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.
I first agreed to join Grant on a hike Thursday morning with his friend Chris, there was a promise of some swimming holes along the way so it sounded worth the early wake up at 7:30. The early wake up call wasn't exactly enjoyable, but it was followed with a bowl of cereal and PB banana toast so I couldn't really complain (literally - my mouth was full of food). We were soon on our way out the door and rushing to the subway station where we proceeded to run (my short legs being a bit of a disadvantage). We met Chris on time but soon realized the bus we'd be taking to the mountains wouldn't come for another 40 minutes (dammnit we could've slept longer). Oh well, this gave us time to stop at 7/11 for snacks (lunch) and coffee - more mysteries in the coffee aisle as I couldn't read any of the descriptions.
The bus ride up the mountain to Yangminghsan left me a little worse for the wear with all the twists and turns, not to mention the face full of ass I got from the old man standing in the aisle next to me. About an hour later we arrived and began wandering the streets in search for the Waishauangxi trail head . The first chunk of the trail was pretty well marked and navigable, slippery stone paths and stairways with beautiful views of nature. Before long we reached a gate to the left and decent to the first swimming hole to the right. Chris said the gate is generally locked (as his hiking book advised to 'go through the hole in the fence to the right of the gate') but today was open due to some maintenance being done on the trail. We made our way down for a swim and snacks and after decided to head up the stream, instead of backtracking to the gate - we weren't sure if it'd still be open and the aforementioned hole was since repaired.
The trek up the river was pretty cool and gave me a little taste of what river trekking is like - might have to add that to my list of things to do. I swear Chris is or was a monkey is his previous life, no matter how fast I went he was always 10 strides ahead. Along the way we passed by some friendly Taiwanese, an old badass woman, a group enjoying lunch overlooking the river, and a pair of men that eagerly shared their picture of a snake with us. We probably would've spent more time exploring the trail or swimming in the stream but Chris was pressed for time since he had to work later that afternoon so we pushed on. Towards the end of the trail you come out to a completely different scenery of long grass and buffalo foot prints. I thought they were kidding earlier in the day when they mentioned this, but sure enough there were buffalo roaming the fields as we emerged from the forest. Chris departed for the bus, leaving Grant and I to spend a little more time exploring the area and making friends with the animals.
After hitting some sights with Cory on Sunday morning we were left with a big question mark on what to do for the afternoon. Options were looking grim as the rain came down outside, so we started with lunch at a nearby shop to try the popular beef noodle soup. After lunch the weather was looking better so we decided to hike the battleship rock trail, ending at the Beitou hot springs. We caught the MRT around 4:30 and got off at Shipai station, a few before the Beitou stop, and the point at which our hike would begin. I think the highlight of this outing may have been riding the subway way Cory - standing at about 6'7" he could barely stand inside and of course was a spectacle for all of the Taiwanese to stare at. Despite the fact that Grant and Cory have a good foot on me in height I managed to keep up with them during the hike. Along the way we made a stop to do some hula hooping - just like in Korea they're out for public use, so random, but my skills were better than expected! We reached the peak at dusk which made for some great views of the city.
After continuing on along the trail we came to a temple, that's one thing that makes hiking in both Taiwan and Korea more interesting - there'll be awesome temples along the way. Makes for both a good photo opportunity, resting point and sometimes history lesson. This was was full of golden statues of ??? er I forgot who, sorry - but they were still awesome.
The hike made for an enjoyable afternoon and also a lesson in sports for me - Cory and Grant talked basketball the whole time, seriously foreign language for me. The length was perfect as we arrived to Beitou just as the sun was setting. The only down side was that the hot springs were closed from 6:30 to 7:30, we assume for cleaning, so we had to wait a while before we could enter. Not a major problem though as we grabbed some beer and sat by the stream dipping our feet in.
At 7:30 we made our way back paid our 100NT (little over $3) and entered the springs. There were a few different pools, one cool and four ranging from hot to burn your skin off. I drew the line at pool three where only my feet could withstand the torture for about 3 seconds. Cory was in the final pool for a few minutes and claimed it felt good, but then was later stating that he thought he melted his insides. After an adequate soak in the springs we were all ready for some food - clearly it was time to introduce Cory to night market glory.
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.