Despite the street buns being intoxicatingly addictive, and the city being chalked full of restaurants of every caliber, I did get out of Taipei in search of what else Taiwan had to offer.
That’s not to say that Taipei wasn’t amazing – as you will clearly see in up coming posts about flagship restaurants and amazing night foods – it’s just to say that after wandering the streets of Taipei for a day and a half by foot, and living in Seoul (the second largest city in the world, by some counts), we decided to go rural. No more buildings and cars and street lights. We wanted nature. Since we hadn’t a clue where anything was, tourist pamphlets proved to be our best friends.
“Top Tourist Destination In Taiwan” doesn’t sound like anything I’d normally be interested in – but then again I’d normally not eat half of the things that have shown up on my plate in the past two months. “Top Tourist Destination in Taiwan” also doesn’t even represent this place, I found out. Why? Well the only mention or reference to tourists I saw there were about ten tour buses in a six-hour period. Either someone got the description wrong or Taiwan doesn’t have any tourists. And I certainly think the latter isn’t true.
I do have to give it to Taroko Gorge, though. I mean, it was the day after the typhoon hit just 10km south of the train stop, so tourists weren’t swarming anywhere.
We, unlike the other tourists on their buses, took a train to get there. After guessing our way through an automated ticket vendor, we hopped on a train and headed out of the city. We couldn’t really tell if we were going the correct way (East, then South), until we saw coast.
The train ride was uneventful other than a few conversations had here and a nap there. The only real noteworthy moment was when our time to disembark came and we started to guess as to what station was ours. See, when Romanizing Mandarin, there are many options for the same sound. For example: chi and qi are the same sound. So are x and ch and sometimes even sh. Confused? Me too.
Luckily, we steamrolled our way through the matching sounds to Roman letters process, and ended up getting off on the correct station. I don’t know if it was the anxiety of “Oh no, we might get off at the wrong stop in the middle of rural Taiwan where we don’t speak the language and certainly can’t blend in or walk home” or the three hour train ride itself, but we got out of the train station down right hungry.
Leave it to smart people who want to make a dollar off of travelers and tourists to set up a food stand right outside of the train station. Now, I’m not faulting them for it or chastising their marketing strategies, in fact I’m applauding them. And I’m actually cheering for this particular food stand because it happened to be filled with nothing but tropical fruit.
Equipped with no language skills, still, we started our pointing game. The owners- a husbands and wife dynamic duo – played into our gesturing dance, replying to our points with nods and Mandarin suggestions for this one and that one .We agreed to “this one” – being a giant mango – but declined “that one” – a dragon fruit, violently red on the inside.
Delighted with our presence, the wife offered to cut the mango for us (by saying something as she mocked slicing with the outside edge of her hand). We agreed. And as she took to the mango with quiet diligence, the husband started to distract us with a story about how the typhoon really hurt the area and that most of their fruit trees had died and that this was the last crop. In Mandarin. He used hand movements, pointing, laughing, pseudo-crying, and even a shout or two.
By the story’s end, our mango was packed and stapled shut into a plastic container and we set off to explore the gorge itself.
And oh, what a gorge it was. I come from a land that totes the slogan “Ithaca is Gorges,” so I feel justified in saying this next part: Taroko Gorge holds it’s own as one of the most gorgeous landscapes I’ve ever been to.
Ps. The mango ranks in the top two I’ve ever had – the other being one that I hit down from a Mango tree in the back yard of a family friend in Trinidad. It was firm, but supple. Sweet but flavorful. Meaty without being stringy. This mango was from the heavens.