Hualien (2nd Day)
Today we have arranged a private tour with our hotel concierge, to Taroko Gorge. Constant Companion RR and I would be taken to a few locations. Taroko Gorge itself is beautiful; it is always nice to be surrounded by nature.
It was a beautiful day really. Our driver/ guide was chatty and provided us with bits of information whenever we drove by something of interest. It was all fine and dandy, I left the chatting part to Constant Companion RR. Then the subject of the conversation somehow steered into political issues. Sitting at the back with Constant Companion RR, I could see, obviously, that she does not see eye-to-eye with the political view of Mr.Driver, but she managed to keep things diplomatic instead of outright arguing over them. Luckily, Mr.Driver moved on to providing us with random information of whatever we came across.
However, while I cannot remember exactly how many locations we were supposed to go for that half day tour, we actually only visited 2 places. The rest of the list were either closed (according to our driver/guide) or they were simply only stopping by the roadside to take a picture of a sign of the entrance or something. Constant Companion RR and I were flabbergasted whenever he stopped the car and invited us to alight and take a picture and we simply did not know what is the attraction/ point of interest.
About an hour drive from our hotel, we arrived at the first real taste of Taroko Gorge, the Shakadang Trail.
After a short briefing to us about how far along the trail we were supposed to go before turning back and the time frame of about 50 minutes, Mr.Driver left Constant Companion RR and I to ourselves and went back to his vehicle in the carpark.
The plan is to trot the Shakadang Trail up to a point where there are some stalls selling snacks, where we can get ourselves some snack, before turning back. One important reminder is to use the toilet before attempting the trail because there are no toilets along the way. That is untrue, I saw a couple of toilets but they were poorly maintained little huts set up among the bushes which you have to pay to use.
Constant Companion RR and I took a lot of pictures of that natural goodness around us and of ourselves. It was a bit harder to snap pictures of ourselves because of other trail users, who were going both directions. It was a lovely walk, worked up quite a sweat, had to remove my windbreaker. I brought my tripod all the way from Singapore for this particular trip to Taroko Gorge, that way Constant Companion RR and I can take some pictures of ourselves.
Unfortunately, I had no opportunity to use it; the section of Shakadang Trail we went through was too narrow for me to deploy the tripod without obstructing other people. In the end, the tripod was just dead weight, adding an additional 5 kg to my bag. If only our visit to Taroko Gorge was anything like our trip to Alishan, I would have all the space and freedom to make full use of my tripod.
50 minutes from the start, we reached the food stalls. Only one was opened that afternoon, manned by a team of father and son (I assumed). The dad was working the grill, grilling the Taiwanese aboriginal sausages, the son worked behind the cashier. Beside Constant Companion RR and myself, there were another middle-aged couple. We shared a sausage and a tea egg. Tea egg tasted a little weak, but the sausage was good, hot and juicy. The man also offered us a stalk of raw mountain vegetable to munch on together with the sausage.
Refueled, Constant Companion RR and I retraced our steps. This time round, we took a much shorter time since we had already taken all the pictures that we wanted. Went back to the carpark, we found Mr.Driver taking a nap at the driver’s seat. Gently, we woke him up and he ferried us off to the next spot.
Stop and Take Picture! Eternal Spring Shrine
This is one of the stops we made to “just take a picture”. Mr.Driver did gave us an explanation why did we stop here and admire the Eternal Spring Shrine from afar instead of visiting it up close, but I cannot remember. That was just as well, because by that point, Constant Companion RR was telling me how she was already at her limits of “being in nature”.
Lucky for her, we only had one last place to go before we end our tour.
Qi Xing Tan Beach
Lovely beach full of stones instead of sandy. Between the carpark and the actual beach, there were a number of stalls selling snacks and other aboriginal local products.
As Constant Companion RR and I were walking through the stalls, one of the vendors was cleaning/ quenching his grill. He dumped water on the sizzling hot metal grill, creating a lot of smoke, ash and sound. Since the wind was blowing towards us, Constant Companion RR and I got hit by a generous dose of white ash from the damn grill. Covered by white ash from head to toe, it was infuriating. However, the vendor was clueless about the effect of his action. On the bright side, the dry specks of ash did not stick and were easily brushed off.
We ordered some more snack; I got another aboriginal sausage wrapped in a glutinous sausage. There was this young street performer, beating on her drum set to the songs blasting from her amplifiers, Constant Companion RR and I sat down nearby and watched her a bit as we wolfed down our snacks. The young lady extrudes confidence behind her drum set. I thought what she was doing is an excellent way to earn some pocket money while practising on both her drumming and performing in front of a live crowd.
Down by the beach, there was an elderly man in a wheelchair, playing simple beats on an electronic drum machine to some really old Taiwanese songs. Since we were closer to the young lady and her amplifiers, her thunderous and fast-paced beats completely drown out the elderly man’s. Once done with our snack, I made a small donation into the young busker’s donation box and we proceeded down to the beach.
The beach was indeed, made of pebbles instead of sand. Nothing much Constant Companion RR and I could do here since we were not dressed for the beach. We went down and took several pictures while enjoying the sea breeze. There was a huge group of children further down, closer to the shoreline. Every single one of them was squatting down, in their little cliques. On a closer inspection, the children were trying to stack the pebbles, no doubt, in a friendly competition to see who can create the tallest tower of pebbles at the end.
After snapping a few more pictures, Constant Companion RR and I went back to Mr.Driver who was waiting for us at the carpark and concluded our half day tour.
End of Tour. Dinner at Hualien City!
Exploding Egg Scallion Pancake
We requested Mr.Driver to drop us at the street in Hualien City which is famous for the local “Fried Egg Scallion Pancake”. Basically, it is a regular scallion pancake, deep fried, with an egg in the middle. The gimmick of this beloved snack, is that the yolk of the egg remains runny even after deep fried; runny yolk is a very well-received gimmick for eggs.
In Mandarin, “fried egg” (炸蛋) sounds like “bomb” (炸弹). Constant Companion RR got to find out first hand, how similar both actually are when she took a bite and a ridiculous amount of egg yolk exploded all over her. Areas affected were the left side of her jacket, the bottom part of her wool top, the left side of her pants and her left shoe. Constant Companion RR was not happy about it. Immediately, I offered her all the tissue paper I had on me, but it is impossible to completely wipe off egg yolk, which was already rapidly drying in the cool weather, on her outfit. With my dry tissue paper, Constant Companion RR tried her best to clean up whatever she could.
The pancake itself was greasy and savoury. On that alleyway, there are two shops selling the same thing (what did I tell you about business rivalry?). The easiest way to tell the two businesses apart is by the colour of their trucks; one truck is blue (deeper in the alley), the other is yellow (located at the entrance of the alley). They are not actually selling from the trucks, but the trucks are an important decoration of their respective little stores. We had ours from the Blue Truck.
Out of curiosity, I wanted to give the Yellow Truck’s scallion pancake a shot, seeing there was no queue, as we walked out of the alley. Since Constant Companion RR was partially drenched in egg yolk and was really upset about it, I decided not to push my luck. We walked several blocks away before we came across a shop to buy her a new top and a packet of wet tissue for a deeper cleansing.
Oyster Omelette and Iced Beancurd Dessert
Next, we popped into an old shop (it looks like a really old garage) which sells oyster omelette. Constant Companion RR and I were attracted by the queue of people standing outside the shop; it is always a good sign if there are people willing to wait outside an eatery. That was my first time having Taiwanese-style oyster omelette; it was oily but quite tasty. I like the generous amount of beansprouts packed within the omelette.
After our greasy dinner (nothing we had this day could be considered healthy), we went to the shop next door for some dessert (I had iced beancurd) before retiring back to our hotel for the night.