(note: this is a long post because it was a packed tight weekend. Vickey is now an honorary Norton for her adventurous spirit, detailed planning, love of good food and ability to laugh in the pouring rain.)
Vickey had a last minute space on a fast weekend trip she planned to Hualien and Taroko Gorge. It sounded like great fun so of course I jumped on board. Vickey had planned travel train through Taipei to Hualien and back, a whale watching tour, a bus tour of Taroko Gorge, and a splurge on a seaside hotel. it was so nice to have someone else do such a thorough job of planning. All I needed to do was show up ridiculously early Saturday morning with my overnight bag in hand.
We weren’t able to get on the fast train but I think the slow train was in some ways better. We had a much better view when the landscape wasn’t whizzing by. Plus it gave us time to grade papers and get our homework out of the way before the weekend began.
One of the owners of the hotel, Juan, met us at the train station in Hualien. Wow – this hotel (Hotel Bayview) exceeded our expectations! The room was beautiful and comfortable with a great view. There was a nice dining area with always available tea, coffee, and cookies. The breakfast buffet the next morning was enough to keep us going all day – good food and a good variety. This is definitely on my list of hotels to stay at in the future.
Juan assisted us out with all the tour arrangements. His English is perfect which was very helpful for us. There had been landslides recently in Taroko Gorge so some of the tour arrangements had changed. This was shoulder season so some things were still “getting ready for the real tourists” as we say in our family.
We settled on whale watching on Saturday afternoon and a shorter Taroko Gorge tour on Sunday before catching the train home.
Whale watching turned out to be … interesting. It had been raining on and off all day. We assumed that of course the whale watching boats wouldn’t go out if the water was too rough. Wrong. Or maybe we were all wimps. Once we got past the breakwater the rain was pouring down, the spray (the saltiest water I’ve tasted) was slapping in our faces, and the boat was bouncing. A lot. We saw dolphins jumping and that was pretty cool, but what we are most proud of on this trip was that neither of us got sick. Unlike at least a third of the boatload of tourists. The trip was shorter than advertised but no one was complaining. It was a pretty quiet and queasy group that made it back to the dock.
After we got back to the hotel we took a short walk on the bike path by the ocean to clear our heads. In the hotel room we showered off the salt spray, changed to dry clothes, and headed out to dinner. I dragged Vickey to our favorite restaurant in Hualien (Jia Curry). Fortunately she loved it.
We thought about going to the stone market but instead wound up at a used bookstore. A used bookstore in a converted house with English language novels, nooks and crannies with armchairs, quirky drawings, a coffee bar, three cats, and a sleepy dog. Heaven!
Sunday morning we tried a little bit of everything at the breakfast buffet.
Then we went for a longer walk on the bike path before the Taroko tour. The bike paths in Hualien are great – long stretches of smooth pavement and wonderful views.
We had tried to get an English language taxi driver for our tour but the usual people were not available. Instead we joined a Chinese language tour. Fortunately several people on the tour spoke excellent English and could tell us the key points. We also got to know a nice American woman on vacation from her job in China.
The rain was pouring down by this point in the day. The one thing I forgot to pack was any sort of raincoat. Or an umbrella. The hotel gave me one of those ubiquitous disposable raincoats which ultimately meant that I was wet on the outside from the rain and inside from my sweat.
But oh, the view! When Dan and I drove through Taroko Gorge I was so ready to be done with the drive that we didn’t’ explore much. Now I know that there are some great paths I would love to explore further. What a wonderful place.
I guess the tour time needed to be padded out so it ended up on a beach just down from our hotel (where we had already spent plenty of time exploring the beach). Vickey tried to just stay put in the nice dry bus, but it was “all tourists off the bus” so she had to stand in the rain with the rest of us until they let us back on.
One quick weekend, a whole lot of rain, a long train ride, a queasy boat trip, and a tour in a foreign language – we had a great time.