Taroko Gorge and the Spirit Birds – Day 5
Our stay in Jiufen couldn’t last forever. In fact it only lasted one day. For breakfast we enjoyed fresh soy milk and traditional food. One of my friend’s cousin, who is a taxi driver in Taiwan, met up with us for the next leg of our trip: traversing the East coast of Taiwan. We began by driving down the narrow roads that weaved and turned down the mountain. A river cut its way down the mountain and we passed over it several times on our way down. The switchbacks were so quick that we were at the bottom of the mountain in no time at all and found ourselves face to face with the ocean. The fog continued to weave its way in and out of the mountain side, obscuring our vision at times. On one side was the ocean, grey and foreboding under the cloud cover. The other was green rolling hills and mountains. We passed by more cemetery shrines built into the mountainside. Water poured down the side of the mountain walls as we quickly drove pass by.
A giant whale was spotted by the ocean popping the question.
Cape Santiago Lighthouse was our first stop. This spot was significant as the Easternmost part of Taiwan and here we were standing. Little cement sheep/rams dotted the landscape, allowing for creative portraits. Several butterflies hovered over the wet grass. After our short stop we continued on our way. Next stop: Jiaoxi in Yilan Province for a quick hot springs break. We bought our ticket at one of the Tangweigou Hot Springs to let the fish eat the dead skin from our feet. Man were we in for a surprise! The fish were so ticklish and aggressive at eating the rough skin from my feet and toes. For the first few minutes I couldn’t keep my feet in for more than a second as the feeling was too ticklish. The key was to not think too much about the fish and relax as much as possible and for brief moments of time I could prevail. We enjoyed the fish for 15 or so minutes until it was time to press onward.
Clearing Jiaoxi the terrain to our West flattened out and the mountains moved off into the distance. Houses and fields of rice replaced the mountains and it looked like every bit of open space was dedicated to fields of rice. Further on into our drive we began to hit the mountains again and it felt like a course in need for speed. We were high up on a cliff, the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other. The road twisted and turned and we would enter several tunnels of a style I clearly remembered seeing in Need for Speed mountain courses. We winded our way through until we abruptly stopped. The night’s previous rains had caused parts of the mountainside to be unstable. Curious at what was causing the road blockage ahead we got out to take a look. We found crews up the side with ropes, clearing out debris. As the crew dropped branches and rocks down, others would toss it over the other side. Looking down it was clear that there would be no people down below to be crushed by the debris.
When we finally came down from the cliff we passed by Taroko Gorge on our way to our hotel location. However before that we needed to eat Xiaolongbao in Hualien at Gongzheng Baozi. A lot of buns and dumplings were immediately consumed. We even made room for soup! Lunchtime’s honor demanded it. Therefore we did. It was good and it was cheap. Woohoo!
Before dropping our stuff off at the hotel we went to a store famous for its mochi. Some was purchased for us and some was purchased for others. Regardless of intended recipients we secured ourselves a good chunk of mochi to enjoy including a sweet potato mochi. We dropped our stuff off at the hotel along with one of our fellow travelers who was exhausted. Now it was time to visit the famed Taroko Gorge.
Our arrival at the gorge was heralded by a great arch signifying the entrance to our next adventure. This arch was built to commemorate the opening of the east-west road that passes through Taroko Gorge as well as to memorialize all the workers who died during the road’s construction. Scary. All around us the mountains climbed up into the clouds, vanishing into the mysterious ether above. Not knowing what to expect, we excitedly began the next leg of our adventure. The road we took into the gorge cut through rock and wound its way against the sides of cliff faces in order to follow along the massive river that had carved its way through solid rock.
Our first stop at the gorge was Shakadang Trail. This trail starts underneath a massive bridge and winds it way through the rock perpendicular to the road. We walked down this trail, dodging tourists and drops of water falling from the wet rocks above. One of the main features of the gorge are the many striated rocks which are actually marble. An unidentified sound, almost like a weed-wacker, sounded out in the trees. It was mysterious and we could never figure out the source of the strange noises. The water on the side poured powerfully through the rock and created an ever-present comforting sound in the background, flowing quickly past crazily shaped marble rocks. Many points on the trail we found ourselves under rock overhangs dripping with water. About halfway through the hike I spotted what appeared to be a wasp’s nest. We decided not to stick around. After a little more than halfway through the trail, our guide told us it was time to turn around. In order to visit all the sites planned for us we were not going to be able to navigate the entire trail. When we had almost neared the entrance of the trail, we heard a different guide mention something about monkeys. Everyone looked up and we just missed a monkey leaping from the trees back up in to the mountain.
After hopping back into the car we pressed forward, passing a neat temple with a waterfall flowing through it. We also discovered a suspension bridge which required an adventure permit in order to traverse. Needless to say we were disappointed in our inability to walk across legally. This bridge led to Zhuilu Old Road, a narrow road that passes along sheer cliffs 500 meters above Liwu River.
The Swallow Grotto is where thousands of swallows would make their nests in holes in the rocks. I did not spot any, but the holes were clearly visible. Remarkably, we could see spots in where we assumed was solid rock with water pouring out of the sides. Not as impermeable as the initially appeared!
Further in we drove. The narrow 2 lanes required us to dodge buses and cars while the road cut along narrow cliff faces and dark tunnels. Waterfalls spilled out like silk threads from high up in the mountains, almost as if they were pouring straight out of the clouds themselves.
This spot was pretty neat. The fence was built to protect us from rocks, but it looks like a fence from Jurassic Park(World).
Our final stop along the gorge was where a resort hotel was positioned. There was a cool temple (Xiangde Temple) built into the mountain with a bright red bridge across from it that we wanted to check out. There was a grand arch at the end which was very striking in appearance. It was here were we experienced a confluence, or merging, of the two rivers Tacijili and Dasha River becoming Liwu river.
We began our long and windy drive back through the rocks and along the gorge towards our hotel. The sun began to set and dusk set in as darkness faded in around us. It was then where we experienced our 2nd “Spirited Away” moment. A flock of white birds, almost invisible in the dusk was spotted slowly flying, almost hovering in the distance. We watched as they made their way leisurely into the gorge like fairies returning to their midnight home.