Yesterday, I made my way to the MRT station, rode up to Taipei main station, and got on the high speed rail to Taichung. The high-speed rail is really fast! Apparently, the drive to Taichung would normally take 3 hours. My ride was about 40 minutes.
Today started with a Taiwanese breakfast (pancake rolled up with ham and vegetables). Then we drove into the mountains, where the views were incredible. Lush like Jamaica, clouded and mysterious like a scene from Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, open and delightful like a scene from the Sound of Music -- unique to Taiwan. We ended up at a park called Sun Link Sea (Sun Lin Xi) and took a $40 NT bus ride as far as it would go. Then we hiked up the rest of the way on our own. My Canon battery started to crap out, so thank goodness I had both that and my iPhone. Words can't describe it. And pictures cannot capture the depth of texture, the fresh smell, the cool dampness, the sounds of water falling and frogs calling.
I thought we might never get out of the park because every minute, I felt compelled to take more pictures! But finally we headed down the mountain to make our dinner reservation: a hot pot restaurant called Shabu Shabu. Seriously, I cannot believe we do not have one of these where I live -- someone could make a lot of money off it. It's like Hu Hot meets Chinese buffet meets teppanyaki dinner. You order your broth of choice, and it fits into a burner on the table. Meanwhile, you choose whatever you want to put in your hot pot -- vegetables, tofu, meat, dumplings. While you're waiting for your hot pot to cook, you can enjoy a variety of buffet dishes. Fruits, vegetables, sushi, dim sum, dumplings, soup, hot cooked food ... the choices seem endless. Like any good Chinese buffet, ice cream is included. This one also had a chocolate fountain and display case of fancy desserts. Simply overwhelming.
Originally we planned to go to an outdoor concert, but it seemed awfully chilly for that. So instead, we headed back to my buddy's house, and she took me on my first Taiwanese motorbike ride! It was so fun! We stopped at a fruit market and then a pet store ("fish middle fish" was the literal translation of the characters, but I think it means something like the best fish of the best). Now I know where all the Taiwanese get their dog sweaters. And dog strollers. And fish. And shrimp. And frogs. And turtles. And hampsters. And ferrets. Yes, ferrets.
Of course, on the way home, we stopped for bubble tea. Any weight I gain on this trip is totally in bubble tea. I mostly get it without milk to cut some calories, but I just cannot resist. It's soooooooooooooo good!
Tomorrow, we are headed to some fishing area. It will be neat to see the coast. Then back to Taipei. I am having an amazing time. Conquering so many fears -- of heights, of strange foods, of new people and experiences. It's exhilarating.