Hualien Day Out - Taroko National Park

It all began at 9:14am Sunday morning... in Hualien.

But before that, it actually all began a week before hand, on the Sunday night. If you haven't caught up on the goss, I kindly headbutted some steel in one of our holds that we store books in, and this was the day after. I hadn't been feeling up for conversation at all that day, and during my devotions I shared with my shift [SHIFT 2! YEAH!] that we should approach the day renewed, leaving behind our troubles and our burdens to focus not upon ourselves but on the people we meet. For good conversation to happen, we can't be thinking of the things that are bothering us, for we'll only go into the short but vital conversations already with an attitude.

I didn't expect my own words to impact me as much as they did, for after dinner that evening, I sat with one volunteer who expressed how much joy he sees within me - something I was amazed at not because of what he said, but because I didn't think I had been very joyful that day at all. So that got me thinking, and when I went to my next position which was at the Deal Deck, Amy called out my name. How she knew my name I have no idea. But she came up and was the most encouraging person to me. She said when she saw me the previous evening with the visitors and how I interacted with them, that I had a personal touch to my attention towards them, especially the younger ones. She was so blown away that a stranger would be like that. I was blown away that a stranger would boldly tell me this!

It really made me think

Myself and two of my random mates Riana [South Africa] and Batmunkh [Mongolia] were invited by one of the ladies working in the Christian Bookshop stand onboard to a day's outing around Hualien. Seeing as we'd mostly all looked at the massive mountains and hand't yet gone to visit them, all of us were pretty awesomely excited to have this opportunity. The plan was that she would pick us up from the ship at 9:15am Sunday Morning and take us out all day...

So here we were standing on the ship at 9:14am anticipating her late arrival when, scarily, at 9:15am to the DOT she arrived. We all bundle into her little red car and she turns and hands out some Taroko Gorge National Park flyers [in english for us and Mongol for Batman], then informs us that she needs to make 2 shorts stops before we are on our way, the first is to a shop.

In Taiwan, parking seems casual and easy enough - if you need to pull up infront of a place and the parking has been taken up, just park next to the cars already parked there. Of course to us, that actually blocks people in and I would anticipate some sirens firing up or an inspector slapping you with a big hefty fine. But this is normal. People park wherever they want, though they are more eager to move if you suddenly arrive to your blocked car - so that is nice.

So we sat awkwardly in the car, engine still running, next to other cars while Amy [lovely Amy] dashes into a shop to get some goodies. Goodies...ahh... Then we drive to her place, so she can get some protection from the sun - those sleeves things that Asian people are fashionable for because they actually don't want to be darkened by the sun, unlike most of us Australians who don't say no to a bit of colour. She also brought a massive hat and umbrella - which she never put fully up [so it would always slowly fall down and sit more on her head than anything].

When she had collected her stuff from her house, she asked us if we had tasted the drinks she had brought. We just assumed they were for up at Taroko, so we didn't touch it. Plus we were too busy laughing and being all giggly [mostly Batman]. So she turns on us with eager eyes as we all reach for a cup. Taking the first sip in I... screwed my face up in disgust! The flavour!! Ack! It tasted like medicine - the one you got as a kid that tasted so horrible you wished you weren't sick to have to have it. Ack! And I felt so bad! I tried so hard to hold the face and show that despite the taste, it wasn't so bad, but the next two following produced the same reaction. And not just from me, Riana kept doing a gag-reflex reaction and Batman's face would screw up followed but an outburst of "That's crap!". Needless to say, we all laughed quite a bit about this while we were driving to the National Park, kindly slipping the cups back into the bag so we could pretend to forget about them.

So while driving [and still laughing about the drinks and how rude Batman was], we started our way into Taroko. My goodness. I mentioned this in an earlier post but Taroko National Park is simply amazingly beautiful. The whole time of driving had us all leaning our heads on the windows to get a better view. With many tunnels to drive through, they only really existed to get us more excited for what we would see out the other side.

Our first stop was at the Jiucyudong [Tunnel of Nine Trails] where we donned hard hats and strolled down along the cliffs where you can hear and see the water rush over the boulders and rocks down below, through the tunnels hand carved into the mountain, gaze up at the gorge face that towers over you and see the massively huge moths flutter around. It was beautiful.

Jumping back into the car we drove to Yanzikhou [Swallow Grotto] where we strolled the whole length down, taking in the amazing scenery. Batmunkh took this opportunity to do the manly thing and walk off the 'beaten track' [its paved haha] and climb down the embankment to have a photo or two on this perched rock. He took pictures and Riana took pictures of him. Then as we continued, she continued to freak out as the railings were literally 'on the edge' of the cliff and walking path, and everytime Batmunkh and I would lean over them to see how far down it was etc, she would flip out. Haha. Sorry Riana. But it was funny. She was brave. While walking down, we saw our host Amy, who didn't see us approach her so she began to drive off. Luckily, we stand out being foriegn.

We had a banana break when Amy drove us down further and showed us the Indian Chief in the rock. None of us could see it. She took a photo and showed us and then we could see it, though, my question to her was to ask why there is an Indian Chief in the wall - did Indians ever live there? No. But hey, its a tourist thing, the tourists love it.

Then we had lunch at the Toroko Gorge National Park Information Center, which is rather beautiful and well informed. The greatest thing about the centre is that from a distance, you can't tell its there. It in no way spoils the beauty of the place, not at all an eyesore that sticks out like a sore thumb. I was impressed. Here we had lunch and desert provided for by the lovely Amy. We also managed to skull the drinks we'd been given when Amy would go off to the toilet. We could've easily said that we really didn't like them, but we were told not to refuse what we'd been offered when hosted by others. So since the taste wasn't exactly to our liking, trying to drink them as fast as we could brought out several fits of laughter, which only confused Amy i'm sure. We are so thankful for her hospitality. She really gave us a sample of what Hualien food is like and we really appreciate that [though we know now what not to order!].

After an hour or so of chilling at the Centre, we made our way to the Shakadang Trail. At first, you only on a bridge, but then you go down what seems to be a million stairs [all my stair training onboard the Doulos helped this be no problem at all] and before you lies a very old looking path, etched into the side of the cliff [where even I had to duck sometimes, so think of a 6ft Mongolian having to walk along here]. I felt so at peace here. Many people were also on the path, but all were busier taking in the beauty of the crystal-clear blue-green waters, exotic foliage and sweet serenity to disturb it for others. Unless your a bike-riding worker riding along it. We walked and the path wound up, around, over and through amazing places, always following the gorge river. Amy stopped at one point where we saw people down by the water, some swimming, and when we were all there, she told us that despite this place being beautiful, there was too many people, and she knew a better spot. After a couple of bends in the road, we were clambouring down the embankment, over the rocky dry river bed, boulder-hopped over the river and ended up on the other side. We were in the shadow of the mountain so it was very cool, and we had an amazing view - with no people invited. When the images get put up from Batmunkh and Riana, I'll share some with you...

After an hour or so of just talking and spending time together, throwing rocks into the water and taking photos, we made our way to the end of the trail and then back to the car. We then drove into the heart of Hualien, [some of us having sleeps in the car], before going to a really cool discount centre. After a browse and a purchase of some goodies for back on the ship, we headed further into the heart of Hualien and to Amy's friends resturant: Korean food. Now if you have heard of Kimchi, you will know that there is some spice involved. But I picked a delicious meal consisting of the freshest lettuce I've seen in months [sorry Catering staff!], stir fried marinated steak [sorry Catering staff! Again!] and a fabulous satay sauce. Can i just say, the others were eye balling my meal. It was delux!

Then the day was over. Amy needed to go home, and we were so glad to be back on the ship for we were quite literally worn out. I felt such an over flow of refreshment from the day off the ship, from the time in nature, in the wild slightly touched park, with friends who always make me laugh - even if i'm annoyed with them! - and mostly from the hospitality of Amy, who was so willing to show us around.