Taipei – Day 26, April 19

I had a fun day, because our tour guide, Vita, was fun and friendly, the folks on the tour were nice, and the scenery was fascinating.

We had an early start at the usual meeting point for these tours at the park at Exit 2 of the MRT Blue Line stop at Xhongxiou Xinsheng. This is only three stops from my local subway stop but tomorrow’s cooking lesson is near the main station and so am I so that’s fine. The cooking lesson starts at 9:30 am, whereas today’s tour was at 7:45. I had to hustle to get ready, which included bug repellant. But of course, that is sold at 7-11. Convenience store culture is huge here and you seemingly can get anything you want.

So today’s tour was with 13 tourists: a sweet little family of three from India, a couple from Malaysia, a young woman from Singapore, a bunch of family members from Indonesia, and me.

We drove out to the Yangminshan National Park, which has been attracting attention for a long time because it’s so close to Taipei but so beautiful. It’s both forested and grassy. It’s grassy because some ruler or another didn’t want anyone to be able to hide in the forests and get sulfur to make gunpowder, so they burned down the forests at some point.

This is the best I can do to relay one of the many, many interesting stories I heard from Vita all day. What I mean is that I couldn’t understand, hear, or remember all the details, so this is what you get.

Chiang Kai-Shek had many homes and hideaways all over Taiwan. He was always worried that someone, probably from China, was going to abduct or kill him. So he had a home up in this area but it’s hard to get to and is painted green to blend into the forest. It has escape tunnels. We didn’t see the house because the tour takes too long, but we saw the visitor center and a picture of the house.

The Japanese colonized Taiwan for 50 years ending in 1945. Until that time, they built up this whole national park area just north of Taipei with bathhouses, roads, hotels, and electricity. They put the most effort into these projects mostly to impress the Japanese crown prince of Taiwan who visited the area for 2 hours. Like years of effort for a 2-hour visit.

They left behind some water buffalo which are now feral. I thought they were all penned in, but one crossed my path and we were both surprised. He was headed for a mudbath and didn’t linger.

I got some walking in around the area and I was good and sweaty by the time we got back to our nice bus with excellent a/c. There were one or two families with little kids and they were struggling before it started raining. I felt bad for them, but they chose to go on a 9-hour tour with toddlers and you have to wonder what people are thinking. They rarely made it far beyond the bus.

Next was a series of stops in the pouring rain to see boiling mud, mountainsides belching sulfur, and a place where after a good wash, we were able to enjoy a foot soaking in the very hot waters. A Taiwanese lady really wanted to practice her English with me and she tried to teach me how to say thank you and goodbye in Mandarin, but I have already forgotten! (Sorry Charlotte! I’m a visual learner.)

We stopped at a calla lily farm. It was very nice. There was a special deal where if you bought ice cream from one farmer, you could walk out into his calla lily field. The precocious little Indian girl and I had a nice conversation about ice cream and the field cat who didn’t seem to mind walking in the flooded fields. She speaks English better than her mother tongue.

We stopped in Beitou, a town that lives for hot springs hotels, but has a historic Japanese bathhouse and award-winning sustainable library.

We rode back to town and said our goodbyes. I took the MRT back to Ximen and started walking back to my hotel. Then I decided it was dinner there or no dinner because I just knew I wouldn’t go back out in the thunder/lightning/rain. Considering I had eaten something green at lunch, I settled on the Taiwanese fried chicken. It was okay/good. Then I had a teacup of wine in my hotel room. I miss my Japanese hotel rooms with beautiful glassware. In the end, I did venture out to the place next to my hotel for a massage. There are foot massage places in every fourth shop in this area.