Taking tea in the hills
We took a longer metro trip out to the edges of Taipei in the morning. Again it hit us just how clean and tidy everything is, just like in Japan there’s no litter, just none, and everything is constantly kept shiny and clean. Even the garbage trucks are immaculate and tour the city streets playing music like an ice-cream truck to tell people to come down and deposit their rubbish.
Our destination amongst all this cleanliness was the Maokong gondola – a long cable car that runs up Maokong Mountain from near the Zoo. The cable car is unusual in that it isn’t a single straight run – it goes up a hill, then turns ninety-degrees to the right and runs on for several kilometres following a ridge-line to reach Maokong. We had joined the long queue to get one of the special gondolas with a glass floor and were not disappointed as we watched the jungle flow by beneath our feet.
It became noticeably cooler as we edged further upwards past temples and over little farms and tea plantations. This area is known for its tea and, apart from a view and lovely walks, tea houses are the major attraction. So when we got to the top we duly sampled the local teas; and Declan went as far as a tea ice-cream, complete with the local cat mascot climbing up it (Maokong means something like cat mountain).
After tea we climbed a lovely path through the trees past the tea fields, seeing people harvesting tea on the way. We had something of a debate about whether we were walking through jungle or forest, but either way it was deep, lush, damp, and green. Lovely flowers and mushrooms nestled amongst the trees and made for a beautiful walk – albeit that, once again, we’d chosen the way of a thousand steps.
We had fish balls from a local street vendor when we got back down to the bottom of the steps, and then retraced our steps via the gondola. We’d been on the gondola for a few minutes when we realised we’d picked up an extra passenger. There, inching along the glass floor of our gondola was a lovely leech. After some ethical qualms we decided that the leech hadn’t paid and had to be ejected.
Chang Kai Shek lead the nationals to Taiwan after Mao won the civil war in China. He is revered locally and his memorial is a mammoth complex in the West of the city. We headed there in the evening to watch the lights come on on the buildings and arrived just in time to see the flag-lowering ceremony – which involved much the same banging, crashing and silly marching that we saw at the changing of the guard a couple of days ago.
The complex is one of those places it’s nigh-on impossible to get a real sense of from a photo, it’s just enormous. We passed a lovely hour or so watching the sun go down, the lights come on, and competing for who could find the best photo spot.
A bit of clever planning meant we only had to walk about a kilometre to what is reputedly the best pizza in Taiwan. Having nothing to compare it to locally I can only say it was very fine.