& 8 of us went to Penghu. (Penghu, the second time)

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My roommate Sharon and I traveled to one of the best places on the planet last summer: Penghu. I had gotten it into my head to go and found a few other friends ready to commit, so we planned the trip and went. It was great. So great, in fact, that Sharon and I fell in love and knew that we needed to return for a second trip that ended up being even better than the first. Our first time was good, but the second time was AWESOME. 

Here is our story. 

On scooters

Day 1 (Thursday): 


We all found each other at the MRT station EARLY Thursday morning, August 30, 2012. The MRT (Taipei Subway system) took us to the Songshan Airport, where we boarded our 7:40am flight for Magong City. This was the beginning of our 3-day end-of-summer vacation in Penghu, a small group of islands off the west coast of Taiwan. The 8 of us all had expectations of beaches, time in the sun, swimming in the ocean, and being shades darker upon our return. 

The 45-minute flight to the Magong Airport was over soon after it started. The anticipated phone call to the hostel we were staying at was made, and we made ourselves comfortable on the chairs near exit #6 of the airport. Moments later, the Bayhouse Hostel van pulled up, all of our bags and bodies were piled in, and we were on our way to the quite possibly the greatest 3 days of our lives.

Bayhouse Hostel

The hostel staff proved to be a super friendly bunch – everything from their service and travel advice was incredibly helpful. We put together a rough game plan, rented scooters and were off. (We strategically created 4 pairs: the scooter with legs – Wes & Simon, the girl scooter – Sharon & Sarah, the chill scooter – Amy & Stephen, and then the Moving Commentary – Me & Michael.) First stop: THE BEACH.


The Moving Commentary

After the first beach stop, we scooted over to the lighthouse, a little historical and white outfit set up near the Penghu Military Base on the edge of a cactus-covered cliff overlooking the ocean. After some dutiful tourist-like exploration, we 
made a snack stop at a 7-11 in a little harbor town. The view from the 7 was fantastic: boats and locals. Once our bodies were replenished with nutrients and re-lathered in sunscreen, we went off the main road and discovered an abandoned fort, an intriguing cement structure that ended up offering us way more recreation than one might expect. 


By the time we were through taking pictures and playing tag and listening to our echoes at the fort, our bodies soaked with a new layer of sweat, we were ready for a beach in the worst way possible. 

The “stupid” mountain. Beautiful, huh?

However, we needed to climb “that stupid mountain of falling clay and rock-like substance and turrets of nettle” first (description credit goes to Simon). So in the hot Penghu sun, we blazed a trail up a slope that was not meant to be scaled. By the time we returned from our slightly unfruitful hike, we were ready to sprint across a field of golden sand and plunge our hot bodies into the ocean. This is exactly what we did at Dream Beach, only to be attacked by an onslaught of jellyfish. 


The attack was a bit disconcerting, especially since it immediately followed our mad and happy rush into the water. People were barely knee deep by the time the flock of jellyfish began to strike. However, we wouldn’t be thwarted. With our feet covered with jellyfish stings, we played frisbee on the beach to forget about the pain and screams we had just experienced. 

We decided to return to the beach of perfection and beauty that we visited earlier that day, our bodies finally finding refreshment in the crystal clear water illuminated by the rays of the setting sun and rising moon. Satisfied, we drove into Magong City and found dinner and at an oh-too-familiar place: the same dumpling restaurant that we go to in our own neighborhood all the time. Inside the familiar walls with the familiar food, I even ran into a familiar face: a dragon-boat teammate who had just moved to Penghu to teach English for a year. 

We ended our first day at the Rainbow bridge, a little park accented with an arched walkway along a pier-like structure that lit up and glowed with the colors of the rainbow at night. 

Rainbow Bridge



Day 2 (Friday): 

We were off by 8 o’clock in the morning, all of us having grabbed breakfast supplies the night before at 7-11, since the plan was to take a boat to the island of Jibei. We had a somewhat of a time getting to the North Sea Visitor Center, but all that extra time on the road ended up affording us absolutely no wait time once we arrived. I ran in and secured our pre-ordered tickets while the others were parking the scooters, and within seconds we were boarding the boat. (We chose 1:30 that afternoon for the time of the returning ferry. More of what came of that later.)

On the boat to Jibei

 Fifteen minutes later, we reached the glorious, quaint and little island of Jibei, a fisher’s town that boasted of old streets, temples, docks, boats, beaches and CACTUS. The end of this island is characterized by a sandbar that stretches on and on into the blue of the sky and the sea. We ventured out to the end of it and enjoyed some beach time. Then we scooted through town to the other side of the island and found a surprising swimming adventure at another beach: HIKING IN THE OCEAN. 


Quite a bit of the Penghu coast has been decorated with rock designs that can be viewed from bird’s eye view. When the tide is low, these rocks jut out of the sea. When under the water, however, one can find himself, just like Michael did, “hiking in the ocean.” 

After we pulled ourselves out of the water AGAIN, Sharon discovered her scooter key was missing. While waiting for the friendly scooter man to bring a new key, we reapplied sunscreen and tanned safely. By the time we were on the road again, it was nearing 1:30. We went into town, parked the scooters, and walked into a local seafood restaurant. We accepted the wonderful boss woman’s recommendation, and as we waited for the dishes to be served, Wes called the boat company and discovered that, contrary to the previous discovery made from the first phone call, we could take the 3 o’clock boat back instead, giving us the PERFECT amount of extra time to eat a GLORIOUS feast, explore the town, and eat CACTUS. 

The feast

Our food was served, and we enjoyed an incredible family-style meal of fish and tofu and vegetables. We used our body’s fresh energy to walk around town and visit the two local souvenir shops that were there. After purchasing postcards, flip-flops (Stephen got the flip-flops) and other souvenir/beach-like items, we settled down on the balcony of a little shop that sold treats such as CACTUS juice, CACTUS ice cream, CACTUS smoothies, and CACTUS shaved ice. We had a wonderful time consuming cactus, a local treat that Penghu is known for. 

Cactus ice cream

By the time 3 o’clock rolled around, we were more than ready to get back on the ferry and return to the main island. Once back on the mainland, we explored the Whale Cave, where climbed over rocks and enjoyed the view. After sitting on a cement wall and staring at the ocean together for a few minutes, we decided to go look at the Basalt Columns, a pretty cool looking wall. That’s pretty much all it is. As we were making our way back from that, we drove by the ancient residences. The sun was beginning to set. 


We made our way back into Magong City where we found the sashimi restaurant we were originally hoping to eat dinner at was not what we expected. This abrupt discovery led us to Japanese restaurant that was already brimming with customers, a circumstance that then led us to Go Go In, a mini hotpot restaurant. 

We found ourselves our so satisfied with the meal, the conversation, and the community that it was even decided that there was going to be a private reading done of “re-discovery” (a blog post I wrote one time) at the hostel later that night by Yours Truly. 

We were all soon asleep in our oh-so-comfortable hostel bunk beds. 



Swimming

Day 3 (Saturday):


The morning of our last day was spent at ShanShui Beach, the beach location of our hostel. We were out the door by 8 o’clock, picking up breakfast at 7-11, and then on the beach and in the water for the next few hours. There was a mountain to climb and waves to bob our bodies. Michael went out to see on a little snorkeling adventure. Amy made friends with a dog. A group of university students who were there for their graduation trip asked us to help them take pictures. Michael took Sharon out on a little snorkeling adventure while the rest of us watched from the beach, soaking in way too many rays. IT WAS WONDERFUL.


Soaking in the rays


Our souls happy and skin kissed by the sun, we went into a local restaurant for lunch/post beach meal, followed by a stop at Pure Tea, where we all found our own individual form of refreshment. 


Then we were on our way to a place where you could walk across dry land to another island when the tide was low. We found ourselves walking over ecosystems of tidal pools and sea life, climbing up and over towers of rock, and, finally, immersed in a low-tide-ocean-paradise. Here, we stumbled across more crystal clear water, stunning rock formations, crabs, sea cucumbers, a CAMOUFLAGE OCTOPUS…we were basically scuba diving without getting our faces wet. Over-water scuba-diving. Only in Penghu. 

The octopus
Sea cucumber
Hunting for things

Overly satisfied with an already overly-magnificent day, we found ourselves wandering back and then watching the sunset from the surrounding area: a temple, a garden, another waterfront. Once we got back on our scooters, our final destination for the night was Aimen Beach, where a 15-minute fireworks display was starting at 9:15. On our way there, we stopped in Magong City one last time, picking up grub to eat on the beach and stocking up on the famous Penghu treats: brown sugar cake, cactus mochi, and cactus juice concentrate. 


Settled in on the sands of Aimen Beach, we were not prepared for the colorful display that filled the sky with light our eyes with happiness. Sparkling explosions followed by stars that darted about in sporadic directions. Curtains of light that fell upon the water’s surface with the grace of a waterfall. Fountains springing up, accented by excited swirls of magic. There were no words for how satisfying the grand finale was.

Fireworks


After it was all over, the moon filled the sky with a halo of red, his light raining down peace and contentment. 


We all laid down to sleep that night after showers that may have washed sea and sand from our bodies, but had no power to wash us from what we had experienced in Penghu. 





Day 4 (Sunday):

We ended up leaving the paradise of Penghu a little earlier than we expected to. The airline had called to notify us that the 10 o’clock flight had been cancelled, so we would need to fly out at 8:15 instead. Some of the group pulled themselves out of bed before sunrise to watch the sun rise on the beach and then go for one more morning dip in the ocean. The rest of us enjoyed the comfortable hostel beds as long as possible. 

Sunrise






Leaving













Soon, our bags were packed, scooters were returned, keys were handed in, and we were back in that same Bayhouse Hostel van that had picked us up only a few days earlier. We were different people then. Now, sitting in the airport lobby, waiting for the boarding call of Trans Asia Airways flight 5022 bound for Taipei, our faces shades darker and hearts mile higher, we faced the inevitable return to the real world as “Penghuligans” – together (coining of the word Penghuligans credited to Michael). 



The Penghuligans posing on top of the abandoned fort


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