This time, Taiwan was a bit more prepared than Hong Kong. Still, on the six days I was there, I had only booked three days in Hualien and I had planned to find somewhere to stay once arrived in Taipei itself.
Taiwan stunned me. I had one more time left on the basis that it was cheap, I had time and I knew very little about the country: thus, it was an opportunity to learn. Of course, I had classes at university mentioning the history of Taiwan but really, that was it. All I knew from Asia was Japan and the tales of resorts in South East Asia.
It is difficult to ignore the military performances that go on in the capital, may it be for the rising of the flag in the morning or the changing of the guards. Everywhere there's a reminder that Taiwan is its own nation, with its own unique history and military.
Taipei is high in colours. The Xinyi District, where Taipei 101 rises, sometimes made me think of New York with its skyscrapers while the Wanhua District, oldest one in the city, brought me back to traditional temples.
Most of my time on the island though was spent in Hualien, a city on the east coast, famous for its mountainous gorges with numerous hiking trails. The city is, without surprises, quieter than Taipei. I spent most of my time on a coffee farm in the care of a Taiwanese couple. With a bike, I explored the cliffs falling into the sea and the long roads bordered by windowless houses. On my feet, I hiked several trails and managed to escape the rain in the tunnels dug inside the mountain.
I find that nature on small urban islands can often be underestimated and hiking trails in the US National Parks are more often mentioned than the marvels that can be found in Asia. Despite some rainy days and sometimes busy trails (with people from the capital on a weekend trip), I loved every second of it.
Even the bits when the bus driver forgot I was there and just casually took shortcuts and missed my bus stop. I was left in a residential area and walked a bit before being picked up by my kind hosts.
The stay in the coffee farm in itself was also an experience I keep fond memories of. I stayed at the same time as another Taiwanese family from Taipei and was invited to have dinners with them. They didn't speak English, I didn't speak Chinese, yet we ended up communicating through Google Translate on the family's phone. I don't think I can forget the smile on their faces when they were reading the Chinese translation and brightly looked at me afterward.
When I went back to Taipei (after insisting on taking the local train instead of the high-speed one and thus spending six hours stuck with other passengers because of technical problems), I walked on a performance done at the Longshan temple. It was in a state of terror that I saw these giant marionettes walking so close to the people and waving their wooden arms (I almost got hit) in their costumes. The dancers that followed seemed magical and the day ended in a different way I had imagined.
I spent my last day in Jifuen, in the North of Taipei, and played hide-and-seek with the rain. I don't think I won but at least, I finished this trip soaked and with a smile stuck on my face. Along with a promise to myself to go discover the South one day, may it be by biking along the east coast or taking the train to the west.