We started the morning at 8 and bought bus tickets to TianXiang, which is in the center of the Taroko Gorge National Park. Taroko is a massive marble gorge and Taiwan’s most popular tourist destination.
The gorge is pretty epic. I hadn’t been too impressed by the pictures and I’m afraid you won’t either, because it is simply too big to be pictured.
We had read about a lot of exciting trails to take, but found out that most of them had been closed due to rockslides. In fact, we decided to check one out anyway and came across a rock slide – in the middle of sliding.
As an alternate plan, we climbed up to a nearby pagoda and temple.
The temple was just how we pictured Buddhist temples – in a remote, hard-to-reach mountain location, surrounded by nature and accompanied by a vegetarian restaurant. Carlos is vegetarian and since he always lets us order meat, we ate there for a change. The most unique dish was a soup made of lilies!
Around 1, we set off on the walk down to the entrance to the park. Many people had told us that it was a “3, 4-hour walk”, which caused us to make two assumptions: 1) that it was going to be 3 hours maximum, as Chinese people walk very slow and seem to quote walking times accordingly, and 2) that it was a commonly-walked path, most likely on sidewalks and such.
Ha! We are such newbs at this whole “Chinese culture” thing obviously. 80% of the walk was on the shoulder of curving mountain roads, less than a foot wide; the other 20% was in tunnels that were sparingly lit or, more often, completely unlit.
We took one side trail, which was indicated to be Level 1. As the steps consisted entirely of natural rocks and tree roots and we had to go through a pitch-black tunnel, over a shaky suspension bridge, and under a waterfall, we wonder what a Level 5 trail would be like!!
As if all this weren’t enough danger and excitement, there was the ever-present threat of rockfall.
One of the most famous trails in the park was closed due to a particularly bad rockfall fairly recently, so we instead got to take the scenic tour through a 1.2km tunnel. Awesome . . .
We trudged along, in and out of tunnels, enjoying the scenery but a little bit less as we approached the four-hour mark and were not too far past halfway. Humbled and tired, we flagged down a car and asked the driver for a ride, which he graciously offered. Judging from how far we drove, we were at least another hour away on foot. Yet, as we ate dinner, the restaurant owner cheerfully told us that it was a “3, 4-hour walk” and that he himself had done it. I guess it could be . . . if you didn’t stop to look around or take pictures, and had a flashlight and complete disregard for your life.
We bussed back to Hualien, where Carlos and I parted ways with Aleid and took a train back to Taibei. It felt almost like coming home, because the train and MRT stations were so familiar, we knew where to go for the hostel, and we knew our friend Alice was there waiting for us. I even got my same room!