I thought I could go swimming but it's too dangerous. The beach slopes steeply down towards the water, and when a big wave comes sweeping in it's like a giant trough of water that empties then fills back up in matter of seconds. Though swimming is out of the question I still enjoy the feeling of waves washing over my feet, so I walk a few meters down the slope, let my feet get swallowed up by the pleasantly cool water while the afternoon sun warms my back. I hesitate for a moment, thinking about taking a few steps more, then another big wave comes rolling in and crashing onto the beach with tremendous force; white foam rushing forwards, the water rising from my knees to my chest in an instant, the force pushing me back at least a meter. Just as I recover my balance the water rushes out again, pulling at my legs, threatening to drag me with it. Behind it, a million little rocks come rolling down the beach, filling the air with a rattling, rushing noise against the background booming of the waves.
The water is a nearly perfect navy blue topped by a faint streak of orange from the warm glowing ball of the setting sun. I lie in the water after my run over the soggy grey sand, letting it cool me down. A wave comes rolling lazily along, slowly lifting me up then gently dropping me down as it passes. I take in the beauty of the sunset and just drift, total relaxation.
The sun is shining merrily, heating me up despite the early April chill. Across the river a marching band is playing Highway to the Danger Zone, the brass section really putting in some extra oomph. All around the cherry trees are in bloom, their flowers white with just a hint of pink; a sea of blossoms against the pale blue sky. A light breeze caresses the branches, sending some delicate petals raining down on me. It is simply a perfect moment.
It's the last big fireworks of the night and this rack is the biggest, with three tiers of firecrackers ready to be shot out over the audience. The announcer starts the count down and we in the crowd count along with her, three, two, one. The rockets start spewing out from the rack, streaks of orange passing over us, and the sound of explosions somewhere behind us like we're in the middle of an oven full of popcorn. Where I'm standing the rockets seem to be firing right at me, the orange trails just passing over my head; it feels like I'm a soldier under fire. Every once in while a firecracker will actually fall into the crowd, exploding close by, sending sparks flying. I can feel one hit my leg, another hits my left arm, and a one even pings off my visor in a disconcerting way. Despite this I'm not scared, I feel secure in my protective gear. It is a visceral experience.
I'm dripping with sweat, the mask makes it uncomfortable to breath and my visor is fogging up but trying to do anything about that now would be far too dangerous. A cloud of thick smoke is enveloping the crowd, the rack of firecrackers, which I know to be just a few meters in front of me, is all but invisible and people further off in the crowd have disappeared completely. The incessant sounds of explosions fill the air and from the smoke comes burst of orange and flashes of lightning as the firecrackers detonate. All I can do is weather the storm and take it all in.
Despite the south Taiwan heat I'm fully covered: thick jacket, gloves, full face motorcycle helmet and two towels wrapped around my neck to cover all the gaps. I'm sweating like a pig but I can't take any of it off, the protection is necessary for what is about to happen. I stand in a crowd of people and in front of me is the rack absolutely full of fireworks, ready to be set off any minute now. My sense of anticipation is palpable as I watch intently while the final preparations are made...
The dreariness of my evening commute has been instantly dispelled by a marvelous sky. A pale blue background, bordering on yellow, richly strewn with tufts of cloud like pieces of cotton on a blue tablecloth. The clouds lie in shadow but are lit from underneath by the setting sun, painting them dark grey on one side and a brilliant hue of pinkish orange on the other. The contrasting colors make every little wisp of vapor stand out against the background, making the clouds seem bigger and fuller, while at the same accentuating the orange light, making it look as if the entire sky is filled with a brilliantly shining fire. It is little moments like this that make the drudgery of every day life bearable.
The gorge is like a deep fissure in the ground, carved by the water over thousands of years. The walls are uneven, shaped by the flow of the water, with patches of moss growing here and there. In front of me is the waterfall, a stream of white water that comes crashing down into the creak below, throwing spray high into the air and filling the cave with mist that makes it nearly impossible to take a photo. I let my gaze follow the walls upwards to the small hole high above where the stream flows into the cavern. As the water tumbles over the edge it breaks into little droplets, forming clouds that billow in the air like smoke in time with the rush of air and whoosh of the water as it comes down.
The two fishermen on the beach warn us that the current is strong but I ignore them and follow my friend as he steps into the water. A few steps out the river bed drops away abruptly and I sink down to my chest, my watertight backpack floating up behind me like a cork. The water is cold and I can feel the current tugging at my body, wanting to pull me away and send me down stream. A feeling of trepidation flashes through my mind for a brief moment but disappears when I see my friend fearlessly continue forward, so I push on with determination. As we round the slight bend in the river I look up to the right where a smaller side stream comes cascading down the cliffs to join ours. Further along the little creak, the water flows over the edge of the high, jungle clad cliffs and comes crashing down into a small pool, sending spray high into the air. This place is imbued with a combined sense of danger and beauty and here and now, at this very moment, that is all I need.