Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Light Speed to Hualien

At last, a moment to freely wiggle my fingers across the keyboard to regail you with some Taiwan tales. It is, of course, Saturday, and I did, of course, work today- selling my soul and Caucasian appeal to prospective new parents- and it is, of course, another dreary Winter day.

To be honest, I'm a little tired of it. I have something like cabin fever, because here in Taiwan, if the weather is bad, your options are limited. Very limited. Drive your scooter? It seems like bad weather makes the roads even more unsafe. Go hiking? Not if you don't want a nice, soggy self to drag home on none other than your trusty scooter. Go to Taipei? Maybe not. It's got to be the weather that's got me down, so let me tell you about another time that was a bit brighter!

A fed Caitlin is a tolerable Caitlin.
Hualien: the East Coast of Taiwan.

James and I were lucky enough to receive a very thoughtful wouldn't-buy-it-for-myself-but-awfully-glad-you-did gift from James' family - a full day trip to the East Coast of Taiwan. Hualien is raved about as the outdoor mecca for people who love to look at pretty things in nature, and we didn't have to coordinate any of it.

So at the bright hour of 6AM, we hopped in a cab to a bus to the Taipei Airport where we met with a jolly tour guide coordinator who nearly threw us on a tiny 40 seat plane. Kudos (or Judos, as I originally typed) to Mandarin Air, which, even in a 40 minute flight, managed to toss us some green tea. And they have very pretty purple silk scarves!

Arriving with the SUN in Hualien was a very pleasant experience. Even though we had just come back from gorgeous, not weather-challenged Thailand, it was a shock for us to see the sun in our surrogate home country. Albeit, it was intermittent sun. But beggars can't be choosers.

On with the tour: we board the bus with...let's call her Sandy (although heck, it could have been Katrina, or Julie, or Gertrude) a jolly Taiwanese tour guide who fantastically is fluent in Chinese, Taiwanese, English and Japanese. And she loves puns, like "gorgeous gorges." Sandy gives us a bit of humorous dialogue against a backdrop of green tropical hills (though in front is an unimpressive boulevard lined with betelnut trees, scrap metel yards, and small gardens fertilized with garbage.

Into the mountains we drive. It really is "gorge-ous," mostly due to the blue-grey striated rock formations and marble boulders. Truly, I've never seen anything like it, and because I am a Kenney child, I have seen a lot of rocks and a lot of boulders. If that statement makes no sense to you, please refer to my father, Pat Kenney, Boy Scout Troop 89.

Dealing with a "Falling rock situation."
We stop several times (which is great for my bus sickness on the windy roads, no sarcasm needed,) at different scenic views. One place is where birds live in the rocks, one is where the big rock looks like an alligator, or perhaps a bear, or a rabbit (Sandy loves animal rocks), and the best part is getting to wear a hardhat while walking through Taroko tunnels. "We have a falling rock situation" Sandy tells us. She is so multilinguistically wise. On the bus, off the bus, on the bus, off the bus! Phew!

We are absolutely Hualien-famished by the time we reach lunch at a pricey (though totally included in the tour- AWESOME!) Aboriginal restaurant, shoveling down fish and bamboo rice and mushrooms and delightfully, rice wine. Outside, the cherry blossoms are starting to show their beautiful little heads, and it charms me. But QUICK! Back on the bus!

Off we go to a Hualien sweets shop, where we are able to sample just about everything, and everything is delicious except for the unlabeled "cookie" that turns out to be squid. Back on the bus!

We are taken to a "Marble Museum," which sounds interesting enough, except that in this case the word "Museum" means "Please come inside where we will tell you about marble and jade for five minutes and then take you into our showroom, where we would like you to purchase as many items as you are financially able. If you resist we will not make it easy for you. We will follow you everywhere you go, telling you that you would look beautiful wearing this shiny bauble or whatnot. And if you still don't buy anything, we will glare at you until you feel guilty. Xie Xie."
Enjoying the fresh air of freedom from jewelry vendors.

Back on the bus! We finally make it to the beach, which though devoid of gorges, is completely gorgeous. You never quite realize how big the Pacific Ocean is until you realize that your family is hanging out somewhere on the other side of it. We poke around and watch Taiwanese enjoy their Sunday, throwing tennis balls to their beautiful dogs, or maybe riding bikes along the shoreline. No sooner than we saw a goofy teenager hit a rock on his bicycle and fly into the grass (much to the amusement of his friends), it was back on the bus!

The train ride is a treat in itself, skirting the entire Northeast coast. Three hours later, we toot toot into Taoyuan, bussed out, and run into the nearest mall for some Korean stone rice pot and a bit of reflection. We love the mountains, we love new things, and even at light speed, it wasn't too bad!

I see you, California!
And we even managed to resist the maniacal Marble Museum vendors.