Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Taroko Gorge: The trip that almost was.

Today’s lesson: Plan ahead.
In honor of Taiwan’s 100th birthday, we had a three-day weekend.  Perfect chance to get out of Taipei and see the other wonders of Taiwan.  Ever since my Lonely Planet guide arrived in the mail back in July, I knew that Taroko Gorge was at the top of my list for must-sees in Taiwan.  So, I put the idea out to my friends, and then completely stopped doing any sort of planning.  I let everyone else take over.
Well, maybe my poor-planning Karma came back to haunt me.  The weekend was a BLAST, but I’m going to have to leave Taroko Gorge on my Taiwan Bucket List.  Never officially made it there.....
After wandering around the Taipei Main Station for a while, our motley crew managed to buy train tickets and make it to the correct platform.  
At Taipei Main Station, platform 4a

We boarded the train, and three hours later, we arrived in Hualien, the nearest town to Taroko National Park.  It was pitch black, pouring down rain, and we didn’t have a hotel reservation.  (Remember -- no plan here.)  Oh, and I forgot my umbrella.

Megan and Carys in the pouring rain
We were lucky enough to have a random 7/Eleven dude point us to a hotel across the street, where we decided to save $3US each and pile 6 grown adults into one room with two double beds.  More money for beer, I guess. 
And beer money we did spend!  We dropped our stuff and ran down the block to the KTV, dodging stray dogs along the way.  If you know me at all, you know how much I enjoy having all the attention on me, so naturally, karaoke is one of my favorite activities.  This being Taiwan, there were only a handful of English songs to choose from, but somehow we made the fun last for the entire 3 hours we signed up for.  Here’s just one sample of our amazing skills: 

My Asian karaoke debut complete, we decided the fun surely could not stop yet, so we headed to the bar.  It was a mere 5-minute death-defying cab ride away.  Perhaps we should have called it a night, but instead we stayed out “raging” until daybreak.  Ugh.  I told myself last time that I would NEVER EVER stay out at the bar until 6am again.  Well, this time I mean it.  I’m too old for that crap.
Since we partied ourselves into oblivion, no one really cared that our sleeping arrangements included one person on a padded bench, two people sharing each rock-hard double bed, and one person huddled at the foot of one bed.  We slept till noon.
After showering and convincing ourselves we were not going to die of hangover-itis, we embarked on our journey to Taroko..... the whole reason for this trip.  Unfortunately, it was already 2pm, it took us a while to figure out how to buy a bus ticket to the park (thank God Carys speaks Chinese), and then we had to wait an hour for the next bus to come.  And the bus ride itself was an hour long.  We didn’t arrive at the park until 4:30pm or so.  Oops.
It was still raining, and we had heard that the actual gorge was closed to visitors due to the danger of rock slides because of all the recent rain.  And it was going to be dark soon.  We still wanted to do some sort of Taroko activity, so we marched through the little town and up to the entrance to the park.  We found the Welcome Center closed, so we chose a trail from the map and started hiking.

Heading into Taroko National Park
Soon we discovered we were in over our heads.  Again, planning was not our strong point this weekend.  Some of the members of our group were wearing flipflops, so real hiking was out of the question.  It was raining, which made us a bit miserable.  And then we discovered the spiders.
You may remember my encounter with the spiders on Maokong Mountain.  These were their jungle brothers.  Huge, truly huge spiders hanging in massive webs just above the average height of the frequent hikers. 

Ah! Spiders!

Well, I’m taller than the average hiker, so as darkness fell upon us out in the wilderness, I became concerned for my wellbeing.  I did not want to walk unknowingly into a low-hanging spider web.  So as we made our way back down the trail to get out of the way of the impending doom of the woods, I walked doubled over at the waist, crouching down so as not be the tallest one in the group.  Call me cowardly, but someone else can get spiders in their hair.  No thanks.  I like being alive.
Safely at the bottom of Spider Mountain, we meandered back into town to wait for the bus back to Hualien.  That was the end of our time in Taroko National Park.  A whopping 1.5 hours.  Most of which I spent in not-so-quiet terror that arachnids were about to eat my face.
While we waited for the bus, we stepped into a little cafe, where the owner was serving millet wine coffee.  Basically, I think he took millet wine and reduced it down to a syrup and then poured it in coffee.  I ordered it cold, and it was .... not undrinkable.  The others ordered it hot and ended up with curdled alcoholic coffee.  Yum.  

Iced, mildly-disgusting millet wine syrup coffee 
Hot, super-nasty millet wine syrup coffee

When we arrived back in Hualien, we were famished.  We went into a restaurant where we had the most bizarre ordering experience.  Here’s a short reenactment.  Please bear in mind that the waitress spoke mostly Chinese, which only adds to the humor of the situation:
Us: Can we see the menu?
Waitress:  Sure, here is ONE menu.  I know there are six people at the table, but you can share one menu.  I will stand here at the end of the table and wait for you to order.  Please order now.  Go.
Conor: Can we have a pot of tea for the table?
Waitress: Sure, but I’ll only bring you one cup.
Conor: Can I have a lemonade with my meal?
Waitress: No, you idiot. You already ordered tea.
Janet:  I’d like an order of spicy tofu with my meal.
Waitress: Ok, crazy lady.
Me:  Can I have the Kung Pao Chicken, please?
Waitress: That’s way too spicy for you.
Me: No really, it’s ok.
Waitress: Whatever....
Megan:  I’d also like an order of spicy tofu.  Oh, and some noodles, please.
Waitress:  MORE spicy tofu????  There’s already one order!  You want TWO orders of tofu????
Megan: Yes, I’d like my own.
Vanessa:  Actually, I’d also quite like an order of spicy tofu.
Waitress:  Wait.  Three?  Three orders of tofu?  What??
Us: Yes, three.
Waitress, to Megan: Would you like taste with your noodles?  They don’t come with taste.
Megan:  I’m assuming you mean sauce, so yes, I’d like some taste on the side.
Conor: Can we get some more cups for the tea?  There are six people and only one cup.
Waitress: No.
Thank God the food was delicious because we were exhausted after just ordering.  And I spared you the part when we had to pay.....  One more example of how much I need to learn Chinese.
Of course we had no plan for the rest of the evening, but we all agreed it would be best NOT to relive our previous night’s shenanigans at the KTV.  We went to get massages instead!  My masseuse had little steel nubs implanted under the skin on his thumb knuckles, so when he rubbed my feet, he really ground into the nerves and tendons and stuff.  It was painful, but the good kind of pain.  And he taught me some Chinese along the way, so all-in-all, a wonderful experience.  Fei chang hao!

Pre-massage soak
We spent the rest of the night relaxing in our hotel, watching a delightful movie called The Bounty Hunter.  We laughed. We cried. We all agreed: this movie sucks.  Who thinks these plots up??  Still, a wiser choice than drinking beer and saki until 6am.
The next morning, we woke up “early” (11am) and headed to the train station to go back to Taipei.  Silly us, we didn’t plan ahead (!) and the trains were packed with other human beings who were also traveling on the holiday weekend.  The audacity!  We all got tickets for the same train, but there were no seats left.  Standing room only.  
The next three hours dragged on as we hunkered down together in the train bathroom waiting area.  The six people from our group, plus 4-6 other unlucky no-seat passengers, sat, squatted, and stood completely in the way of people getting on the train, getting off the train, attempting to pass through to another car, or using the bathroom. 

Our cozy little corner
It may seem as though the weekend was an endless montage of frustrating events full of disappointment and misery.  But no.  It was a comedy-packed weekend full of “we should have planned ahead” and “we’ll look back on this and laugh.”  I definitely want to go back and actually SEE Taroko Gorge.  But I’ve learned that I need to plan things out a bit better. 
Oh, and that Gerard Butler has a weird mouth.


  1. Gerard Butler is hot.
    I have given you plenty of planning opportunities...tsk tsk. I miss you.

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  3. I love that you can make me laugh from half way around the world. Waitress dialogue=hilarious. And I second Lani's comment- miss you!!