Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Tackling Taiwan's Taroko Gorge (Taiwan Part IV)...

And a good evening to you again from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. Let's keep this party goin', shall we?
On Tuesday, the Bull and Striker rose about 7 AM, as we had to make it to the local bus stop to pick up our ride to Taroko Gorge National Park. This place, billed as Taiwan's top tourist destination, is famous for its marble walled canyons, gorgeous rivers, and fantastic hiking. We honestly didn't know what to expect, but it turned out to be a really fantastic (if somewhat crazy!) day.
For starters, the "local bus terminal" would fit in nicely anywhere outside the Green Zone in Baghdad. Seriously - picture a broken down fire house with couches sitting outside COVERED in flies. I sat on one for about 11 seconds, felt like Jeff Goldblum, and just walked into the rain to stand instead.
The bus journey was easy, but the Heavens OPENED right when we arrived at Taroko. We went in to find out that the Tunnel of 9 Turns (the most famous hike in the park) was closed due to the 12 hours of rain (to say nothing of mudslides and earthquakes in the region). There was another trail closed at the end of the park, but the rest were open, and one of the two that we really wanted to do was right by the entrance.
And so Team Taylor kicks off walking, covering the 1KM required to get into the park (all the time walking in a tunnel - don't worry, mum - there was a sidewalk). As we walked, we realized that, given that the gorge is 18 KM long 1 way, there was realistically no way we could walk it in a day. However, we did think it possible to at least do some of the trails and catch the bus that runs through the park, and so our spirits were high.
The first trail, the Skagadan, was 4.5 KM each way, and it was really, really fantastic. Despite the rain (which turned out to be a blessing, as it kept the heat at bay for most of the day), the water appeared in AMAZING shades of blue and green, and the wildlife (in the form of insects and AWESOME ELECTRIC BLUE DRAGONFLIES - wow, that was a really lame comment...) was really neat. There were TONS of butterflies out there, and we were pretty much the only people on the trail for the better part of 2 hours. We walked all alone through a bamboo forest, where we saw, quite possibly, the largest version of an Asian jackhornet in existence. Seriously - I thought this thing might EAT ME.
After this hike, we rolled through another bridge to the worker's shrine. This area, dedicated to the 450 workers who died building the road through the gorge, is built on top of an eternal spring. The shrine, the water, the lush vegetation, and the mist on the mountains made this a very cool experience, and I was really glad that we'd come to the gorge. However, given that we didn't have a car and couldn't get to the Swallow Grotto (the other must do), I was feeling a bit disappointed. But then, as we walked back toward the main road, the idea hit me - it was time to hitchhike.
So LP said that, in Taiwan, hitching was NO problem. The quote was "pretty much ANYONE will give you a lift." To test this, I stuck my thumb out to the FIRST CAR that passed us (which happened to be a BRAND NEW BMW SUV), and the guy stopped INSTANTLY. He rolled down his window, I pointed to the trailhead, he nodded, and 20 seconds later 2 VERY sweaty Americans covered in dirt were sitting in the back of the nicest car I've ever ridden in. And let me tell you - that moment CHANGED EVERYTHING.
The guy opens the sunroof, and that thing is HUGE - we are talking a sun roof that's over half the top of the car. He rolls down our windows (but keeps the A/C blasting for us), cranks up the Vivaldi, and begins a slow cruise through the gorge. We rode with them for SEVEN KILOMETERS, and it was a TOTALLY different experience than the walk. That far in, the gorge grew increasingly more beautiful, and the landscape took on many different forms. Truly, the rest of the world faded away.
He let us out at the Swallow Grotto (named for the birds that live in holes along the canyon walls), where we realized that we were the ONLY 2 tourists in the area without hard hats. You see, due to frequent rock falls (Dad - if we ever want to watch for "Falling Rock" again, I think I now know where he is...), hard hats are offered for free at the "halfway zone" of the gorge. We were chillin' in the car at the time, so we didn't pick any up. Luckily we didn't need them (in fact we never heard a rock fall the entire time), but it was funny to watch busload after busload of tourists roll by with their hard hats in tow. Also, he gave us this little "food surprise," which we later learned was called an "iron egg." More on that one in the next day's installment.
The grotto was quite amazing, and we actually walked it twice to take it all in. We then rolled over to the bus stop inside the park (just across from us), where we caught a ride (actually had a seat!) and rolled back into the city, at which point we rested our tired legs (we'd logged about 24K) before rolling out to dinner.
Dinner was a bit of an adventure, as we started with pints back at Kamiyama, where we saw Eccentric American Artist Lady again. However, she hadn't come there to eat - she'd come there because she was sick and her daughter had convinced one of the wait staff to take her to the doctor. Seriously? And she told us that she'd slept until 10 and didn't make the gorge (shocking, that), so we were glad we hadn't "agreed to meet her at 7."
We then tried to eat at a different Japanese BBQ place, only to be told that they were closed for the evening. Now in and of itself, that wasn't shocking, as most restaurants don't operate 24 hours a day. What WAS shocking, however, was the time - 7:50 PM!!!! I mean, COME ON, MAN! Don't roll up the sidewalks on me! We then tried a restaurant called "Taiwanese Cuisine" (VERY original title), but they were full. And so, almost defeated, we wandered into some joint that had grass jelly (it's a drink of blackish liquid) free flow and all the food you could eat for CHEAP. Seriously - we got three mains, unlimited grass jelly, and rice, and it was a grand total of EIGHT US DOLLARS. Compared to the $60 pizzas we used to get in Iceland, that was QUITE a deal...
It was then back to bed, where we were treated to ANOTHER fireworks bonanza. Before we could enjoy the fireworks display, however, Mother Nature decided to give us "another story" for our memoirs. We're sitting there watching the telly, when all of a sudden we notice the keys in the door start swaying. Shortly thereafter the bed IS PHYSICALLY MOVING to the side of the room, and stuff is shaking. We later learned that we were just 50 miles from the epicentre of a 4.8 earthquake, which is small but frightening all the same. Let's just say that Jenny wasn't in an especially wonderful place spiritually after that, and I was a "wee bit" on edge as well. We did manage to sack out, however, determined not to let a few "shakes" get the best of us!
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. And since I'm on a roll, let's give you one more!
Sam and Jenny

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