Wednesday, August 15, 2012

taiwan's east coast: hualien & taroko gorge

A few of us decided to rent a car and drive for "just a few hours" to Hualien. Our "few hour" drive was actually more like six or seven hours on Taiwan's Highway 11, one of the windiest, scariest roads in the world, through tunnels that were never ending and sometimes pitch black.

I guess the drive would have been smoother if we would have figured out how to turn on the car's lights before we left the car dealership. You know what they say about hindsight.
Every once in a while, we stopped to stretch our legs and admire the view. Hualien is on Taiwan's east coast, which is simply breathtaking. What the west coast lacks due to over population and industry, the east coast makes up in natural wonders. Highway 11 is truly gorgeous.

Ocean, blue and vast.

Mountains, green and craggy.

Rivers and gorges and small villages, raw and beautiful and alive.

It's amazing, really, that the east coast should be allowed to hog so much of Taiwan's appeal. On the other hand, every other week when a new typhoon forms out in the Pacific, I am suddenly grateful to live along the west coast nestled safely in the rain shadow of Hsinchu County.
Finally, we made it to Hualien. One weird thing about Taiwan is that all the towns look the same.

Beetle nut girls? Check.

Copious amounts of 7-11 and Family Mart? Check.

Some random temples thrown in for fun? Check.

Scooters everywhere? Check.

However, our friend Peter did introduce us to something new: sex motels.
You see, Taiwan is the 8th most densely populated country in the world. What does that mean? That means there are a lot of people crammed onto this tiny island. They live on top of one another in high rise apartments, often times with their extended family.

Basically, it's hard to find places to, you know, do it. Thus, sex motels.

Now, we had no intention of staying in a sex motel. It was simply the result of careful planning and 3 hours at the travel agency down the road. Would it have been nice for the lady to say, "Hey stupid, this is a sex motel?!" Well, yes, it would have. Alas, she did not, so, unawares, we checked into a hotel that had a drive-thru lobby and charged by the hour.

Oops. 
Our friends Jamie and Luke stayed in the deluxe suite, which came with a sex chair, while Sean, Peter, and I stayed in a regular room with just a condom dispenser outside the door.

Peter snored all night.

Literally.

I became desperate I tried to make ear plus out of toilet paper. They were rather useless, so it was in (not) high spirits that the next morning we crammed into the car again for the 30 minute drive to Taroko Gorge, the whole reason we had undertaken this quite absurd journey in the first place.

In the pictures, Taroko looked like a slice of heaven. I was not disappointed.

Mountain peaks, caves, valleys, rivers.

Suspension bridges, tunnels, temples, and venomous snakes.

We spent the day climbing and exploring and sweating and smiling.
That night, before dinner, the world shook.

Earthquake.

Now, I can tell you from experience, there is no worse place to be during an earthquake than on the first floor of  shoddy sex motel.

This was not my first earthquake. I remember a few and one in particular: the Nisqually Earthquake that struck the greater Seattle region in 2000. I was in 9th grade home economics when the earth jumped up and down and sideways. I dove under the table with my classmates and waited silently for the earth to stop raging.

Unfortunately, the sex motel provided no tables to dive under. Instead, I paced by the window watching the locals because I can tell you one other thing: when you're in Asia and the earth starts trembling and the Pacific Ocean is your next door neighbor you see images of Thailand and Japan wash through your mind like a tidal wave.

The locals, however, were completely nonplussed, so it was with a sense of exhilaration that we headed to the night market to gorge ourselves on dumpling and soup and noodles.
The next day, as we drove home, I felt even more sure we had made the right choice by getting on that airplane to Taiwan one month ago. 

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