Saturday, May 26, 2012

Taroko Revisited

I’ve been to Taroko Gorge before.  Well, kinda.  But when my dad came to visit Taiwan, I figured this was my chance to do it again, and do it right.
A friend put me in contact with a man named Luice, who runs a bicycle touring business in Hualien.  After a couple quick emails and few phone calls, my dad and I were set up to ride bikes through the Taroko National Park.
Luice picked us up from our hostel, drove us an hour into the middle of the Park, and set us up with bikes, helmets, and lights for our trek.  He dropped us off in Tienhsiang, which is about half-way up Highway 8, the main/only road going through the Park.  From here, we were basically able to coast the 18km back to the base of the Park.  I like downhill.
The next six hours were some of the most memorable of my time in Taiwan.  Taroko Gorge is BEAUTIFUL and I spent many speechless moments staring in awe at what nature can produce!  I’ll share pictures, of course, but to truly appreciate the Gorge, you must go there yourself.  Even as Dad and I were taking pictures, we knew none could do justice to what we were seeing with our own eyes.
Ready to ride!

We only rode a couple hundred yards before stopping for our first photo op.  Across a bridge and up a million steps, we found the Heaven Summit Pagoda.  Breath-taking views of Tienhsiang.  Along the way, I stumbled across the Samantabhadra, which I assumed was the god I was named for, since obviously I’m so godlike.  Research tells me the Samantabhadra is associated with wisdom.  Well, of course.
Bridge in Tienhsiang

Samantabhadra, the original Wise Samantha

Grounds of the Main Shrine in Tienhsiang

Our adventurous spirit was in full effect at our next stop.  We spotted a suspension bridge from the road, and decided today was the day to look death in the eye.  As I walked out on the shaky bridge, past the signs warning me not to fall, all I could think of was the scene in Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom.  You know the one
So brave

Good advice

Look, Ma!  No hands!

Ohhh, ok.

As we made our way down through the gorge, we went through many tunnels, which were slightly scary on the bikes.  Some of the passes were quite narrow, and speeding tour buses seem to triple in size when a rented bike helmet is all that’s between you and a rocky end of existence.  
Entering a tunnel
Inside a tunnel
The Tunnel of Nine Turns is one of the major tourist trails in the Park.  It’s an old section of the original highway that now has traffic diverted so that it’s open for walkers.  Except, the trail hasn’t been open for a while.  Parts are collapsing from rockfalls....
The Tunnel of Nine Turns

Pieces of the rock walls.  Yep, looks like closing the trail
was the right decision.

And now, a pictorial break:
River bed


Liwu River

Taroko Gorge!

Ahhhhh, natural beauty!

Next up was Swallow Grotto, a picturesque slice of the Gorge.  The marble walls here have beautiful patterns and are covered in “pot holes.”  The swallows flock here to fly and play in the wind currents sweeping up through the Gorge from the Pacific.  Here we also passed Jhuilu Cliff, the highest shear rock cliff in the Park at 1100m.  
Swallow Grotto Trailhead

Check out the "pot holes"

Slice of sunlight

Blue lagoon?

Look at the patterns in the marble!  How?!?!

Jhuilu Cliff.  Had to crane my neck for this one,
and it doesn't even compare to the real thing!

At this point, we were famished from all our coasting and picture-taking, so we decided to try our luck at finding food and drinks in the village of Bulowan.  My Lonely Planet Guide claimed we could take in the views from a restaurant serving aboriginal dishes.  Perfect.  Little did we know that our journey to the village would be up a nearly-vertical mountain road of hairpin turns.  The 2km from the highway to the village were the most exhausting I’ve ever experienced on a bike, but I made it!  Didn’t even have to get off and push!
Sadly, the rest stop we came to in the village wasn’t truly the summit.  We had to hike up a series of what felt like 4,000 stairs to reach the restaurant.  And wouldn’t you know it, we arrived 20 minutes AFTER they stopped serving lunch.  Dear god, why must you smite us??
I MAY be wrong, but I think the rock says
"Congratulations, your heart didn't explode on the ride up here!"

Aboriginal weaver

Where's the escalator? 

Alright, alright, the ride was worth the views

Trail from the rest stop to the restaurant.
See, I wasn't exaggerating when I said "nearly vertical"

Lunch of champions

Back on the highway, we took in more sights.  OoooOoooOooo, look that this:
Hidden Temple

Liwu River

Looking for the elusive Taroko Trolls

Our last stop was at the Eternal Spring Shrine.  The shrine is dedicated to the 450 workers who died building the highway.  The spring never dries (hence “Eternal”) and pours out into the Liwu River.  Both Dad and I were nearly dead, so taking a drink from the Eternal Spring was just what we needed to revive ourselves.
Eternal Spring Shrine

Eternal Spring

Fountain of Youth?

Does this mean I'll live FOREVER?!

Father/Daughter bonding
Luice was waiting for us back at base camp.  On the ride back to Hualien, he was amazed to find out we rode up the Bulowan.  Apparently most (smart) people don’t make that trip.  Somehow the conversation turned to beer (surprise, surprise), and he suggested we stop at the Hualien Distillery for a drink.  Of course, we couldn’t say no to that....
Possibly more refreshing than the water from the Eternal Spring

Hualien Distillery

Next time you’re wondering how to kill a few days in Taiwan, you MUST go to Taroko Gorge!  I’m so glad I went back -- it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been!  In fact, it’s totes gorge.  

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