adrian is rad



Filed under: — adrian @ 1:04 am

I spent the weekend in Taroko (pronounced “Ta-loo-ga”) Gorge.

Basically, on the east side of the island, there’s a mountain range made up of marble and limestone. Into it are a number of steep gorges cut by many rivers. So what you have is very steep lush green and marble and limestone walls and gorgeous, often-crystalline rivers at the bottom, often with large marble boulders in them. It’s really magnificent. I’d recommend a visit.

I left early Saturday and took the train down. It goes up north and east till it hits the coast and then south along the east coast. Often it is just about the only thing between a range of mountains and the ocean. The ride itself is pretty amazing.

I got to Hualien and sort of wandering around a little bit until I found the scooter rental shops. I could confidently answer their first question, about whether I’d ridden a scooter in Taipei before [1], but the first few still didn’t want to rent me a scooter without a local drivers license. (To their credit, this may or may not be what the law specifies–I’m really not sure.) The third place rented me a scooter without much problem: a Kymco 125cc.

So I set off out of town and onto the highway toward Taroko…or at least I thought so. I realized it was getting more built up instead of less. I asked someone at the next light: “Taroko??” He did not point the direction we were going.

So now going in the right direction, I discovered the joys of trucks passing me and kicking up stuff in my face and fun like that. After an hour or so I hit the park gates, stopped to get some maps at the visitor center, I headed off to Tiansiang, some 18km from the park entrance and the one small town with a couple hotels, a hostel and a couple restaurants. Up the mountain passes I went on my scooter, gradually growing more comfortable at every turn.

Once in Tiansiang, I went around for a while trying to find my hostel, and eventually found it, the Catholic Hostel, where I had a reservation[2]. No one was around and the desk bell wasn’t bringing anyone rushing. Eventually, someone came around the reception area and I paid and got my key and whatnot.

The first place I tried to go was the Baiyang Waterfall Trail, but it was closed, so I made my way to the Lotus Pond trail. Lotus Pond’s a mountain pond hidden up in the mountains of Taroko. 3km or so each way–should have been easy to do in the 3 hours I had. After a nice easy walk for half an hour, I crossed a single person suspension bridge. It was the first of many of these that I cross in the park–they were sort of like the ones you seen in Indiana Jones, but just a little less rickety.

Then the trail got hard–steep steps for nearly 2.1km. Or I presume so. After a while I realized I wasn’t going to make it up and back before dark and I was alone, without a flashlight, on steep stairs and without cell phone reception. Not exactly worth the risk. I made it almost to the top of the hill when I turned around and the views from there left me wondering how places like that exist. Pretty magnificent. I first heard, then saw, wild monkeys in a tree across a small ravine from the hiking trail as I neared the top.

Soaked in sweat, even though it was about 60 degrees out, I headed back to the hostel to cool down and relax a bit. I read a bit of my book, Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet [3], the only book I’d brought on the trip and after reading for a while, I realized I was about to finish it. With my no music on transportation rule, I would be left without a book and without music for the train ride home. Great…

It was dark when I put the book down and I decided to get some food and then have an early night so I could see everything I wanted to see the next morning. My dinner wasn’t very good and was only notable because at one point I felt something crawling on my hand and looked down to see the single biggest wasp/ hornet I’d ever seen crawling on my jacket–easily 3 inches long and uniform brown. I can’t find any pictures online or a description of what it was exactly but it seemed to be injured–it wouldn’t fly away, so I brushed it onto the floor and kept an eye on it.

I woke up at 6am and showered in the shared and open-to-the-outdoors showers at the hostel. It was chilly, even with hot water. I wanted to go to the Wenshan Hot Springs. The route is described like this: down steep stairs to a suspension bridge, walk across it, along a cliff and then you’re at these hot springs are carved out of marble and sit within the river (though I imagine the water is piped down from whereever the hot spring actually is). I thought it be great to go and sit in the early on this Sunday morning, but the trail was closed. Disaster. I headed back to the hostel, packed up my stuff and dropped my key before heading to probably the most famous trail in the park, the Tunnel of Nine Turns. It was only 7:30am so I had it all to myself. Pretty amazing views of the gorge and river from this short trail.

Just outside of the park are the Chingshui Cliffs–a section of highway north of Taroko (Hualien is south) that is cut into these marble and lush green mountains as they hit the ocean. I decided to ride up and down these before the road got too heavy with traffic and then hit up the last couple hiking trails before heading to catch my train. They ended up being stunning. Like the PCH but more sheer and more beautiful. There were even a couple points where you could walk down to the black sand beaches via a series of steps.

Back in the park, I walked the Shakadang trail, along a ridiculously clear greenish-blue river, and then the Eternal Spring shrine/ monastery trail. Both had something new to see.

Then it was back to Hualien on the scooter, back to Taipei on the train, back to my room on the MRT. The only part of the return journey that had a hitch at all was when my seat was either double booked or my reservation only went through the next station. I’m not sure, but eventually the conductor showed the girl who also had car 9, seat 31 on her ticket to a different seat.

[1] Thanks to my coworker, I had actually had a little experience with a scooter in Taiwan. I’d asked him to teach me how to ride a scooter prior to this trip. His lesson was sort of like this: “Here’s how you turn it on. Here’s how you open the seat compartment. Okay, have fun; I’m going back inside.”

[2] I called the Catholic hostel once a month or so back, trying to reserve a room for a previous weekend. A man answered. After a few words from each of us in different languages it was obvious that he didn’t speak English. After an apology (which he probably didn’t understand, I now realize), I hung up. This time, I was determined so I got a coworker to call and make a reservation for me. After the call she explained how it had gone: she had called and talked to the person working there and made a reservation, saying it was for her American coworker and one bed and the night of the 2nd, etc. The worker seemed to be ending the call so she asked, “Do you want me to spell out his name so you can write it down?” The response: “No, I got it: one bed, foreigner.”

[3] Separate post about this book later.

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