We Ran Away

We ran away, and that's why you haven't heard from me in a while.

The boys started school today, so Saturday we decided to take full advantage of what free time we had left by going on an un-planned adventure around the island, but we kept running into the same obstacle--transportation. I did enough research in advance to realize that trains wouldn't get us close enough to anything worth seeing, taxis were too expensive, and we didn't register for an international drivers license before coming leaving renting was out of the question.

Fortunately, Britton has an amazing connection here (the same family who hooked us up with our sweet place), and they gave us their car. They literally handed it over saying--oh, it's one of four, keep it as long as you need. So we woke up at 7:00 on Saturday morning planning to travel using a combination of public transportation and hitch hiking, and by lunch we were zooming off in our courtesy car.

Driving in Tiapei is nuts. People have no concept of traffic laws. Cars frequently park in the middle of the lane, and the right lane converts into a left turning lane every block which makes for a merging nightmare. Then you throw in the hundreds of moped drivers who drive like they want to die. As if it wasn't hard enough navigating through one of the world's largest cities, stress levels were up because 1. we were using a friends car whose insurance wouldn't cover our accidents and 2. we didn't have drivers licenses. If we hit someone we would probably be stuck in jail or paying off medical/car bills for the following 20 years, but we are young and stupid and looked at this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so we risked it.

On the plus side, we had the comfort of knowing that our chances of getting pulled over were slim. It takes a lot to get noticed as an outstandingly bad driver in Taipei. We accidentally blew through a couple red lights, and got stuck in the middle of an intersection, but you are like a bolder in a river and with inches to spare, cars find a way to get around.

Finally we wove our way through Taipei's complex streets and found ourselves in the refreshingly open country. We didn't have much of a plan for the road trip. We packed a couple of backpacks, a tent, a map, and a guide book, and $300. We knew we wanted to head East, so we headed East.

We drove through Taiwan's intense mountains which are a combination of switchbacks and hairpin turns. The roads are narrow, and the country drivers proved to be more nuts than those in the city. We would be on a rink-a-dink road clinging to the top of a mountain with a thousand foot drop to one side and a rock face on the other stuck behind some pokey fruit truck. Although we were never dumb enough to blindly pass the truck, everyone else did--mopeds, cars, other trucks, whoever. There was NO visibility, and it was pitch black outside. Occasionally there would be a 50' straight shot and some dark, looming turn ahead with-who-knows-what vehicle on the other side, but apparently we were the only ones who thought that playing leapfrog with our lives was a bad idea.

We rolled into Hualien (a little East coast town) around 10:00 at night and had absolutely no idea where to sleep. Fortunately the area is cram packed with hostels and we were able to find a very clean, newly renovated room for just $15 each.

Next morning we headed to Tarako National Park on the outskirts of Hualien. The park is the crowned jewel of Taiwanese nature. It is a marble canyon split by a river and softened with tropical fauna, and it was a spectacle.

After Tarako, we jumped back in the car and headed South. We didn't know where exactly, just South. We had the simple plan to stop once something caught our interests.

The drive from Hualien was one of the hi-lights of the trip for me. I got a very realistic look at Taiwanese culture. True, old fashioned, rural culture. The highway ran along the coast which provided a spectacular view. Small towns dotted the road and flaunted beautiful rice fields with driven people growing and harvesting.  

This is such a poor picture. I shot it out of the window as we were flying by, but I had to include it. The rural Taiwanese were thrilled to see Americans. These folks were packing in from a hard days work in the field. I'm pretty sure the guy driving is missing a tooth. So classic. 

We reached a point in the evening when we were far from the next town and wanted to 
find a place to sleep, so we changed our non-existent plans and found a back road through the mountains that led us to a nearer town. The drive was awesome. We witnessed a spectacular sunset, saw wild monkeys, and passed through some tiny no-name town that must never see American passerby's.

By the time we got to Ruisui it was 9 at night. We discovered along the way that the town is famous for its natural hot springs and were fortunate to find a resort/spa that was still open. We were led to a small outdoor pool that is directly plumed from the springs so we could fill it to our liking. It was awesome to turn off the outdoor lights, stare up at the stars, enjoy the warmth of the water and have no clue where we were going to be sleeping later that night. I guess that's the exhilaration of flying by the seat of your pants.  

Aside from the hot springs, the town proved to be pretty sketchy and didn't have any affordable hotels or clean hostels, so we found a campground around midnight. I slept terribly. I didn't have a pillow and our tent was pitched on a wood platform which was so uncomfortable, and just as I was drifting to sleep I woke up to red and blue flashing lights outside our tent and the silhouettes of two police officers.

We were all up in a paranoid frenzy whispering about what to do. We suggested that Britton get in the car and drive away with his headlights off so the cops wouldn't ask for our licenses. But that was a dumb idea and looked totally suspicious. Then I suggested we carry our tent to the neighboring spot so the car wouldn't look like it was ours. Even more dumb and more suspicious. In the end, we just decided to lay low, look asleep, and pretend like we only spoke English.

The police were checking each spot to make sure everyone had purchased a permit which we hadn't because we arrived after the office was closed. Aside from their initial check, the police came back at three in the morning and did  a second check. Somehow we were bypassed each time. I guess playing dead/dumb works?

Next morning, up at 6:00 and back on the road. We stopped in a random town for church, and continued to the Southern tip of the island, Kenting.
The town itself is a little more to my liking. The shops lean more towards surfing and swimming. The restaurants are a little more diverse, and the architecture is typical beach front.

The south of Taiwan is beautiful--Hawaii beautiful. But because areas of Taiwan are polluted and neglected, it lacks the same reputation. It is a shame, and that we saw such a travesty in Kenting

When we got in, there was a large popular beach that automatically caught our attention. It was covered in colorful umbrellas and there were jet skis, banana boats, and tubes zipping through the ocean. After finding a parking spot in the packed area, discretely slipping on our swimsuits in the car and walking in the heat eager to swim, we stopped dead in our tracks once we reached the beach. This was the sight that greeted us.

We just stood there, towels and sunscreen in hand staring. None of us budged. Then we all turned around disappointed in the lack of care and the lack of sense displayed and trekked back up the road to the parking lot. On the way back we ran into someone who gave us directions to a quiet little beach.

 The water was refreshing and the waves were huge. Occasionally we would get pounded against the rough sand and have salt burning our noses and throats, but thats the ocean and it was a blast.

After swimming we were pooped out and in need of a good shower, so we found a great little hostel and had the whole place to ourselves.

Kenting has a great night market that pops up along the side of the main street once the sun begins to set, so we enjoyed some good food and had ourselves a fun time.


  1. Oh my gosh, I really want to go to Taiwan now! Maybe I will get my mission call there?! haha
    I LOVED the picture of the blue girl. That was so beautiful-you should frame it.
    It looks like you are having a blast! Missing you in the states though! :) xo

  2. Is it just me or does your hair have some major volume! You look awesome! Seriously that picture of the fried squid just about made me want to vomit! YUCK! Did Chris eat one?

  3. Hi Tori and Chris,
    I was so happy to see your blog was updated. I hope you have time to blog as much as possible while you are in Taiwan. I think your blog would actually make a great book(s). The Year 2010-2011 could be a title for your first book and then include everything from the beginning until now or the end of the year. It's just enjoyable reading and the pictures are so clear. I agree with Corrine. The girl in blue standing by the blue truck with the blue boots should be framed! Love Mom Gilbert

  4. OK., that isn't the most creative title:/ but you know what I mean:)