April 15, 2015
Just back from a work/play trip to Taiwan and for anyone who has never been, like me, I just assumed it was a flat tropical island. I could not have been more wrong. Taiwan turned out to be a rugged but verdant paradise not to be believed. Massive peaks rise to nearly 13,000 feet nearly straight out of the South China Sea. As a narrow island, on clear days from these summits you can see both the Taiwanese Strait and the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. However, the real gems are the people. Their generosity, friendliness, and overwhelming hospitality made the whole trip more than we could have imagined. Our guide and incredible host, I-Chiau, went above and beyond to make sure our visit to Taiwan would be one to remember.
Photo Credits: Rob Raker
(Here I am with our amazing guide I-Chiau)
I-Chiau was most gracious in making us feel right at home while in Taiwan. He drove us everywhere, arranged for kayaking and climbing, took us sightseeing around Taipei, and most importantly, hooked us up with some of the most incredible local eats! The latter came in handy when my good buddy Rob Raker hit his milestone 60th birthday while we were on the island. And if you know Rob, you know he does everything in life with gusto, including EAT!
I-Chiau knew right where to take us for a fitting celebration - for what else but Din Tai Fung (Taiwanese dumplings)? Located in the lower mall complex of Taipei 101, the tallest building in Taipei, they are renowned the world over for their delicious dumplings, known locally as “Xiao Long Bao”. Needless to say, a good time was had by all and we left stuffed!
Lower Mall Complex of Taipei 101 Photo Credits: Rob Raker
Conveniently, as the photographer, Rob avoided any incriminating images of him wolfing down dumplings, so I'll have to be the stand in.
The climbing in Taiwan is incredible. An American, Matt Robertson, wrote a fantastic guide book on climbing in Taiwan with a comprehensive description of over 600 routes on the popular Long Dong Wall. My climbing partner Rob Raker and I spoke to Matt by phone and he was more than happy to share the local beta. We also got more help from a friend, Steve Chang, who lives here in Colorado and made the introduction to I-Chiau, whom as I have mentioned, really took care of us from start to finish.
About an hour outside of Taipei, the base of Long Dong is literally at the edge of the East China Sea on the northeast side of the island. It was really cool to listen to the waves lapping below us as we tackled the various climbs. Composed of very rough, compact, bullet-hard sandstone, most of the routes are bolted for sport climbing and are around 30 meters long. After 2 solid days of climbing we left with some very sore fingers and hands.
In typical Taiwanese style, the local climbing community was super welcoming to us, and we made many new acquaintances and made plans for future adventures. Shout out to our new friends, Stephen, Mei Ling, Maurice, Ofelia, Chung-Da, Cheang Qing, and Victree!
Long Dong Wall Photo Credits: Rob Raker
Our last great adventure in Taiwan began with a high speed train ride with our now good friend I-Chiau. The train took us from Taipei over to the east coast to the city of Hualein. From here we launched our kayaks.
The surf to get away from shore was very rough with probably six foot waves. So, after several minutes of hammering paddling, and some good timing on Rob’s part as our tandem captain, we made it past the breakers and into some really nice rolling waves. We paddled twelve miles up the coast, which really gave you a fantastic view of this less populated side of the island. When we decided to head back to shore Rob and I were able to time the waves just right and ride the surf in, but our brave friend I-Chiau and the kayak guide were not so lucky; they got completely “endo-ed”! I-Chiau has only been kayaking one other time in his life, and not for some time at that, so it was definitely a great effort on his part - no fear!
We ate lunch on a deserted beach that in America would have been surrounded by multi-million dollar homes, but in Taiwan many of the beaches are inaccessible by road because of the sheer cliffs alongside the ocean.
At last we took out on another beach and made our way through a small farm where we were picked up and taken back to Hualein.
Photo Credits: Michael Huang
Our trip was coming to an end, and as Rob and I started our journey home from Taiwan, we were wandering through the airport with a few Taiwan dollars still in our pocket. We stumbled across a business which offered up traditional Taiwanese massage. The coolest part was that the therapists were blind; in many Asian countries, massage is an industry reserved for the blind.
So the irony of a blind guy finding a massage table with the help of a blind masseuse wasn’t lost on me. Turns out, it was one of the best massages I’ve ever had, and even better was that he had no idea I was blind until afterwards when I snapped together my long white cane and handed it to him. It towered over his head as he felt it in amazement and then gathered together his colleagues to check it out as well.
Photo Credit: Rob Raker
We had fun comparing our talking watches too. Photo Credit: Rob Raker
From rock climbing to sea kayaking, even Taiwanese dumplings (Din Tai Fung), and a fantastic massage, we had many amazing and memorable adventures in Taiwan!