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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

driving Taiwan's east rift valley

When Taiwan was colonized by Portugal in the late 19th century, it was known as Ilha Formosa, meaning Beautiful Island. Most days, it does not seem like I live on a beautiful island. We live on Taiwan's populous, developed west coast; the air quality here is often poor, and many days, all I see for miles and miles are ugly, towering cement buildings and overcrowded roads.

I wanted to take this road trip around Taiwan for a few reasons. One was so we would actually have pictures of our daughter out and about in Taiwan so we could show her where she spent the first 14 months of her life. Another huge motivating factor for me was that I wanted to change my attitude about Taiwan. I feel like I have been just getting through this year, waiting for our next adventure of moving back to the Pacific Northwest. I wanted to remember all the reasons why I fell in love with Taiwan years ago, one of which being how gorgeous this island can be if you are in the right places.

I am so grateful for our road trip because it ultimately introduced me to the most beautiful region of this island: the East Rift Valley. This valley runs north and south in between the small towns of Hualien and Taitung on the island's east coast. Provincial Highway 9 runs the length of the whole valley, and it is a spectacular drive as the road is sandwiched in between the central mountain range that runs along the middle of Taiwan and the coastal mountain range that runs along the east coast of Taiwan.

We drove this flat, 3.5 hour long road during its most beautiful season, December to March. During the winter, bright yellow rapeseed flowers bloom in the fields and millions of colorful and large butterflies migrate through this area. We pulled over by a pineapple farm and watched the yellow butterflies in the field for a while. The air was pleasantly war, the sky was blue and dotted with cotton ball clouds, and it was exactly the kind of experience I was looking for when we embarked on our road trip.

If anything, our trip through the East Rift Valley made me feel sad that I have lived here for so long without exploring this region. The valley's main attraction is its bicycle path that runs the entire length of the roadway from Hualien to Taitung. I so wish that we had taken a long weekend to bicycle the East Rift Valley before we got our dog and had our daughter. Now, the best we could do was enjoy our drive while snapping pictures from the dashboard (but doesn't it say something that it is so beautiful through a windshield?!).

I have seen nearly all of Taiwan's most famous tourist attractions like Taipei, Taroko Gorge, Sun Moon Lake, and Kenting, but for me, those places do not hold a candle to the East Rift Valley, and I will be forever convinced that the Portuguese were standing in the middle of the valley when they decided to dub this small Asian island the Ilha Formosa.

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