Sunday, 2 September 2012

Nearly Yehliu

I'm getting the feeling that our visits to the seaside in Taiwan may be jinxed.

When it's hot and humid the lure of the ocean is strong, but so far we've only managed two trips to the beach in our year here. Our first entailed a couple of calamities. We tried again for the second time last Tuesday, on the penultimate day of freedom before the new school year.

Or destination was Yehliu, a tourist site known for its unusual rock formations. As the weather wasn't really conducive to the typical seaside activities of paddling and building sandcastles, it being cloudy and windy, I thought that at least we'd have some interesting sight-seeing to do.

This would probably have been the case if we'd actually made it there. Unfortunately we encountered a number of obstacles on our journey.

The first was my son's stomach. The closest beaches to Taipei are all more than an hour away from us by public transport. We caught the 1815 bus at the City Hall Bus Station (it departs from Taipei Main Station every 15 - 20 minutes). Our trip went smoothly until we encountered the mountain roads that are an inevitable part of any bus journey out of the capital.

My son found that reading on a bus as it's executing sharp turns on mountain roads is likely to bring on motion sickness. We had to exit our transportation with haste, in the middle of I knew not where. I'd forgotten to bring my mobile phone, which is my usual reference when I don't know where I am or what I should be doing.

Eventually we found a town sign - Wanli. I consulted my guidebook. Aha! We were only a couple of miles or so from our destination. We decided to walk.

We followed the route the bus seemed to be taking and eventually it was apparent where the sea was located. After that it was easy even for me to navigate our way. Our next obstacle loomed, however.

But this was quite a pleasant one. It was the sea.

As I said earlier, it was a windy day. The sea was rough and the beach was deserted. The seascape was so appealing that we lingered a long time taking photos.

On the rocks were people investigating the many rockpools that lined the beach. It looked like a fascinating activity but as we arrived the people were being told to leave by beach officials. There was a typhoon threat that day and the tide was coming in.

We will return one day to investigate those rockpools ourselves, though.

Time was getting on. If we were going to see the rock formations on the headland we would have to hurry.

Another obstacle stood in our way, however.

I knew the Ocean World aquarium was at Yehliu and I knew it was considered an essential part of any visit, but, being quite curmudgeonly, I'd hoped to avoid it. I was more interested in the natural landscape.

But, after walking a little further, there it was on our direct route to the rock formations. And I had a nine-year-old boy with me. I don't think I need to say more.

So, we entered Ocean World in time to catch the last show of the day, and what an unusual show it was.

I can't say I'm very experienced with aquarium shows, but all the ones I've seen have displayed the tricks and talents of various sea creatures. Normally dolphins, sea lions, that kind of thing.

The show at Ocean World certainly had both of those species on show. The thing that surprised me was that humans, specifically, foreign humans, it appeared, (no doubt the Taiwanese are far too sensible to dive from 15 metre platforms) were also part of the entertainment. The majority of the show, in fact, was performed by some very talented people, doing diving, synchronised swimming and, to top it all, a slapstick comedy routine.

Here's a version of the show (a predecessor of the one we saw, I think):

So, that took up another hour or so. Plus, we had to then, of course,  look around the aquarium itself, which was quite interesting. The part I enjoyed most was having my hand cleaned by the little fish that exfoliate your feet these days in beauty salons. Very tickly. My son most liked the final exhibit where you have the opportunity to - very gently - pick up puffer fish and starfish in an open tank.

By now it was apparent even from inside the aquarium that the light was beginning to fail. Maybe just enough time to get some atmospheric shots of the famous rock formations?

The aquarium was closing. We were respectfully ejected. Into the rain.

The rain that had threatened all afternoon had finally arrived and was making up for lost time. Torrents were pouring from the heavens. Darkness was falling. We managed to get to the bus stop only partially drenched, and to shiver in the bus' air conditioning all the way back to Taipei.

Yehliu's rocks will have to wait for another day.

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