For our third day, we were going to depart Taipei to see the rest of the country. While most people go down the western coast of the country, we had planned to check out the east. In order to get to the main city of Hualien, we had to get up bright and early at 6:30 to catch the train. Departing from the Central Station, our travel time was about two hours, which was pretty straightforward and relaxed; while I tried to take in the scenery of the green countryside, I soon passed out into a blissful sleep. Hey, I like to think that power nap helped get me through the day! And as it turns out, boy would I need that nap.
I honestly didn’t have any expectations for anywhere outside of the capital, but I guess staying in the bubble that’s Taipei does that to you. From what I learned, Hualien County is the biggest in the entire country, yet has one of the smallest populations at about 333,000. This was very evident, as houses/buildings were spread out and there were a lot of empty fields and spaces. Hey, it was nice to see the contrast between city and country life. I regret not taking pictures of the buildings we passed by on in the train though, as the rain combined with the various building types made for a fascinating aesthetic. I do admit to feeling a bit nervous going to a relatively sparsely populated corner of Taiwan, but again, that’s my city bias speaking. This fear was alleviated as soon as we arrived, thanks to there being a modern train station with plenty of contemporary buildings in the background. Making the exploration easier, my mom hired a guide for the day. Georgie picked us up at the station and we immediately hit it off with her! Her English was impeccable and she was highly knowledgeable of the area. Getting from the train station to the city/suburbs took about twenty to thirty minutes, so that gave us plenty of time to pepper her with questions, which she was more than happy to answer. What we found out that this region was the homeland of the indigenous Taiwanese, which explained the radically different culture. Along the way, we drove past the gorgeous waters of the Pacific Ocean and even through what used to be an indigenous village since incorporated into Hualien city. From there, we were heading to what would occupy us for the majority of the day.
Taroko National Park was what drew us to this part of the country. Without a doubt, this is one of the things you’ll likely hear of when researching trips to Taiwan, with good reason. The rolling hills were majestic, almost out of a fantasy movie, and the river was crystal clear! On the other side, the caveat to this was it was extremely packed; arriving there around the holidays certainly didn’t help our case, but that’s simply how things shook out. On the way in, Georgie stopped to pick up helmets for us, as there was a slight risk of rockfall. My brother unfortunately couldn’t accompany us for this part, so it was up to my mom and I to carry on. In the end, we got to enjoy some incredible hiking trails (in terms of difficulty they were top notch) in such a marvelous park!
Because we had such a long day, we finally headed off to our splendidly named hotel, Crossing the Rainbow. I do believe that of all the places I’ve ever stayed at, this was one of the finest. Having taken over thirteen years to become literally one of Taiwan’s first green hotels, the final results provided an intimate setting to the point of feeling shame of checking out. Plus the manager, Mr. Teyru, was such a knowledgeable and amiable host who went out of his way to ensure our night’s stay was exceptional; he even drove us to the nearby train station the next morning! In the end, we all just collapsed into a state of tranquility after the day we had, but to our defense it was a needed luxury.
Finally, your fun fact of the day is the origin of Taroko, courtesy of our awesome hotel manager. It’s convoluted, but it’s the Japanese version of the English version of the Chinese version of the native Taiwanese. Confusing? Well, the reason being is that each respective language had difficulties understanding each other, so they adapted the name to their needs. On top of this fact, our manager, who indeed was 100% Taiwanese, explained to us the mythology of his culture. The Rainbow Bridge was the Truku people’s version of going to heaven, so it was a metaphor for them. In their belief, they hold it that their ancestors are waiting across the bridge to protect them for all of eternity. Even when we were driving through Taroko National Park, we noticed the eyes of the Truku people painted on the side of the rock-their land and ancestors undoubtedly claimed their land. However, one’s status as someone who crossed the bridge could be thrown into jeopardy if their wives couldn’t knit properly. Listening to this kept me enraptured, because this glimpse of local culture was incredible. I mean, I knew little of Taiwanese culture and history, let alone that of those who’d always called the island home! For me, this was the moment when this trio crossed its metaphorical bridge into education. What a day!