National Week Vacation Part 2

The train was comfortable and we both napped at some point, although it was an express train and we arrived at 10. Our budget hotel turned out to be right across the street from the train station. We rolled in, went to bed, and woke up extremely early again. We ate breakfast at a little stall (same deal, luobogao, danbing, a sandwich) before going to the bus station. Unfortunately the next bus was two hours later, so we ended up taking a taxi (expensive. 800 NTD, just about 25 dollar)for the forty minute ride. We checked in and dropped off our bags at the Leader Village Hotel in Buluowan, right in the middle of Taroko National Park. Unfortunately, since it was 9 in the morning, they couldn’t give us our room, but held our bags behind the desk. We checked out some maps, walked down to the visitor center a few minutes away, bought water, dried fruit and jerky, and started on a hiking expedition.

Scenic Leader Village Cabins

First was the Swallow Grotto trail. Mostly stairs, lots of spider webs. I had many mini panic attacks as bugs flew onto my head, until I made the boy lead. Then had another mild freak out at a bright black and yellow spider nearly the size of my fist. Ugh.

Giant Robot-Eating Spiders Waiting to Pounce on Me

A lot of the trails I remembered hiking were closed due to recent earthquakes and rock slides caused by the typhoon, so we didn’t see the Trail of Nine Turns or the Water Curtain Cave, which are big attractions. However, even with the road strewn with bits of broken rocks and guardrails bent by larger chunks of broken marble, it was still breathtakingly beautiful. Marble cliffs, dense verdant jungle, the roaring river below. We walked along narrow highway carved precariously into the mountain sides with dynamite. It’s a treacherous, curving road, we hugged the sides, as tour buses and cars sped past, walking by far the least favored way to see the gorge. Water rushes muddily below, erosion of eons cutting the river deep in the marble banks. After an hour or so we reached a point where clean, turquoise blue, clear water from the mountain hits the muddy grey deluge. We took a short break and I used this opportunity to snack on some jerky in a pagoda. The last of the cloud cover finally burned off by then, the sky emerging beautiful blue with a warm sun. A little further down past the waterfall we stopped to admire, we stumbled upon a suspension bridge that posted “permits only!”

Permit Only, Do Not Proceed.

We ignored it, of course, and crossed, plunging onward into thick jungle and an almost vertical path. I think I glimpsed a wild boar or maybe a monkey, but silence descends and we continue. At times the trail is us scrambling up stones and dirt steps while clinging onto knotted ropes or chains wrapped around tree trunks or drilled into the stone cliff. We climbed a flimsy looking ladder that was just thin tree branches and twine. The effort was worth it though, as the trail ended at the top of the water fall we had seen below. A few yards away the river plunges down the depth it took us about an hour to climb up, but large rocks form a barrier to the edge and there’s a clear, shallow pool of the running water, ringed by rocks perfect for sitting. I took off my shoes and socks to soak my feet in icy cold water, splashed it on my arms and face. We rested there for a while, soaking in the natural beauty and the peacefulness, before descending. We pass the campsite (we had considered this as a cheap option, but the logistics would have been tough to figure out) and found the He Liu trail. We walked the length, about 3-4 kilometers. Then started another trail this one 5.5 k long.

Taking a break in the water fall river

The Waterfall We Just Hiked Up

HIghest Peaks in Taroko

Thankfully we took another little break, eating the rest of the jerky, and all of the dried fruit (which oddly enough, contains dried bananas, apples, pineapple, sweet potato, carrot and green beans). The trail went up and up and up, to the tops of some of the peaks. More chains and ropes to get across slippery, steep spots, a few big drop-offs from the trail, a few more waterfalls. It took us maybe 2 hours total but felt more like 2 weeks, by the end I was breathing heavily, sweaty, smelly, and tripping over my own feet. Sawyer tried to be encouraging, and kept telling me, we’re almost there, it wont go up any higher, and before he would finish the sentence, there would be more upward stairs. But we made it. I was too tired to even think about walking back so we stuck our thumbs out and a very nice family pulled over and drove us back to Buluowan (we had to walk up the driveway, that took us another twenty minutes).

Now, normally I would never consider hitch hiking., but this was the second time I’ve hitchhiked in my life, both times in Taiwan. People are exceedingly friendly and go out of their way to help you, and it helps that they love Americans. I probably wouldn’t ever consider hitch hiking by myself, since I’m not an idiot, but this was safe enough. I’ve even seen it offered on some travel sites as a viable mode of transport in Taiwan.

We got back to the hotel, sucked down several cups of haw plum juice (its a weird, salty sweet flavor that’s amazing when you’re dehydrated, but needs to be watered down if you’re not) and situated in our room. Showers were immediately in order, as well as rinsing out clothes. I fell asleep before I finished getting dressed, and only woke up for dinner. That’s what happens when you hike for seven hours with only one small meal of dried meat and fruit.

Wild Piggy Millet Wine Shot

Dinner was in the main building at 6, and at 8 they offer a Hakka tribal performance. We showed up at six precisely, ordered quickly–a set menu that included salt baked filet mignon, soup, sauteed vegetables, forest mushrooms, a tube of sticky rice, pig skin salad, tomato salsa-like sauce, as well as fried rice and another plate of vegetable and another soup. They started the meal with adorable wild piggy shot glass that you kiss and drink out of, but it was filled with gross millet wine. The food was good and filling. We shared a plate of passion fruit for dessert and abandoned the restaurant quickly, to the receptionist’s disappointment. They might be part of my ethnic heritage, but I had no desire to watch the Hakka tribe dance. I was in bed by 7:30 and asleep by 8.

Pig Skin Salad, Tomto Salad, Mushrooms, Salt Baked Steak, Greens and Sweet Potato, Bamboo Rice

We woke up early again and had breakfast. I had congee and lots of cranberry bread toasted with butter, and watched swarms of brilliant blue butterflies in the garden. I admired the scenery, that I had failed to appreciate the afternoon before in my exhaustion. Mountains ring the hotel, and two waterfalls are situated perfectly in view, it’s captivating. They drove us back to Hualian and we were there in plenty of time to catch our train. An uneventful nap-filled ride back to Taipei, where we ate some lunch at an underground mall–run of the mill dumplings and soup, and had some frozen yogurt, since the shave ice store was out of fruit. Then we took the train to Songshan domestic airport.

The flight was short and peaceful, only an hour long and the plane was tiny. We arrived in Magong to find the weather cleared right up. Our hotel (Hi One One Homestay or 海湾湾 民宿) was amazing. It’s really better translated as a bed & breakfast. Judy, the owner, came to pick us up at the airport. It was about twenty minutes away, outside of the downtown area, with a view of the windmill park and harbor. We had our pick of rooms–since we ended up staying for two nights, we could choose a room with one double bed that we’d have to move to a room with two double beds the second night, or stay two nights in a room with two double beds and a gorgeous bathtub. It was an obvious choice. GIANT GORGEOUS TILE BATH TUB. The whole building had great decor, cheerful colors, and was built only 3 years ago. The room was comfortable, had a big TV, small couch, great bathroom with a waterall shower and aforementioned huge tile tub, even a little deck with two chairs and a table, and wireless.

Judy gave us a moped to travel (she thought we wanted a motorcycle, which requires a Taiwan license. Sawyer had a motorcycle in Vietnam, but no license and I certainly don’t have a motorcycle license). She insisted on giving us a little tutorial even though the boy has a moped in Beijing and I refused to drive because I know if I drive a moped bad things will happen. We zipped down to the downtown harbor area and settled on a seafood restaurant that Judy recommended. As we were walking down the street, a little old man just wanted to know if we needed help or directions, and to chat about where in America he had lived. It’s almost jarring, coming from Beijing, or really many other Asian cities, to go to a place where people want to talk to you because they’re nice and genuinely curious, rather than trying to sell/steal/con you into something.

I Want to Eat That One

The ‘menu’ at the restaurant consisted of pointing to different tanks of live seafood and picking out how many you wanted cooked what way. We picked out oysters (grilled), sea urchin (sashimi style) cherry-stone clams (sauteed whole with garlic and scallions), cuttle fish (fried with vegetables), two large shrimp (grilled whole), and fried noodles. The oysters were amazing, fresh, tasty. The uni was just alright, a little bland and not the best I’ve had but still, very fresh. The clams were my favorite–tiny little nibbles the size of corn kernels, but sweet and delicious. The squid was good and the noodles were decent. The shrimp were amazing too. Grilled, served whole like lobster, with wedges of lime and salt and pepper to dip it into. We ate up the tails, and while Sawyer disdained to suck the meat out of the carcass,I dug right in. I have no bones with getting a little messy–some of the best meat is in the head! Sorry, my Asian is showing (my dad makes fun of how my mom and I eat lobsters at home, picking through the carcasses for those tasty little nuggets hidden in there). we washed this all down with Taiwan beer, the gold label dark beer is actually pretty decent.

Grilled Oysters

Omnomnom Tiny Delicious Clams

Fresh Uni

Giant Grilled Shrimp

Then we zipped around the corner for a shave ice stand. It was particular to Penghu, not quite the shave ice I’ve had before and was craving, in this dish the ice was actually frozen winter melon, with red beans, taro and sago pearls and cream. We picked up a bottle of red wine from one of the many 7-11s and Judy provided us wine glasses, a corkscrew, and some seasoned peanuts as snacks. I had my glass of wine with a bubble bath–pure relaxation.

Taiwanese Breakfast Sandwich

Yet another early start. Judy made us breakfast at 8. Fruit, sandwich with thick, chewy, salty baked ham, fried egg and cucumber. Salad. Scrambled egg with hotdogs. She gave us more recommendations on the maps and we set out. We went all the way north, to Yuwengdao lighthouse. It took about two hours to get there. we stopped every now and then to change the battery on the moped–Penghu has a great setup. The mopeds carry two batteries beneath the seat. Once one gets depleted, you can exchange it for free at any 7-11 store for a fresh one. Super convenient. At one stop, a friendly local asked if we needed directions, and how we were doing and where we were from. His brother was apparently the mayor of whatever little county we were in. The lighthouse was kind small and behind a military base. We took a few pictures and went on. There were some interesting fishermen graves, tombs shaped like beached boats, on the grassy hills on either side of the highway. We missed the turnoff for the Xihu fort, but continued on. Passed many roadside temples but didn’t stop. Stopped at the Whale Hole Rock–erosion has left a hole that is shaped like a whale. Sort of.

Moped Robot

It was the windiest point of the island–I was struggling to stand up straight without being blown over. Nearby were a few restaurant that all sold the same thing–Penghu’s signature thin rice thread noodles in broth with cuttlefish. It was pretty good. We shared a local dessert–a Hood cup of garnet colored cactus fruit granita on top of a peachy colored sherbert. The sherbet was good but the cactus fruit tasted halfway between dried haw flake candy that I used to eat as a kid, and what I imagine incense tastes like. As we left I spied some adorable stray cats that no doubt thrive on discards from the restaurants. The kittens, in the middle of the street, were no bigger than half of Hector’s head. Two could have fit in my hand. I very strongly wanted to scoop them up and put them in my pocket and bring to China with me. I just barely resisted the urge.

Cactusfruit Granita

We breezed down to the southern end to see the Fenggui basalt columns, and then back up to the Shili beach. It was gorgeous, and empty. We had been chivied by everyone about being cold–ok, but please, it was in the 80s, perfect beach weather if you’re from New England, but apparently freezing for a citizen of Penghu. It may have been a tad windy, but still, the beach was great, even if I did get painfully sunburned on my legs despite precautions to prevent just that. Nice people kept waylaying us, asking if we needed directions, wanting to chat, asking if we weren’t cold with no sweater. After a little foray into the water, we sat in the sun while the wind whipped up sand across the beach. At one point, firecrackers went off at the temple across the street.

Shili Swimming Beach

We rode back to the hotel, where I was admonished for wearing only a bathing suit and my wrap skirt, still damp, in the wind. After cleaning up and changing into real clothes, we went to dinner at another of Judy’s recommendations. An old, cool little building, old glass fishing marker bubbles in nets hung from the ceiling as decorations. The menu was a challenge: not only was it in traditional, but in a script I could barely decipher. I asked the waiter for some help, but his accent was pretty illegible. Stressed and hungry, I just told him to bring out three dishes that didn’t have any of Sawyer’s allergies and just to surprise us. He made some good picks. Ma-po mussels, a egg and seafood omelet, mushrooms, barley rice.


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