A few people reading this will have also read a post I wrote over a year ago. It was about an intense climb we did in Indonesia. People who read that react similarly: holy Moses, those leeches! That post can be read here.
In the little town of Sintang, when we were still in the planning stages of that trip, we saw something unfamiliar and peculiar at the national park office: other white people. Maria and Robert were travelers from Poland and they had, at the same moment as us, found themselves in this obscure town in the middle of West Kalimantan, Borneo.
We live in Taiwan, they told us. We’re completing our PhDs.
Caroline and Maria kept loosely in touch over the months, and when she learned that we had arrived in Taiwan she asked us to come visit them in Hsinchu. We decided to make it an epic day-trip, which would give us an excuse to ride on Taiwan’s High Speed Rail network.
The High Speed Rail runs down the west side of the country, which is by far the most populous side holding about 90% of the people. Securing a ticket proved easy; we just went to Taipei Main Station, bought return tickets at a vending machine, and then lined up with the other folks in the ‘non-reserved seat’ queue. These tickets were cheaper than booking ahead online, but there was no guarantee that a seat would be available. It was a Saturday, and we got seats, so I think we made the right choice.
When we cycled down to (near) Hsinchu, it took us 9 hours with two of those hours spent simply getting out of Taipei on the cycleway. By comparison, the fast train took only 30 minutes. It’s interesting, because riding the train was so smooth and quiet that it didn’t appear to be going particularly fast, even though it has a top speed of 300 km/h. We both realised just how fast these things fly when we were waiting to return to Taipei at the end of the day; a train that wasn’t stopping at our station appeared in the distance, was suddenly screaming past us with sparks shooting off the pantographs (what is the name of the thing on top of a train that the wires touch, I asked Google), and then it was gone in the opposite distance before we could resume exhaling.
Maria and Robert met us with their respective scooter and motorbike, and I rediscovered the almost forgotten joy of screaming through traffic on a two-wheeled death machine. We’re going to a waterfall was all we knew, and so we enjoyed the ride into the mountains surrounding Hsinchu. Soon, at a small eatery in the hills run by a no-nonsense woman, we met a group of other foreigners who were also completeing their PhDs. Several countries were represented – Poland, Iran, Mexico and Sri Lanka – and the the universal language of English was spoken. The entrance to the trek was close, and we soon all set off together.
Maria and Robert were adventurous souls, and had thoroughly explored the mountainous region around Hsinchu as well as huge chunks of the rest of Taiwan. They loved rock climbing, mountain trekking, and river tracing (which, for the uninitiated, is a popular sport in Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan where you trek/swim/climb down rivers and then smash your way through the bush back to civilization afterwards). They were jungle people, and Robert (even though he wasn’t one) resembled a professional guide with his sure footing, dry bag, and calm demeanor.
The hike to the waterfall was an easy 30-minute walk through a bamboo forest and a jungle full of butterflies, and when we arrived at the falls it looked like a movie set.
By the time we finished jumping and swimming and trekking, it was about 4 p.m. Our hosts suggested driving to a nearby spot they they’d never explored. It was called Frog Rock, and access could be found in the form of a wooden walkway and staircase leading down into the gorge.
The path, however, was blocked off with construction equipment and tape presumably reading ‘do not cross’. This was where is was good to be with adventurous people; after a minimal discussion we clambered over all the construction equipment and headed down the path. The surrounding jungle was encroaching the walking route after several months with no easy access, but it was clear enough so that we could easily make it all the way down. There, we were gifted in our efforts with a magnificent waterfall cascading down a narrow canyon, bouncing from one side to the other. We found the river’s edge by clambering down rocks, crossed it, then made our way up the other side to the green swimming hole at the foot of the falls.
Night was falling as we exited the bush, and after some delicious (and pretty legitimate) Thai food for dinner our hosts dropped us back at the train station. After a whole day of clambering over rocks and through rivers with no injuries, I managed to hurt my knee by smashing it against a metal post at the foot of the escalator going up the the train platform. I’m not sure if that’s ironic or not.