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 .
The ride through town was a bit frightening at parts - I realized this when I released my death grip from the back of the seat at the gas station. I'm not sure exactly what my problem was, maybe I had some residual fears from our fall a few days. About 5 minutes after stopping at a gas station to use the bathroom and fill the tire with air we both looked up and saw a "Welcome to Taroko" sign which we weren't yet expecting, but at the same time glad to see. We stopped at the visitor center which confirmed what was already expected - most of the major hiking trails were closed due to typhoon damage a few weeks before. I knew that by the time we left the office Grant would be asking me if I wanted to hike the trails, regardless of the closures - and sure enough those were some of the first words out of his mouth. Feeling like a mom responding to a kid's plea I answered with a we'll see.
After a bit of disappointment about not being able to hike we continued on our way and soon came upon the Eternal Spring Shrine, complete with hoards of tourists and buses. There was a short hike walk which was open, leading closer to the shrine however the longer trail was, you guessed it, closed.
We drove on for a little while longer and took a turn off the main road to go check out a temple and escape the tour buses. The temple wasn't far off the main road but thankfully it was nearly deserted, except for two men drinking tea. We walked their way as Grant practiced his Chinese ability (much higher than he lets on) and before we knew it we were sitting enjoying traditional tea and snacks (sweet potato chips = yum) with them. I of course, couldn't add much to the conversation but it was still awesome to sit there and relax and I managed to understand snippets of their conversation. One of the men was a local police officer and super friendly - I really wish I could have said more!
We continued on our way along the winding roads of Taroko, taking in the views and trying to avoid head on collisions with over-sized tour buses. Seriously this place was not built for these behemoths, get off the road and leave it for the rest of us to enjoy! The weather was less than optimal with small bursts or rain coming and going throughout the day, but we weren't going to let that affect us. The next stop was Buluowan which promised multiple hiking trails as well as a hotel serving aboriginal food. We pulled into the area around 5 pm and found it to be somewhat of a ghost town, kind of the way we preferred it. There were four different trails starting in the area so we started with the Buluowan-Swallow Grotto (Yanzikou) trail. After hiking I summarized the trail as: "That was the universe telling me I sat on my ass too much today". Basically the trail was about 500 stairs leading down to the road, after which the only option was to go back up. It was nice to get off the road and move a little but the trail didn't offer much in the way of sightseeing - we did spot a frog though!
After that we tried to Buluowan Lower Terrance - Meander Core Trail, our map clearly had a typo as it stated the trail would take 50minutes and we were easily finished within 10. Highlight of this trail? I saw a monkey! (but he was too fast for a picture). Finally there was the Bulowan Upper Terrace - Bamboo Groves Trail, we had to do this one twice because we thought we missed something - like a turnoff to a real trail, but no. The trail was clearly made for tourists who didn't want to actually venture into the wild - a wooden boardwalk circling around the back of the hotel area, I wasn't impressed. After the mild disappointment we decided to try dinner - the hotel offered a buffet style meal featuring traditional aborigine dishes, it had a steep price of nearly $20 but there weren't many other options so we went for it. The food was okay but my sweet tooth was definitely satisfied with the array of desserts available - I think we collectively ate 4+ piece of chocolate cake, oops.
After dinner we still had a 20 minute drive until Tianxiang which is where we were hoping to find accommodation for the night. I guess we spent more time eating than we realized because it was already past 8 o'clock and we found ourselves in the dark. There was a bit of a scare when we thought the scooters headlight didn't work but thanks to the light from my cellphone and pushing all the buttons I could find, we figured it out. John Mayer serenaded me (about all my cellphone was useful for in this trip) as we made our way through the dark and winding roads. We negotiated a bit of a deal at the Tianxiang Youth Hostel and were soon relaxing in our room.
The next morning we woke at 7, made our way down for the included breakfast and were soon on our way to find some open hiking trails. The first stop was at the Baiyan Waterfal Trail which began in the middle of a tunnel on the side of the road, this one looked promising.
The first half of the trail offered beautiful views but were somewhat disrupted when a scooter and then a SUV came barreling down the road - umm I thought I was in nature? The trail wound around the top of a ledge with views of the water below, led through a few dark tunnels and came out to a suspension bridge ending at a lookout platform. After the platform the trail continues through another tunnel and gets a bit more serene - no SUV's allowed! The trail comes to an end at Shuiliandong (the water curtain), basically a long porous tunnel that allows the water to come through at different points, pretty cool. I'm not sure why but multiple times during this hike I felt like I was in line for a ride at Disney or Six Flags (i.e. the buildup to the Batman ride), don't ask why.
Back to our scooter ready to make our way back towards the entrance to the park, stopping along the way for a few more sights. The final trail we decided to attempt was the Lushui Trail which according to our map, should take about an hour and offer forest views, a suspension bridge, running water and cliffs. After this trail we were about ready to call it quits, there weren't many other options as far as hiking goes but I'm not so sure I could've handled it anyway. I think the travel and lack of sleep was starting to get the better of me and I was just ready to be settled somewhere, plus I was hungry and there was no food in sight. We made our way back through the park with one last stop at an awesome suspension bridge.
Once back into town we returned the scooter (thankfully didn't have to pay any extra for going over our one day time limit) and tried to figure out a time to catch the train. There was one leaving at 2:30 giving us only a half hour to grab some food, our bags and buy tickets. Of course, the station was packed leaving us scrambling to try and get tickets before the train left as we didn't' really want to wait for a later one, kind of made me feel like I was on the Amazing race (I totally want to do that by the way). We thought we pulled off buying tickets at the old school machine, but apparently they weren't good until the 2:50 train so we joined the crowds, waiting for a bit and were soon on our way back to Taipei.
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.