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.
Monday morning we set out early to catch the train and by 8am we were on our way to Chiayi - destination Alishan National scenic area. We arrived around 12, checked my large bag into storage, enjoyed a lunch of the local dish turkey rice and rented a scooter, pretty efficient hour if you ask me. Before heading to the mountains we wanted to stop and see the tropic of cancer - Grant had been here before and said it was worth the detour. We followed the directions from the woman at the information center and found ourselves at some strange, closed or maybe abandoned space attraction. Wasn't the same place Grant remembered visiting but it still had a plaque clamming the tropic of Cancer ran through, plus I got to sit on Mars so i'll say it was worth it. Again on our way, zooming down the streets of Chiayi we made one more stop at some random temple - there wasn't much there but I did manage to take a few pictures.
We were finally approaching our destination when all we could see was a huge traffic jam, thankfully being on a scooter we made our way to the front of the jam to see what was going on. Turns out the road was closed as they were working on chunks of it up ahead - best guess is they were clearing debris from a landslide/fallen rocks. Yeah, sure does make you feel safe when you're about to head up that way and there's been multiple reports of damage due to typhoon. It was at this point that I was grateful Grant came along and that I was on a scooter. My original plan was to take the bus up the mountain, but that would have A) caused me to want to vomit every 5 minutes and B) likely hate all the other tourists I was traveling with. Before long the road was open to traffic and we were at the head of the pack, making our way up the mountain. Oh and while we were waiting we bought some pineapple from one of the nearby vendors - dare I say that was the most delicious, fresh, juicy (and cheap!) pineapple I have ever eaten.
The winding drive up the mountain took a total of maybe two or three hours but we made a few detours and multiple stops for both photos and food. The views were breathtaking and the ride itself was something to remember - again glad I wasn't on that damn bus. I'm still impressed with myself at the amount of trust I put in Grant to drive us safely up to Alishan, the roads really weren't too bad except the part where theh house sized tour buses come flying around a corner at you.
We arrived at Alishan national park around 5pm just as the visitor center was closing - talk about perfect timing. The staff was extremely pleasant and helpful, giving us directions for the next days activities as well as suggestions on where to stay for the night. We chose to spend a bit more and get an actual room rahther than the dorm option (which were in a creepy old church) and I'm glad we did. It's amazing how much the temperature drops when you go up in to the mountains so the first thing on my mind was a hot shower and change of clothes. After warming and cleaning up we made our way to find dinner and soon found ourselves with the following set menu: chicken in brown sauce, tofu, mountain veggies, lotus flower soup and something I'm forgetting. It was all delicious and being the gluttons we are decided to get the mystery dessert of deep fried taro, (kind of like rice cake in Korea) delicious but even better when paired it with ice cream at 7/11. Shortly after we were ready for sleep, thankfully our early start and long day caused us to be tired enough to doze off by 10pm, benefitcial for our 3:50am wake up the next day. Six hours later we were awake (on time) yet we were still somehow sprinting to the train at the last minute, complete with drinks and snacks for the rest of the day. The ride up was underwhelming, but the views at the top sure did not disappoint.
After having way too much fun with my camera and goofy pictures we joined the rest of the crowd and headed back to the train - again thinking we would miss it we ran through bushes and crawled onto the platform, rather than taking the normal entrance. Our plan was to get off at Chaoping station and then head back up the mountain taking Tashan trail to the peak. The first half of the hike was a lot of stairs, and some really slippery places. There were a few non-slip strips but most of those were torn away due to hikers almost wiping out thus causing them to tear - as we figured out on our way down. We stopped a few times for pictures but mostly just enjoyed the scenery and peace and quiet - the trail was our except for one other friendly hiker.
By the time we got to the top we had eaten most of our food (7/11 bakery, bananas, coffee, and some kimbap), shed most of our layers that were required for the early morning and it was still only 10am! We took our time enjoying the views, taking pictures, and doing a bit of yoga.
We eventually made our way back down the mountain to explore what else Alishan had to offer. There are numerous hiking trails mapped out throughout the area - although we both knew nothing would be quite as impressive as what we had just seen.
As the park got more crowded we decided it was time for us to move on, next looking to find the smaller towns of Rueili and Jifeng. The drive was more peaceful this time taking smaller roads we were able to avoid the tour buses. We weren't 100% sure where we were going so we took a few wrong turns, but the result was just seeing more of the beautiful scenery. We stopped in one town, I think Fenchifu for some snacks and to look around, not much but I did try a 1000 year old egg (or at least that's what they call it), 'cooked' by being burried in the ground for about a year. It was good until you got to the yolk, but being the generous person I am I shared the majority of that part with Grant :)
Back on the road to Rueili we encountered a rough patch - rocks and mud, as they were doing some construction on a new tunnel nearby - would've been nice if that was already finished. There was one hill that was just too much for our little scooter to bear so I got off and jogged along side. After making it to the top and halfway back down we decided I could get back on. You know how black ice kind of creeps up on you out of no where - well that's what this mysterious sludge did to us, and before you knew it we were both on the ground. Thankfully we were both fine, minor cuts and lots of bruises (but hell I get bruised in my classroom) so really not a big deal - plus it made for a good story, although I was a bit hesitant to get back on the scooter.
When we finally did make it to Rueili we were both a bit worn down and didn't care too much about stopping for another hike. There were a few more trails with the shortest being close to 45 minutes, as it was getting late and we still planned to make it South to Kaohsiung we let a stop in the bathroom to wash our cuts be the extent of our visit. An hour or so later we were back, safe and sound in Chiayi, our first stop was at a fruit stand where we bought more delicious pineapple and some cantelope - can't pass up the fruit in Taiwan. Afterwards we made one more attempt at what Grant remembered to be the location of the tropic of Cancer - well so much for that, wrong again, but we did see a random tower.
By this time the 3:50am wake up call, hiking, and lack of food were starting to wear on me. I was ready to be in a bed or at least on the train - we returned the scooter (didn't have to pay any fees for the scratches!) and made our way to the train station. Our luck continued as they let us use the tickets we had for earlier (we originally had bought tickets for a 1:30 train) and would be on our way within the hour. What better way to end the day than with pineapple and beer?
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.