Wednesday, November 02, 2005
East Coast Road Trip - Day Two (Back to Nature)
On Saturday, we were up early and on the road by about 9:00. Although I had a serious craving for McDonald's breakfast, we decided to put that off a day and save time by eating at the corner outdoor diner near our hotel. The lively little lady (nice alliteration, huh?) who worked there served us a Taiwanese breakfast, which for me consisted of sweet sausages with a hint of soy sauce and some crepe/egg wrap, which wasn't bad. I am a firm believer that all good days start off with a greasy breakfast and lots of coffee, and this day turned out to be no exception. The food wasn't great, but the lady who worked there was very entertaining. She spoke a few words of English that she mixed with Chinese into her own pidgin. The cook's cheerful disposition and the perfect weather really put me in a good mood. It was a great start!
We decided to stop by the visitor center at the entrance to Taroko National Park. This is the beginning of the gorge if you are entering from the East, so you can still see the Pacific Ocean, but you are surrounded on all sides by steep mountains. There is an outdoor theater set up on the lawn adjacent to the visitor center. We all felt for a moment that we had just entered the Alps because they were having a concert there that morning. They had an orchestra and an opera singer playing classical music. I am no aficionado, but this really helped set the mood. I wish we could have stayed for a while, but with no daylight savings time in Taiwan, we needed to get on the trails ASAP.
I think we were all impressed from the beginning. It was an eerie feeling to know that we had just been on this road the night before, but had no idea what was around us. Some of us began snapping pictures from the car window. We pulled over a couple of times on our way to the first trail to snap more pictures. I think between the seven of us we must have taken nearly 1,000 pictures that day.
The first trail – the Tunnel of Nine Turns Trail – was impressive. This trail used to be part of the highway. The government carved a tunnel and moved the highway so tourists can come enjoy the scenery. It was carved along the side of the bluff overlooking the Liwu River and gorgeous marble cliffs. It's a short trail (about 1.9 km or 1.2 miles), so it didn't take us too long to finish and head for the next spot.
We stopped by the Hsiangte Temple in Tiansiang next. There is a hotel and some small tourist shops and restaurants here, so we thought it would be an ideal place for a break. Adi bought a sausage on a stick from the vendor next to the hotel, but decided he didn't like it about halfway through so he gave it to a stray dog that was hanging out next to the stand (hmm… how convenient!). This dog didn't look nearly as malnourished or neglected as the one at the 7-11 the night before. This one also seemed to have a more sociable attitude. After receiving payment, the dog decided to be our guide to the temple, following us over two bridges and up numerous stairs. She even waited for Steve, Ronny, and me as we climbed to the top of the pagoda!
The Hsiangte Temple holds the world record for having the highest statue of the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, whatever that means. The were proud enough of the fact to display it prominently on a sign, so we thought it might mean something to someone. Anyway, after climbing to the top of the pagoda, Ronny, Steve, and I joined the others on the main grounds of the temple. The temple and Buddha statue were nice, but the surroundings were what really made this a memorable spot. We took lots of pictures and had a short rest before heading back down the way we came.
On the way down, a female monk shouted out to us and waved us over to her. Although we couldn't understand what she was saying, we figured out from her gestures that she wanted us to grab some bags of dry cement and haul them downhill to a spot where they were doing some kind of construction. A strange request, we thought, but how can you pass up a chance for some good karma? We each grabbed two bags and proceeded to march down the hill singing workers’ chants. I sang a poor rendition of “Sixteen Tons” followed by our whole group singing “Day Oh”. I think Stephanie got some video of this, which I am curious to see.
We then drove to our next trail – the Baiyang Waterfalls Trail. This trail has also been well-developed and is easily conquered, but unfortunately the last 400 meters or so is still closed from last month's typhoon. This trail offers more spectacular scenery and, at the end of the section that is still open, a good view of several tall waterfalls. Once again, many pictures were taken.
We were all pretty famished by this point, so we stopped again in Tiansiang for a bite to eat. The food here is very bland, overpriced Chinese food – but at least overpriced Chinese food translates to just over $2 U.S. for a meal. We then piled into the car again for our final hike – the Lyushui-Heliu Trail. This trail is very narrow in places and is pretty popular, so it can be a bit aggravating to have to pass people coming the other way when you barely have enough room to get by yourself. Fortunately, there are guard rails in the narrow spots and it isn't too long. Of course there was more great scenery from this trail and a small suspension bridge that some of our group really seemed to enjoy jumping up and down on. Ahh… The maturity of college students studying abroad…
The trail ends on the Cross Island Highway. Steve, Ronny, and I walked along the highway downhill while Stephanie, Marjorie, Neils, and Adi went up to get the car. We met up at the Yuehwang Pavilion a little ways down the road. This pavilion sits near the entrance to a very long suspension bridge that spans a deep canyon over the river. I felt a bit like Indiana Jones crossing this one, though there were no poison-tip arrows flying towards me. Another trail starts on the other side of this bridge, which we decided to try at least part of the way. This trail was very different from any we had been on so far. It was steep, narrow, very rugged, and didn’t look like it had much traffic on it. After a few minutes most of our group decided to go back to the car, but Neils, Ronny, and I decided to push on a little farther. It was very narrow and steep – this is not a place you would want to slip. I thought about giving in, but a group of older people had passed us on their way down, so I knew it couldn't be completely impossible. We probably got about two-thirds up the mountain before we decided to stop. I think all of would have loved to go farther, but it was getting close to sunset and this is definitely not a trail you should try at night. I had been hiking all day, but this was the first time I had broken into a sweat, so it was kind of refreshing.
Marjorie took the wheel on the way back with Stephanie sitting in the front passenger seat. All of us guys in the back dozed off for a few minutes, something the girls seemed to find really amusing. Stephanie took pictures of each one of us sleeping. Yes, they were kind of funny, but I don't know how I feel about having a picture of me napping in a sweat-stained shirt. Slightly embarrassed, I guess…
We showered and relaxed at the hotel for an hour or two before heading off to Pizza Hut for dinner. I know this doesn't sound very interesting, but trust me – after as much Chinese food as we've had, some greasy pizza really hits the spot!
We went to a pub after dinner. We stopped in one that was playing the blues on CD quite loud, but nobody (except me) seemed to like the music, so we went across the street to a place with a live band. There were a decent number of young Taiwanese there, so we figured it would be an interesting place to hang out. We met some travelers from Spain, but they left very early. We were sitting behind the stage, so all of our ears were ringing after about 20 minutes, but we stayed for a while anyway.
About the time we decided we should go back to the hotel, some Taiwanese who were celebrating one of their friend's birthday came over to our table and drag us (literally!) out on the floor to dance with them. We played along for a while, but the covered music the band was playing was pretty lame (I mean, who plays a cover of Ricky Martin's “Living La Vida Loca” at a pub???), so we danced for a while, then returned to our seats.
The band seemed amused by the participation of the foreigners, so they joined the crowd in insisting we participate. This started to get annoying until everyone got in a circle and one of the Taiwanese guys told me we had to join in the next dance because it was “special”.
I only understood the word “friend” from the lead singer's introduction, but the music definitely caught my attention. It didn't sound too much like pop and it reminded me of Hawaiian music. Everyone lined up in a circle and held hands with the person two people away from them and started to dance in a circle. We had a hard time following, so we just watched the three or four guys who really looked like they knew what they were doing. As we were doing this, it hit us – we were right in the middle of a traditional Taiwanese aboriginal dance!
Taiwan has many aboriginal Polynesian tribes, but today they are few in number. Most of them live on the East Coast. We all really wanted to visit an aboriginal village to learn a little about them, but all we could find on the map and in our guidebooks seemed like extremely cheesy craft shows put on for tourists. We started to smile big because how better can you experience a culture than to be thrown directly into it on the spot? It was quite an experience. I don't remember how to do it and don't know much about what this dance is supposed to symbolize, but it was really fun. The lead singer later told me it was a dance of the Ami tribe and he said something about the ocean, but that's about all the information I could gather.
Well, I think this sets the record for my longest post ever. Thanks to all of you who made it this far (if anybody did). It was a long eventful day and I wanted to recall it in as much detail as possible while it's still reasonably fresh in my memory. I still have another day and a half of traveling to recount, but I might take a day or two off before I write those posts. I have been in the computer lab working on this for almost two hours now and I have a quiz in Chinese tomorrow that I need to study for. I hoped you enjoyed reading this and looking at the pictures more than I enjoyed sitting here for so long!
Until next time, take care!