A Short Trip Around the Island
21.01.2014 - 07.02.2014 25 °C
My thighs felt like cinder blocks and my hips were on fire. A burning sensation dug deeper into my flesh with every turn of the pedal. I was soaked with sweat and fighting off dehydration. My stomach was growling with hunger. The sun was intense and, on the highway, there was no escaping it. The thick layer of sun block smothering my face was doing little to prevent my skin from turning a painful red. Instead, it traveled with perspiration down my forehead and into my eyes where it left a lasting sting. I was far from comfortable, however, these aches and pains seemed to slowly drift away in the wake of my surroundings. To my right, layers of immense forested mountains and steep cliffs climbed from the highway to the misty clouds above. To my left, the blue coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean stretched from the shore to the horizon. The windy road was dotted with small towns full of curious weather beaten faces. We often heard “Jiayou!” yelled from the porches of roadside homes or noodle shops as we passed through. It literally meant ‘add oil!’ and was the most common of the many gestures of encouragement we received from locals along the way. The mountain roads were back breaking but the scenery was spectacular and the people were friendly. This was bicycling Taiwan.
The inspiration for this journey came from Zoe, a girl I had met while traveling in Osaka almost a year before. We met again when she returned to her hometown of Taipei to visit family and friends. Over a late night beer at a dingy University pub, we discussed our Chinese New Year plans. She was going snowboarding in Japan. I told her I had two weeks off work but nothing to do. “Take my bike and bike around the island!” She said, half serious and half joking. Perhaps I was a little drunk at the time, but this sounded like a relaxing way to spend my vacation. I accepted her challenge and arranged to pick up her bike the following morning.
The initial idea was to bike all of Taiwan’s one thousand two hundred kilometre coast line. This overly enthusiastic plan was quickly downgraded to a much shorter trip down the East coast from Hualien to Taidung. My time was limited and biking over a thousand kilometres in twelve days meant four to eight hours on the road everyday. Being the turtle like traveler that I am, this was not really my style. I would bike what was heralded as Taiwan’s most beautiful area of coast line and utilize trains for the other legs of the journey.
I soon enlisted a friend to join me for ride. I had known Stephen and his girlfriend Kelsey since first arriving in Taiwan. They were a couple from New York with whom I hung out with quite a bit. With his laidback attitude and unique sense of humour, I was convinced Stephen would be a good travel mate. He only had five days off work but was making the most of it. He would meet me in Hualien, bike to Taidung over three days then return to Taipei.
Given the fact that we would be traveling over Chinese New Year, train tickets and hostels were tricky. Stephen ended up having to book a train leaving Taipei at five in the morning in order to make it work. But with only a couple days to spare before the holiday madness commenced, our plans were solidified and our tickets purchased.
My train left a grey and dreary Taipei at noon the following Tuesday and arrived in sunny Hualien only a couple hours later. It was my second trip to this small coastal city. On the first, I had spent only one night at a guesthouse and seen very little. This time, I gave myself three days to explore the seaside landscape and the nearby Taroko gorge.
My hostel was owned by a friendly brother sister duo. They were a couple of backpackers who had recently opened for business. The place was full of character. Sitting on the porch was a rescued chocolate lab who they had aptly named Kaluha. He waited patiently on the door step for travelers to return from the night markets with scraps of food. The hostel lobby boasted a large library and Japanese style pond. Inside the pond were many colourful carp and one unruly crab who refused to stay put. I remember the first time I met him. I was chatting with another traveler at the bar when I noticed a strange red creature waiting patiently under my bar stool, claws in the air and in attack position. We often found little bugger all over the building, hiding in under couches or scurrying across the bathroom floor.
Behind the bar, the two siblings whipped up drinks from a wide selection of bizarre spirits they had collected on their travels. Upon pouring a drink, they would always ask “Is it strong enough? If it’s not strong enough please tell me and I will add more!” It was always strong enough and they supplemented our drinks with free shots of whatever unique bottle of boos they had recently acquired. My first sample was from a bottle of polish vodka that was no less than 96% alcohol. It set my chest on fire for the remainder of the evening.
Hualien was just as laidback and friendly as the hostel. The people were much more receptive than in Taipei and locals often stopped to chat. The town did not have much to offer in terms of attractions. There were a couple temples and a half decent night market, but Hualien’s main draw was its proximity to Taroko National Park. I had been to the scenic area before but only for an afternoon. My plan was to rent a moto and spend a day exploring the gorge.
I had a friend who lived in Hualien named Jirou. I had met her in Taipei at a couchsurfing meeting a few weeks previous. She was a recent graduate who was preparing to teach Chinese in America. I sent her a message when I arrived and told her of my intentions of visiting Taroko. She told me not to bother with renting a moto as she had a car and could drive me through the gorge herself. I hardly knew her and was surprised by this generous offer. I jumped at the opportunity.
It was once again clear and sunny the following morning. The weather was a welcome relief from the dreariness I had been enduring in Taipei. Jirou arrived at the hostel at around ten in an old Honda accord. We stopped for breakfast at 7-11 before beginning the short drive to the park. From Hualien, the mountains of Taroko loomed large in the distance. They grew in height as we drew closer to the main gate. At the entrance, in between two steep slopes, a clear water river forced its way through the rugged landscape and emptied into the coastal waters. Inside the park, the scenery was spectacular. Layers of rugged peaks swiftly sloped down into the narrow blue rushing river below. Bright green vegetation clung to the mountainsides and sheer cliffs rose vertically in the gorge’s tightest squeezes.
Having a car, we were able to cover quite a bit of ground. Snaking around cliffs and through tunnels reminded me of driving through the Rockies in Canada. Jirou drove so fast it made it nervous. Once in a while, we parked the car to hike a small trail. Growing up in the area, my guide knew all the best spots. She took me to her favourites. The most impressive sight was a large cascading waterfall which tumbled over three steep cliffs before finally meeting with a pool of crystal blue water below. But this was only one of many picturesque areas we visited. We were forced to head back to town before sunset. After Jirou dropped me at my hostel, I spent and hour grazing the night market, grabbed a drink at the bar and got an early night. It had been a nice opening day to my trip.
Stephen arrived early the following morning, dead tired after a painfully early train ride. With a day to spare before we began our biking trip he took a long nap to recover. In the early afternoon, Jirou offered us free tickets to Hualien’s Farglory Ocean Park, a small seaside amusement park. Admission was pricey but she had a friend who worked at the door. It was neither mine nor Stephen’s idea of a fun afternoon but I felt bad refusing after Jirou had spent an entire day showing me around Taroko. Fortunately, the park was not as bad as expected. We watched a seal show, we battled each other in bumper boats and we rode the log ride. It was only when we were lined up for the children’s roller coaster that we realized we had exhausted the park’s opportunities for fun. With a long trip ahead of us, Stephen and I thanked Jirou for her hospitality, grabbed a quick dinner and got some sleep.
In the morning, we packed our bags, loaded up our rented bikes and strapped on our helmets. Stephen pulled on a pair of skin tight padded biking shorts as an added precaution. I didn't have the heart to tell him that they were nearly see-through in the sun.
Soon we were pedaling our way out of the city. The adventure had begun. As we came to our first traffic light, I noticed a broken down car parked on the side of the road. The front tire had exploded and was in strewn across the pavement. “Perhaps that’s a bad omen” I joked to Stephen pointing at bare rim. We both laughed. Little did we know how correct I was.
The sun was intense. I was sweating bullets by the time we reached the city limits. But the first stretch of highway was smooth and flat. We quickly found our rhythm and started eating up the kilometres. I was feeling confident when we reached our first obstacle, a steep climb over a mountain separating Hualien from the rest of the East Coast. We slowed to a snails pace as we winded our way up the hillside. It was far more difficult than I had anticipated. My confidence quickly waned as my thighs began to burn and my stomach turned. At every twist in the road, I expected to reach the summit but was disappointed but yet another incline. It was an hour before we reached the top with aching muscles and sweat drenched clothes. Our reward was a speedy descent back down to the coast. The wind on my face and neck felt great.
The scenery along the coast was spectacular. The mountainside terraces afforded stunning views. Layers of immense mountains hugged every kilometre of the shoreline. The water was bright blue and the vegetation deep green. Every ten kilometres or so we would find ourselves in another small village or town. Since we were traveling during Chinese New Year’s Eve, the shops were all closed but the streets were lined with families eating, drinking and laughing the afternoon away. The sounds of fireworks and firecrackers rang out everywhere. As we pedaled past family homes, we were greeted with waves, thumbs-ups and horns. These gestures of approval were always encouraging. They were a nice distraction from the fire burning in my legs and hips. This fire was spreading fast and showing no signs of letting up. I was doing my best to pedal through it but taken aback by how much difficulty I was having.
A few hours into the journey, while turning a sharp corner, Stephen popped his back tire on a patch of gravel. We had brought with us a spare tube, a pump and some tire irons but I had no idea how to change a flat. As Stephen showed me how to remove the tire and replace the broken tube, I realized how ill prepared I was for a long distance biking trip. I was, after all, originally planning to do it by myself. I was glad at least one of us knew what we were doing. It wasn’t long before we were back on the road. The short pit stop had given my legs time to organize a revolt. They responded to me remounting my bike with staunch stiffness and pain.
I trudged on and ignored the discomfort for as long as I could. Six hours after we had left Hualien, however, with still another hour to our destination, I began to run out of gas. I was gasping for air and struggling to keep pace. I didn’t understand why I was having so much trouble. In Taipei, I had been running and working out three times a week. I rode the fixed bike at the gym quite often and went hiking almost every weekend. Generally, I thought I was in pretty good shape. My bike was a bit too small for me and, since I was on a twelve day trip, I had quite a bit of weight in my backpack. Nonetheless, I felt as though riding a bike just shouldn’t have been so difficult.
Eventually I admitted my issues to Stephen who seemed to be fairing far better than I. He offered to take a look at my bike. He rode it down the street and back, jumped off and examined the wheel. “Your front tire is almost flat…” he said with a look which clearly conveyed what he was thinking: seriously dude? I was embarrassed by my negligence, relieved to know I wasn’t actually such a weakling and worried over what do about the flat.
Our options were limited. We had already used our spare tube on Stephen’s bike and none of the coastal towns had any bikes shops. Even if we did manage to find one, it would surely be closed for Chinese New Year. Luckily we still had a bike pump and our destination was less than twenty kilometres down the road. Our best option was to inflate the wheel and ride for as long as it would last. Once we reached a hotel we could worry about patching it. The pump was tiny. Each inflation required a few minutes of strenuous movement and only lasted only ten kilometres or so. Two pit stops were necessary before we reached Shitiping, a tiny fishing town which would serve as our overnight stop. It was another hour before we found an affordable place to stay. It wasn’t so much of a hotel as a house turned design studio. A mother, her two grown sons and a multitude of cats ran the joint. It was decorated with all sorts of interesting sculptures and paintings produced by the family. Attached was a small café where they whipped up specialty coffees and tasty breakfast. On the top floor were three small but comfortable rooms separated by thick curtains. That is where Stephen and I stayed.
Shitiping was set upon a stunning section of rocky coastline. The tiny town was built around a fishing port with a few guesthouses and family homes scattered along the shore. Since it was Chinese New Year, there was only one restaurant open in the middle of town. Amongst celebrating families sitting on little red stools, Stephen and I devoured fish braised in soy sauce and shared a plate of sashimi. Likely as a result of colonial Japanese influence, Sashimi with wasabi and white radish was a common sight along the East Coast of Taiwan. It was always fresh and delicious.
After dinner, we bought a few giant sparklers, cracked a couple beers and sat on the rocks next to the ocean. Red and white bursts of light could be seen all down the coastline. They were fireworks being set off in nearby towns. The stars were brighter than anywhere else I had been in Taiwan. In fact, I don’t think I had ever even seen a star Taipei. We didn’t last until the midnight countdown. After eight hours of biking underneath the baking sun, we were both pretty tired.
I woke up at six in the morning to watch the first sunrise of the lunar year. The sunburnt skin on face and arms was dry and painful. My legs were frozen stiff. Getting out of bed felt like an acrobatic stunt.
A crowd had already gathered on the rocks by the time I arrived on the seaside. A wall of clouds sat on the horizon. Once the sun managed to climb over it, the coastal vistas were well worth the wait. I sat there for more than an hour. Eventually elderly fishermen began to congregate around me on the shore. I took this as my queue to leave.
I met Stephen back at the guesthouse for a quick breakfast. Then we finally addressed the flat tire we had been ignoring since we arrived. The tube looked to be in pretty good shape when we removed it from the tire. We quickly found the leak, patched it, re-inflated the tire and assumed the problem was solved. Ten minutes later, however, the tire was flat once again. The patch had failed. We repeated the process but used five patches instead of one on the second attempt. If this didn’t work, nothing would. With fingers crossed, we hit the road an hour behind schedule.
The scenery on our second day was even more impressive than the first. The mountains were taller, the vegetation was thicker and the towns more interesting. The ride was much less painful too. A full tire made more of a difference than I could have imagined. We were moving at double the pace and enjoying the breeze of speed. That is until my tube failed again. I could feel the difference immediately. We stopped on the side of the road to assess the damage. I could hear the air spewing from the tube from outside the tire. Patching clearly was not working but we still had no spare tubes. Our only option was to inflate the tire and ride it as long as possible before stopping to inflate it again. It was frustrating and time consuming, but at least it gave me the chance to take more pictures.
We were also afforded a nice opportunity as a result of our troubles. My tire was nearly flat when we rolled into the small town of Daman. As I hopped off my bike and unscrewed the tire cap, I heard whistles and yells coming from a house across the street. A large family was inviting us to join them in their Chinese New Year celebrations. They greeted us on the porch with glasses of beer and Chinese whiskey. There must have been about thirty in the party. The women were dancing and the men were pouring back drinks. Some of them were totally wasted. Strewn across a couple tables was a smorgasbord of random meats and vegetables. They encouraged us to try it all. We chowed down on the sashimi and mountain goat stew. I did my best to communicate with those sitting next to me. Every time I answered a question we were rewarded with another glass of beer. Neither Stephen nor I wanted to get drunk but it was difficult to refuse. When I tried to explain that we still had a long day of biking ahead of us, they told us just to sleep in their house. A kind offer, but we politely refused. Before the next round of Chinese whiskey arrived, we made our exit, thanking them for their hospitality.
A short distance later, we were flagged down by a Taiwanese family who were parked on the side of the road. As we approached, we recognized a friend of ours from Taipei named Yo. He was vacationing with his family for Chinese New Year and was on his way to the same destination as us, a coastal town called Dulan. I thought this highway rendezvous was quite the coincidence. However, I quickly realized that there was only one road along the East Coast and, as two Caucasian bicyclists, Stephen and I stood out like sore thumbs (especially Stephen in those shorts). Anyone traveling down the coast for New Years was bound to see us at some point.
It took us another couple of hours to reach Dulan. It was not far but, in addition to our tire issues, Stephen developed a sharp pain in his ankle which only worsened as we approached the town. By the time we reached our hostel, he could barely walk. This did not bode well for our final leg of the journey the following day. With a warm bowl of noodles and a glass of whiskey, the stiffness in my legs subsided considerably. Stephen’s ankle, however, quickly worsened. We realized that he would not be able to ride the following day. There were plenty of local buses to transport Stephen but getting his bike to the rental shop in Taidung was another issue. Unsure of what to do, we gave our friend Yo a call. Fortunately, he jumped at the opportunity to finish the final leg of the journey with me. We agreed to meet the following morning. With the problem solved, we found a local bar and had a few more drinks.
Dulan was one of the more touristy stops on our journey. The town was small but clearly popular among foreign hippies and surfers. We had been told it was a good place to experience local aboriginal culture. However, most of this experience seemed to consist of paying to watch cultural performances. As it was Chinese New Year, the bars were busy and the streets were alive. Local families drank and set of fireworks from their porches while circles of hippie foreigners played bongos and sang kumbaya. I wasn’t really sure what I thought of this scene. Tired from the biking, I went to bed too early to get involved.
Yo was waiting outside our hotel when we woke up the following morning. He had been patiently waiting for over an hour. We gobbled down some egg pancakes for breakfast before hitting the road. It was a short travel day. Taidung was only twenty kilometres away. Over that distance, however, Yo managed to take enough footage with his iPhone to make an epic little movie which he sent to me a few days later. It highlighted the coastal scenery and holiday traffic.
We arrived in Taidung just after noon. With plenty of time to spare before I had to catch a train, Yo suggested that we drink some 7-11 beers and chill on the sidewalk. I had hung out with Yo quite a few times in Taipei but had never conversed with him one on one. He was an interesting person to talk to. I quite enjoyed our time spent aimlessly walking around town chatting about travel, music and girls.
We made it to the train station mid afternoon. Stephen was already waiting for us when we arrived. As he was on his way back to Taipei, Yo was going to Hualien, and I was continuing my trip south, it was time for us to say goodbye. I thanked Stephen for being an easygoing travel mate and thanked Yo for stepping in for us in a pinch. Then I jumped on a train bound for Kaohsiung. With the biking section of my trip finished, my legs were already in rebellion from what I had put them through.
I arrived in Kaohsiung after dark and took the MRT to my hostel. The place felt more like a fancy penthouse flat than a hostel. There was large flat screen TVs, cushy leather sofas and bowls of free candy in the common room. The bathroom included a rain shower and a stone trough sink. After dropping my bags in the dorm, I went straight to the closest night market to fill my empty stomach. It was packed during Chinese New Year and difficult to navigate but I found a few interesting treats. My favourite was a giant deep fried dumpling about the size of my fist filled with spices, vegetables and meat. Once I had my fill of snacks, it took me more than a half hour to find my way out of the maze of stalls and hoards of people.
Back at the hostel I met an Aussie traveler named Tim who was hanging out in Kaohsiung while his girlfriend was finishing her PhD. Since his girlfriend was out of town doing field work, Tim was alone and invited me to join him at his favourite local watering hole, a late night rocker bar called fusion. It was a fun little joint but I was tired and fading fast. After a couple beers, I had to call it a night.
My head was pounding and my legs were stiff when I woke up the next morning. Instead of drinking two giant beers, I really should have drunk two giant waters the night before. But it was a beautiful sunny day and I felt ridiculous wasting it in doors. Eventually I mustered up the strength the wander around the harbour side. Kaohsiung was far more interesting than I had anticipated. I was expecting a big dirty port city. Instead I found a lively metropolis full of art districts and seaside walkways. Random statues, galleries and street art could be found all over the downtown area. The city was far more laidback, sunny and open than Taipei. In contrast to the capital, I felt like there was plenty of room to breath. I spent most of the afternoon slowly strolling from one place to the next with no apparent destination. When four o’clock rolled around, I went back to the hostel for a nap.
I was awoken from my slumber by a text from a Kaohsiung local who went by the name Tweety. I had posted on the local couchsurfing website earlier that day asking if anyone was interested in going to a night market. I guess Tweety was. We met in the early evening. She was a tiny little woman who taught Chinese in a private Kaohsiung school. She took me first to a local lantern festival and then to her favourite night market. It was called Wufu and was full of Kaohsiung specialities. We gorged ourselves on all sorts of random eats. There were quite a few seafood dishes I had never seen before. Unable to shake the headache that had plagued me all day, however, I returned to the hostel quite early to get some sleep. I guess the bike trip had taken more out of me than I realized.
I felt much better the following day. The aches and pains had subsided and I was no longer fatigued. With a little more power in my step, I decided to venture over to Cijin Island, a long piece of land running parallel to the downtown core. It was far busier than I imagined. The line up for the ferry was nearly a kilometre long. Thousands of Chinese tourists, all brandishing large cameras and colourful hats had the same idea as me. Without the crowds, the island would have been quite relaxing. There was a decent beach, a long street filled with local seafood and a hill top lighthouse. But there were just too many people to really enjoy it.
When I returned to the hostel a large group of thirty something year old locals had congregated in the common area. The owner of the establishment was among them. They were having a reunion. The group had graduated high school together more than ten years previous and held this party once every year to commemorate. I was invited to join the festivities. There was food, beer and wine. They cycled through a list of drinking games they used to play when they were younger. Some were fun, others were strange. I always seemed to loose regardless. They disbanded at around ten as most returned home. Soon after, I received a text from Tweety inviting me to go drink with her and her friend.
I met them at a British pub called “Bottoms Up” for a beer. It was a dingy place with a long wooden bar and posters of classic British rock bands on the wall. From there we proceeded to hop down the street from one bar to the next. Most establishments were small and lacked class. The patrons were mostly weathered-looking old expats. It was not the most exciting atmosphere but we made the most of it. We forced tired bartenders to crank up the tunes so we could dance amongst the tables. We were rewarded with a few free shots for our efforts. It ended up being a surprisingly fun night.
I slept in as late as was possible before catching my eleven o’clock train. I was bound for Tainan, the last stop of my trip. It was only a short ride north of Kaohsiung. I arrived just after noon and waited in the sun amongst the palm trees in front of the station for my couchsurfing host to arrive.
Couchsurfing is a network of travelers and hosts who apply for and/or offer free places to stay around the world. I had decided to give it a try in Tainan. I thought, of all the places I was visiting, it would be the best city to have a host. The former capital was quite small but supposed to have some of the best street food in all of Taiwan. I assumed having a little local knowledge would go a long way. I applied to four or five locals but only one responded. Her name was Acid Lin and she was a twenty year old art student who lived with her family in nearby Madou. With a name like ‘Acid’ I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I be spending my three days in Tainan lost in an inebriated daze? No. Instead Acid kept me in a mind altered state without any mind altering substances.
Upon arriving at the station, she greeted me with a smile and a big hug. I felt like I was meeting an old friend who I hadn’t seen in ages. We quickly delved into a conversation about travel and living abroad. For a girl of only twenty, I was immediately impressed by her many profound insights. When she said “Travel is more about the people you meet than the places you go”, I knew we were going to get along well.
She took me to the flat where I would be staying. It belonged to a friend of hers who had returned to France for the holiday. It was a large space with interesting décor. The guy had red ceiling lights, a mannequin hanging from the roof and an old arcade game from the eighties in the corner. We spent the entire afternoon on the couch listening to music and chatting about life. In those first few hours, I felt a strange connection with this girl. It was like we already knew each other quite well. We were constantly finishing each others sentences. We must have met each other in a past life.
After sunset, she took me to a local night market called Dadong where I had my first taste of Tainan street food. It was just as delicious as expected. Most of the recipes were similar to those in Taipei, but with a twist. The twist typically involved more sugar. Deep fried chicken breasts which would be dry and peppered in Taipei were slathered in a rich sweet dressing in Tainan. Noodles that would be soft and salty Taipei were crunchy and sweet in Tainan. We stayed there for hours sampling all sorts of random bites. As midnight approached, Acid caught the train back home and I returned to the flat to get some rest.
Early the following morning, I strapped on my shoes, grabbed my camera and set out into Tainan to explore. The city was a wanderer’s paradise. Like Kaohsiung it was warm and sunny. There were temples and shrines everywhere. Even little back alleys in remote neighbourhoods seemed to have a small place of worship. I think I saw more temples in Tainan than in all the rest of Taiwan combined. It was difficult to walk more than a few blocks without stumbling upon some market or food street. The selection of restaurants was bewildering.
What I found most intriguing about the city, however, was its vibrant street art. There was beautiful graffiti, murals and random drawings all over the sides of buildings, underground passages and concrete pillars. They were more than just simple tags or names. Some artists had painted entire stories on a wall. Pockets of street art seem to pop up just about anywhere, even around temples where the juxtaposition of traditional against modern art was quite interesting. I remember one hidden courtyard in which I stumbled upon a large yellow submarine on wheels. Someone had built it and left it there as a blank canvas.
I must have walked around for more than eight hours before finally returning to the flat. Acid arrived soon after me. She was hungry and she took me to a local restaurant, well-known among the student crowd, for onion pancakes and local dumplings. Every restaurant, food stall or hole in the wall we visited was delicious. Later in the evening we went to an artsy little pub hidden away in a back alley for a couple beers. We talked about all sorts of things, from photography techniques to reincarnation. There were no awkward silences with Acid. When the bar thinned out, we went back to the flat to share music and continue the conversation.
The following morning she took me to a local market to try coffin bread, one of Tainan’s most famous dishes. It was a thick piece of fried toast filled with a creamy mixture of chicken, squid and vegetables. She explained to me that they call it coffin bread because the fried portion looks like a coffin and the creamy portion looks like rotting flesh. Despite the disturbing mental picture, the meal was excellent. From the restaurant Acid took off to a job interview while I continued wandering the streets. I made an old sea side district named Anping my target for the day but got lost on the way. Somehow I ended up at a naval yard. At least I was allowed to walk around on one of the battleships.
When I finally reached Anping it was late afternoon and my legs were pretty tired from all the walking. The district was far too touristy for me anyways. I just caught a bus back to the flat to take a nap. I met Acid at the train station later in the evening. She had one more night market to show me. It was called The Flower Garden and was Tainan’s most renowned. Many of the stalls were similar to those in Dadong but we managed to try a few new treats. My favourite was a doughy pancake fried with egg, onion and meat. This is a common snack throughout Taiwan but the one in Tainan was a little sweeter and heartier. After one hour of grazing, I was stuffed. We found refuge from the market crowds on the patio of a 7-11 where we drank beers and chatted. Time always seemed to fly with Acid. We missed the last bus home and ended up having to cab it back to the flat. We spent our last night exchanging music and stories on the living room floor.
My train left at about eleven the following day. Acid accompanied me to the station. Like our time together, our goodbye was brief. I gave her a hug and thanked her for showing me her little corner of Tainan. I was sad to be leaving but I had the feeling I would be seeing her again one day.
The train pulled away from Tainan and began rumbling its way north to Taipei. As I peered out the window at all the passing neighbourhoods, I remember feeling like a backpacker again. In the year since I had finished my journey around Asia, I had almost forgotten that feeling. I missed it. There was nothing quite like it. Living in Taipei was one thing, but nothing compared to the freeing experience of pure uninhibited travel. It’s like a drug that takes hold of you and leaves you forever an addict. Nothing is ever really the same again. It haunts your daily routines constantly injecting that little thought into your mind: I could be traveling right now…. I got my fix for now but how long would it last.
I assume another trip around Taiwan lies in the near future. I can’t stay off the road for too long and I am living in the middle of truly fantastic backpacker territory. This island is a hidden gem. The people are very polite, friendly and welcoming. The East coast is stunning, full of adventure activities and still relatively undeveloped. The cities are big enough to keep you entertained but not so big to be frustrating. The island is small but well connected by an efficient yet cheap transportation system. Outside of Taipei, there are few western travelers diluting the local culture. And perhaps most importantly for me, the street food is amazing. What’s not to love?