to do and photograph before the week is out - so look for another blog or two!