Monday, August 16, 2010

Start of Summer at Penghu

Okay, so technically, we're back and have started the first day of school. I'm not sure what happened to summer, and my good intentions to catch up with the blog, but here I go. We'll back up to the end of school and try to catch up, now that I'm busy again.

School ended on the 4th of June. We were sad to see some friends leave and head back to the states, but I guess it's par for the course in missions. So, after a few days of organizing my class and thinking about packing for home, we headed off to Penghu, a group of islands off the west coast of Taiwan. Lonely Planet pegs it as pretty desolate but it's really quite the opposite. I had visited it earlier in the year with a bunch of science teachers from around Taiwan and thought it was a very interesting place to check out in more detail. Of course, when it's your idea, you always hope the rest of the family will agree. Fortunately, the verdict was unanimously thumbs up.

The options for getting to Penghu are plane or ferry. Seeing as how the ferry is about half the price, we opted for that. One thing Penghu is known for is super high winds in the winter, making ferry travel nearly impossible. For that reason, summer is the best time to go. Unfortunately, someone forgot to inform the weather that it was actually summer on the day we traveled, because the water was super rough, causing almost everyone on board to sit with their heads between their knees puking. Fortunately the Wardle constitution is a little tougher than that and Makena and I spend most of the trip out on deck laughing and getting sprayed. Janice and Isaac did quite well too, but much further and they weren't far away from joining the baggie users. The ferry was well equipped though, with plastic bags (unfortunately clear) within reach of all seats (about 200 in all).

We had tracked down a bed and breakfast online and were pleasantly surprised to find that the couple that ran it, despite being Taiwanese, spoke excellent English, a result of doing graduate degrees in the States. The lady picked us up at the ferry and took us back to the B and B, which was located about 20 minutes from the only town of any size on Penghu. It place itself was located in a little fishing village next to a tiny harbour, still in daily use by fishermen. The owner is an avid windsurfer and it's the main reason they have it. During the winter, when many people head to the city to escape the winds, wind surfers and kite boarders from all over the world come to this place to sample some of the best wind surfing in the world.

That, however, was not our goal. Penghu is made up of 4 main islands, linked by bridges and then about 7o other surrounding islands, which you need to take a boat to access. Our plan was to rent scooters and explore the main islands. Penghu has spectacular geology, some very decent beaches, dozens of tiny fishing villages and quiet roads to ride along. It's about an hour from one end to the other.

We spent 4 days there, mostly bombing around on scooters, exploring. We didn't spend a ton of time in the "city," where all the restaurants are, but relied fairly heavily on good ole 7-11. If we haven't mentioned it before, 7-11 is not what you see in North America. First, there's the distinct smell of tea eggs (and other tofuesque, stinky snacks). Second, you can and do pay everything there from parking fees to phone bills, to automobile registration. Thirdly, and bestly, you can get quite decent food there, really cheap. Great salads, pasta (yes, they microwave it), rice wraps, and it's all quite cheap, so it's always a good option on an outing, or if you can't decide which mystery restaurant to eat at.

Among the best things we did at Penghu were:
a) visiting a temple which had a stunning coral grotto with huge sea turtles in the basement
b) hanging out at 2 stellar and virtually deserted beaches
c) eating not once but twice at a pizza parlour/surf shop that could be right out of California
d) getting a photo of Janice and I with a cute Greek looking village in the background (in case we never get there)
e) finding Einstein park (who'd 'a thought)
f) walking around Magong at night, and discovering the rainbow bridge.

Actually, the trip to the city bears mentioning in more detail. After a day of scootering all over the island, we hit the main town around supper time and found a really cool, Italian restaurant (recommended by our hosts). By the time we got out, though, it was getting dark and we weren't really sure how to get out of town. We decided to venture down to the water, as we were there anyway, and found it to be a really pretty town with a huge saltwater, natural pool where many locals come to swim, lots of cool shops, and the rainbow bridge, a walking bridge with spectacular lights at night. Getting out of town was rather interesting though. Janice doesn't like driving in town at the best of times, but on a scooter, with a passenger, in a strange town, not knowing where you're going, was a little stressful, and involved threats to kick cars that got in her way. Fortunately, the Lord sent an English speaking guy who gave us a guided escort out of town and on our way.

All in all, Penghu was one of the coolest places we've visited and we'd all like to go back someday, Lord willing.

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