I’m tiptoeing over to the edge of the rocky cliff in the most bizarre place I’ve ever been when a Taiwanese dad and his 12-year-old son approach me. The son taps me on the shoulder and asks me a question, his English clear and bright. “Have you taken a picture with the ice cream cone yet?” he asks me, pointing to the point-and-shoot camera I have strapped to my wrist.
The ice cream cone?
“You haven’t?!” he asks. He seems more incredulous about this than the fantastic rock formations all around us. He turns around and points to a lumpy cone-shaped rock jutting out of the earth behind me. “You must take a picture with the ice cream cone!” He looks up at his dad. “Dad, can I take the lady’s picture for her?” His dad smiles and asks me if I’d like my photo taken with one of the most photographed curiosity on the island.
If a twelve-year-old boy is convinced my trip is not complete without a photo next to an infamous ice cream cone, I guess I’ve got to take a picture with the ice cream cone. After all, my photographer friend Matt Gibson and I haven’t come to the Yehliu Geopark, Taiwan’s most beautiful and bizarre natural cape on the north coast of Taiwan, not to take pictures. I hand him my camera, which he cradles carefully with both hands before carefully pressing the button to turn it on. I am growing to love this about the Taiwanese—everything is careful, considered, and cautious—and nothing gets dropped, especially photography equipment. The dad nods approvingly at his son, who, in the delightful Taiwanese way, has been careful enough to ensure that my trip to this bizarre and beautiful place is complete—with ice cream and all (and really, what trip is ever complete without a dairy dessert?).
We hop over to it, dodging the craggy hoodoo stones and stepping over cracked rock formations and standing rivulets of water. There, surrounded by a tiny moat of water, is an 8-foot high sienna-colored cone leading up to a smooth curved ball. “Go stand over there!” the boy tells me. I stand where he asks, snuggling up next to the mushroom-shaped rock, he photographs, and we’re done. The boy scampers off to his dad, who tells me how happy I’ve made his son. I tell him I was happy to oblige.
I spend the rest of the afternoon with many of the other mushroom rocks, taking pictures, looking out over the North China Sea, and generally thinking about the beautiful weirdness of our world.
The Yehliu Geopark is home to over 180 mushroom rock formations, all of which are eroding at a rate that suggests to geologists that this rare and beautiful place might not exist in the next 50-100 years. The stems of the mushrooms, which become weakened from the heavy round tops, are beginning to crack through the middle, causing the heads to break and fall off. If you haven’t taken the trip and gotten a photograph with the ice cream cone, now’s as good a time as any.
People have said that no trip to Taiwan is complete without savoring its culinary delights—the soups, the noodle bowls, the seafood, the hot pots, the many kinds of meat substitutes. However, the ways I define my metaphors for culinary excursions is certainly changing, thanks to this natural beauty–and her colorful, colorful names. After touching the grooves, feeling the smooth curves and the eroding seascape, and finding myself immersed in the ice cream cone, the slice of tofu, the BBQ drumstick, and the pineapple bun, I am absolutely full–and wonderfully fulfilled.
You can visit the Yehliu Geopark for only NT$50 (as of today, that’s $1.66). If you’re coming from Taipei, take the express bus bound for Jinshan from the Zhongxiao-Fuxing MRT station and disembark at the Yehliu stop. Buses run every twenty minutes each weekday starting at 5:40 a.m. and running until 11:00 p.m. Weekends begin at 6:30 a.m.