Ilha Formosa. Beautiful Island. I swore those were the lyrics to some Madonna song but I was wrong; Formosa is the name the Portuguese gave to Taiwan as they sailed on past in the 16th century. I totally agree, this island is straight up stunning AND super easy to explore.
After a debauched week of endless nuits blanches, we dragged our quickly aging bodies out of bed and stumbled, possibly still drunk, to the train station. A week in Taipei had already softened our traveler’s edge, and something as backpacker basic as packing our bags felt us feeling exhausted rather than excited about our upcoming trip around the island.
But we had to go. Already my cousin Stephen was having back problems from sleeping on the couch and we were all beginning to feel the effects of too much fun and not enough sunlight. With our heads full of rumors about tropical beaches and stunning scenery, we jumped on a high speed train and headed down the east coast (no K-series hard seat trains in Taiwan!)
The east coast of Taiwan is simply breathtaking. Highway 11 runs straight down the Pacific coast, tightly hugging the jagged coast one one side and on the other, the forest mountains that happily made beach-front construction nearly impossible. Our first stop on the east cost was Hualien where we immediately jumped on a bus to Taroko Gorge.
What a bus! It couldn’t be further from what we suffered through on the way to Litang. And it was Free!
Taroko Gorge is a wonderland of marble cliffs, massive stone boulders, and crystal clear turquoise water. Most folks explore the gorge in tour buses, getting off to take a quick photo and jumping back on again. How awful!
Homey don’t play that.
We jumped off at the first stop and stood there slack jawed, staring at the enormous canyon rising above our heads. Our hike meander through the gorge led us through the tunnels and trails traditionally used by the Truku people. There are still a few Truku still living in the gorge, making their living selling handmade woven goods and fruity liquor. We happened upon a booming liquor stand 3 km into the hike, people were hiking in with cardboard boxes to carry the bottles home.
We walked all day, managing to see only a few of the amazing sites that Taroko has to offer. By the end of the hike our pallor had returned to normal, our eyes appeared less bloodshot and our standing heart rate managed to decline slightly. I believe we managed to fully recover from the perfect storm that was a week in Taipei.
Note for those of you heading to the Gorge: Rent scooters. The bus is great but only comes once an hour to take you between hikes in the gorge. A scooter will allow you to see more, without waiting. No one told us this, but we would have been too hungover to manage to drive a scooter anyway.