I told my editor on Monday of this past week that I wanted to write a travel article about Tahsi, a sleepy seaside hamlet on the Ilan County coast. "That's cheeky," he told me and he's right. It's cheeky because, far from being a mere travel destination, I've actually been living here much of the week for the past two months -- and because even referring to the place as a "travel destination" strains credibility.
There are no hotels here and the handful of restaurants in town are closed by 8pm. Nothing happens in Tahsi. It is instead all that the town doesn't have that makes it worth writing about, and worth a visit.
Perhaps saying it's not a travel destination is unfair. Most every weekend between May and September beach bums -- those for whom summer just isn't summer without a bonfire on a beach -- file out of the train station with backpacks and surfboards,
This paper has written in the past about Honeymoon Bay (密
Rather than the popular stretch of sand, it's the rest of the town that is a desert and that's how most of the locals prefer it. "Everyone comes here for the beach," my neighbor, Ms. Yang told me while weeding her onions. "It's fine with me; they get off the train and walk the other way."
Besides the beach
The ocean may be Tahsi's main attraction, but a walk or bicycle ride outside of town will reveal several small wonders worth exploring. Pack a lunch and pick a direction.
Peiguan Oceanside Park (北關海濱公園)
Spend 20 minutes riding south of Tahsi on bicycle and you'll come across Peiguan Park. The signs lead you to a giant parking lot abutting a rocky beach. Ignore those signs and continue immediately past the park to a huge rock formation jutting from the coastline. Stone pathways lead you to the peak of the outcropping, down to the water many stories below and even through the boulders to a couple of temples built inside caves. Don't have a bicycle? Buy a local kid a Coke and you can likely have his bike for the afternoon.
Eagle Stone Peak (鷹石尖)
The range of peaks behind the town resembles an eagle with outstretched wings. The most prominent peak is the bird's head, forever peering over the town. Locals call it "old eagle" (老鷹). It can be accessed by either a strenuous walk, tortuous bicycle ride or easy scooter run. From the highway, take the road half a kilometer north of the train station up the mountain for about 2km (there is only one road going up this part of the mountain). The hiking entrance to the peak is about 100m past the temple. It's a 15-minute walk from the road to the top and worth every gasp for a bird's-eye view of the eastern edge of the map.
Tahsi Riverside Park (大溪河濱公園)
If you can't get a bike or scooter, it's a shorter walk to Tahsi Riverside Park. There isn't much to do at the park, but a 9km trail heads out from there to Tali and on to Fulung and Shuanghsi. A far more interesting trail is found along the big creek for which Tahsi gets its name. Follow the same road you take to go to Eagle Stone Peak but take a right 200m past the Tahsi water reservoir tanks. A paved lane follows the stream for about 1km before turning to dirt. From here, hop stones upstream to any number of swimming holes -- a few even have high rocks from which to jump.
Tahsi Fish Harbor (大溪漁港)
North of the beach at the end of the tide wall is the only bustling part of town, the harbor. Boats start rolling in early in the afternoon to spread their catch on the auction floor. Most everything sold by the vendors who line the road can then be tasted on the spot or brought home for grilling. The shrimp cakes are highly recommended, but don't be fooled; the shrimp is farmed not caught, the closest it's been to the sea is the boat in which it came to the fish market.
She said that most of the town's residents, like herself, are retirees who prefer the sound of waves to waves of tourists and don't frequent the beach because they don't have anything planted there.
There are others, though, who depend on the weekend wave of tourists for their income. In addition to the handful of restaurants, three surf shops line the highway through town and a few mom-and-pop shops wait patiently for customers. They would like nothing more than to see a hotel built on the beach.
"I only ever see locals during the winter," said Ms. Hsieh, who owns a nameless convenience store -- perhaps the only parcel of land in town without a garden. "I make most of my money on summer weekends."
But for most of the town's elderly residents, the tourists and beach hardly exist. Mr. Huang is one of them. Far from retired, he wakes up at dawn each day, doffs his straw hat and pushes his wheelbarrow in pursuit of anything worth recycling; cardboard boxes, odd pieces of lumber and cans left by the weekend beachcombers. At night he wades into the surf with a basket and a metal-tipped pole attached to a car battery to look for anything edible.
He's the man who introduced me to sea snails, a variety he says can only be found in Tahsi. He said so at least five times. Whether or not they actually are only found along Tahsi's coastline I couldn't tell you, but I believe him, as do all my neighbors. A wet man with an electric spear is an undeniable authority on seafood. He gave us a couple dozen which my neighbor quickly fried in soy sauce with garlic. Such is the camaraderie between neighbors in Tahsi. When my roommate discovered several bags of what looked like rotted sponge in our storage shed, our neighbor told us it was a valuable type of seaweed. Then he took it away and used it to line the bed of his garden.