A visit to somewhere similar yet different was what I needed after traveling in between beaches for more than a month. As blissful as it was, filling my days with the summer sun, the vitamin sea, and the sweet water that falls, I felt like I needed to take a break.
I needed to step back and take a break.
On a whim, I went to Taipei thinking that I will be sound in the city, where my days will be full with gastronomy, a variety of tea drinks, and a spot in a cafe where I could blog about my thoughts and reflections. And probably, somewhere in between, I would see some temples reminiscent of the history of Taiwan.
Taipei 101, Once the tallest building in the world
I figured, a week’s break would be more than enough to have a “vacation from the vacation.”
Arriving at Taipei in the middle of the night was not the most ideal when the only modes of transportation to the city were either a cab ride that would amount to more or less USD 35 or a bus worth USD 6 that won’t leave until 2 hours after your arrival. In a situation like this, traveling solo isn’t really the most convenient way to go. But fate had its way of bringing people together and I was fortunate enough to hitch a ride with a fellow Filipina to the city (thank you, Jessica!).
My days in Taipei were rather slow and relaxing, even with the rain that seemed to only stop or slow down for a few minutes in the duration of my stay. That rain, albeit a bit inconvenient, was very much welcomed.
Not the most ideal way to climb up the Elephant Mountain with the unstoppable rain
To some extent, it was actually refreshing to be showered after basking in the sun for a very long time.
For me, it’s always about the people.
In almost all of my solo backpacking, my favorite moments were those spent with the people I’ve met.
I was fortunate enough to pick the right hostel whose guests were easy going and good-natured.
It is where I’ve met a Harvard guy (I actually told him, he’s my first official friend from Harvard) who talked quite fast and is really good in math. Quite dorky but in a cute way. It’s also where I met his friend who was really cool and nice enough to allow me to tag along on his daytrip to Jiufen. These buddies were some of the coolest people I personally know. Young and adventurous who got to see most of the places a lot of us haven’t even heard of. And what’s even more impressive (at least for me) is that they climb mountains, something that I don’t think I can physically endure in every trip! And I don’t believe I’ve mentioned they could speak Chinese (Mandarin) apart from English and Spanish (and probably more).
Almost everyone in the hostel managed to effortlessly hangout and talk to each other. Somehow, it seemed like the overall vibe of the city reflects in the hostel and the guests it accommodates. It was positively chill.
Some of my favorite moments were the small talks. I remember when we were all hanging out, Lei showed us a video of a guy he met at the hostel who is one of the rubix cube champs. Upon seeing that, all of us just got crazy! I also remember our conversation about haircut, on how important that phase of life is for almost every girl. The guys didn’t get Jessica and I. And I remember eating to our hearts’ content at the food market. It’s the little things that make you feel that you’re not alone even when you’re traveling solo.
As with most conversations and travel stories, you get to learn a thing or two about where to go and the things to do. You find yourself in places you feel compelled to visit after reading about it and hearing about it from your new found friends.
There goes Hualien. No, there I go to Hualien.
When I got to Taipei, I ran through a website that highlighted the Taroko Gorge as one of the must-see in Taiwan. And having new friends who recently went there somehow made the decision easy for me.
A city break to capture the essence of a nearby province, Hualien, took me away. Taroko Gorge, amidst the heavy downpour, the marble rocks and the waterfalls was really worth the trip.
Taroko Gorge, Hualien
To think that I was only intent on seeing Taroko Gorge, I actually stayed there longer than I thought.
But even with the gorgeous scenery, the highlights of my visit in Hualien were hanging out with some of the guests there. I got to have a new friend who I was able to talk to about any topic in the most natural manner (maybe because we both speak English?) in the first few days of my stay there.
The Taiwanese’ Genuine Hospitality
And of course, another highlight was being able to experience the genuine hospitality of the Taiwanese people.
What are the chances of being invited to tag along by someone who just met you not more than a minute ago, even flexing their plans to accommodate your last minute musings?
My buddies and a bike to see more of Hualien
Then, what about having your hostel host upgrading your accommodation for a fraction of what you should have paid for? Plus making sure that you get the proper guidance on transportation schedules and other places to see in between?
What about those who don’t speak the language you speak and still try to talk to you and help you out?
And, let’s not forget that the English language is not the most popular language in Taiwan. And even if some of them do, it isn’t really a walk in the park for them. In spite of this, I loved how they try to communicate and help you out even if they can’t understand or speak the language. The gesture itself is just heart warming.
Lastly, what about the vendors in the countless stalls who still manage to smile even if you were just passing by? They try to accommodate you even if you say that “you’ll think about it.” They won’t push you and would even send you off with a smile.
Their kindness was just so wholehearted. It was a very humbling experience.
There goes my 8 days and what I thought was more than enough, of course, wasn’t.
Each of my days in Taipei and Hualien were full, filled with good food, a fruit tea, a milk tea, a beer, or all of it. The best days were those spent with my new friends. I know that at some point, I will meet some of them again in the future.
Worst fear: missing the flight.
The conclusion of my trip wasn’t the most ideal one though. On my last day, the continuous rainfall and the pain in my Achilles tendon allowed me to do nothing except eat and hangout at the hostel. It was another situation that I embraced wholeheartedly.
And then when it was time for me to take my flight, the luck somehow flew out the window to the point that I had to buy a new ticket for a flight 14 hours away from my original departure (I will probably tell you about it on another post).
Setting that aside, this so-called vacation is something that I’m still happy about.
Where I want to be (metaphorically), another one for the books.
Other than the scenery, the people, and the moments, that trip also made me reflect deeper on the kind of person that I am right now and the person that I want to be. It also made me think of where I want to stand when it comes to spontaneity, to being frugal, and to the idea of relationships when traveling (again, something that I hope to talk in another post).
Before sunset, Jiufen
On that very misty day, the sun appeared magically. It was beautiful.
Or maybe it’s more than that. Maybe it was the magic of the rain during that visit that made me ponder.
Or, maybe not. Maybe it’s just me being me, thinking and not simultaneously.