As if removing myself from the hot sun and beaches of the Philippines for cold and rain in Taiwan wasn't enough I decided to add another curveball to the mix. While my 'volunteer' work at Seaside consisted of drinking with the workers I couldn't have done more of a 180 by plopping myself at an English school with 30 some children everyday. I thought I was going through culture shock with my first two days in Taiwan, and that was before you add in all the kids. To be quite honest I wasn't happy, there were multiple occurrences of checking flight prices and wondering if I could leave Taiwan early; plus it didn't help that Caroline was continually reminding me of the fun I could have been having at Seaside. I've come to realize that it takes me a few days to transition into my new environments so as much as I wanted to leave I told myself to wait it out, things would surely get better.
Everyone told me that I would change during my year living abroad, and I'm sure they're right, but then again who doesn't change over the span of a year? Add to it the fact that I'm 23, still trying to figure out what I'm doing with my life, and living in a foreign country - yeah changes will be inevitable. Maybe it's that I've hit the 6 month mark, or maybe it was traveling alone, to another country (as if living alone in one isn't enough), but more than likely I think it was the long hours of hiking that led to a few realizations.
I think I like punishing myself - but it's all for a good reason, right? Another early morning wake up call and rush to the train station - that seems to be a theme of this trip, no? Anyway we got lucky with train times and caught the 7:10 train to Hualien, we even got seats (unlike our first trip to Alishan where we spent half the ride in the cargo car). I feel like i'm about to sound like a broken record but this trip was much like the beginning of Alishan, we rearranged some luggage, stored my large backpack in the baggage room and ventured out for a scooter and lunch. The woman we rented the scooter from was extremely friendly (even if we couldn't communicate much past body language and smiles). While Grant ran back to get his ID from our bag at the station she showed off her pet pig and even tried sharing her lunch with me. Lunch was a not so glamorous lunch box from the shop next door but cheap and filling - just what we needed. A few more stops for necessities like money, gas and a knee brace (finally, after 5 years of talking about it I bought one for my Grandma knees) we were on our way to Taroko National Park .
After our adventures in Alishan it was time to head South, on to the islands second largest city Kaohsiung. Thanks to the free WiFi at 7/11 and some luck we arranged to stay with another CouchSurfer, Boris a local from Kaohsiung with good (British) English due to studying in the UK for 7 months. Boris was nice enough to meet us at the station and stop by a night market for some more snacks before heading back to his place. I'm pretty sure as soon as my head hit the pillow I was wiped out, it had been a long day. The next morning I was up by 8 and getting ready as I was supposed to meet another CouchSurfer, Vanessa at the Kaohsiung main station. We were planning to spend the morning exploring Lotus lake and it's surroundings
After Grant's convincing I decided to cancel my train Sunday morning and stay in Taipei for another day. I think a major factor was the wine buzz I had going Saturday night, thoughts of catching an 8am train were no where in sight. After realizing he didn't have to work the rest of the week Grant asked if he could tag along for the rest of my trip. Why I agreed is beyond me - after all this is the guy that told me I looked older (that's a first) than 23, due to my wrinkles' although he later determined it's because I'm always smiling/laughing partially redeeming himself. In all seriousness, I was up for having a travel partner and with his help renting a scooter was a much likelier possibility.
After our adventure on Thursday I agreed to tag along with Grant and a hiking group on Saturday - destination Beishi Stream Historical trail which would connect us to Wantan trail and Pingxi/Xiangliao trail. The total time was estimated to be between 7-8 hours of hiking but there was promises of ending at a beach for swimming and seafood so I was sold.
To be honest I didn't plan all that much before leaving for Taiwan - I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do and some of the sights I wanted to see but aside from that my days were up in the air. At some point the trip turned into a cross-country, full island hiking tour and I'm okay with that.
After arriving at Taipei Taoyuan International airport I caught the bus to Taipei and found myself in the apartment of a stranger - Grant, my Couchsurfing host for the next few days. Thankfully first impressions didn't scream "serial killer" and aside from telling me I have a lot of wrinkles he appeared to be a really nice guy. Little did I know he would soon turn into my travel partner for the next week. It was strange, our first meeting was more like a reunion among old friends than a meeting of two strange Americans in Asia.
This country has a smell, I can't describe it and I actually don't know what it is, but as soon as I step out of the airport I know I've arrived. The land of night markets, bubble tea and so, soooo much food, your tastebuds will be tired.