In this report I want to tell you about one of the most exciting weekends that I had in my Taiwan experience. The last weekend of November I travelled to Kenting National Park located in the southern part of Taiwan in Pingtung county. The trip was hosted by a tour company from Hengchun. Overall we spent there two days and participated in many different activities. Our trip was well-organized, highly informative and very enjoyable. I am thankful to my friends who invited me to share this time with me and to organizers to provide us a high level of hospitality.
Here I want to share some details of our Kenting experience.
Since I and my friends are located in Tainan, we had to deal with transportation issues to the very south of the island. We took a train to Kaohsiung (around 30 minutes) and from there the host company offered us a car to go straight to Kenting. The road took us a little bit more than two hours and it passed really fast while we were chatting with my friends and enjoying a nice view of the south coast of Taiwan from the window.
The first stop in Hengchun is the host company’s office - Leshan Eco Con. There they sell many kinds of souvenirs, local food and products. The company’s office looked very nice with a lot of interesting decorations. After looking around we head our way to the first activity of our journey – the hiking trail.
At the meeting point we were told that the trail we are going to follow has its roots back in a day when Taiwan was a part of Japan. This time (about 60 years ago) life was not the same, roads and infrastructure were not that developed. Because of that reason children from Pingtung county had to take this hiking trail to go to school. They also used to hunt animals along the way. My experience help me to know more about history of this place. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize where modern Taiwan came from and how this place looked like many years ago.
After a short briefing we started our hiking. We were accompanied by the guide, mr. Chang. He had much better outfit for a long walk in the woods than we did, that is why he was leading all the way. He showed us some spots on the trail you would never notice if you do not live there. For example trace of wild pigs which live in the woods there. Also, he showed us some toys that kids who used to use this trail before made. Precisely, a bamboo stick to shoot a small bullet – all of us were allowed to try it ourselves. Except toys he also showed how people used to hunt animals and birds before. He introduced a trap for small animals and that you can set somewhere in the woods – there is a whole science of setting a trap properly which we as people from cities could not imagine. Apart of that he showed how to make another kind of trap for birds. This was especially interesting because he told us that kids used to set this trap on their way to school to check it after.
Overall, according to milestone signs along the way, the hiking trail was not even more than two kilometers. However, it took us some time to finish it. But it was not that tiresome and sometimes we were accompanied by a light shower rain which was refreshing and enjoyable. The trail had some scenic spots with a nice view so we took a lot of pictures. We managed to arrive to the end of the trail in the afternoon. The car was there to meet us and to take us to a township nearby.
There, in a small township in the mountains we had our lunch. It was an extremely local place kept by friendly and nice people. They grow some kind of a plant there called Yu-lai-gu, which in direct translation means mushroom that comes with a rain. Although it is not really a mushroom but more a lichen-like plant that they grow on stones there. The plant reminded me of seaweed. The owner showed us a small farm where they installed a setting for this plant and they grow it to sell or to cook for themselves.
We were curious to try it and the owner cooked some of this plant with garlic, onion and some spices. Also we had a portion of dumplings (although nothing special was about those dumplings, we thought it was the most delicious dumplings we ever tried after such a long way).
After the lunch we went to have the second activity in our schedule – tea plantation. We arrived to a small community in the mountains and from there our guide – a local woman who is a part of this community followed us to the mountainside. We were told some information about tea growing process and a short history of this place. After that we were instructed how to pick tea leaves and we had a chance to do it. This was a first time in my life picking tea leaves and before I knew little about this process. But for me also it was exciting to know what are the next steps. So our guide explained us how they dry tea leaves after picking them, how they do fermentation and answered all of my curious questions about details of the process.
We picked some leaves from the bushes and I was curious to try to boil them without any fermentation – I have never picked tea leaves before, so of course I was interested in how they actually do everything. So after we came back from the plantation to community we had a chance to do it. Our guide served two kinds of tea for us – with leaves that we have just picked and with properly prepared tea leaves. The first one barely had any taste and reminded me of some herbal tea I tried before. Whereas the other one was full of flavors and fresh.
We also had some red bean cakes made of tea leaves.
Our guide also explained us some details about how they serve tea and shared some stories of their lives there. It was a really interesting experience to see how do people leave in those small communities and township in Taiwanese countryside.
When we finished our tea journey we came to our hotel. The host company provided us a really nice accommodation with big rooms and a good breakfast. We took some time resting before going out.
After this, our driver took us to Kenting street – the main street with a lot of small restaurants and tourists spot. We finished our day in one of the local restaurants and later went to a small reggae bar close to the beach. It was a chill and relaxing night with my friends. The weather in Kenting was very nice, which was even more enjoyable considering it was the last weekend of November.
Next morning we began pretty early. We had our breakfast at around 8am and we left our hotel to have the next activity. This one was also a new thing for me. I have never tried canoe before and there we were supposed to do a canoe trip around a small bay and also go to the sea. The canoe activity center is located near Marine museum and it is also a beach side of Kenting. We had a guide who work as an instructor in this center. We were so excited to start this activity, but the instructor insists that first we should learn some safety instructions and basic rules of canoeing. The safety and organization was for sure a strength of this trip. We had lifejackets and instructors checked the proper adjustment of this and other things.
So first after our briefing we tried out our skills in a small part of the bay right next to the canoe activity center. We learned basic moves and how to go forward, backward and how to turn. After that we were ready to go into the bay. There we had some time taking photos and having fun, we crossed the bay and landed on the beach on the opposite side to take a short rest and to learn what to do if you flipped your boat. Our instructor showed us some basics how to flip your boat back and how to get on it if you are in the water. It is way harder to do if it is a boat for two and unfortunately I had a partner who flipped our boat four or five times, so I spent a lot of time in water.
After that we decided that we are ready to go into the sea, so our group started to move out of the bay. Me and my partner had some troubles with doing everything simultaneously which is essential if you do canoeing together so at first we could not go straight. It was kind of upsetting to see our group is far ahead of us. However we somehow managed to reach their level soon (mostly because they stopped to wait for us and take a rest, but nevermind). On our way back we reached some sort of cooperation and our journey back to canoe center was much more pleasant and effective. Luckily we did not flip our boat that time so we did not stuck there trying to get back on it.
After the sea it was so enjoyable to take a hot shower. Also we were so tired rowing the whole morning, so we were craving for lunch.
Our lunch was provided by the local community. It was pick-and-choose kind of a lunch, so we had a great variety of options – vegetables, meat, fish soup – everything was cooked in a local way and everything was extremely delicious. After our tiresome canoe trip we all agreed that this food was the best so far (I’m sorry dumplings from the previous day).
After the lunch in the same community we were introduced to the last point in our schedule – making tofu. In Kenting they have their own special way to make tofu from soy milk. Because Kenting is a sea region of Taiwan, everything in their lives somehow related to the sea. Even such an ordinary product like tofu they make with using sea salt.
We had some short presentation about tofu in this region – how they make it and a brief history. Then, we had a chance to help local people to mix ingredients together and to put tofu in a special press. While we were waiting for the process to be finished, locals gave us some soy milk with douhua – sort of a soy milk pudding. We also received some souvenirs with sea salt.
When tofu was ready, we all had a chance to try it – fresh and flavorful.
It was also a new kind of experience for me, regarding that before I came to Taiwan I knew nothing about tofu. In my country soy milk does not play a big role in people’s lives, so people are not aware even what exactly tofu is. Something from Asia – that’s where our knowledge ends.
Before leaving Kenting, we did one more thing. In Kenting National Park they have a lot of land crabs, they live nearby the ocean. Sometimes land crabs leave their shells (for the purpose which is unclear for human beings) and tourists they pick those shells and take them home. So me and my friends we collected some of those shells to give it back to land crabs. On those shells we left our names written and each of us left a short message for people to know that those shells should not be taken away because it is someone else’s home.
On our way back to Tainan we were sleeping, tired but happy.