sugar factory razzles

Have you ever been on an old train, whizzing through emerald green countryside, almost falling off your chair as the train rounds the bend and in front of your very eyes is the glowing blue ocean? This is how I spent my Saturday morning, and I have no complaints. It was probably one the best train rides I have ever been on. Such diverse landscapes. From the glittering city, to the green rice paddies of Ilan county, to the rugged ocean line around Hualien, to more inland rural areas filled with barren rocks and more lush green fields. I was in awe at the mountain backdrop too. It really was the cherry on top of this green wonderland! The east coast of Taiwan has been my favourite part so far. As the train made it’s way further along the coast, I could smell the calm and taste the fresh air.

When I arrived at Taitung train station, I had absolutely no idea how I was going to get to Dulan. But alas, fear not. This is Taiwan. Friendly souls are everywhere, and before I had even flung my bag on my back, a group of girls had rounded me up and off we sped along the bumpy roads in a taxi. They were going to the next town over, Chengong, but they were happy to share, and drop me off first. We exchanged emails and gazed at the roaring sea. They dropped me right outside the Sugar Factory and I was instantly drawn to a little stall of home-baked goods. I chose a mini chocolate cupcake and at the same time got directions to my hostel, Dulan 98. I could tell I was going to like this town from the moment I skipped out of the taxi. People were just chilling on the streets chatting and I could almost feel the creativity seeping through the cracks in the road.

Dulan is a very special little place. I don’t even know how to express how I feel about this town. It’s one of those places that I could feel myself getting sucked into, even after one hour. It’s not just because it’s an arty, musical place, but also because it has an intense sense of community, the kind of place where the baker will ask after your mother and where you might recognise everyone after just 24hours in the place.

So I dropped my bags in my dorm. A dorm that was just me and 3 other people. We each had our own level, so I was on the top floor and it was just me, and around 8 empty beds. Hello good nights sleep! It was a funky backpackers. A very chilled vibe, decorated with bright, pastel colours and with little cat ornaments hiding in random corners. I liked it. Not just because it was above a delicious little Mexican food joint, run by a cool reggae musician. I felt at home. There was no keys, no fuss, an open door policy. You could come and go as you pleased, and you didn’t need to worry about a thing.

I got pretty lucky with my timing in Dulan because I arrived on a Saturday evening, when the Sugar Factory has its infamous live-music night. However, on this particular night they were also screening a documentary about one of the aboriginal tribes, focusing on one guy’s passion and strong-will to maintain living in the mountains, where him and his family were brought up. It was extremely inspiring to watch this old man talk about the place he grew up in and loves, his home. This screening was outside in the courtyard of the café, and what better backdrop for such a documentary, than the actual mountains themselves. Stunning!

After the documentary I explored the area, which is on the land of an old sugar factory. It seems it’s pretty popular to turn old factories and warehouses into art spaces. I think it’s not only resourceful, but also these spaces can be used in any way you like, and they add a rugged feel to an art zone. This particular place has quite a few cafes and stalls, so I decided to try them all. I sat myself down on a tyre swing in the trees of a little café that specialises in Japanese cuisine. A fire, music, some strawberries dipped in chocolate, vegetable kebabs, fruit and herb tea, and a whole night of live music ahead…bliss. And really, the music was wonderful! First there was a trio, and the girl had the most beautiful voice. The environment of the café is very intimate, so you really get the chance to connect with the performers. It’s not like you’re sat one hundred rows back, like at The Cranberries concert. After the trio, a couple of guys who’d brought their own instruments started a little jam sesh and they were from an aboriginal tribe, so the music was a new style for my ears, and I liked it a lot! Then of course, when I got back to my hostel, there were musicians jamming in the restaurant/ music space downstairs. Thank you lovely melodies for providing me with the best sleep I’ve had in a long time. I drifted off to the sounds of the guitar from below. Other than that, total silence. No cars, no bikes, just the soothing ocean and the bassy rhythms. 

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