Coasting through Taiwan (first of two parts)

ROLE PLAY. Me playing dress up. (Photo by Monica R. Lopez)
ROLE PLAY. Me playing dress up. (Photo by Monica R. Lopez)

TAIWAN made its way to Cebu City last May with its “Panahon sa Taiwan: Taiwan Small Town and DIY Promotion Fair” by Taiwan Tourism Bureau where locals got to experience what’s in store for one day.

I took part in the activities and kept pamphlets both for research and personal use. To my surprise, next I knew, I was to explore the country for six full days for work. Bags in hand, I joined the familiarization trip hosted by Taiwan Tourism Bureau and sponsored by Tigerair Taiwan.

It was one scenic spot after another, eating our way through the whole experience, learning the culture—while stopping every so often at any 7-Eleven store near us.

While most of the group had been to Taiwan, we shared the same look of wonderment as our itinerary took us to the outskirts of the city and back, each of us having a place or two in mind we considered our favorite. Mine was a lot, starting with the first stop: Taroko National Park, found in Xiulin Township of Hualien County, located on the east coast of Taiwan.

Covering more than 92,000 hectares in the northern part of the Central Mountain Range, to experience its entirety requires a devotion to the place spanning more than a day. Surrounded by rock formations, peaks that tower as high as 3,000 meters in elevation, not to mention the indigenous Taroko tribe—it’s equally rich in natural resources and a well-preserved history that echoes deep within the place.

We explored one of its scenic trails, the Swallow Grotto (Yanzikou) trail, called so after the swallows that settle and play in this location. This is where the Liwu River Gorge narrows until Cimu Bridge in the west. Visitors can take the trail and end up at the Jinheng Bridge, where they can gaze at the marble gorge and, if one looks closely, the Chieftain Profile Rock. The exploration continued the next day, as we visited another spot called Eternal Spring Shrine (Changchun) Trail. It was built to commemorate 226 personnel who died during the construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway from 1956 to 1960. Together with the Changchun Falls that flows adjoining the shrine, it was equal parts picturesque and wistful.

As we left the park, I couldn’t help but make a promise to go back and fully immerse myself in the surrounding abundance of nature. Here’s hoping.

We headed to Luye, a rural township in Taitung County, to catch the Taiwan International Balloon Festival. Established in 2011, it involves flying shows and balloon rides to name a few attractions. The kid in me was bursting with joy at the thought of being able to ride one of the balloons—which was impossible given the weather that time. The sadness was short-lived because of the night glow music concert. Balloons illuminated the sky as they shot up flames accompanied by the beat of music, with fireworks and lasers popping throughout the sky. We were so close to the balloons we could really feel the heat. I couldn’t help but dance and get emotional, seeing all this in person. It was not a bad way to end the night.

The next day, we were introduced to another tribe called the Bunun tribe at a charming place called Uninang Taluhan located at Yanping Township. There we learned about their culture, staple dishes, animals they hunt and hunting techniques, like the use of the spear and the bow and arrow. One of the fun parts was the drinking ritual between a man who intends to marry one of the women of the tribe, the father of the woman he’s courting and the rest of the tribe. This was for men only, so we stood watching while our male companions and those from another tour group participated. We still had time to kill, so we played dress up, wearing costumes of their tribe and other tribes as well. It was a bittersweet goodbye given the experience and the hospitality they showed (also I wanted to shoot more arrows), but we knew we had a lot of ground to cover.

By day four, we rode the train to Yilan and got a colorful introduction to the county as Jimmy Park greeted us, featuring art pieces by Yilan’s very own Jimmy Liao, Taiwanese illustrator and picture book writer as well. Jimmy Park used to be an old railway staff dormitory turned long-haul bus transit center. I loved walking around the square looking at the pieces. I was fixated on his works like The Starry Starry Night and Turn Left, Turn Right, from the book A Chance of Sunshine where boy and girl move in opposite directions, never to meet.

By the afternoon, still at Yilan, we were given a tour of King Car Kavalan Distillery. Kavalan is Taiwan’s first whisky maker and the nation’s only family-owned whiskey manufacturer, founded in 2005. We then proceeded to learn the process of making whiskey, the proper way to store it, the critical role for whiskey maturing, among other points, then headed to the property’s Spirit Castle, specifically the DIY room at the second level, where we were to make our own whiskey. I admit I was nervous for fear the outcome might not taste good; since we were provided with the steps, the proper way to mix the given flavors, I figured what could go wrong. Thankfully the turnout was the blend I was hoping for. I left happy and proud carrying my personal blend.

*Next week, our itinerary takes us back to the city.


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