At this point, it might be a good idea to let you in on a lufogs-fun-fact that may explain some things about me. (That is, if you believe anything at all about astrology, which I totally do. Mhmm. Don’t hate.)
I’m a Scorpio with Taurus rising. In keeping with typical Scorpio/Taurus traits, I tend to be a taaad stubborn about doing the things I want to do in the most efficient way possible + I often do not ask for help if I think I can do something on my own. I understand that strength often means recognizing one’s weaknesses, but I’m pretty much hard wired when it comes to that last asking-for-help part. It doesn’t always work in my favor when I’m dealing with injuries. For instance, when the muscles in my pelvis went into spasm this summer I went to work anyway, despite not being able to stand/sit/walk… I was not about to let me wipe-out ruin my weekend, so I went to see the east coast with Disha + Shadoe.
We woke up at 5:00am on Saturday to gear up, eat some breakfast + get to Taipei Main Station in time to catch a 7:20am train to Hualien. After a short powwow we decided to skip the camping + book beds at a hostel when we got to Hualien. We figured it would be raining in Hualien (+ it did rain…all…day…) + yours truly’s arm was in a sling.
I hadn’t realized that Disha arranged for a tour guide, named David, to meet us at the Hualien Train Station with a van! David is a Hualien native + he seems to be one of few tour guides in Hualien who speaks fluent English. He had been interested in photography as a young man, so took pride in showing us his “secret spots.” These were places where we could take stellar pictures + weren’t swarming with Mainland Chinese tourists.
From the research I had done about Taiwan this summer, I knew that when the Portuguese first encountered the island hundreds of years ago, it was the east coast that inspired them to call Taiwan, “Formosa,” beautiful island. More specifically, it was the coast of what is now Hualien County that spawned the name. So our first stop was the seeing the Pacific Ocean.
Hualien is the city with the second most marble in the world (as David told us), but Hualien’s main draw is Taroko Gorge, which is part of Taroko National Park. It was actually great planning to have booked a guide because there is no convenient way to get around Taroko National Park if you do not have a car. (Growing numbers of people bike it, but that was out of the question for me + we hadn’t rented a bike for Shadoe.) We would have needed a car to get there anyway as Taroko Gorge is about an hour’s drive away from Hualien City.
On our way to Taroko, we stopped at the Hualien Winery + sampled some rice wines (which I really like, but they are definitely an acquired taste).
Pure vanity led me to pose for this pic in front of the 24k gold leaf wall the Winery boasts without my sling.
Then we found some goats to feed!
Next it was onto Taroko!
Everyone was very concerned about my shoulder + the slipperiness of the trails in the rain, so we all agreed it would be best to stick to the flat, easy trails. The first one we hit was Shakadong Trail, only about 500m long due to a rockfall that happened (during a typhoon?) a couple of years ago. Rockfalls are a major concern in Taroko. Many trails ask visitors to wear hard hats as a precaution + not to “linger” in certain problem areas.
The next portion of the park that we explored terminated at another one of David’s “special spots,” a rock formation that looks like a Native American face.
At this point, David kept cracking himself up comparing Disha, an American with Indian (like, the country of India, Indian) heritage, to Native Americans with their “strong noses.” All of us knew to take his comments in stride because ethnicity + racial sensitivity are not really hot topics in Taiwan. Taiwan only has two ethnicities that it recognizes: Taiwanese + Mainlander. Most Taiwanese citizens are descended from Chinese, whether their ancestors migrated in the 1600s or in 1949. In general, there are not that many foreigners here. The utter lack of large scale diversity adds to what appears to be widespread naïveté about what may or may not be appropriate to say to darker skinned people of differing backgrounds. For example, David also assumed that since Shadoe was traveling with Disha, he must be her Indian boyfriend. Shadoe quickly shot this down, lightheartedly saying, “Wow, that’s a first! I’m Black.” I guess there wasn’t much to assume about the white-skinned American in the mix.
The next stop was lunch + we stopped at a noodle spot in the park where there was a cluster of restaurants, a souvenir shop + a visitor center. After we filled up, it was onto the most major trail we would walk. The entrance to the trail is a long tunnel. Then you find a paradise.
The trail was about 3km long through the beautiful mountains. It ended with a cave that had a water curtain! (Unfortunately this was not so conducive to picture taking.)
Our next secret spot was a small Christian church that has an Aborigine congregation. Almost all of Taiwan’s Aborigines converted to Christianity by the end of the Japanese colonization of Taiwan because they were particularly abused by the Japanese (+ that is putting it lightly). Aborigines were forced to live in certain areas, most of which were in the mountains. Christian missionaries were about the only people who treated them like people + Aborigines were able to find solace in the religion.
There are still a number of Aborigines in the mountains of Taroko and Hualien, though most of them are elderly. (Most of the younger generation has chosen to live in the comforts of cities, with electricity, running water, +c.) The church was small + very well kept. There are a couple of affordable rooms available for travelers in the rectory building + the church has a simple, beautiful garden.
Our last stop in the park was another secret-Native-American-face-spot.
This face was crying + David asked why we thought that was the case, historically speaking. I said, “Because the colonists killed all of them when they got to America? The white man’s keeping him down?” David told us to look up +, sure enough, there was George Washington’s profile at the top of the mountain.
David continued on with the Indian-Native American comments, not seeming to be able to wrap his head around the fact that Disha was born in America + had an Indian background. He honestly thought he was joking with us + had no idea that some of his comments were offensive. She laughed off all of the comments, but I have a pretty hard time laughing off ignorant comments about ethnicity + race even when I know that they aren’t meant to be malicious.
I don’t think any of us knew how to turn the situation into a teaching moment. We also didn’t want to be disrespectful to David, who had been a really great guide, overall. So, I chimed in with, “I’m American but my people come from Ireland,” to take the pressure off of Disha + imply that every American has something else in his or her background.
Then we piled into the van + it was back to Hualien City. We checked into Formosa Backpacker’s Hostel, which was fab! It rained for most of our dinner search + we proceeded to get totally turned around because of bad directions that the receptionist gave us at the hostel. But everything happens for a reason + our quest for a night market led us to the coast where we found a small structure with an incredible view of the ocean. The water crashing against the coast’s rocks sent up a spray that was over 10 feet high at times + sounded like thunder as it echoed along the coast!
The night market we ended up finding was quite small by Taipei standards, but nice. + we ended the night early with expertly made bubble tea. After all, we had a train to catch to Ruifang + Pingxi early in the morning.
Because of the “Do Not Linger! ROCKFALL!!” signs all over Taroko, this classic was stuck in my head all day.