Written on the 781
Sunday, July 27, 6:13 pm
It is the evening, and we are seeing our first sunset over the mountains. We’re most of the way through our rail journey from Kaohsiung to Taitung, winding a slow counter-clockwise arc around the southern tip of the island and emerging on the eastern side of Taiwan. Many of our evenings in Taichung and Kaohsiung on the west coast have featured splendid sunsets over the water and a city, but in Taitung and Dulan on the east coast, we will be chasing sunrises over the water and sunsets over the mountains.
— Connie Ma (@ironypoisoning) July 26, 2015
The hillsides here are fairly rugged, and the train zips long much closer to the water. For some parts of our trip, we were darting through mountain tunnels to emerge on a narrow railway with the water and a precipitous drop on one side and on the other high mountains that we had to lift our faces to greet. The view is definitely worth it. On the right, the sky fades from a pale distant blue to light pink clouds, and then back to the blue-grey of the ocean. On the left, mountains barely a dozen meters from our left will loom close, and then give way suddenly to large expansive green valleys. Deep in the heart of the valley, we can see the lighter and mistier shapes of more distant mountains, and finally beyond that, the clouds themselves, gilded and illuminated with a deeper richer tone by the sunlight that has already sunk beneath the mountains. It is really strikingly lovely.
I liked the amount of time that we stayed in Kaohsiung. Nearly every day, we went out to one of the restaurants we loved to go to while we lived there. We roamed and rode bikes along the art district paths, and found that Kaohsiung has preserved much of what we liked about it, while getting a bit more busy and, yes, a bit more expensive. Some highlights were going back to 大魚市場, or what Steve calls “The 100 kuai place”, because many of its dinner dishes were offered for 100 NT each. It boasts a lovely rooftop with lanterns, where you can watch the sunset over Central Park. Another highlight was revisiting Woopen (木盆), which serves large, delicious salads with scrumptious Japanese sesame dressing in wooden bowls with wooden forks. We visited both places twice, the first time on our own and the second time with Ken and Kara, who came down to visit us again in Kaohsiung.
We stayed for five nights in Happy Cape, a hostel in Xiziwan, at one end of the Orange Line MRT. It ended up being a lovely place, even though it started off not so well. When we arrived, we ended up in a smallish room crammed tightly with six bunks. All other beds were occupied, and their owners interested in hanging out nearly all the clothing they owned on hangers hung here and there about the room, and Steve and I both had to take top bunks. There was barely room for our luggage, so I spoke to the hostel owner (whose English name was also Stephen) the next day about upgrading to a private room, and he very happily helped us out. So we were much more comfortable for the next four nights for the princely sum of an additional 600 NT (20 USD!!!). Yup. The lovely common area also helped. On the fifth floor was a large room with a coffee table and some floor cushions, which opened up to an open-air balcony with a stunning view of the street that leads into downtown Kaohsiung and also the marina where dozens of boats were tucked away. It was well-shaded, so that you could be up there any time of day, and there was several large washing machines, a fan, and a water machine. We spent some lovely evenings up there. We also had more interactions with Stephen the hostel owner over the next few days, and learned that he was originally from Taipei but had really liked the southern feel in Taiwan, and had bought the hostel not too long ago and was re-launching it. The location ended up being a great base for exploring Cijin Island, which has only gotten more popular, and the lines for getting on the ferry to go over on summer afternoons has just been incredible. When we went over with Ken and Kara, we waited nearly 20 minutes to go over, and more than 30 minutes to come back! The heat is also brutal in Kaohsiung. Southern Taiwan feels the heat more so than the northern part in the summertime; the Tropic of Cancer also bisects the island horizontally somewhere between Taichung and Kaohsiung, so the south is decidedly tropical. We bought some extra sunscreen, but both of us are admittedly tanned, especially Steve’s nose and the back of his hands. =)
It was great being in Kaohsiung, but we have high hopes for the next few days and a different sort of pace for Taitung and Dulan. We also are eager for going back to the States, somehow, and returning to a bit of normalcy. I’ve got a lot of things to get rolling for the new school year, and Steve is now working a lot on a new app start-up with a friend! So we enjoy the traveling life, but we’re also looking forward to getting back to work. By mid-October, I know I will rue these words, but it’s the truth!