Friday, February 23, 2007

this is going to be suck

We left Tainan today. We checked out of our hotel, stopped in to say goodbye to Somebody’s parents, and went to the train station. We had purchased tickets from Tainan to Kaohsiung, then from Kaohsiung to Hualien (where we were going to go up to Taroko National Park), and then from Hualien to Taipei. Basically we were starting on the Southwest side of the island and would travel south to the end of the island before starting north up the East side.

The train ride started out okay. Once again it became obvious that purchasing tickets on the train did not guarantee you a seat. I will never understand this. Because we were traveling during the New Year holiday, the train was packed with people going to or returning from visits with family and friends. They seemed content to stand for the hour, two-hour, four-hour train rides. Somebody said that he had often stood for the long train rides—that it wasn’t a big deal. Am I spoiled, or what? For that first leg of the ride we had tickets for actual seats and enjoyed watching the scenery pass by. And then I looked at the tickets for the rest of our trip. Somehow we had tickets that departed from stop #2 BEFORE our train #1 even arrived at the station. Not helpful. This is where Somebody uttered his now famous phrase, “This is going to be suck.”

Somebody immediately started calling his friend Rita in Taipei (she had purchased the tickets for us) to sort things out. It turned out that the tickets that guaranteed seats were sold out for the later train, and also that we were going to only have a few hours in Hualien before needing to catch our train to Taipei and so our plan for hours and hours to explore Taroko National Park were going up in flames. Typical. Me and the National Parks in Taiwan are not friends. Also typical? Me crying about it.

You see this picture? This was lunch at the train station where we caught train #2. Those puffy and red eyes are the result of me crying for, uh, 15 minutes.

Somebody was doing all he could to get us seats on a very crowded train. He spoke with the tickets sales people and was told that he would have to talk to the train conductor in order to get permission to have seats reserved for the handicapped, but other than those seats there were no other options. Handicapped? You bet we were. He somehow managed to talk to the train conductor and was able to get permission for my mom and me to sit in the handicapped seats for the train ride. My dad moved around from empty seat to empty seat as they came available, and once all the ticketed passengers were on he stood for the rest of the train ride. Somebody stood in the space behind our seats for the entire train ride. I don’t know how those men did it.Rita scrambled making arrangements for us to somehow get up to the Taroko National Park. I have no idea how she made these connections, but she found out that one of the shop owners at the top of the park was going to be in town picking up supplies and made arrangements with him to meet us at the train station, drive us through the park, then return us to the train station to catch our train to Taipei. Instead of a leisurely five hours we would have to race through in about two hours. It was so worth it.

The Good Samaritan (I have no idea what his name is, so I’ll call him GS) picked us up at the train station and then sped up the mountain. The roads carved into the sides of the mountains in Taiwan are slightly scary, so it was nice to have someone behind the wheel who was so familiar with the route. He stopped at a few of the popular areas to allow us to see at least a little of the park.Changchun (Eternal Spring) Shine
The Jiucyudong tunnel "The Tunnel of Nine Turns". Taroko National Park is named after the Taroko Gorge. On the Tunnel of Nine Turns, pedestrians are able to walk 2.2 miles on a former auto path that winds around the mountains following the path of the river the carved the gorge. The walls are marble and very steep--the scenery (including several waterfalls) was amazing. Guardrails? Merely suggestions for safety.

Just in case you can't read this sign, it says "Beware of Rockfall." Right next to a massive rockfall that took out the old guardrail. Yeah. I'd say those massive marble boulders were more effective in encouraging safety than the sign.We spent some time at Tiansiang (Taroko's largest settlement) while GS stocked his store.

And then we sped down and back to the train station. GS dropped us off at a street market near the train station where we had time to shop for a little bit, eat dinner, and then catch our train to Taipei.
Food this way. These street signs cracked me up.

We arrived in Taipei at nearly midnight. This final train ride was the best of the day and we were all four able to sit near each other and even play a few card games. It certainly had emotionally challenging moments, but looking back now this was one of my favorite days in Taiwan and one of the few touristy places that I would love to revisit. The day wasn’t nearly as suck as we thought it might be.
Things I want to always remember:
* Being overwhelmed with the massive size of the gorge walls. Overwhelmed in a good way. I have never seen anything so beautiful and that made me feel so insignificant.
* Somebody being so calm and doing everything he could to make the day a good one for me and my mom.
Things I will never forget:
* The way the people crammed into the trains, filling every single space.
* Being slightly frightened on the way from Taroko National Park while GS drove us through tiny towns and black forested areas. We speculated that he might be taking us somewhere remote to kill us and how no one would ever know, but in the end our nervousness was not justified--he took us straight to the train station area and was nothing but generous and polite and wonderful.

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