It’s been an adventure-less summer. Breaking my leg at the end of April meant that I spent most of the season getting to the point where I could walk again. While I’m still not 100%, I am finally able to be active, so I was eagerly awaiting my trip to Taiwan to meet up with my friends Grizz and Tam. We’d planned it out: we were going to road trip on scooters down to Hualien, check out the epic Taroko National Park for a few days, then make our way back to Taipei. I couldn’t wait, so when Grizz and Tam unexpectedly had to make a trip back Stateside, I decided to carry on and do the trip myself.
Day 1: Taipei to Hualien
I’d made arrangements to book the bike through Bike Farm. Jeremy, the owner, is well-known among the expats and travelers who ride scooters around the island, and his service has gotten great reviews. So, to start off the journey, I met him in southern Taipei and we took the bike to get the fuel gauge fixed.
When that was done, I headed off down Highway 9, only making it a short way before the bike died on me. Deciding one occurrence might just be a fluke, I carried on, only to have it die again mere minutes later. Deciding it was better to be safe than sorry, I turned around and took it back to Jeremy. We managed to replicate the problem, and he ordered a new carburetor to fix the issue. After an inconvenient but pleasant enough wait (listening to Taiwanese pop and Linkin Park while eating some sort of bao) I headed off again, this time with no bike troubles. Or so it seemed…
The drive to Hualien starts off through city streets, but the road swiftly narrowed and I found myself switch-backing through a thickly forested range of foothills. Small clusters of buildings lined the roadside, with temples and rice paddies making the occasional appearance.
It was a beautiful day — stunning blue skies with puffy white clouds scooting across them, the damp, earthy smell of Nature, and — most worryingly — the slow warmth of the sun slowly turning my skin into leather. It was a day for multiple applications of sunscreen, which I was diligent about!
When the road finally reached the coast, the views were amazing. Taiwan’s coastline (at least that part of it) isn’t a beaches and piña coladas type of affair. It’s epic cliffs, mountains rising out of the ocean, hairpin turns on roads with sheer plunges over the edge if you happen to miss one.
It was a fantastic route, but the delay of earlier had cost me, and darkness fell when I was still far away from Hualien. The last two hours were a scary slog, along winding roads with trucks and other traffic coming from both directions. To top it all off, the problem we thought had been fixed resurfaced during the last 25 kilometers. By the time I got to Hualien, I was in a foul mood and ready for the day to be over. ‘It was 90% awesome,’ I told myself, over and over again.
Luckily, my AirBnB turned out to be a wee gem, and I immediately felt comfortable there. Which was good, because it was time for a shower. I was an absolute mess — I had dirt caking my face and arms. No wonder I’d been getting strange looks!
Hey! Want to help me travel more? If you haven’t signed up for AirBnB yet, do it by CLICKING HERE, and we’ll each get a credit with AirBnB. How’s that for awesome?
Hualien was a great little town, which I’ll write more about HERE. I stayed for three nights, which was a pretty good amount of time to get a feel for the city and do what I wanted there. Want to know what that was? Read the post linked above 😉
Day 2: Hualien to Sqoyaw via Taroko National Park
Thursday came quickly, and I left my AirBnB and headed for my keynote destination: Taroko Gorge. I was nervous, unsure if I could trust the bike to get me through the difficult terrain. Luckily (kinda), it decided to act up before I even entered the national park, so I was able to stop at a mechanic who tinkered with it, fixed it, and sent me on my way with a wave, only accepting my ‘thank you’ as payment. He was the first of many that day who would show me kindness.
Taroko Gorge is Taiwan’s premier natural tourist attraction, and for good reason. Even its name gives a clue. Taroko means ‘magnificent and splendid’ in the native tribe’s language, and it is an entirely apt description. Huge mountains tower around as the access road hugs their sides and winds its way above the river bed. Taroko is the deepest marble canyon in the world, and when you’re down inside it’s not too hard to believe. The place is jaw-dropping.
I mean, c’mon… How can views like this be legal?
I realized something, as I drove those roads. I was cold. At those elevations, the cloud forest of Taroko National Park is not a balmy place, and I began seriously having doubts about my plan to sleep in a hammock outside. Maybe not such a good idea. I decided to back-burner that decision and see how the temperature and weather were closer to evening.
That time drew near, and I was still high (altitude, Mom) and cold. It was time to look for a hotel.
I finally made it to Lishan — my way-point of choice — and was immediately repulsed by the place. I’m not sure why; maybe it was just a little too touristy, dirty, and hectic for me in my road-weary state. Whatever the reason, I didn’t even stop on my way through and decided to look for accommodation further along the road….
…which led me to the tiny village of Sqoyaw, shown on Google Maps as Pingdeng Village. Home to the Huanshan tribe of Atayal natives, Sqoyaw is a tiny little place nestled among the surrounding hills. The thing which had initially attracted my attention there was a small cafe by the name of Sqoyaw, which has a perfect rating on Google Maps. I was intrigued. We were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by farms and tribal land. What would the cafe be like?
Warmed both inside and out, I said my goodbyes and made my way to the village proper.
The access road to Sqoyaw is small and steep, and the rain had just started as I made my way down. Finding a hotel was tricky, as there were no signs in English, and I hadn’t done any research whatsoever. Luckily, a man who noticed me driving in confused circles flagged me down and led me to a building when I signed that I wanted a place to sleep.
An older woman came out, shooing me inside as the rain began to dump in earnest. My room was a small one, with a comfortable double mattress and sliding rice-paper and wood doors. It linked to a huge living room area and shared a bathroom with a similar room, which was unoccupied. It was perfect. I pulled out my wallet to pay and realized I might have a problem.
“How much?” I asked, making the universal sign for money.
“Ee chun,” she replied, which I was actually able to understand (1000 TWD).
I had exactly 735 TWD to my name, as well as a bank card which — I had a feeling — was going to do me very little good.
“Card?” I asked, pulling it out.
She laughed and reached for my 700 TWD in bills.
“Okay, okay.” She communicated through sign language that she wouldn’t be able to include food in the rate, but I hadn’t expected her to, so that was fine.
I fell asleep that night in a wonderful bed, with the sound of rain drumming the tin roofs of the village around me.
Day 3: Sqoyaw to Taipei
Morning came, and with it came hunger. See, my money problems extended to food as well. I didn’t have enough cash for food, no places took credit or debit cards, and there were no ATMs for an hour in either direction. Getting the hotel had depleted my cash reserves, and I was in a pinch. I’d eaten a bag of dried nuts for dinner, which hadn’t done much for my 80 kg frame, and my stomach was scolding me for it. But when I left my room and made to leave on my bike, the hotel owner waved me into her restaurant and fed me rice and pumpkin porridge and a roll. The rest of the spread looked fantastic, but that was for people who had paid the full rate.
I scarfed my free meal, thanked the owner for all that she’d done for me, posed for a photo in front of the hotel, and left the tiny town of Sqoyaw behind. “Welcome to Sqoyaw!” a worker shouted at me as I left.
I had three very pressing concerns as I started my final stretch of the road trip. One: I was ravenously hungry. The rice porridge had been a drop in the abyss that is my belly and merely served to waken the demon inside me. Two: I was running a little low on gas. I had enough to get me another hour or so down the road. And three: I had almost no cash, only 35 TWD to my name. That’s just over $1 USD.
So when I made it to Nashan and found out the petrol station there accepted cards, that was an immense relief. When I found a Family Mart down the road, I just about squealed. Family Marts (for those of you back home) are little convenience stores which happen to take cards AND have ATMs. I was able to withdraw some money, get a real meal, and carry on with all three of my concerns dealt with. All within a couple hundred meters of each other! Way to use up all your good karma in one go, Nathan.
The road wound down through fields and along a huge river basin before joining Highway 7. I went west on the Cross-Island route, which rose quickly to high elevations — leaving the riverbed behind and working its way into a thick pine forest dripping with mist. The area was gorgeous and almost felt like Olympic National Park back home.
I wanted to stop and stay in those hills, to pitch a tent and just chill for a few more days, but one-week vacations don’t allow for that type of crazy, and I had to keep moving. I was meeting Jeremy from Bike Farm at 4:00 in Taipei, so I kept a good pace throughout the day and didn’t linger too long at any one spot.
That said, a definite must for those with time is the Mingchi National Forest Recreation Area. The forest there is amazing, and waterfalls can be seen along the side of the road. Honestly, parts of it reminded me of Fiordland in New Zealand, but with slightly smaller trees.
By the time I hit Daxi, I was ready to be done. It had been an amazing journey, but the road was getting more and more urban and my bum was sore. So when the rain started to fall, I gritted my teeth and pushed on, only stopping for a little more gas and a fantastic pee on the way. I even managed to get to the meeting point 30 minutes early! Scooter problems aside, it was a fantastic trip, and I was buzzing with excitement for the rest of the day.
Feel like doing the same trip? Well, you’re in luck! I’ve gone ahead and made a Google Map of the route. Each day is its own section, and I marked several key points (the hotel in Sqoyaw and Sqoyaw Cafe, specifically!). I HIGHLY recommend taking Highway 7 up through the center of the island. Cheese and crackers, that’s a beautiful drive!