Friday, September 23, 2016

the missed bus to Longdong

I'm always a little surprised when Taiwan throws us a curve ball. I kinda feel like we've been here long enough that nothing is surprising anymore, and that we are pros at navigating life in Taiwan and all it entails. 

Of course, Taiwan decided to throw us a curve ball when my friend was in town when we were trying to take her some place awesome: Longdong.

I've written about Longdong before (and giggled a little at its name many times). We hung out at Longdong for Sean's birthday because he loves rock climbing and these are Taiwan's best rocks to climb. 

We wanted to take my friend somewhere beautiful and outside of Hsinchu City, and as a typhoon was fast approaching, Taiwan seemed like a great and easy day trip. 

The last time we went to Longdong, we took a cab. 

Mostly we did this because most of the blogs we read mentioned how remote and random Longdong is. We didn't really trust ourselves to be able to find it from the bus stop. However, since we took the bus back from Longdong to Taipei the last time, we knew we could find the right bus stop, Longdong from the bus stop, and we knew when the buses ran. 

What we didn't expect was how hard it was going to be to find the bus station in Taipei! 

We have taken many buses from Taipei to other places, like Wulai, Pingxi, Yehliu and Juifen. All of those bus stops were super easy to find and figure out. Actually, it is shocking how well organized Taiwan's public transportation is, especially for people who don't understand Chinese. 

So we arrived in Taipei with our friend and a bus number. The two morning buses to Longdong run at 9a.m. and at 10am. 

We arrived in Taipei in time to catch the 10a.m. bus for Longdong because, let's face it, sleeping in is always the better choice.  

We wandered from Taipei Main Station to the nearby main Taipei bus station, only to find it was entirely the wrong station. 

Buses left from that station to all the towns near Longdong, they just didn't actually stop in Longdong. We were given directions by at least three people to the correct smaller bus station, yet we could just not find it. It was hilarious and maddening at the same time. 

In the end, after at least 30 minutes of wandering around and consulting signs and maps, which also happened to be just enough time to miss the last bus to Longdong, we found the small, poorly marked bus stop. 

So, in the end, we took a cab. 

But this time, we paid the cabbie to hang around while we explored. 

I think he had a great day at Longdong too! 

And I'm sure my friend was like: seriously, you guys?! How long have you lived here and you can't find a bus stop?!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

a Pacific Northwest road trip, Part V: The Hoh Rain Forest

I'm not sure if a place greener than the Hoh Rain Forest exists on Earth. From the moment you take a left off Highway 101 in northwestern Washington to drive deep into the heart of the temperate rain forest, green (and brown) becomes the color of the landscape. 

Most people are shocked to learn that Washington State, and the Pacific Northwest as a matter of fact, has a rain forest. Most people, when they hear the word rain forest, conjure up images of the Amazon. The rain forest in Washington is nothing like the rain forest in South America, and for a good reason. The Hoh Rain Forest is a temperate rain forest and the Amazon Rain Forest is a tropical one. 

Temperate rain forests are called such because of the climate the live in. Same for tropical. While I've never been to Brazil or South America, I wager the climate is very, very different than Washington State's climate. Washington has a temperate climate. That means it has mild winters and a lot of rainfall (the Hoh gets 12 - 14 feet of annual rain fall). The trees of a temperate rain forest are tall and seasonal. The other really cool thing about temperate rain forests is the ages of the trees. While trees in a tropical rain forest are typically between the ages of 50 - 100 years old, trees in a temperate rain forest are often 500 - 1,000 years old! 

Crazy cool, huh? 

This map below shows the world's temperate rain forests:
There aren't many of them. How lucky we are to live (both in Washington State and Taiwan-- look at that map again! Our scoots to Sheipa take us high into the mountains and into the beautiful temperate rain forest of Taiwan.) in a place with such a spectacular rain forest for us to explore!

Over summer, we drove to the Hoh while we were camping. The drive from Mora Campgrounds to the rain forest was supposed to take 45 minutes, however, it ended up taking much longer, but only because we got stuck in three road construction spots. Usually, the drive into the forest is scenic and somewhat lonely. This is, after all, literally in the middle of nowhere. It takes anyone a long time to reach the Hoh from anywhere. 

Instead of a peaceful drive through towering trees, our drive was full of traffic jams and loud construction equipment. 

Ce la vie.

Once we passed the final construction spot, the route returned to the idyllic one I remembered from our last trip here a few years ago. 
When we came before-- which was years ago, and we must have been 20 years old at the time-- we didn't realize you had to pay to park. 

Since we only had our debit cards, which the ranger would not accept, we ended up striking a deal. We would only stay 15 minutes and then turn right back around and leave. I think the ranger felt bad for us. After all, it was quite a trek to get there. Sean ended up running a 2 mile loop through the rain forest. This was long before my running days, so I ended up going to the bathroom. Suffice it to say, we left pretty dang disappointed and swore to return one day and do the Hoh right. 

This time, we brought plenty of cash so we could actually park and explore some trails. Funny enough, though, the park is completely different now and rangers can actually take debit card payments. We had to laugh a little at that turn of events. 

We parked and consulted the entrance sign. 

There are two short trails and one really long one that requires overnight camping in the bush. We trekked down the Hall of Mosses trail, which is a .8 mile loop, and the Spruce Nature Trail, which is a 1.2 mile loop. We want to return one day and hike the Hoh River Trail, which one-way to Blue Glacier is 18 miles.  

Before we do that, though, we will need to invest in some serious hike-in camping gear. 

Our walks, while short, were still spectacular. 

The murky blue Hoh River, which is a 50 mile river that is born in the mountains and ends in the Pacific Ocean, runs along side the Spruce Nature Trail. The river front is wilderness at its finest. The Hall of Mosses has beautiful old growth trees and hungry elk, birds, and chipmunks. 

It's a shame that so many people who visit Washington State never even make it over to the Olympic Peninsula, let alone this gem of a rain forest tucked away in the northwestern corner of the state. 

This, after all, is truly the Pacific Northwest at its best.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

a Pacific Northwest road trip, part IV: Second Beach

The hike from the highway to Second Beach is only .7 miles, but it sure is a dramatic .7 miles. The trail starts on the Quileute Native Nation reservation but finishes on official Olympic National Park territory. 

The trail winds past towering Sitka spruce trees (which my husband just had to climb) with gnarled and knotted limbs growing beards of bright green moss. The trail begins to switch back as it nears the Pacific, and breathtaking views of the ocean and sea stacks appear (if  the fog cooperates) from in between branches. 
And while the short hike down is stunning, nothing beats actually strolling along Second Beach. 

From the fog covered shore (fog seems to be Second Beach's favorite outfit), the ocean appears to be punctuated with infinite sea stacks. Some are tall and jagged. Others are short and wide. Some are covered in tall lush trees. Others are naked. 

When the thick fog lifts, even if only for a few seconds, a ginormous sea stack or a group of smaller sea stacks appear. Then, as quickly as they appeared, they are swallowed up again by the blanket of fog that seems to forever hover over this region of Washington State. 

I don't care how many times I say it: there is nothing more beautiful or mysterious or intriguing than a rugged, fog covered, rocky Pacific Northwest Beach. Or maybe I only think that because this is my true home.  

While I have many favorite Washington State beaches, this one is my secret favorite favorite. I've been to Second Beach quite a few times, but every time feels like the first time. I am still awed by the sea stacks emerging from the fog. I still need to pluck up the courage to climb the tallest sea stack on the beach so I can enjoy the best views.

And I hope that never changes.