(Part one of Day 7) Our last moments in the Gorge were via our bus, which didn't fade my childlike enthusiasms for spotting waterfalls high up on cliff hillsides that exposed themselves as the clouds eased off. One of our group had a stand-off with a monkey in the morning, others went monkey hunting along secret pathways and came up empty, but full with the memories of seeing the clouds lift over the Pagoda, hillsides and our modern hotel (Silks Place) in the foreground. I found myself introspective as we zig zagged through this magical canyon of marble. The group packed up from the hotel with anticipation of a contrast to our current environment, one filled with professional cyclists interactions, bike shops, and the hustle of a dense city full of culture.
(photo by Mark Blacknell www.blacknell.net)
First stop before flying out was literally 10 minutes at a beach. Only a long walk or easy bike ride from the previous stay at Bay View Hotel in Hualien. But now, a weather phenomenon, it was calm. "Typhoon Megi" still circled nearby, and we had no idea that she'd be affecting the rest of our trips itinerary - in a big way. So far we were mostly on schedule, with a few cancellations such as real river rafting, paragliding and some hikes we'd hope to do were closed do to rock slides in the canyon itself.
IF YOU HAD 10 MINUTES
Our guide John gave us these whole 10 minutes at a beautiful beach full of small grey and white flat rocks, with calm small waves hitting shore. Immensely different from any of our water views before, including waves crashing breakwaters 3-4 stories tall and spray that looked like Old Faithful in Yellowstone. What to do when you are given such a deadline to experience a beautiful coastline... leave a sculpture behind for the next visitors. Rocks had white streaks of perhaps marble or quartz. Graphic lines... strings... that were asking to be formed into something. An Andy Goldworthy inspired pattern was my obvious choice to leave behind. A dash to the water for my ritual of splashing salt water on my face for a quick baptism was not the smartest, as my sandals remained wet with salt water for the rest of the journey. It was worth the short visit, the surprise of finally seeing the sun and some blue sky, with gorgeous blue green warm water as a back drop. A welcome change, even for the limited moment we had.
FLY TO TAIPEI
The airport was nearby, and practically abandoned. We tipped our bus driver for the last few days of shuttling us around, and walked through the polished marble echo chamber of simply the most empty airport of it's size and design I'd ever waited in. The short flight was lined with beautiful views to the left of the East Coastline, we were able to see the entrance to the Gorge where we just spent time, and the highway that is barely etched into the side of the steep coastline. Luckily this time we weren't forced to sit in front of the prisoners... but the flight attendants were like mean Nun's at a Catholic school with constant reprimanding if we used our cameras. Apparently we couldn't even take pictures of the coastline. We knew not to at the airport, as it shared the space with a military base, but the worry we'd use our phones instead of just the video or cameras became laughable as they would appear out of no-where, as soon as we were tempted. Luckily I got a few pictures before the verbal slaps. Otherwise they smiled and were beautiful attendants, with pleasant demeanors. I imagine, they acted under strict orders to keep us "in-line".
As soon as we approached the Northern tip near Taipei... it was obvious rain was back in our picture. Bumpy approach, windy, rainy gray. None of us seemed to mind, our gear wasn't dry yet, and it was still warm on this tropical feeling island. Plans to visit Taipei 101- which was once the World's Tallest Building, now the 2nd to their disappointment, was postponed in hopes of a clear view tomorrow.
AS LONG AS WE ARE HERE... LET'S EAT!
Schedule changes were normal - and we all went with the flow, and knew it could only mean a different adventure. Visiting bike shops once they opened for the day, became the new mission, along with experiencing my favorite meal of the entire trip, at a Japanese restaurant for sushi, Saki and tasty treats. (hopefully this map will help you find it on your own visit!)
A modern restaurant with fabulous interior design, including a fountain with the same rocks we'd just left behind at the pebble filled beach. Bottles used for chandeliers were right up my repurposing ally, they were lovely and modern! Walls of bottles lit in red and blue lights, stone sinks. Tasty food other than the standard "Cabbage and Seaweed" (actually some kind of greens I called seaweed) - that had already grown old on my self induced vegetarian diet w/ sprinkles of fish mixed in.
Well satisfied and perhaps buzzed from the Saki we went to experience foot rubs for a treat (www.kinraku.com.tw) while we awaited bike shops to open. It was still early, and finding things to do before a hotel could take us, and out of the rain, was John's mission. We loved our options, other than fatigue setting in, I still craved a good 1/2 day at a hotel to get caught up on blogging, and sleep. I never did get that 1/2 day at a hotel, and it's okay as the group wouldn't let me opt out of any of the "events" - and I was glad to go whenever I had fought the urge to just stay and sleep. I really didn't want to miss a thing!
Everything was interesting, everything was clean (for the most part) and everything remarkable! The group was growing close and caring for each other's well being. We laughed so hard each day deeming any Pilates unnecessary. Between Canadian Niamh's sense of sarcasm and bewilderment that we would want to ride bikes far or hotels of our caliper didn't have bars, to Bike Hugger Mark's rise and falls of sugar and adorable fixation to metal objects - anodized or not, then Blacknell's observations and sometimes embarrassment of us, mixed with dry wit and great sense of direction, and finally to Kate's enthusiasm and high energy including singing with me at other's expenses... I was in some kind of school girls dream of hanging with my new best friends. We even got John, our guide, to sing his first ever English song he learned as a boy "You are my Sunshine"!