Raining and Pouring on Catba Island

< travels >

August 7, 8-9pm, same hotel, Catba Island.

In a pretty damn good mood. I only have an hour more of electric light to write by. The island has only three hour's total each day. Not enough coal? The lights just flickered on and off. Thought I'd run out of time and wasn't going to be able to write.

The day's start was less than promising. I set my alarm to 5am and it awakened me from strange dreams about being chased; kissing someone's girlfriend while he was in another room; furtive like, knowing we were doing what we shouldn't. Then I was playing in a giant multiple player video game, Star Wars, paying for something I'd played earlier.

But it was raining outside. I got up to look out, and the ships in the bay were just dark splotches against the sea. Mist plugged the harbor's mouth, and looked as if it were creeping back out as the sky brightened. I tried to go out on the balcony, but it was locked.

Good thing too... five minutes later the wind picked up and, for the next couple of hours, thrashed rain against the building. I lay in bed listening, and I at least enjoyed that. Ever since childhood, where I'd written that one of my favorite sounds was rain going down the gutter, I had always liked to listen to rain. Something about my Irish blood maybe.

I lay in until past 9, got up leisurely, and prepared for a walk. I knew it was raining, but it didn't look like it was going to let up any time soon. I'd be damned if I'd waste my time sitting around waiting for the rain to stop (I was right too, because the rain did not stop until 5pm). I'd brought my motorcycle rain suit just for this occasion.

I did, however, abandon my idea of going to the national park via motorbike. Since I'd only ever driven a scooter, I didn't want to learn on a rainy day, not being able to communicate well with anyone so that they might teach me anyway. And that seemed the only way to get there.

So I just walked. There was a hill just behind the hotel. They were building a road around it and the construction of more housing and such was starting. There was a path going up the hill and I followed it to the top where there was a shrine. It was dominated by what resembled an Indian totem pole. It was a nice view, but it would have been nicer if it was dry.

People called out "hello" from various houses that I passed. Some just nodded politely, a few waved me in to play cards or drink it looked like. I just smiled and waved back, feeling like walking more. I saw a path going up and over a ridge and I followed it.

There were other paths that could've taken me higher, but all had "no trespassing" signs of a military nature and I decided to play it safe. Instead I followed a path down into a village.

People again began greeting me, some inviting me to buy their wares, a few motorcyclists offering me rides.

Meanwhile it still poured with rain. My shoes were soaked, but I wasn't wet so much from the rain as I was from perspiration getting trapped in my rainproof coat.

Further into the village, a woman started to walk along side me. She was wearing a conical field hat and a cheap plastic raincoat. She pointed up at the hills. "cave?" You could see it from the road. It was big and halfway up the hill. I nodded enthusiastically. She led me on and a young boy followed. They took me to a small goods shop.

Two men were eating, a woman was working. They gave me a seat, a low stool. We worked the usual questions as I looked around. It was mostly dominated by huge bags of rice that were piled up, taking up most of the room. But they had other goods for the home and field, everything from tooth paste to brooms and fishing nets it seemed. The two men dressed in tshirts, shorts and sandals both wore very nice Seiko watches.

I was astonished by the number of flies that swarmed about- seeking shelter from the rain maybe- and even more so by how they ignored them, even on their food. I bought a 7-UP and listened to them talk in between the questions. I broke out my phrase book again. Various other people stopped by, the wife and baby son of the other guy as well.

They made tea which I drank only to be polite. It was way too bitter for my taste. They offered bread from a bread seller who stopped by and I excepted that gladly (they had offered lunch, but I was not appetized by the flies and didn't want to be greedy besides). The baby, not 2 years old I think, ate a whole mini loaf (they were small but not that small). The father laughed and told me he could eat two. The child didn't know what to make of me, but at least he didn't start bawling (which had happened before in Taiwan). He only did that when he spilt tea on his leg, and when he was held by someone else.

A puppy lay under the table alternately sleeping or chasing chair legs. A tabby kitten wandered through a couple of times sniffing sandals. They were ignored by all but me.

I took my leave, though a bit confused as to why I had been brought there: no mention of the cave being made. But two teenage boys followed me and pointed up at the cave again. I nodded, and they led me down a side path into the village more, and at least in the right direction. The path we went down turned into a quick running creek and we all waded through and down it. I assumed it was from all the rain, but was a bit nervous still, remembering nasty parasite horror stories from my sister, a once Peace Corps volunteer in Africa.

We ended up not at the cave but at someone's house. It was a one story little thing, one large bed, one small one, a little corner devoted to cooking, one light bulb hanging down from the ceiling. The mother of the house was quite excited and woke the father and the eldest brother from mosquito net covered beds. There were four brothers I think, aged 19, 18, 14, and 10. The 14 year old was the one from the shop and his friend, a neighbor, was of the same age.

They offered me a beautiful little bonsai tree which was growing from a big shell and hung from the doorway, I had to duck to get in. I couldn't believe they wanted to give it to me, and tried to explain that I was travelling for much to long. I eventually got it through.

It was dark with the rain clouds so they lit a lamp and we sat on the edge of the smaller bed trying to talk. I had my phrase book out, and one of the neighbors had an English work book: old and falling apart filled with strange phrases like "To Peace," "To Cooperation," "This is very dear", and nothing else of much use. They used combinations of Vietnamese words to try and get the sounds. It didn't seem very effective, though it explained some of the odd run together words that you'd find.

One boy kept feeling the hair on my leg impressed by the softness I guess. I offered cigarettes to the father and eldest son and they had gladly accepted. I felt I had to show whatever appreciation I cold for their hospitality.

The father actually kept to the back, almost shy, but was also very curious. He kept trying to get me to take pictures and I wasted a lot of film. It was too dark- an idiot I hadn't brought my flash for some reason; trying to save space. I couldn't find a way to explain either, though I did my best.

All the while it just poured with rain. Occasionally people would wade by going down the path (the house was built on ground that was slightly higher- probably for that very reason). One almost slipped into the water and made the sign of the cross- much to my hosts' amusement. Apparently it had not rained this much in a while.

When it did let up a little, we scrambled our way up the hill. Their home almost backed directly onto it. The cave was a little disappointing after all that. Just a big depression in the cliff above. Some good climbing though, little corners to peek into, a little room in one side that would have been quite cozy if it weren't so damp.

The neat thing was that there were thousands upon thousands of sea shells all over the hillside. The cave itself was a good 20-30m above sea level, and about a kilometer away ( a little more without the rain maybe, since a good portion of land seemed to have been badly flooded). A while while back the sea must have been banging away at the cliff wall here.

I'd read in the guide book that lots of stone age stuff had been found on the island, so I was hoping for some sort of impossible archeological find. Alas I was disappointed with that as well.

I footed a 2 dollar bill for a picnic. The eldest son had come and rubbed his belly and made the universal sign for money, thumb rubbing on four fingers. He brought back biscuits, cakes and a plastic pitcher of alcohol, cigarettes. I wrote down my name, got all of theirs and their addresses, ate, toasted, smoke, and promised I would come back the next day. One boy wrote "nice tomorrow in the mison to playing, to HangVem betch. please." I assumed it was a beach.

They also asked me not to forget them and I won't.

Catba Cave

I walked back to the hotel in good spirits.

The hotel was closed though so I wandered about a bit more, contemplating rocks and climbing hills behind the hotel where they were building the road.

The hotel opened when the ferry came in. I sat on the steps airing my shoes a bit, remembering a day in Taipei riding my bicycle when it was pouring with rain. I was going to meet some friends at a restaurant and had beat them there. I only had a flimsy raincoat and was drenched by the time I arrived. I took off my shoes and squeezed my socks dry. A young woman had come out of the restaurant giving me kleenex to help dry. She was good looking enough to make me regret that I was leaving in a couple weeks, otherwise I might have asked her number, despite the guy she was sitting with. She would catch my eye occasionally and smile. My friends showed up a few minutes later.

Anyway, the rain had almost stopped, and a woman was sitting in the downstairs "bar" of the hotel, writing. I resolved to ask her to the beach once I'd changed clothes- I wanted to swim in seawater for a bit, rather than just rain.

So I asked. Naturally, she had a friend, who as a matter of fact already was at the beach. She had not had a chance to write in a while so had stayed behind. I understood the urge to write, but I went away contemplating women and my relationships.

But at the beach, I soon got into a better mood. I swam with relish and soon met the boyfriend, Sam. They were both at Cambridge together. We spent a long time body surfing, I loved it when you caught the wave just right and were taken almost all the way to shore and then thrashed about as the wave retreated .

Sam left, and I followed not too much later, just as the sky started to dim. This time I was smart and had not worn my shoes, but slippers from my room, not that they could get much wetter at that point. I got back showered and ate.

I wandered through the port town a bit later. For such a small place, it put out an awful lot of decibels. Almost every cafe, and every shop had a TV or Karaoke. Most of the TVs were serving as makeshift theaters for locals. Kungfu movies mostly. But the Karaoke's were the loudest: 20 different sappy pop songs battling for air space.

Sort of like walking through a Taiwanese market with every shop playing a different dance tune, but louder. But maybe that it was just because of a lack of other noises that it seemed so loud- no cars or motorbikes, or at least not very many.

Actually, the first night at the hotel they must have had a dance down in the restaurant. Dance music was being cranked.

Walking back it started to rain again. The moon and a star, a planet maybe, had peaked through the clouds earlier but that was it.

I can only hope for the best tomorrow.

A guy told me a story while I was walking to the beach. This is the month when two lovers get back together. Deities I gathered, because the woman wept storms. That's the nature of August in Catba.

There was a joke about something weather in Taiwan that it reminded me of. What was similar about women and weather? always unpredictable.

Just checked, it has stopped raining again. You can hear the frogs and crickets, but clouds still roll past with the moon's glow, lightening still breaks the darkness and thunder rumbles by.

Other notes: they have water versions of cyclos. A row boat, rectangular with a slightly curved bottom. They all look hand weaved. When you pass their docking stations, a bunch will call asking you if you want a ride. Most rowers seem to be teenagers.

They row in a funny sort of way too, not sitting but standing, looking in the same direction they are going, slightly stooped, arms straight but never quite synchronous. It looks awkward and like it should not work. The arms are moved with a jerk of the shoulders, rocking forward, twisting the oars in the water, pushing forward, pulling out, putting in, twisting and on and on.

The other inter-boat mode of travel is a round basket, the paddler leaning way out of the boat, paddling like a dragonboater would. Would seem really easy to go around in circles as I saw one boy with Father do. But most don't. It looks really odd too- two men in a tub, rubadub dub.

I'm tired. Going to bed. Getting up early as I have a 9 o'clock appointment and I've only a vague idea where.

< previous >
< next >
< travels >