Don’t worry, I made it back alive.
So, as I mentioned before, along with winning Outstanding ETA, Fulbright gave me money to fund some travel around Taiwan. Knowing what little time I have left, I planned immediately, and went to Taitung this past weekend with Lakyn! Taitung is on the Eastern side of Taiwan (like Yilan) but just a few hours south. It is also known for nature and outdoorsy activities, much like Yilan, so we planned accordingly.
Day 1: We stayed in a Traveler’s Hotel on Thursday night and woke up bright and early Friday morning for our first day in Taitung! The hotel gave us breakfast and we were on our way. There was a bus station nearby that would take us to Luye Gaotai. After about an hour in the bus, going up a windy mountain, we arrived! And what else could we do at the top of the mountain besides….run straight off of it again!? We were paragliding!!! WOO! So, Lakyn and I found the little stand full of insurance papers, signed, paid and were ready to go. Since the weather was so perfect, the paragliding instructor told us we were going even further up the mountain. So, Lakyn and I, along with two other paragliders and seven coaches, crammed into a van, and up the mountain we went! One of the men spoke English, which made me feel better, as he could give me instructions. The man I was flying with on the other hand, spoke none.
I thought I would be completely secure and strapped in tight. Nope. All there was was a strap between my legs that was clipped on either side. I could freely move around, sit, stand etc. Of course, this made me more nervous. Then, I go to tell Lakyn how I’m feeling just to realize, shes already running off the side of the mountain. They just pushed her off and made her go. So, I was alone! We had to wait for a while to take off because the wind had picked up, which would make for a rough takeoff. Not something I wanted. So of course, as Im waiting, Im getting more nervous, I just wanted to go! My instructor changes the direction of my run and suddenly two men are on either side of me. The man who speaks English said, “They are your insurance. To make sure you run.” So, I was going whether I wanted to or not. They pulled me along and I ran! “Ran” being a loose term as the parachute was so heavy, it was more like being on a treadmill; my legs flailing and barely making progress. But, we made it! I was running until there was nothing to run on. Then the instructor pulled me back into the harness, and I had 15 minutes of stunning views. I took a few pictures, but mostly just relaxed and took it all in. It was absolutely stunning.
The landing was a little scary since my instructor didn’t speak English. I’m looking around enjoying life when all of a sudden I realize he is no longer behind me. Up until now, I thought we were strapped in together but I look to my left, and there he is hanging next to me and he tells me to stand up. In my attempts at Chinese, I ask him, “right now!? You want me to stand now?!” As I look down and we are still extremely high above the ground. He looks down and confirms, yes, stand now. So, I slide out of the harness until I’m dangling my feet and the crazy wind is picking us up and dropping us like a roller coaster. That was definitely the worst part. But, soon enough, land was under my feet again and I had made it!!!! It was such a cool experience and the view was the best Ive ever seen. I’m so so glad I did it…but not sure I’ll ever do it again…maybe. We’ll see what other cool places I end up (:
After paragliding, I got a dinner recommendation from my friend Lisa, who is an ETA in Taitung, and we ate at her favorite vegetarian restaurant, called The Denim Elephant. And that it certainly was. It was covered in jeans and elephant figurines and it was awesome. Then, we explored a bit of downtown Taitung. They have an area with booths of handmade crafts (it reminded me a lot of the library fair in Sherborn!) It was really cool and I bought a hair tie with a knit flower on it! We called it an early night since we had yet another adventure filled day tomorrow.
Day 2: We woke up even earlier than yesterday and were on a bus at 7:30am going to Dulan. Dulan is known for its beautiful miles of beaches and laid back island feel. Dulan was our end destination, but we also wanted to see the famous Sanxiantai bridge. The bridge is past Dulan, so we figured we’d take the bus all the way, then just catch it back and end up back at our hotel in Dulan for the night. Our bus driver was awesome. There were a few places we wanted to stop along the way, but the bus only came once every two hours and that was too long, so we thought we’d just miss them. But, our bus driver had other plans. He stops at a beach stop and turns the bus off. He tells everyone, “It’s a beautiful day! Get out and take a look around!” So, we all hopped out and looked at the beautiful scenery and enjoyed the fresh air before hopping back onto the bus. Then, he stopped at the steamed bun factory, pulled over, and told us we could all get out and buy some steamed buns! Those were the two stops we really wanted to go to, but couldn’t spend two hours there, and he made it possible! It was great!!! And the steamed bun was delicious!
He finally dropped us off at Sanxiantai. The bridge is famous because it has eight waves instead of being straight. I thought we would cross the bridge, walk around the island for about 5 minutes (there’s nothing on it) and be done. Little did I know, the island was the coolest part!! We crossed the bridge at which point I was so hot I had to become Taiwanese. I used my umbrella to shield myself from the sun. I know, dorky. I never thought I would succumb to such Taiwanese-ness but I couldn’t help it! It was the hottest I have ever been in my whole life. So with my umbrella in hand, we ventured around the island. It had the most fascinating geological structures from all the erosion. There were huge top heavy rocks, caves and tide pools. I eventually had to put my umbrella away because I needed both hands and feet to get across the landscape. Lakyn and I found some really cool caves that we explored and even made some new friends!
We left only because we knew we had to get on the next bus (and we were so hot!!). Onto to Dulan!!!! We arrived in Dulan in about 30 minutes and found our guest house. A foreign man named Barry was there to welcome us. He was maybe Australian? Unsure, but he was not Taiwanese and was a great help explaining things to us in perfect English (woo!) The guesthouse was…eclectic, but hey, all part of the island feel! We were hungry after our morning, so we were on our way to find some food, when I heard, “WAIT, hey, HEY, I KNOW YOU!!!!” I stopped and saw my friends Phoebe and Christian from Kaohsiung! (I celebrated my 23rd birthday with them!). They were off to Green Island and just happened to be scootering by! They recommended an Indian place, so off we went! I got chickpea curry and it was delicious! Then, we went down to the beach for a while, but didn’t have towels, so we didn’t stay long.
After some exploring, we decided it was definitely time to shower. It was the hottest we’ve ever been and we needed some ice cold water to cool us down. Well, the guest house shower only got to about lukewarm, no colder, but it would have to do. We rested for a bit, then went to dinner at an Italian place. Dulan has an unusual number of foreign people. The man in the 7/11 spoke to me in English right off the bat, and I didn’t understand him at first, because I was listening for Chinese. I’m not sure why or how all the foreign people got there, but I’m thankful because it brought great Italian food! I got pasta and Lakyn got pizza. Then, every Saturday night, the sugar factory hosts a concert. So, we decided to check it out, and to our shock and surprise, the band was all foreign people too! We sat and watched them and more and more foreigners came in. It was about 80% foreign, 20% Taiwanese….crazy!!!!!! Unheard of here!!!! It was a great filter back into America soon. The band was actually pretty good! We learned that they were from all over the place, the drummer was from Germany, the trombone player was from North Carolina (!!!), the guitarist was from Canada and then the bass player and the singer were from Guatemala. Most of their songs were in Spanish, which I found funny because their audience understood Chinese and English and they chose the other language they knew. But, they also did songs in Amis (the local aboriginal language of the area). It was really neat!
It got me thinking about these people though and the idea that they just gave up their entire lives to come live in Dulan, Taitung, Taiwan. How did they even find this place?! Were their parents mad? Did they always know they didn’t want to be in corporate life? I do like the laid back island feel…that anything goes type thing, but I also like structure a little bit more than these people. I don’t think I could live a life of anything goes all the time. They just play music or sit on the beach all day every day. Cool for a while, but not for life. Harvard seems more my speed (:
Anyway, that was our trip to Taitung. It was awesome and I’m so glad we got the chance to go before we left. I can’t believe how fast my time is going. As I write this, I have 14 days left of teaching. 27 days left total. CRAZY. Speaking of things winding down: My half-marathon is also in 4 days! The end is near!