The 環島: One week in Dulan 都蘭

beach near dulan taidong taiwan
A beach south of Dulan.

Dulan is such a small and unremarkable place at first glance it would be easy to cruise straight through without realizing what you were missing, like this guy apparently did. You can drive right past the one 7-11 and the one gas station in town and without noticing if the ocean here is any more beautiful than the ocean is all along the east coast.

Pro-tip: “Water Running Up” is not really worth stopping for. It’s a place on the side of a road where there’s basically a nice-looking gutter next to the parking lot and the water is crawling–not running–up a gentle slope. Unusual, unless you’ve ever seen a fountain or any other instance of water pressure in action. If you’re in Dulan, yeah, stop. Just don’t try to make a weekend of it.

But the waves here break against warm sand instead of intimidating walls of stone, and they come in fast and high enough to attract surfers from all over the world. There’s actually an international surfing competition held at nearby Jinzun Bay every year since 2011. If you just pass through Dulan without stopping, you’ll miss some of the most awesome beaches in Taiwan–an island blessed with plenty of breathtaking shoreline, but few accommodating spots to lay down a towel for the afternoon.

scenic beach in Dulan
scenic spot in Dulan, or just south of it

We booked a room at a hostel called Wagaligong at the recommendation of a friend, who knew one of the owners because he was also South African and had also lived in Chungli for many years. He and I spent a long time tossing out names of other people we knew who’d lived in Chungli at the same time we had, only to conclude that we didn’t know everyone like we’d thought we did, and that we’d led parallel lives for years. It’s always unsettling to realize your world is bigger than you thought it was.

at the beach in Dulan, Taiwan
On the beach at Dulan, a short walk from where we stayed. The rocks come and go with the tide, and there’s plenty of soft, black sand where you can sit and read or just watch the water.

After a few drinks the first night, none of that mattered. I went to bed early after booking a surfing lesson for the next morning, but Tieney and J stayed up all night drinking with other expats who wandered in and out of Wagaligong. Obviously, J was in rough shape for the surfing lesson the next morning, but our instructor was Irish so it didn’t faze him. In fact, he turned out to be a super friendly and generous guy. For the next few days, we followed him to wherever the local surfers were surfing whenever we weren’t too hungover or lazy to get ourselves out of bed.

The expats we met in Dulan were a loosely-assembled motley crew of teachers, surfers, chefs, businessmen, and fathers. The only expat women I met were guests at the hostel where we were staying, though I saw the same fair-skinned, light-haired family in 7-11 almost every morning. There were dogs and naked kids all over the place; wives, kids, and college students taking orders for expat chefs locked in hot kitchens to cook. In between orders, the men would come out to smoke and chat with the customers until they were chased back to their stoves.

I got the impression that if I sat at the bar at Wagaligong for enough nights in a row, I’d eventually lay eyes on everyone who lived in town, either as they walked by or when they stopped in for a drink and some gossip. I could collect a book’s worth of secondhand stories to share as  they drank and shared stories of past lives already used up before they got to Dulan, where they can live the next thirty years by the beach, swimming and surfing and cooking for tourists. I met so many men and women who spoke two or three languages, who were multiskilled in music and arts. Everyone could surf; asking about the waves served as a greeting. They moved from chair to chair at friends’ houses, dogs and children and instruments and surfboards in tow. In their company, I felt filled up with inspiration and empty, as I have nothing to offer. I wanted to be one of them, people who make the easy yet impossibly bold decision to live lives that will make them happy, even if they have to “sacrifice” being encumbered by the artificial trappings of conventional successes.

sculpture at sculpture park south of Dulan next to Xiaoyeliu Taidong County Taiwan
A head made of driftwood at a park next to Xiaoyeliu, just south of Dulan.

 

xiaoyeliu dulan taidong county taiwan
Interesting rock formations at Xiaoyeliu south of Dulan. They would have been a whole lot more interesting if it weren’t literally 100°F+ the day that we decided to walk around and looking at f$#%ing rocks.

 

twilight at the beach near dulan taidong county taiwan
Twilight at a beach just north of Dulan. That’s Green Island in the distance.
Dulan Beach Taidong County Taiwan
We didn’t take many pictures of the beach at Dulan because we went there to get in the water, so here’s another picture of me carrying a surfboard.

I felt lovesick after leaving Dulan. When I unpacked my bag a few days later and I saw the sand in my bag and the tan lines on my chest, I felt sad because it ended, the same way anyone feels when they find tokens of an old love and regret that a special time in their life was over too quickly. I want to go back and learn how to surf, get a dog or three and walk them on the beach in the mornings and evenings when the sand is cool, walk down the street with a cold six-pack in a plastic bag and see who wants to share it with me. But I don’t want to keep working for a paycheck or open a restaurant where I’ll be locked up cooking food for hours every day, so I still have a long road back to Dulan, or some place like it.

 

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