10th May
written by Kara

Note: We have a special treat for you today! Kara wrote this awesome guest post about the 3-day trip we took to Taroko Gorge. Thanks to K for lending us her voice…and thanks again to K & P for coming out! It means so much to us to share this adventure with you. We love you!!!

If only we could do it all again! Patrick and I would eagerly join Hope and Jeremy on the other side of the globe again to share in a little slice of their adventure. (And I would do it just for the sight of Hope’s hands waving in the air as she ran out to meet us after our cab dropped us off from the airport.) We spent a sparkling 10 days with the Menghermanns in Taiwan, and can wholeheartedly second that: Taiwan is awesome. We discovered new things to impress us and enjoy every day—even stopping in 7-11 to use an ATM was an adventure! (Which makes me empathize with Hope…it’s difficult to write a blog post on one subject when really, there is so much to share!)

In the midst of our Taipei sightseeing and day trips to hot springs and teahouses, the four of us took a three-day jaunt to Taroko Gorge, one of the island’s biggest tourist draws. An 2.5-hour express train south from Taipei Main Station brought us in around noon to Hualien, gateway town to the Gorge. We totally scored with our hotel: the (un-inspiringly named, but inspiringly decorated) No. 6 Homestay (http://hs101.com.tw/index.php). It’s owned and run by a supercute husband and wife team and their sporty retriever, Kuchi (see photo of Kuchi here, complete with polo shirt and adorable buckteeth).

with our homestay family, hualien
With our Hualien homestay family. You can see Kuchi strolling out of the photo into his doghouse on the right side of the photo. Check the lion cut!

Our homestay family picked us up from the train station (Hope told them to look for the four wai guo ren’s standing in front of the Visitor Info Center! Ed. note: Actually, I said: “I am really tall and I’m with 3 wai guo ren’s. You can’t miss us.”), took our breakfast orders for the next morning, and held onto our bags because our rooms weren’t ready and we were eager to get our hike on. A little back ’splaining: Taiwanese and Chinese, the main tourist population in Taiwan, really like their tour groups and massive buses (Ed. note: I found out later that people from the mainland are actually required to travel Taiwan in tour groups. Guess the Taiwanese are a little worried about Chinese people running around their country no-holds-barred). So there was a lot of pressure to take a tour bus of the Gorge. Really?! Being bull-headed, do-it-on-our-own Americans, we took a cab the 30 minutes into Taroko National Park and our driver dropped us off at the Shakadang trailhead [insert your Chaka Khan reference here].

the boys, taroko gorge
The boys on Shakadong Trail, Taroko Gorge. The river water is naturally that vivid blue color.

After shakadangin’ an easy, very pretty 3-hour hike along a river, we caught the slow public bus back to Hualien from the park’s visitor center. We’re crediting Patrick with the next brilliant idea: next door to the Hualien train station, we rented two red peppy scooters for NT$400 (approx. US$12) per 24 hours. Awesome! We were able to zip over to a night market area and feast on what ended up being some of the most memorable XLBs of our trip. (According to Hope’s reading, these were Taiwan-style, with a thicker, spongey dumpling exterior, as opposed to the Shanghai-style XLBs we’d been eating in Taipei. They were so good that we felt the need to dine on them BOTH nights in Hualien!) And the next morning, we scooted off happily on our own time schedule to hit some of the main sites and trails in gorge-ous Taroko.

Our drive into the park was thrillingly beautiful…the roads are narrow and curvy and we had the best of both worlds, pulling off often to snap photos and yet zooming around those smelly tour buses.

scooting around taroko gorge
K & P scootin’ through the gorge-ous scenery.

The park’s landscape consists of mountains, gorges, rivers, and waterfalls….all great to soak up from a bike.

tunnel of nine turns, taroko gorge

At one stop, we climbed up to a Buddhist temple and Japanese pagoda.

beautiful hsiangte temple, taroko gorge
Beautiful Hsiangte Temple in Tienhsang.

And on the moderate Baiyang waterfall trail, we hiked through several long dark tunnels (perfect for practicing our “Muhahaha’s” and witch cackles!), crossed a suspension bridge…

bridge to baiyang waterfall, taroko gorge

…and, following the example of some generous tourists who passed us their rain ponchos, we took off our shoes to wade into a watery tunnel with a waterfall coming right out of the ceiling!

suiting up to check our baiyang waterfall, taroko gorge
Patty, all suited up to explore the Baiyang waterfall.

Our third and final day in Hualien, we scooted to Liyu Lake where we made a valiant attempt to chew Taiwanese beetlenut (verrrry bitter, if we could have stuck with it, it’s supposed to product a nicotine-like buzz), and hiked up a mountain trail for great views.

trying betelnut, hualien
Sorry, K, but this photo was too funny not to post! For the record, this is what I looked like too when I tried to chew betelnut.

Our trail method: the person in the front carried the Spider Stick (to knock down any stray webs across the trail), which after a slithery sighting turned into a Snake Stick, and then needed to be exchanged for an even larger branch once we encountered a largish gray monkey.

Hands down, our favorite thing about Taiwan is the people. Taiwanese people are friendly, accommodating, enthusiastic, and even the “aggressive” helpfulness is endearing. The four of us made quite a scene wherever we went because there aren’t many Caucasian travelers. Taiwan isn’t particularly affordable, especially compared to its southeast neighbors. And it’s difficult to get around if you don’t speak Chinese. (Incredible props to Hopie for navigating and guiding all four of us in and out of restaurants, shops, and public trans!) We were a sight: an extra-ordinarily tall Chinese Hope (”Sheee’s so taall!”), an even taller Jeremy, a Patrick with his shaved head, and a short curly-haired Kara. We received many stares, quite a few points and giggles, and even a few peace signs. Though remember who you’re dealing with….We go to Burning Man and dress up in costumes like it’s our jobs. So there isn’t any shame in our game. Which helps in random, awesome instances like when sweet older ladies approached our lunch table, passing out information on a political candidate. Patrick could barely get out, “I only speak English” before our table was swarmed and we were shaking hands and taking pictures with a famous Taiwanese Senator whose face we’d seen plastered on billboards.

meeting the hualien senator

1 Comment


    Hello. I love this posting your blog. We are going to Taroko and are interested in the Homestay #6. We are traveling with our 13 year old (she’s 5′11″) who is studying Mandarin. Did anyone at the Homestay speak English? I sent them a message by email, but website seemed to all be in Chinese. Is is unrealistic for us to try to make arrangements there?

    Thanks, Laurel

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