AT HOME IN HUALIEN
Updated: May 31, 2020
When I decided to come to Taiwan, I thought it was to take a bit of a break from ‘travelling’ and jumping around to a new place every week. I did do that but it wasn’t so much of a break from travelling but more, an experience more true to the name of the blog than almost all of my experiences so far.
After a few weeks on the rice farm in Yilan and seeing the south of the country, I settled into Haulien City. Back on the north east coast of Taiwan, I spent a month and a half at World Inn Hostel and developed more of a routine and daily life than I have had in a long time. While I absolutely love waking up in new places, meeting new faces and the excitement of the constant new adventure, there are things that I do miss about staying in one place.
It’s nice not to have to pack my backpack every week. It’s nice to get back into an exercise routine but it’s especially good to spend some time with the same people for more than a few days at a time. The timing worked out in a way that, not only did I get to spend a lot of time with the Taiwanese group at World Inn but also some other travellers and other long-term residents.
Calling the third floor 'nest' home for awhile.
Over the weeks, we’ve worked together, cooked together, took road trips, hiking trips, ate our way through the city and celebrated a western style Christmas with a few Taiwanese twists.
The food Taiwan has a serious food culture and I’m all for it. While we have a fully functional kitchen, it is often cheaper to eat out and with so many places to try in the city, we went out almost every night for something delicious. We’ve become regulars at some spots, but our defacto food leader, Hugo, always managed to find us a new and delicious spot to try.
Lead the way Hugo, we will follow you to any resatuarant.
The night market brought a lot of new flavours my way. The night market in Hualien is known for its aboriginal food and we’ve been many times to try everything it has to offer. From flying fish to rice wine cocktails on New Year’s, stinky tofu fries and taro ice cream with peanut shavings and cilantro/corriander in wrapped in a thin pancake, it’s all delicious.
Ice cream roll - vanilla and taro ice cream with shaved peanut and cilantro. It sounds like an odd combo but it is really good!
Flying fish from the night market
Hot pot is popular in Taiwan, especially in the winter so we’ve taken full advantage. Hot pot it what it sounds like - soup cooked at your table over a flame and you add ingredients as you go. While we have our favourite spot for individual hot pots, we’ve also gone for a few family style dinners with one big shared hot pot. Duck hot pot is a favourite in Hualien and it was very tasty but slightly more of an adventurous meal by Canadian/Western standards. I’m always in for trying new food and I appreciate that the Taiwanese are not wasteful. They use all of the animal in their cuisine. The hot pot ingredients came out on separate plates. Everything else was easily recognizable - mushrooms, cabbage, snd intestines along with ingredients already in the pot. Everything except on plate. I could take a couple of guesses and my first guess was correct. Testicles. It sounds far more exotic than the reality of it. It pretty much is just like soft, tasteless tofu. Squishy.
Nothing goes to waste.
I tried them. I don't need to do it again.
Tis the season
A big part of the reason I decided to find a place to settle for awhile in Taiwan was because this would be the first time in my 30 years that I have been away from home for Christmas. One constant of this journey is that the universe has consistently put me together with the right people and Hualien was no different. Between the other volunteers - Susan from Mexico via Scotland and Georgia from Italy - and Yuhan, Hugo, Una and Aga from World Inn, we already had a really good group dynamic. And we all like to cook. Except Yuhan. She’s not allowed in the kitchen for fear of burning it down. So it was decided, we were bringing Christmas to World Inn.
The decorations were the first step. Christmas is not a traditional holiday in Taiwan but it is still celebrated with decorations and small gifts so we were able to stock up on some new decor for the hostel. We also needed a tree which was a little harder to come by. Luckily, I love a good DIY project so while on a hike one day, I found some bamboo to build one for us. I definitely got a few stares and chuckles from anyone who noticed a tall, foreign, blonde girl trying to awkwardly carry a few long bamboo poles down from the mountain and through town. I’m just trying to spread some Christmas cheer so happy to provide the laugh! After letting the bamboo dry for a couple days, I got out my saw and disappeared into the back work area to put together our ‘East Meets West’ Christmas tree.
Una adding the finishing touches to her first Christmas tree.
We decided to do our big meal on Christmas Eve. Susan was in charge of the turkey, Hugo was making the mulled wine and the rest of us pulled together all of the side dishes. Sourcing traditional western Christmas ingredients and pulling together a full dinner in a small kitchen with only a convection oven, was bit of a challenge but we made it work.
We ended up with a full dinner of roast turkey casserole, garlic green beens, cranberry sauce, fancy cheese and mashed potatoes hors d'oeuvres and lots of other delicious things to pass around the table. While it wasn't the same as years before, it was a lot of fun to spend it with so many new friends and the World Inn family. We ended up with about 12 people around the table from seven different countries.
Getting creative because of our lack of kitchen space.
On Christmas Day, we got about as North American as you can get and went out for pizza lunch and small gift exchange. Everyone had to get one funny one and one nice one. As expected, Yuhan came through with the funniest gifts of the day - photos of herself.
New Years Eve
Though Taiwan officially runs on the Lunar calendar and Chinese New Year is the big celebration for them, the Taiwanese will take any excuse to celebrate. As usual, Hugo came through on picking a solid dinner spot. Northern Indian food for dinner! It was delicious and after chatting with the owner, we discovered we actually used to live pretty close to each other in Canada! From there is was off to the night market for rice wine cocktails and live music. It was a pretty typical New Year’s Eve event, complete with a very impressive fireworks show, us running around the streets with sparklers and the addition of a weirdly entertaining dance number but the mayor of the city and members of local government.
Taroko National Park Taiwan has so many little hidden gems to explore, almost all of them involving hiking and hot springs. And visits to Taroko National Park. I ended up at the park 4 different times of the course of the month.
Girls trip! The first day in Taroko, six of us got up early and drove the chilly 40 minutes along the coast to get Taroko. It was a good introduction to the area and absolutely stunning. The road through the park is surrounded by huge, foggy mountains above you and a river running below. I wanted to stop and take pictures around every corner but we would have never gotten anywhere if I did. The park is massive and there is no way to do it all in one day so we only made it to 4 trails. My favourite of the day by far was the Baiyang trail. It's an easy path but the view of the mountain waterfalls and river below are incredible. The highlight of the trail though is the cave waterfall at the end. It's dark, the ledge to walk on just above the river flowing through it, is narrow and the water is so cold on your feet. There is no way to walk through it and stay dry so we left our shoes at the mouth of the cave and walked barefoot through the icy water. It's a short jaunt through the cave but fun to navigate and suffer through the cold with a group of friends.
The second time I went to the park, I went alone to check out some of the other trails we missed on the first visit. I go lucky and unlucky depending on how you look at it. It was a beautiful day which meant the scenery was lovely but also that visitorss were out in full force. For the most part, the tour groups don’t go too far on the trails so I was able to outwalk them and enjoy the rest of the hike in relative solitude.
Most of the trails in Taiwan are well maintained and a pretty easy walk but there are others that require a permit. Zhuili Old trail is one of those and I really wanted to do it. They only allow a certain number of people to enter the trail each day and within a specific time frame. It took me a few weeks to get my permit but it was worth the wait. For the third time, I bundled up and drove down the coast in the cold morning air for another hike. On arrival, you have to check in with the park rangers, where they the will unlock a gate to a suspension bridge that begins the trail. After crossing Swallow Grotto gorge, the trail starts heading up. Finally a trail in Taroko that looks like a proper hiking trail! It isn’t the hardest hike I've done but the first 2.5km are all up hill, crossing back and forth up the side of the mountain. Definitely enough to break a sweat. The trail is lush and pretty with monkeys and birds playing in the trees but the most beautiful part of the trail is at the top. The trail eventually flattens out and opens up into what can only be described as an edge walk. In most places, it is not wide enough for two people to pass each other. The only real safety measure outside of common sense is a rope bolted into the side of the mountain to hold onto. The other side is a drop straight down. A very long way down.
Usually, I’d pick a sunny day over a cloudy or rainy one but not in this case. The view from the top is stunning but what makes is even more beautiful is the way clouds and mist hug and move around in the mountains. If there wasn’t a time constraint on the trail, I probably would have found a spot to sit and enjoy it for a lot longer. The weather had other plans though. The rain moved in and so did the clouds, completely blocking out the view, making it clear it was time to head back down.
That little stripe at the bottom is the road I drove in on.
The final trip to Taroko was a last minute one. There is a hot spring that is well hidden but right off the main road. Officially, it is closed. They probably should have put in a bigger gate. With a short climb down a steep trail to the river, we were situated in another stunning hot spring. The water bubbles up from a few spots here. The most visually appealing one is a small cave that basically has a jacuzzi in it. We gave it a shot but it was a little less jacuzzi and more boiling soup pot so it was short lived. The little pools at the river edge were really the best place to soak so we settled in for the afternoon. I would have been happier to stay until after dark but climbing back out in the dark would have been a little precarious without a headlamp. Una and her mom were also preparing a hot pot feast for us that night so we had an important reason to head back home.
The hot springs come out in the cave and small rock pools on the edge of the river.
Taroko wasn’t the only amazing hiking spot we visited. Check out the Finding Li-Song post for the best hike of the trip. After you finish reading this one, of course.
I almost chose a completely different hostel to stay at during my time in Hualien but for some reason, I changed my mind at the last minute. I couldn’t be happier that I did. Thank you to everyone I was able to share an amazing almost two months with and to World Inn for creating a little 'home away from home' for us .
I’m getting on another plane next week because a big part of me is not done with travelling but it was great to find a sense of home in Taiwan with people I won’t soon forget.