October 23: First Day Out! Quarantine successfully completed! Ximen @ street level, Ba Yan Ye Xi Hotsprings in Jinshan district, and a Birthday dinner. Woweeee… flying high, friends! First things first – wishing Kaya a very happy 27th birthday. She is life’s gift that keeps giving in new and surprising ways – feeling blessed.
It’s raining, but that won’t stop me from an early morning walk to experience the hotel’s neighbourhood at street level. Wow, what a world of colour and visual effects! How alive! How mesmerizing! To see what was invisible from my window above, to look and walk down alleys and around the corner. So cool! Colourful graffiti murals, hidden gardens, parks, plazas, blooms hanging from balconies, doorways, an old temple hidden among it all… I just want to keep going but have put myself on a schedule, so head back to check out.
The hotel staff is most helpful in organizing a cab to my next destination and write down the address in Chinese characters for me – this will come in handy when communicating with cab drivers in the future, I’m sure. The staff won’t accept a tip, are all smiles and bows – so very hospitable. Thank you! Thank you! And I think we’re also glad to see each other go – I’m no longer their responsibility, they are no longer my wardens. 🙂
Only briefly visiting my new abode, I drop my luggage off, find my bearings, directions to the closest MRT station and am off to meet Kaya for breakfast and a trip to the Ba Yan Ye Xi Hotsprings. On the way to her house, I get a little lost as google maps guides me into a courtyard and garage, but am actually just around the corner from her place. Hugs and more hugs, so glad to be reunited. A text arrives from Taiwan CECC informing me that I need to be cautious in public for the next seven days and that they will continue to check in with me daily for the week about my health. “The CECC cares about you.” Hmm, okay. This too shall pass…
We have delicious breakfast down the street, then take the MRT heading north, arriving at Qiangxin station where we pick up some snacks, then run for the bus that will take us to Jinshan in Yangmingshan National Park, north of Taipei. If we miss this one, the next leaves in an hour, so better be quick! First cardio exercise in a while – I’m huffing and puffing, glad to sink back into my seat for the ride. After leaving the city behind, the narrow road takes us up into the mountains following a twisty course. Very windy, indeed. The kind of windy where you have to look out the window to not get motion sick, and are rewarded by beautiful vistas of hillsides covered in tropical forests, grasses, bamboo, and higher up views all the way to the sea… I love how quickly one can leave the busy streets of Taipei behind. At times the slopes are blanketed in mist, then it rains, we disappear in clouds – ever-changing. Kaya tells me that during her last couple of trips to Jinshan they were right in the rainclouds, couldn’t see a thing, and the ride took much longer.
After 45 minutes or so we get off, somewhere along the road, and head down a smaller road, which leads us to the trailhead. It’s about a 20 minute hike up through lush vegetation, accompanied by the many different sounds water can make (trickle, run, rush, fall), by birdsong here and there, and butterflies! I counted at least five different kinds on this walk – too fast to snap a photo. I’m a kid in wonderland, keenly in touch with the magic of this world. Kaya looks at me and laughs. “Mum, you’re just like someone coming out of a Vipassana retreat!” Yes!
Around the bend, we meet an obstacle – a river crossing which at first seems a bit daunting. The water is much higher and the current stronger than at Kaya’s previous visits – shall we dare it? How best? Can we trust the rope and our physical strength? We do. Slowly, cautiously, finding the large rocks that can lift us above the strong current, reaching feet across, holding on to the rope. Oh yes, and of course we changed into our bathing suits first and packed clothes and shoes away. Exhilarating! Fun! Success! Another hiker watches us, then shakes his head (no, he won’t try), and turns around.
Onwards we go, not too far now, past a fence and sign (that might be telling us to stay out), we arrive at the natural hot springs (versus the private bath rooms you can rent further down in Bayan). Beautiful! The scalding hot water of the spring mixing with the cool river water in pools that many hands have made over time and that keep being shifted by water rushing down. Steam rising, a few raindrops or is it just the moisture dripping off the tree canopy? Only a handful of people dared the river crossing and are enjoying the soak and massage of the rushing water. We try out various pools, give the skin a mud treatment, lounge, meditate, heat up, cool down, stretch and relax… watch the river flow. What a life!
I want to stay into the evening, but we have to catch the 4pm bus to make it back in time for her birthday dinner! Off we go, another river crossing, this time I slip, land softly but immersed in the water, kaya grabbing my backpack and holding onto me. We laugh, I pull myself out and we move on quickly. Somewhere along the way we change into dry clothes, and manage to meet the bus with just a minute to spare, again huffing and puffing (me). What a fun trip!
Dinner at the Uyghur restaurant is a blast. There are fourteen of us, it’s family style, everything is shared, including the beer. Plus a round of birthday songs in four languages (English, French, Chinese, and German). Some familiar faces from my last visit, many new ones, and so many good conversations. Doug introduces me to eating chicken feet which are a very common snack in Taiwan, kinda like chicken wings in North America – I won’t… I can’t… yet… ever? We talk about everything Taiwan, about teaching, languages, food, being vegan, travels and so on. No talk about Covid or the US elections. A wonderful group of expats from around the globe. Some of us continue to a bar for drinks – it’s after midnight when I take an “Uber” home and gratefully fall into my bed, fast asleep in seconds.
What a first day out! What a fun birthday celebration! What a life. Thank you!
The next day, I sleep in, settle in, and get to know Taipei biking and walking… stay tuned. 🙂