I was still on the bus at 6:35, I had to be at the main bus station at seven, meaning I had less than a half an hour to get to main station and figure out where to go from there. As I was panicking about missing the trip, I could feel the lunch box I chucked in my bag after work dripping grease all over my nice healthy apples. Well, I made it exactly at 7:00, sweaty, a little frazzled, and smelling like lunch box, but I made it. I had been looking forward to going to Taroko Gorge National Park since I decided on teaching in Taiwan, one of eight national parks in Taiwan it is one of the most spectacular sights to see, if not the most beautiful.
Taroko is national park spans three counties and is named after the Taroko Gorge it is so famous for. Taroko meaning “magnificent and beautiful” (in a tribal Taiwanese dialect) is predominantly made up of slate and marble. The slate gives the water a waspy gray blue tint that twists around giant white boulders of marble that look like they have been broken and scattered off of a giants pearl necklace.
The famous Baiyang waterfall trail and the Eternal Spring (Changchun Shrine) are it’s main visual attractions, like all of Taiwan, it has a unique history. Taroko was once under Japanese occupation, they made a lot of effort to expel the natives from the area and use it as a source for mining minerals and precious stones (there is an abundance of jade in the area as well), a lot of the trails in the national park today are parts of the old mining and military roads left by the Japanese.
We stayed at a B&B run by a Taiwanese couple. They picked us up with two vans from the train station around 11 on Friday night when we finally arrived. We settled in for the night and rested up for the big weekend ahead.
The Zhuilu Old Trail was supposed to be partially closed due to a hornets nest found alongside of the trail. This is the trail famous for being a part of the Old-Cross Huan Mountain Road used during Japanese occupation, ending at the scenic Swallow’s Grotto. To our pleasant surprise, the hornets nest was found under control and the whole trail was open. The trail itself was about 10km long and only about 750 meters high, but parts of the trail were still challenging.
It started with a steep incline for the first two km, after that took us about an hour and a half the rest of the trail seemed like a breeze. We got some amazing views along the way and stopped for lunch about 5km in.
A group of older Taiwanese hikers were also stopped for lunch. They kept creeping up and snapping photos of us when we were trying to eat our lunch so I took some photos of them too (with all the lunch gear they trecked up). We finally acknowledged that we weren’t going to be left alone until we took as many photos as possible with them, so we took some group shots.
A good chunk of the trail was along the edge of the actual gorge wall, lines with ropes on one side and a sheer drop on the other, we had to maneuver around the edge in single file. It made for an absolutely amazing view of the gorge and the surrounding area. Not only did we get amazing scenery on Saturday, but it was teeming with life. We saw all different kinds of birds and butterflies, (Taiwan has the most species of butterflies of any country in the entire world!) and MONKIES! We could hear them from at least 100 meters away on the trail, they were so loud! At first we could only hear them and see the trees moving, then as we got closer we got to see them from a distance, there were at least six of them in visible distance but they were loud enough that it sounded like there were thirty.
The hike ended crossing over a narrow suspension bridge into Swallow’s Gorge, where we were met by the park guard collecting the hiking permits and about million Chinese tourists with hard hats on.
Sunday morning we drove to the top of the gorge and started our day with the Lushui Trail, a short 2 km walk another part of the Old Cross-Hehuan Mountain Road. Very similar view to Saturday’s hike, but 2km was a leisurely stroll by comparison (aside from the bamboo viper with glowing red eyes).
When we finished we got on bikes and rode down into the gorge! I was a little nervous getting on a bike on a narrow cliff road getting passed by tour buses, cars, and motorcycles, especially since the last time I was on a bike was the night before coming to Taiwan and well, I still have the scars. Despite my hesitation I got on the bike and followed the others down the gorge road. I am so glad that I did. It was downhill the whole way so I spent more time riding the break than peddling. The road turned and curved, every time we flew through a tunnel it seemed we emerged on the other side in a blast of sunshine and greenery. I have never felt so free or content in my life.
We took breaks from our biking to do several short hikes. The Xiangde Temple Trail;
Then a little further on we stopped at the Changchun Shrine;
Biking back to the B&B was a little more challenging, when we actually had to pedal and I realized my gears didn’t work. I brought up the rear of the pack on the last uphill into the driveway. Overall it was an amazing weekend. This was the Formosa I have come to discover and fall in love with. I have never felt more in the right place in my life than when I was on a bike flying down the Taroko Gorge roads this weekend and I thought to myself; maybe no direction is sometimes the right direction.
Thanks to Stu and Neil from Taiwan Adventures (http://www.taiwan-adventures.com/ ) for organizing this weekend, I would definitely recommend their tours to any nature lover or adventure junkie visiting or living in Taiwan.