As Week 3 rounds the corner in a mad dash, I feel like we’ve properly settled into Taipei life, (however much as we can living in a hotel, eating in restaurants, and not speaking the language). Each night and day and evening and afternoon and weekend passes without warning, and despite our best efforts to do everything there never seems to be enough time. Suffice to say, we’re keeping ourselves busy.
This past weekend, we bundled into a four hour bus journey for a hastily (me) but thoroughly (Jasmine) planned trip to Sun Moon Lake, one of the most beautiful natural areas I have witnessed thus far in 19 short life years. (Read Jasmine’s perspective here!:)
Everyone kept telling us that it wasn’t as great as the brochures, that it was just ok, and we learned this is the Taiwanese way: under-promise and over-deliver, so visitors are not disappointed. They were of course wrong: it was a stunning vista, a long 36 hour trip that passed at breakneck speed, and an exercise in dealing with challenges as they come.
- A throw-caution-to-the-wind airbnb reservation in which I paid for the place and then didn’t hear from the hosts ever again. Thankfully all was well when the grandma-owner of the place came riding in on her red bicycle to welcome us with smiles to her rural Taiwanese home, complete with outhouse showers and mosquito netting. It was perfect. Different members of our crew immediately compared it to their childhood experiences in El Salvador, Mexico, India, and Haiti (diverse much? I think our entrance into any establishment warrants 3x as many curious stares)
- A ride up the Ita Thao Gondola in which we were serene and sweaty (the motif is back). Midway up the cable we took a peace moment and realized how crazy and amazing it was that we were riding a gondola in the middle of mountain forest greenery in Taiwan. It was as cliche and wonderful as it sounds. I stuck my head out the tiny windows and understood what the dog/head-out-window attraction is all about.
- Witnessing hoards of mainland-Chinese tourists waddling behind tour group flags in the disputed area, a real-life reminder of diplomatic problems with a picturesque background. The Chinese placed a depiction of the lake on their most recent passport, to Taiwanese dismay, and continue to claim ownership of the area.
- A 6 am (let’s be honest, 6:17) wake-up call so we could start the 30 km biking endeavor around the lake. If only we knew what we were getting ourselves into.
- A bike wipeout to start the day, fortunately near a visitor center where USC friend Jason was treated, patted on the head, and sent on his way. We kept going.
- And going. And going. Stopping frequently, sweating profusely, eating fruit, fixing bikes, cursing at hills, avoiding buses, careening around corners, picking bee stings out of butts, treating wounds, emerging victorious. It was probably one of the coolest things I’ve done, and I would love to go back.
- The best scallion pancakes in the world (probably. undisputably.) This one was akin to a flattened donut, filled with savory green onions, deep fried and with a fried egg cooked to perfection on top. Notice the double use of the word fried.
- A photography lesson in hand motions and misunderstood languages from a friendly dad-type at the first viewpoint. Quick tips: crouch down and use a fill-in flash for green-screen-esque landscape effects. Alas, he will never get the Facebook profile picture credit he deserves.
- And lastly, showering has never been as gratifying an experience as it is here in Taiwan, peeling off layers of the day. It’s the little things, AND the big things y’all.