Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Travels Around Taiwan

My parents flew in from the States to visit Floyd and me for Christmas. It had been a year and a half since we'd seen each other, and we had a great time together! It was fun to show them around our home, school, neighborhood, and country. They spent a morning in my classroom, met many of our friends, and even had the excitement of a 6.8 earthquake on their second evening here.

Even though the Dakeng Scenic Area is only about 20 minutes' drive from where we live, Floyd and I had never been there. Now I was able to hike in these beautiful hills with my parents. I think we chose the most challenging trail! It was paved with logs the whole way, and in some places was so steep it was like climbing a ladder.

After school was out, we visited a must-see in Taiwan: Taroko Gorge. Getting there was interesting - we drove north to Taipei and then south down the coast. Beautiful scenery but a terrible road! Winding along on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean much of the way, it often narrowed down to one lane. That wouldn't have been so bad except that the one-lane sections were usually in tunnels or where construction vehicles blocked half the road right before a hairpin turn. Speeding trucks, buses, and other oncoming traffic added to the excitement.

There are moments in life when the only logical course of action is to close one's eyes and scream. I lived through one of those moments on that trip, when we had to swerve to avoid some road construction that completely blocked our view as well as our lane, only to see a huge, lacy-curtained tourist bus hurtling directly toward us like a pink and blue charging bull. I'm still not entirely certain how we avoided a head-on collision, but I'm pretty sure there were angels involved.

We arrived at our guest house in Taroko Gorge only to discover that there was no electricity and hadn't been for several days, ever since the earthquake (centered in that area). The caretakers (who spoke no English) were very apologetic and kindly gave us candles to use. It was cold enough to see our breath indoors, but we managed to sleep well anyway, and in the morning woke up ready to go hiking and explore the gorge.

Well, that plan didn't exactly work out the way we had expected. We did drive all around Taroko and spent the day enjoying the gorgeous scenery.

However, we were disappointed to discover that pretty much every trail was off limits. Thanks to the earthquake, there had been landslides everywhere, and we kept seeing signs warning us to keep away. Road crews were hard at work clearing away debris and repairing damage to the roads, but they hadn't fixed up the trails yet. And with the danger of aftershocks causing even more landslides, no one was allowed on them. Oh, well.

We took a different route on the way home, traveling west to Taichung on the Cross-Island Highway. It was fun to see snow in the high mountain passes - a first for us in Taiwan.

The day after we got back from Taroko, the four of us took the high speed rail to Taipei for some sightseeing. We toured Longshan Temple, which was beautiful - though as always, it was sad to see so many devout but deceived worshipers burning incense, bringing offerings of food and flowers, and praying to idols.

Our next stop was the National Palace Museum, home to probably the biggest and finest collection of Chinese art in the world. Floyd and I had been there before, but this time we were able to take an official guided tour in English. It sure helped us appreciate some of the ancient and beautifully crafted art.

That evening we took the world's fastest elevator up to the top of Taipei 101, still the tallest completed building in the world. We enjoyed a stunning view of the city at night, before partaking of a delicious supper down in the huge food court at the bottom.  You can take a brief tour of the food court here, if you're interested (I didn't make this video).

The next morning the four of us visited the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, which, with its decorative buildings and scenic gardens, is a great place for taking pictures.

Later we took the subway to Danshui, a little town outside of Taipei at the mouth of a river, where we toured the Red Fort.

Afterwards we strolled through a night market, where we had a snacky sort of dinner consisting of free samples of all sorts of things, plus a few interesting tidbits we purchased.

The end of the trip came all too soon. We said goodbye in the airport the next morning, after only a week and a half together. It had been a week and a half full of fun activities, but there was so much more that Floyd and I would have liked to show my parents. Well, we'll just have to save the rest of it for their next visit to Taiwan!

No comments: