Throwing Out the Rule Book: Getting Lost in Taiwan
Planning is often crucial when it comes to solo travel. However, there is something to be said about throwing out the rule book (or highly organized excel sheets in my case!) and going somewhere without knowing where the adventure will lead you. I decided to try this out on my trip to Taiwan, and it easily became my favorite memory. I was in Taiwan for a week to attend a seminar at a Buddhist monastery. I and a few friends were trying to figure out what to do on our one free day before our departure. Let me tell you about how I got purposefully lost in Taiwan.
One friend, Amine, and myself catch a cab and ask to be taken to the general city train station in Kaohsiung. This is the main port city in southern Taiwan. We haggle the price with the driver and are on our way, sweating from nerves, but blaming it on the dense summer heat. Amine had met a local friend at the seminar who had written down tips on a small yellow sticky note. It was a list of ten different random train line numbers, with a few key words about what could be found on each of them. One of them so descriptively said “ice cream.” So we chose that one…obviously.
This means we have to find our way through a foreign station, figure out how to buy a pass without any English on the confusing machines, and find the line that we are meant to take and hope for the best. Finally, we figure it out and it feels like the biggest accomplishment. Sometimes, travel makes you feel so grateful for completing even the smallest tasks. Everything around you is so unfamiliar and unknown. Therefore, figuring out the small things means that you are one step closer to comfort in your chosen destination.
From there, we throw out the trusty rule book, replace it with a small yellow sticky note, and let our train tell us where we need to be. As we get on the train we realize it is so clean. Apparently in Taiwan, eating or drinking anything is not allowed on the train. We sit in this pristine and heavenly air conditioned compartment until it reaches the last stop. As we exit the station we realize we have traveled from the hustle and bustle of the urban sprawl into the quiet weekend life of a suburban village. Stepping into the small village center leads us head first into a private life filled with mostly Taiwanese families and people going about their days, riding bikes around, grocery shopping, and eating at cafes.
Sometimes, travel makes you feel so grateful for completing even the smallest tasks. Everything around you is so unfamiliar and unknown.
It is the farthest thing from a tourist location, which is probably why everyone stares at us. After having spent 4 weeks in China prior to this trip, staring does not faze me anymore. As a young white female traveling in lesser-visited areas of China and Eastern Asia, staring is about as common as bubble tea.
We cross the street and see a grocery store and decide to check it out to see if we can find the “ice cream” we are looking for, the whole reason we came here. We find small tubs of chocolate ice cream with wooden spoons that look fairly unassuming. That is, until we realize that it is made right here with sugar from a nearby sugar plantation. As we sit down and enjoy our fresh ice cream pints (one each, obviously), we see that there are bikes for rent per hour. This leads to us saying the very well-known travel phrase, “Why not?!”
Amine and I get on the bikes and ride up and down the street a few times, looking like lost American fools not knowing how to bike with the traffic and riding past amused customers at the cafe back and forth. Finally, we pick a direction and ride through a tiny park. I see a small path leading to an unknown area, and since there is no sign saying specifically that we can’t go, we decide to try it out. I absolutely love taking tiny paths to unknown places and seeing where they lead, because you never know what you may find.
I felt like I had this secret experience, all my own, and Taiwan would seem a little different now, after blessing me with this small adventure.
As we turn onto the bike path we approach another turn, and then another, and follow a seemingly endless trail. Finally, the scenery changes from a twisted path to a straight road, running alongside a beautiful sugar plantation, with sugar cane as far as we can see. This is it! The plantation where our delicious ice cream is made. The path is lined with trees and bushes, and there is no one else around. We go on a long and wonderful bike ride in the afternoon sun before heading back to the train, happy and renewed with the memory of our unexpected adventure.
That night, as we made our way back to the Monastery, I felt that familiar feeling that comes after experiencing something so new and different, that those around me have not; luck. I felt like I had this secret experience, all my own, and Taiwan would seem a little different now, after blessing me with this small adventure.
In the end, the unexpected will usually pleasantly surprise you, exceed your expectations, and allow you on a truly individual and unforgettable experience. It might be terrifying, it might be completely out of your comfort zone, but it will feel like an adventure because you threw your hands in the air and let fate do its work. Sometimes you just need to trust that you will find something worth finding. Take a train, bus, car, dinghy, sail boat, tuk-tuk, or bike to an unknown destination. Some treasure will always reveal itself.