*this post is written by Gav as a guest blogger. Any complaints can be forwarded to DN.
For most everyone I know, I think there are a handful of things that make them feel alive: skydiving, a child’s laugh, relishing in the last sentence of a good book, completing a marathon… Last week, I had the opportunity to have one of those feelings for myself: navigating my way to a scenic place in a foreign country.
Last Saturday, I woke up, ate some breakfast and took off around 9-9:30 to head to Yangmingshan National Park, which is northwest of Taipei, Taiwan and was my first venture using the bus system. I had to get to Jiantan station to catch Red Bus 5, which would take me straight to the park. This is where the above statement about feeling alive comes into play. I like small international adventures like this. There’s really no real danger, as I’m very capable of handling a map, and it’s a little out of my comfort zone, but not like I’m going Seal-Team 6 and repelling from a chopper into enemy territory. So that morning I looked at a map of how to get to Jiantan and noticed it was a bit of a pain to take the brown line (which Huzhou station is on, which is my stop) to the blue line, to the red line (which Jiantan was on). – There was a stop on the brown line that was about a mile and a half from Jiantan, and not only that, but there was a hiking trail along the way. Cool. Two hikes today. Let’s do it!
The first (smaller) hiking trail was basically a kind of outdoor sports park called Jiantanshan Hiking Trail, and it was super-unique. As I was following the path (there are tons of stone paths in Taiwan that serve as the trails, and I often wonder how many man hours it took to lay them because they are almost perfectly laid and Taiwan is pretty mountainous.) So, as I was walking I saw a little white thingy ascend and descend quickly and discretely through the trees up ahead. As I got closer, I saw it was a shuttlecock. – Flashback: I played quite a bit of badminton as a kid. My parents house had a pretty large yard and every spring-through-fall, we had a badminton court set up. My old-man is pretty salty at the sport, having won intramurals at KU – bear in mind; I know nothing about the competition. – So when I got closer, I climbed a flight of stairs and perched along the mountainside was a large flat rock clearing with two badminton courts and two games going. It was awesome to see. These are the types of things that I love about exploring, and finding: sights totally out of the ordinary to see it in such a cool location.
So with only about three double-backs and sign-checks to confirm I was headed in the right direction, this hiking path it its purpose well and spit me out right next to Jiantan Station.
I completely forgot to tell you about passing Martyrs’ Shrine.
This was by-far the luckiest part of the day, as I had no idea it was there. But along the walk from my stop on the brown line to Jiantanshan Hiking Trail, I passed a heavily military area with guards at every gate (maybe 4 gates total) and up ahead I saw about 7-8 tour buses, so I glanced at my map and saw ‘Martyrs’ Shrine’. When I approached, the shrine looked similar to much of the traditional Asian architecture with the pointy colorful rooftop-looking things and so I went into the courtyard. There were probably 75-100 Chinese tourists lining up along two sides of a red roped area that extended on both sides of two very well-decorated soldiers in white perched completely still on platforms. I looked at my watch and it was 9:57 – At 10:00 there was a changing of the guard. There were 5 (also well-decorated soldiers in white) that came out of an archway off to the side and slowly marched all the way down the courtyard, which was probably 100 meters. I completely lucked into it, and it turned out being one of my favorite photos I think I’ve ever taken. As a friend of mine agreed later; no matter where you are, a changing of the guard is always neat.
So, after locating the metro station, I found the small line of people to board Red Bus 5 and easily got to Yingmingshan Park.
I hiked and hiked to the tune of about 4-5 miles. Had lunch in a small hut like area (water and a clif bar.)
While the changing of the guard was the best photo, I think the highlight of the hike was one of the lizards I saw (out of probably 9. I tried to get a photo of the one with an electric blue tail, but was too slow when trying to grab my camera.) As I was descending a flight of stairs, a family was looking at a lizard that was crossing their path – maybe 5 inches long nose to tail, so not very big – and they were laughing, taking photos, and a boy was yelling ‘Lizard! Lizard!’ Then he saw your’s truly – a white man – approaching behind them and he got so excited when I walked by and was pointing, looking at me, and yelling ‘Lizard! Lizard!’ in English. I gave him the A-OK sign and said ‘That’s Right! Lizard!’
A while ago, a friend of mine once described what she loves about New York City, and it is a slight inconvenience involved with getting through daily life. Not to the point that you would move away, but a feeling that you have to put in a little effort for things. I liked that. – Personally, I enjoy those times I have to use the knowledge I have, a simple tool like a map, and some self-reliance to know that whatever the task or venture, it will probably turn out OK. If I had stuck to the metro system last Saturday, I never would have snapped the photos above.
If given the opportunity to take yourself out of your comfort zone this weekend, or anytime actually, I highly suggest it. If it's in Taipei, I highly suggest taking a hike.