We still had three days left to go on our Taiwan road trip, and we were determined to make the most of it.
Our first full day at Sun Moon Lake (world renowned for it’s beauty and one of the most popular spots in Taiwan) began rainy, and we soon scrapped our plans to go on a boat ride across the lake. We’ve spent a lot of money to take a boat down a legendary river while raining in the past, and it did not turn out to be worth it (cough cough, New Zealand). Ben’s backup plan was to visit a historic village, which I eagerly agreed to.
Once we arrived at Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village it became clear that we were actually at a very large amusement park. Gee… why didn’t we realize that’s what Aboriginal Culture Village meant? *Rolls eyes* Luckily we love amusement parks, so Ben convinced me to stay for the afternoon despite the rainy weather and our unpreparedness.
What is wonderful about visiting an amusement park in the rain is that virtually no one else does. We were nearly alone, and almost every ride was still open. We rode multiple rides as the single passengers, which is one of my great thrills in life. It just feels like cheating, somehow, to have a roller coaster all to yourself! We sang and danced down the sidewalks, took goofy selfies, allowed ride attendants to hold our phones for pictures while we rode, and did lots of things multiple times.
Other visitors wouldn’t have stopped us from doing those things, but we would have paused ever so slightly.
The downside to going to an abandoned theme park is that… well, it’s abandoned. While it’s great to be the single riders on a roller coaster, no other visitors means no one to shoot water guns at you at the water tube ride and no one to ask for directions when you get lost. Oh well.
Ben and Whit both loved the many water rides at the park, but my favorite part was the Sun Moon Lake ropeway Skyline. We took two different cablecar lines over the trees and through low hanging clouds for the most incredible view of Sun Moon Lake. Honestly, the fact that it was a rainy day made the experience even better. We pulled down the window so we could see past the glass’s rain drops and witnessed huge clouds overtake and then dissappear across the lake. It was absolutely incredible, and I understand why it’s such a popular spot!
Our next two nights on the road trip were through Taroko Gorge. This was one of the other main points of interest we read about, which made me immediately skeptical. Nothing against other tourists, but our interests usually lie far from the maddening crowd.
Well, the crowds spoke and They. Were. Right. Taroko Gorge is one of the single most beautiful places we’ve visited in the past year.
We chose to drive across the island, which meant a 4-5 hour drive of windy switchbacks along the precarious gorge opening to reach the west coast of Taiwan. We didn’t expect the road to follow the gorge so closely, and almost got into a few accidents from distracted driving! Poor Ben, he had to stay super focused to avoid running off the road when confronted with a beautiful landscape.
We stopped for one short hike up a Gorge ridge (after promising Whit $1 for family pictures at the top of the ridge), and a few look out points for various views. This was another time when the rain actually served for our good. Luckily we didn’t experience any rain on our drive (which could have led to rock falls), but the recent storms left some amazing clouds which glided gracefully through the gorge. Oh what a sight!
What helped make the drive so enjoyable was my decision to put our YouTube channel on hiatus. I’ve been struggling with the decision to make a concerted effort to publicize our travels on YouTube since we left last May, but I wasn’t ready to actually dedicate the time and energy to it until three months ago. After a few months of soul searching I’d finally felt that focusing on creating public videos was the right step for us, but our twice weekly vlogs quickly became more stressful than they were fun. I kept telling myself that our learning curve would end and we’d get used to being on camera, but we just never were. I felt terrible for directing Whit and Ben on how to talk in front of the camera, I hated keeping a device out to record everything just in case I needed the footage, and I was losing tons of sleep by spending 6-8 hours editing each 15 minute video (and putting most of my other work aside).
It was frustrating to not have YouTube be an immediate success, and after a night of complaining to Ben about our low subscriber and watch counts (which I was taking way too seriously) I realized that YouTube fame just isn’t worth chasing. It was stressing everyone out and preventing us from truly enjoying the memories we were trying to make.
I felt immediate relief when I told Ben and Whit that I wouldn’t be taking video all the time for YouTube videos. Ben was relieved (I think he had been too scared to try and explain this reality to me earlier), but Whit was, surprisingly, confused and mad. I forgot that we’d been telling him all along that if he could help us with our videos by appearing and talking on camera that we’d share the wealth if we ever started making money with our channel. He understood that his involvement was an investment better than I realized, and wanted compensation for lost future earnings. Ben and I both guffawed at this shocking announcement, but we were also really proud of his way of thinking. He did deserve some payment for my decision to start and stop something that affects him, and we negotiated a rate of $20 for his video appearances.
I felt free and exhilarated to drive through the Taroko Gorge without the need to record the gorgeous landscape we passed. It would have made me nuts to not be able to adequately capture the beauty, but this way I got to simply record the trip to memory. That’s a much better way to travel!
While on our road trip we happen to stay at beautiful, funky hotels within walking distance to vibrant night markets each night. We’d check in to our hotel, drop off our bags, and head right back out for the 5-10 minute walk to the nearest night market. Armed with lots of cash in small bills and coins, we would each choose all of the tapas-style street foods we wanted to comprise a healthy-ish dinner, fun dessert, and fruity drinks.
Just thinking about these night markets makes me want to cry. Exploring the inventive, flavorful food of Asia has been one of the primary reasons I’ve loved living there, and the experience is best had at a night market where rows of stalls sell all the delicious, strange, Instagrammable, and even unappetizing treats the region is known for. It’s always crowded with people of all ages sporting the latest Asian fashions and makeup, standing in line for their favorite foods against a background of neon lights. It’s magic.
We go to night markets as often as possible for the cheap variety of foods and easy cultural activity, and to have so many in a row felt like a special blessing to honor the last Asian stop of our around-the-world adventure.
I have come to love Asia, and I’m so sad to be leaving. After all of the effort we’ve made to figure out the crazy moto driving patterns, deal with the extreme heat, humidity, smells, and mystery drips, test some terrible foods to find our favorites, learn to only communicate with gestures with the people around us, and to expect photos from strangers because we never fit in, it’s all ending.
But not forever.
On to America for a few weeks of family time and then our next region to explore: South America!