Taroko and The Outskirts of Hualien

For the long weekend my coworker arranged a trip to Hualien and asked if I wanted to come along. She had an ABC friend visiting who wanted to see Taroko Gorge. I went to Taroko last November for a hiking trip with Taiwan Adventures so I figured this trip would be a less rigorous way to see the rest of the park. I was very disappointed in November when we could not see the infamous water curtain because the trail was closed, so this time I was determined to see it.

We left from Taipei City Hall bus terminal, where we had an hour bus ride to Luodong. When we got to Luodong we had a short wait then another hour by train to Hualien. We then had to get a taxi to our hostel near the entrance of Taroko about a half hour from the Hualien City train station. Making our arrival around 2 AM, much to the dismay of our tired receptionist, Ken. The train and bus all together was about 360 NT (around $13 USD) the most expensive part was the cab ride at 700 NT (about $25 USD).

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The most painful part of the trip was sitting next to Abraham on the train, an older aboriginal Taiwanese man who was trying to convert me to “kitchen”. He had to name drop Jesus Christ for me to realize he was saying “Christian”. This was after he asked me all the usual invasive Taiwanese basic questions; How old are you? How much do you make? How much do you pay for rent? I’m surprised he didn’t ask how much I weigh, I was ready for it.

We listened to bible study on his I-pod a little and I tried to ask him about the local religions in Taiwan because I am not quite clear on what the main population believes. All I got out of Abraham was “Most people follow the Buddha, but there is only one true god” not exactly the kind of cultural lesson I was looking for. Most aboriginals however are devoted Christians because of missionaries in the mid and late 20th century. I guess the Mormon’s who live in my building actually do things other than ride their bikes around all day.

When he saw my coworker’s boyfriend he was very curious;

Abraham:He is a black?

Me: Yes, he is black.

Abraham: But he is not so dark.

Me:No.

Abraham: Kind of like Mexican.

Me:…

I was just thinking in my head I couldn’t wait to tell my coworker who actually is Mexican what he said about her boyfriend.

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Liwu Hostel was in a beautiful location, a 15 minute walk from the park visitor center and Ken and his wife spoke English very well and were pretty helpful with information. Ken’s mother and I had the basic conversation that was about the extent of my Chinese abilities, (or at least of what I know well enough to think of on the spot, I always remember the right words hours or days later. )

Ken’s Mom:Where are you from?

Me:I am American.

Ken’s Mom:What is your career?

Me:I am an English Teacher.

Ken’s Mom:Where do you live?

Me:Taoyuan, Nankan.

Ken’s Mom: How long have you been in Taiwan?

Me:Eight Fish.

Ken’s Mom:….

Me: no no no, Fu-ish-a

Ken’s Mom:Not Fish, Month. Eight months.

Me: Eight Mon-th-s.

 

I later heard her tell my coworker’s boyfriend who can speak Chinese almost fluently that I need to practice my pronunciation. I heard; “her” “not well” “speak”, and could put the rest together on my own.

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The first Day we headed to the Changun Shrine (Eternal Shrine) which was named for the water flowing all year round through the temple. We walked to the visitor center and got the park shuttle from there.

If you are planning on visiting Taroko, the park’s shuttle only goes to the most touristy hen yao ming (famous) areas and it is not reliable so I would suggest renting a scooter or car or hiring a taxi for the day to get around.

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Even though I have seen it before the shrine was beautiful. It was an overcast drizzly day so there were not many other tourists around.

 

We walked around the Changun Shrine, then over to the Buddhist monastery famous for the giant golden Buddah Lying Down, a statue of Buddha on his deathbed.

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Being dubbed the guide of the group, I read the map wrong and was under the impression we could walk to the next scenic spot, swallows grotto, only 1.4 km away. We met a group of Taiwanese about our age who asked us where we were going and told us it was bu hen jin (not close). I then rechecked and realized it was 5km not 1.4… They helped us wave down cars and taxis until we finally got picked up by a taxi that brought us back to the hostel.

 

It was raining but there was time to relax before dinner so I went for a job around our hostel down to the Liwu River that ran into the Pacific Ocean.

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The next morning was bright and sunny and my jog looked like this;

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We had dinner at a local aboriginal home, chow mien and fried eggs, and were invited to stay and drink but politely declined as we wanted to get an early start the next day. It is a stereotype that aboriginals here drink a lot, but like most stereotypes, it comes from some truth. In many aboriginal communities drinking is a large issue, and it is not uncommon to see older aboriginals on the east coast and south walking into 7-11 shirtless and stumbling around from 8 am to 4 am.

We called it an early night and after my run, we got into the park around 10 AM the next day. This time we took the park shuttle all the way to the last stop Tianxiang, so I could finally see the Baiyang Waterfall curtain.

The entrance to the trail was under a bridge on the main road, it may have been easy to miss if not for the people popping in and out of the side of the road.

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It started out as a long tunnel. I had a flashlight though with enough other people around with lights it would have been manageable without one.

Since it is one of the most famous and shorter hikes in the park it is more of a walking path than an actual hike. To the waterfall is about 2.5 km.

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And to the water curtain is maybe another .5km. I didn’t bring my camera into the water curtain because it would have gotten soaked so I got these pictures on-line. I finally can cross the water curtain off of my Taiwan bucket list now.

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We walked through the curtain and it was quite a cool relief. It kept us damp and cool for our walk back on the hot sunny day.

When we got back into Tianxiang we went to see the 7 story Pagoda and the temple of the four faced Buddha. Again ones I have seen before but no less stunning.

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We waited for the 4PM park bus and got back to our hostel around 5PM. We had an early dinner at a traditional aboriginal restaurant. The dishes consisted of banana rice, fresh caught mountain boar (or fish in my case) pumpkin soup, bamboo rice and sweet potato. Delicious.

 

On the way back to the hostel we saw an older couple with a baby monkey sitting outside their house. It was a wild macaque the man said he got from Taroko. My cohorts took plenty of pictures of the adorable little thing that I am still waiting on, but I stayed clear. The first time I was in Taroko we saw wild macaque’s on a hike and they are ferocious, I knew that thing would grow up to be a little beast. I was also very wary of how the old man got the monkey. I doubted it wandered down from deep in the park all on it’s own. The aboriginal’s were exempt from hunting permits and licenses and could hunt as they pleased in the Taroko area, and I have no doubt that some of the poached and sold some of these native animals as exotic pets for extra money. A wild macaque definitely not something I would want to keep in my house as a pet.

 

The next morning Ken kindly drove us to the train station where we rented bicycles, not before giving us some traditional Zhongzi made by his mother for Dragon Boat Festival. We rode bikes from the train station to the coast and sat on the beach for a little while. The current was too strong to go in. Even the locals warned us not to go past our knees when they saw us heading to the beach, you didn’t need to tell me twice. I got in to my knees and the pull was so much stronger than the beaches on the north coast, that was enough for me.

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We got into Taipei at 3:00 from the train station, a non-stop with standing room only. In Taipei you would never have known it was a holiday, it was just another usual busy city day. Though I didn’t get to stand an egg at noon or see any dragon boats, I did get to eat plenty of Zhongzi! One of my coworker’s made a special vegetarian one all for me!

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