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  • Writer's pictureTim and Lindsey

Captive and Captivating in Hengchun

Days 878 – 879

What are your thoughts of animals in captivity? Are they calamitous or captivating? #JaneGoodall said "The voice of the natural world would be, "Could you please give us space and leave us alone to get along with our own lives and our own ways, because we actually know much better how to do it then when you start interfering."

Occasionally, we have a day of rest. That was Day 878. We pottered around, I wrote, Tim did some planning, booked train tickets and an Airbnb for four days. I started reading a new book, more on that another day. We did pop out for food shopping and to get some masks. These are like gold dust for travellers. Locals can get them freely at clinics. We went to the local hospital and luckily a lovely female doctor kindly asked us to wait while she went and got us a few. I'm not sure why there were cross and skull signs on some of the chairs. I sat on one and then quickly decided to move.

Our next day, Tim suggested we walked to #ParadiseofDeer. I had done no research so it was down to my imagination what I thought the place was going to be like. As Hengchun is a small ancient city, it only took us 25 minutes to walk there.

Just as we got through the #WestGate of Hengchung we spotted in a shop, an iguana in a cage. We crossed the road to get a closer look, there was not one but at least 14 different types of large lizards, all in captivity.

We communicated with the young owner through traveller speak – odd words and actions. As well as these extraordinary creatures she also had a snake, which she plonked in Tim’s hands. I had my hands full with a female green iguana, who, I am sure, became very fond of me, so didn’t get a photo of this dark brown snake. Through investigating, it might have been a #FormosanOddScaled species. I am relieved to read they are non-poisonous, especially as this young lady kissed its mouth! It did seem so sad to see these animals behind cages. The lady obviously loved them, but surely true love is to allow animals to live freely.

We carried on our walk and came to Paradise of Deer. Oh! It didn’t quite match my imagination. I was thinking more of wild deer grazing on rolling hills. The place calls itself a “Native deer sanctuary”. A small fenced paddock with hardly any grass isn’t our idea of a sanctuary for the Taiwanese Sika deer here.

There was an open area with well-clipped grass where we and a horde of families with young children enjoyed being with some of the deer. I admit it was fun feeding them and watching people, both young and old, overcoming their fear of these gentle creatures, eventually holding out pieces of carrot or giving them a stroke.

Had we researched and realised the kind of place this was, we would have avoided it, we’d much rather see animals in the wild.

Due to intensive hunting of these #SikaDeer, they became extinct in the wild, but with their placid nature, there was a number in captivity, like here in Paradise Deer Park. In 1994, the government reintroduced the deer to nearby #KentingNationalPark with 22 Sika deer from Taipei Zoo and in 2016, the population had grown to about 2,000. Perhaps we will have a walk there soon and see if we can spot these captivating deer, not in captivity. It reminded us of the Panda "Sanctuary" in Chengdu. Humans nearly destroy an animal or its habitat and then repair the damage. It makes no sense.

It was lunchtime and we had already bought some onigiri to eat. Mike had told us about a park near the West gate which had monkeys there, so we walked and found #ShipaiPark. It’s not somewhere you would go out of your way to visit, but a very pleasant place to stroll through. The only monkeys I spotted were made from concrete, apart from the big one in the photo next to them.

The narrow pathway took us over the ancient coral reef. It is fascinating to think that this town would have once been underwater.

We sat and enjoyed our lunch and smiled, watching two elderly men captivated by two small boys playing together. One of the men kept roaring out laughing at their antics.

We were still hungry and realised that Zeph’s pop-up stall was around the corner. We popped around for one of his delicious falafels and a chat. On the way, we bumped into a lady with a parrot on her shoulder tied to a lead. She placed it on a branch for a photo opportunity. What a day for seeing various animals in some form of captivity!

In the evening we arranged to meet up with Mike so that together we’d visit #ChuhuoSpecialScenicArea, where we were going to visit a few days back before we were advised to wait until it was dark.

We sat waiting for Mike but bless him, he’d been walking around the town for an hour getting lost, so he decided to call it a day.

We carried on our journey, Chuhup was another 10 minutes’ walk out of town. By this time it was 8:30 pm. With no street lights, it was definitely dark now. We found some wooden stairs to descend and could see glowing in the distance. As we got nearer there was a circular area about 10 m diameter chained off and inside were flames seeping through the earth.

The fires initially started when locals were sinking a well through the mudstone and discovered that natural gas was emitting through cracks. After it was ignited, these mesmerising fires have appeared on the surface and kept going ever since.

We could see children inside the chained off area roasting marshmallows; that sweet caramelised aroma filled the evening air. Another family had, what looked like, a pie on the end of a stick over some flames. It turned out to be a tin dish with popcorn in. We got chatting with them and their three children. They moved to China for 10 years, making paint, and sold the business last autumn, moving back to Taiwan. How lucky were they! Four months later would have been a very different story for them.

We stood captivated by the flames, laughing how many people were taking no notice of the “No Trespassing” sign. Thank goodness the fire didn’t work the same way as the geezers we have seen around the world! Now that would have been one captivating story in Hengchun!

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