Sunday, December 21, 2008

Day 10: Time Out in Taroko I

We said goodbye to TS Hotel and the helpful TS Hotel staff, took a taxi across town, and dropped some of our luggage and shopping off at Tango Xinyi, the hotel we would be checking into when we returned from Taroko National Park.

Then we took the subway back to Taipei Main Station, from where we caught the train to Hualien, the city nearest to Taroko.

for SGD $40 two-way, an excellent ride

Hualien train station

Down the East Coast we went, arriving two and a half hours later and emerging to find our ride to our hotel waiting for us. It was Jonathan, the manager of Leader Village Taroko and the man whom I had been corresponding with. We had a couple of minutes to look around, while Jonathan located the other guests he had to pick up.

near an air force base probably

there - the mountains of Taroko

we didn't need a taxi

And then we were off.

the hotel logo

In the van, Jonathan announced that the ride to Bulowan, where the hotel was located, would take 45 minutes to an hour. Bulowan was a terrace above the gorge, which meant that we would be right smack amongst the mountains. That was one of the reasons why we had chosen to stay at Leader Village Taroko. The other was the fact that the hotel was staffed by aboriginal people which we thought would certainly add local flavour to our stay.

As Jonathan explained, he was the only member of staff who was Han Chinese. In his own words, he was the only one with small eyes. He was also the only one not from the area. Everyone else had roots in the Taroko area and lived in Hualien county.

we stopped at a 7-11 in Hualien, last one before leaving "civilisation"

At the hotel, we claimed our room.

Cabin A26, on the left

comfortable mattresses, with inbuilt heating coils, yay!

hey a TV, with only local channels and somewhat fuzzy reception, but a TV nonetheless

good enough

most importantly a hot shower

The room seemed comfortable enough and the setting was as spectacular as we hoped it would be.

set in a "bowl"

Before we set off exploring, a late lunch was in order.

the view from the restaurant area

mashed potatoes, boiled fern tips and pickled chilli - the equivalent of the ubiquitous saucer of peanuts served in Singapore's Chinese restaurants

This added an aboriginal touch to an otherwise typical Chinese meal.

noodles with picked vegetables and pork

noodles with vegetables

After lunch, we pottered around. The hotel was amply adorned with evidence of the aboriginal talent for wood carving.

Outside, we were reminded of the hotel's very lovely location.

look at that

there used to be an aboriginal village here

This wasn't going to be a sterile hotel stay, that was for sure. This was the great outdoors.


friendly hotel doggie

Still, civilisation has a way of creeping up.

Christmas decorations!

We wandered along the hotel's very own Bamboo Trail (really a very short path just behind the cabins) and then down to the Meander Core, located on the lower terrace of Bulowan, for a quick lookaround.

road leading to Leader Village Taroko

a taste of what was to come

plumbeous water redstart

more birds to expect

nature at its prettiest

This being our first day in the area, we didn't dare wander too far. We returned to our cabin and spent some time out on our porch, just enjoying the peace and quiet.


And then it was dinnertime.

the dining area

Dinner was a set menu imaginatively named "Wild Boar Meets Eiffel Tower". No prizes for guessing which cuisines were involved.


millet wine

grilled wild boar, poached chicken, soup, glutinous rice and more

chocolate cake and passion fruit

We thoroughly enjoyed the wild boar and, oddly enough, I couldn't get enough of the mashed potato!

After dinner, Jonathan announced to the guests that there would be a cultural performance and a night walk. We imagined one of these song and dance acts put together especially for tourists, with the performers bussed in from some big hotel, merely going through the motions. We contemplated retiring for the night, except that the night walk sounded interesting. And then Jonathan explained that the performers were going to be the staff members themselves. Even the dishwashing lady (Xi Wan A Yi) would be performing if she could finish her duties on time. All the staff at the hotel already doubled up as receptionists, drivers and so on, but performing allowed them to showcase and preserve their cultural traditions. The only thing was, this was the low season, which meant that not many staff members were on site, hence it would be a “small” performance, he apologized. No problem, Jonathan, bigger isn't always better!

And so it was that we found ourselves seated on chairs in a semi-circle in the middle of the reception area. There were no more than 10 of us that evening. Our host was this personable young man who had helped us with various enquiries earlier. The evening’s proceedings began with a short introduction to the area’s tribal history and the proud announcement that the people of Taroko Gorge had just been officially recognized by the Taiwanese government as the Truku, separate and distinct from the Atayal with whom they shared some similarities in culture.

After teaching the audience some Truku greetings, he and another staff member proceeded to showcase their music and musical instruments.

playing the equivalent of a jew's harp

a bamboo xylophone

singing a tribal song

It was a small intimate performance that was both entertaining, not least because of our host's self-deprecating humour, and warm. Xi Wan A Yi though did not make an appearance till right at the end, when the entire staff plus Jonathan and the owner of the hotel gathered to sing us a song.

the owner right in front

He had a story to tell too. He explained how the hotel was part of his mission to help the aboriginal tribespeople of the region. Since the colonial onslaught had driven the tribe out of Taroko, he saw the establishment of a hotel on the site of a former tribal village as a means to bring the people of Taroko back to their land. As a business venture, the hotel had foundered at first. With the current partner, the Leader Village hotel chain, the hotel was surviving.

With that, we were told to reassemble in ten minutes for the night walk. We took the opportunity to ensure that we were nicely suited up; temperatures were indeed falling. Armed with powerful torches, Jonathan and our host took us on the Bamboo Trail and round the grounds of the hotel. We didn't see very much that night...

just a toad

and a spider or two

But with the staff sharing about the trees and plants in the garden and the cold night air, it was an adventure nonetheless for us city folk, albeit a very small scale one.

Just when we thought the night was over, we discovered that the reception area had been set up with traditional tribal toys, for us to play with.

hoops - creative use of liquor bottles

"fishing" - carved wooden shapes

this got tougher and tougher, the shape of the bottles, we think, being critical

six-legged race!

After numerous tries, we had to admit defeat. We would have failed miserably at tribal life, so we thought it best to retire quietly.

Back in our cabin, we realised that we had made a silly mistake. We had left the windows of the room open, to let in the fresh mountain air, and now the room was freezing. A good night's sleep would only be possible after a hot shower and with heated mattresses. Thank goodness we had both!

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