Taiwan, Day Three – 28 February 2013
Taipei, day three. Actually, this should be titled “Taiwan, day three” since I spent most of this day outside of the city.
Today turned out to be a pretty special day – but then again, everyday I’ve been here has been pretty special. It’s 28 February, and today is a public holiday here in Taipei, commemorating the 228 Massacre I spoke about in the first post. As a result, the streets and trains were jam-packed with people moving around here and there, and lots of places became a claustrophobe’s nightmare.
And I didn’t realize it until I got back home, after being in the midst of it for more than twelve hours.
I started out early, heading out around eight. I decided to go exploring outside of Taipei City; after beach day got ruined yesterday, I was anxious to go somewhere off the beaten path. I wanted to look for the Shifen Waterfall, but it’s located to the northeast of the city, and takes ninety minutes and two trains to get there. The first train out of Taipei wasn’t so bad – I ended up standing the entire way to Ruifang, but at least there was room to shift feet along the way. The train was still packed, and still I didn’t realize that today was a special day. I got to Ruifang, and changed trains there.
This ride was a doozy.
This line operates on a single track serving a diesel-powered train running intermittently in both directions, and everyone seemed to want to head in the same direction as I was. When I say that this train was packed, I mean it – I’m talking sardine status here. There was barely enough room to stand and, because the windows were so low along the sides of the car, I couldn’t clearly see what stations I was pulling into, and the crowds refused to thin (and still I didn’t realize that today was 228, or even question why so many people would be so far away from the city on a Thursday). I was afraid I would jump the gun and miss my station, so the first time I saw a sign that said “Shifen Waterfall” I shoved my way off of the train – though, as I found out, I did jump jump the gun and miss my station, one stop early. Fortunately, I had a forty-five-minute wait until the next sardine can arrived, so I passed the time taking a few pictures.
The scenery north of Taipei is absolutely breathtaking – it’s along the rugged coast in the mountains, and because the weather here is tropical everything is always covered in a deep celadon green. The peaks are cut by deep, deep gorges and valleys and, along the route I took, the Keelung River runs in the bottom of the gorge the entire way, through sheer-cut cliffs and around huge boulders scattered along the riverbed. In lots of places flowers were blooming and except for the rushing river far below the station there wasn’t much noise around. I like to think of myself as an urban warrior, but I really enjoyed this small taste of wilderness, of nature at its rawest and most primal. This was the first time I’ve gone out on a nature hike alone like this, and I really enjoyed it.
Soon enough another packed train came, and I went to the next (and correct) station, Shifen Station. This was the place everyone disembarked, and it was a stream of people pouring out of the train. Along the platform and along the tracks there were lots of food stalls and souvenir shops, and lots of people congregating on the train tracks during the lull between trains. I hung around the station for a bit, then headed off to find the falls.
Shifen Waterfall is about a kilometer and a half from the station, a pleasant twenty minute walk. Along the way there were a couple of interesting pedestrian-only suspension bridges, and after a long windy road deeper into the scenic area I came to the entrance to the falls. It cost NT$80 (about $2.70 USD) to get in, for as long as one wishes, and it was worth the trip and the entrance fee. They call this place “Little Niagara” and it certainly lived up to the part to me, though this was only the second waterfall I’ve ever seen (chalk it up to living on the East Coast, and in the South to boot). It was amazing. The area along the falls has been transformed for tourists, but it’s still an awesome scenic spot. There’s lots of water running everywhere, and a pond full of huge koi, and a lily patch, and lots of places to relax in the sun and be lulled into drowziness by the roar of the falls.
I stayed out there for a few hours, and eventually made my way back to Shifen Station. The ride back to Ruifang was still packed, but not so much as before. I got back to Ruifang Station, and caught a bus bound for Jiufen, a village in the mountains along the north coast, a village that’s been there since the start of the Qing Dynasty (about three hundred seventy-five years). On any other day the bus ride would have been about fifteen minutes but today it took about twice that time, due to the narrow winding road and the traffic clogging the entire way up the mountain. Along the way I passed a couple of interesting temples built right into the mountainside, and though the road got steeper and windier and narrower as we went this seemed to make no difference to the driver- the ride became a bumpy, thrilling, kinda-dangerous rollercoaster. Eventually I made it to Jiufen in one piece and went through the market there.
Like the train to Shifen, the market in Jiufen was also a claustrophobe’s nightmare. There were people everywhere, and because of that in places the queue of people slowed to a crawl, and in some cases a standstill. Some of the people there seemed to be playing a strange sort of game – How Long Can We Stand In Place and Converse While the Line Backs Up Behind Us? But Taiwan is just that sort of place. No one is ever in that big of a hurry here, and though they might shove past you it’s never malicious. It’s only in the interest of getting where they need to go as efficiently as possible. Sometimes they have to use a shoulder to get their point across, is all.
After a few more hours there, I decided to head back to Taipei and find something to eat. Unfortunately (because it was a holiday… which, at this point, I still did not realize) the line to get the bus back down the mountain was long as hell. And slow as hell. And my feet hurt like hell. I stood in line for about thirty minutes, and got tired of waiting by the time I got two-thirds of the way to the bus stop, so I tried to find a cab. I found a guy but when I asked for a ride back to Ruifeng he told me it was a holiday (at first I thought this was a ploy to avoid the tiny fare he would have gotten) and I’d have to take the bus back down the mountain. By now, not only had I lost my place in line it had become longer, and I wasn’t going to wait anymore. I wandered down the road a bit, smoking a cigarette, and noticed the line for buses headed up the mountain was almost non-existent.
Light Bulb Moment if ever I had one.
I rode the bus all the way to the top of the mountain, and got an even better view than I did lower down at Jiufen. Not only that, I managed to find a seat for the bus ride down, and got all the way back into the heart of Taipei from up there. Now that’s a win in my book, for sure. Incidentally, this was the first time this entire trip that I actually laid eyes on Taipei 101. I still don’t have a picture of it. That will change tomorrow.
Tomorrow is my last full day in Taipei, and I want to make it a good one. I’m sure inspiration will strike again. Stay tuned, people.