10.10 & Hualien

October 9th-12th, 2014

Here in Taiwan Independence Day is October 10th, or as everyone says here 10.10. I find it all rather ironic that it is Independence Day when Taiwan is still under the umbrella of the Republic of China, but I don’t feel like arguing about Taiwanese politics in this post.

Since 10.10 was a holiday, and took place on a Friday, all of the HESS schools had that Friday off, which meant a long weekend! It was kind of neat how this worked out because back in the states I would also have a long weekend in October for my university’s Fall Break. Nothing like having a little familiarity in Taiwan.

My friend, Pasqualle, and I had made plans a few weeks ago to go to Hualien for the long weekend.

When I was actually using my brain and thinking I booked a reservation at a hostel. However, I was not thinking when I forgot to book train tickets to and from Hualien. This meant that we had to figure out how we were going to get to Hualien to even enjoy our weekend. After going back and forth trying to decide what to do we finally settled on just standing on the train and riding it out.

Thursday:

I finished my last class at 4:00pm and was going to go home and get ready to take the train up to Banqiao where my friend Nick lives. Before I could even leave Fengyuan I already had mishaps happening! Since it was going to be a long weekend I figured I should take my trash out. The minute I walked out of my apartment and turned around to see the door close I realized that I had forgotten my keys in my apartment. My door automatically locks when it shuts so I was officially locked out of my apartment with no keys to my scooter and no access to my cellphone. I did the only thing I could do and hopped on my (thankfully unlocked) bicycle and sped to my branch school to see if they could help me. There the secretaries went back and forth translating my situation. One of them told me I would miss my train so they took me to the station to return my train ticket and get my money back. Finally, my branch manager arrived back at the school and called my landlord. I biked back home to get my door unlocked and paid the 300NT (10USD) fee. About an hour behind schedule I scanned my phone for trains, finished packing, and left my apartment with keys in hand.

I was able to buy a train ticket, with a seat (!), and still have time to get coffee. So, my blunder worked out in the end.

Arriving in Banqiao I met Nick’s father, John, and we were later joined by Pasqualle. Now Nick had purchased train tickets to Hualien for Friday with the leaving time being 6:00pm in the evening. I convinced Nick and John that we should just stand 3 hours in the morning and get to Hualien before noon. That way we had the whole day ahead of us. They agreed and we went to the train station to get the time changed on the tickets. Somewhere between Nick’s apartment and the train station I lost a ticket so I had to pay 473NT (15.75USD) to get a new one and I used another 500NT (16.67USD) to pay Nick for my original ticket. Needless to say I was ready for the evening to end after foolishly losing all that money. After a couple glasses of wine (to soothe the pain) we all went to bed.

Our Nice Little Chef Nick

Friday:

Rising early we were all ready to go and at the train station to catch our 8:27am train to Hualien. Since the train was full, as I predicted it would be, we stood most of the way taking turns sitting on the steps by the train door. It was a coastal train so at least we saw beautiful views along the way.

Arriving in Hualien we went our separate ways since we were staying at different hostels.

First view in Hualien

Pasqualle and I walked to our hostel, getting lost for about an hour, and then finally finding the place and checking in. We stayed at the Overhead Hostel for two nights and it only cost us less than 60USD total. Plus, we got to stay in a bright green room and sleep under amazing comforters.

Overhead Hostel, Hualien, Taiwan

The Green Room

The Green Room

Getting hungry Pasqualle and I walked around trying to find food. While Hualien has beautiful scenery it is obvious why it is not known for its’ food. (That, or we were just not in the right area.) We walked around for quite a bit until we settled on a place to eat at. The restaurant was busy so we were placed outside, but it was so nice out that it didn’t bother us.

Nick and John met us at the restaurant with the announcement that they had rented scooters for the weekend. I had not planned on renting a scooter so I was a little frustrated at this news. Pasqualle and I went on the hunt to find a scooter shop that would rent a scooter to me without an International or Taiwanese driver’s license, but we didn’t have any luck. It would have cost me 2,000NT (67USD) to rent the scooter for two days. By this point I was very frustrated because I had just wasted time looking for a scooter I didn’t even want to rent instead of exploring Hualien. We finally decided we were just going to do our own thing that weekend whether it matched Nick and his dad’s plans or not. With this in mind we walked to the Hualien bus station and got on the next bus for Liyu Lake. The best part was it only cost 60NT (2USD) to get there; now that is my type of price range!

At Liyu Lake Pasqualle and I had one mission: to find kayaks. We quickly found a kayak rent tent and rented a kayak for 200NT (6.67USD) for an hour. I am thankful that Pasqualle brought up the idea of changing into a bathing suit before we left the hostel because our butts got so wet! We kayaked around the lake for an hour and it was absolutely beautiful. I don’t think my pictures can justify how peaceful it was. Back on shore we went for a little walk partially around the lake before getting back on the bus for Hualien (another 60NT).

In Hualien, we changed at our hostel and took a cab to one of the most famous night markets in the city: Ziqiang Night Market. It was packed! Due to the holiday weekend everyone was out eating food with family and friends. We ignored all of the stands with long lines knowing that we wouldn’t be patient enough to stand and wait in them. All the food we ate was delicious, and we even got a super cheap yoghurt ice cream (thank you Taiwan Independence Day discount!). After the night market I convinced Pasqualle to go on the search for a bag to take to Taroko Gorge the next day since we didn’t want to take our purses or big bags. I feel so sorry for her because I made us walk a long way before I found this random thrift shop and bought a used wear-and-tear backpack for 48NT (1.60USD). We were all set to go and took a cab back to the hostel, got ready for bed, and went to sleep.

Saturday:

Up early again Pasqualle and I got ready, left the hostel, picked up breakfast at a breakfast shop, and were at the train station by 8:20am. We planned on meeting up with Pasqualle’s co-worker, Blair, and Blair’s boyfriend, Drew. We were going to hire a taxi to drive us through Taroko Gorge and Taroko National Park. The first taxi driver I spoke to offered 2,500NT (83.33USD) for the day. Sold! We all hopped in the taxi and Mr. John (that is what he told us to call him) took us to the gorge.

1. The Taroko National Park Entrance Marker

Mr. John stopped here first to allow us to take a group photo together. At this point you can see into the gorge and we already knew we were in for a beautiful day.

2. Shakadang Trail

This was our first hiking spot. This trail follows a river with the mountain and marble on one side of you at all times. As far as hiking goes this felt more like a stroll along a path.

3. Eternal Spring Shrine

After seeing so many pictures of this online it was so awesome to see the shrine in person. We walked the very short path to get to it and as soon as we got close the smell of incense hit us. There was also a beautiful waterfall right by the shrine as well.

4. One turn of the Tunnel of Nine Turns

Mr. John was knowledgeable enough to know where to pick-up hard hats for us. He made a stop at one of the turns of the Tunnel of Nine Turns and indicated that we needed to walk until we reached his taxi. With lovely hardhats adorned on our heads we walked the path. I thought we were going to walk all nine turns, but after driving in the car later I realized that I am glad we didn’t because it would have been a very long walk.

Nine Tunnels of Turns

Tunnel of Nine Turns

Now this is where my day got interesting. I had woke up not feeling the best. I had had night sweats all through the night and my stomach was in pain. I thought I just needed water and food, but I could barely eat my breakfast and could barely drink the orange juice I had bought. While walking through the gorge I kind of felt like I was going to collapse and had very low energy. I thought it was strange since I knew I shouldn’t be tired from such low intensity hiking. While Mr. John was driving us to the next destination in the gorge I realized it was finally going to happen; I was going to vomit. I tried telling Mr. John to pull over, but in the gorge there is often only one lane to drive along and we had finally started moving, so there was no stopping along the side of the road. So casually Mr. John just rolled down the window of the taxi and I did the only thing I could and leaned out of it and started vomiting my guts out. It was so ridiculous that at one point I had to lean back in a little bit so I wouldn’t vomit all over a scooter driving by. I felt so sorry for all my companions that had to witness this. When we stopped at another point and walked a bit I had to stop before I reached the taxi and vomit up all the liquid I had just drank. I knew by this point that I was going to spend the rest of the day in the car. Mr. John asked me if I had motion sickness and I replied no. I know when I get motion sickness and unfortunately this was not it. We think I either had the stomach flu or food poisoning.

The next stop was a place for lunch, but I was in no position to eat, so I slept in the taxi instead. The trail after lunch was 4km total and I knew I could not walk all of that so I ended up just sleeping on and off for the next 1.5 hours while the other three walked through the Water Curtain Cave and Waterfall trail.

All of us back in the taxi Mr. John said he was going to take us to the beach before he took us back to Hualien. What a great suggestion from Mr. John! He ended up taking us to Chishingtan Beach. There we were greeted with giant, powerful waves, a beautiful view, and salt water wind. The waves were so strong that at one point we had to run back to the trail next to the shore before we got soaked. (Well some of us made it. Pasqualle may have gotten wet.)

Back in Hualien we paid Mr. John and thanked him for being a wonderful make shift tour guide for the day. I gave him an extra 200NT (7USD) because I felt so bad for throwing up on his taxi and having to sleep in his taxi half of the day. We said our goodbyes and departed our separate ways. Pasqualle and I went back to the hostel and relaxed the rest of the evening. I spent the rest of the night in my bed resting. Pasqualle got to go and have fun at a BBQ that the hostel was having.

Sunday:

The last day in Hualien we slept in and checked out of the hostel at 11:00am. We stored our bags at the hostel though because we didn’t want to carry it around all day before our train at 5:23pm. Hungry, we walked to what was supposed to be a breakfast place according to Google. (Never ever ever trust Google maps in Taiwan.) This breakfast shop was really a hotel, so we turned back around and found a different breakfast place instead. With a free day ahead of us we picked out a temple that we could go visit. I hauled a taxi and with the help of Google translate and two different tourism maps (one in English and one in Chinese) our taxi driver took us to the first temple: Gong Tian Temple. Before we could pay and say our goodbyes to the taxi driver he indicated that he could pick us up in one hour and take us to another temple in Hualien. We agreed and got out at our first destination.

Gong Tian Temple is huge! It has two huge dragons that are actually staircases you can walk up. I think the temple has three floors, and it has dormitory type rooms for monks. Of course it was very detailed and beautiful.

Our cab driver picked us up and took us to the next spot, which hosts two temples: Shenan Temple and Xietian Temple.

Shenan Temple is very colorful. This one was probably my favorite out of all three. It had multiple levels, and three different buildings next to it which housed different gods. It had several pagodas attached to it too. I think we could have spent a lot of time just looking at all of the little details of everything if we had wanted to.

Xietian Temple is right next to Shenan Temple, and while also large and beautiful it was under construction so we were in that temple a very short time. From the little bits that I could see from construction it is going to look absolutely amazing when they are done. The people hired to paint that temple are doing well.

We waited again for our taxi driver. Unfortunately, we never did learn his name, but he was very nice and showed us pictures of his weekend with his family. Even without the language there you could tell he was very proud of both his taxi business and his family.

We had time to stop at one more place before we had to go to the train station. Pasqualle and I chose the Pine Garden. Pine Garden used to be an old Japanese Military Office during Japanese control. It was chosen as the office because of its’ location close to the Hualien Harbor. Now it is part of the Hualien Cultural Park. Large pine trees surround the building and Hualien does a very nice job preserving the landscape there. We had to walk on specific paths instead of just being able to walk wherever we wanted to. Inside there were different art exhibits. It was 50NT (1.67USD) to get in, which is pretty decent since it was not a very large area.

After touring Pine Garden we took one last taxi ride back to our hostel. Our whole make shift tourist attraction taxi drives totaled to 700NT (23USD). We picked up our bags, and searched for a place to eat a light dinner before our train at 5:23pm. We went into a coffee shop kind of place first, but after waiting for too long we had to leave with empty stomachs. We picked up snacks at the Family Mart and then went into local shops near the train station to pick up food gifts for our work staffs. We got on our train and stood all the way to Taipei: 3 hours. At Taipei Main Station people got off the train and we were able to sit down. At one point we thought we would have to stand back up, but the people graciously told us that they also did not have seats so we remained seated. From there we had a great conversation with the people that were standing next to our seats. One person was Taiwanese and he was talking to us about Taiwan. The other people with him were graduate students from the Philippines that were starting their first year of their masters program in Taiwan. From what they explained they would be able to get better jobs back in the Philippines with a masters degree from Taiwan, and they would be able to better help their country too. I became Facebook friends with the Taiwanese guy, Peter, and hope to meet up with him after he finishes his military requirement. It is always nice meeting new Taiwanese friends because they can explain the culture and show me local establishments that I would normally miss if I were by myself.

The group of students got off the train and than Pasqualle also got off the train in Hsinchu. I had an hour by myself on the train to just sit and ponder over the happenings of the weekend and being in Taiwan. Being here still has not become “normal” to me yet. Everything still feels so new and it is even more heightened because I am in a different country. Even though everything here hasn’t been great and some days are better than others I know this is exactly where I need to be right now in my life.

Frustrations aside Hualien was absolutely beautiful!