Taiwan Day 3: Maokong

Today is our last day. I’m never really ready to go home at the end of these trips, but Jenn is. She left right when things were happening at work with a new client, and she feels like she’s missing out. She also really loves our life even if it’s a bit too routine at times for me, so she doesn’t feel quite as discontented as I do.

Again we’re a bit on the late side today, we pack and check out leaving our bags with the front desk. I didn’t want to bring my big camera bag, my feet and shoulders are sore from yesterday so I just bright my camera with the 24-105 lens which sits right in the middle of the focus range. I had wanted to swap the polarizing filter off of my wide angle, but it wouldn’t budge and I didn’t want to spend much time messing with it. It’s all going in my day bag along with a hat and sunglasses.

Today we’re off to the Zoo for the day, and potentially a hike? The little display in Taipei 101 had shown us it looks like it’s up a gondola ride to a ridge overlooking the city which sounded like a nice thing to do. As with Istanbul, we can only really handle city life for a day or two before we’re over it and need some space and nature, and we’re at about that point today.

We walked to the main station and found a pastry shop there for breakfast. I had some pork pastry that was disgusting, but luckily the others had ordered enough to share, and theirs were great. And from the main station we caught 2 trains out into the suburbs of Taipei.

As it turns out you can get to the Zoo’s lower entrance right from the metro station, or you can take the gondola to the upper entrance, but most people take the gondola to the top and a town called Maokong. We wanted the view, so off we went to the top.

In line we realized that they have a few gondola cars with glass bottoms which sounded really cool, but we’d gotten in the wrong line and so were in a normal one. We shared our car with a Taiwanese couple with their cute little daughter visiting from the south. They spoke English very well, and it was great to interact with someone local like this. The scenery from the gondola was pretty spectacular with amazingly steep hills and ridges covered densely in deep green growth. Much of our ride was in a bit of mist and everything was wet.

I also realized holy shit I needed to bring my jacket and I’m freezing! Normally I carry a jacket in my camera bag, but that’s the bag I left behind! Everyone else brought one, just not me! It’s hard to believe a week ago I was snorkeling in the warm waters of the Mergui Islands off the coast of Myanmar, that seems like a world away.

At the top of Maokong are tea plantations, with the area apparently set aside for tea cultivation. There is an area immediately next to the gondola with street vendors selling food, and a road that heads off towards a Tea Appreciation Center of some sort. We keep walking that way and find a number of restaurants with great views of the city down below, mostly selling tea and snacks. We’re not starving but it seems like a great way to spend some time and they do take credit card, so we take a table next to a window with a view, order some tea and food. Chuck gets a salad and it’s been so long since I’ve felt safe to have raw veggies that I’m more than a little envious. Pam wins the ordering however with her honey green tea, that turns out to be not only delicious but different than we imagined. It’s more like green tea that was mad and then steeped further in pear, kumquat and apple with honey in a teapot making for an amazingly floral, fruity, and slightly sweet blend. We spent some time emptying the teapot of its contents and dissecting it to try to figure out how to make it at home. Pam asked the owner what all is in it, but he wouldn’t say, though he did mention it had some Taiwanese apple jam in it. I doubt we’ll be able to replicate it at home, but I’m damn well gonna try.

We carried on to the tea appreciation center a bit before we rounded a corner and realized it must be quite a way down the road, and turned around. A long the way there was a local man with a cat shaved like a lion taking the cat for a walk down the road with a harness. Clearly looking for attention, but boy did he get it!

It was then a gondola ride down most the way back to the bottom to the zoo, this time we got a glass bottom car, which was totally worth the extra wait.

We arrived at the zoo without a lot of time, so we had to be quick. I really wanted to see the Red Pandas, and Jenn wanted to see the White Rhinos since there are so few left. And of course we couldn’t miss the Przewalski’s Horse or the Pandas. We started from the gondola station at the upper part of the zoo which had us next to the Red Pandas and worked our way down to the lower entrance where the Pandas were.

The Red Pandas are more like Red Raccoons really, but they’re so darn cuddly and playful. They really stole the show for me. From there we saw the Asian Black Bear with its white smile of fur across its chest like our puppy Freya. And then the Przewalski’s horse which is an ancient relative to the modern Equine my wife’s family rides.

As we wound our way down the hill we passed the giraffe enclosure right with one inquisitive fellow sticking his head over the wall to check us out. Funny enough, you could see all of the greens around where he did this had been pruned back by people breaking them off to feed the giraffe. And next door to him were a pair of endangered White Rhino. Jenn and I were disappointed that the plaques didn’t say anything about their endangered status, or maybe most importantly of all, that their horns are just made out of keratin like fingernails and do not hold any medicinal value.

And at the end we found the Giant Pandas attracting much of the attention. We were luckily there just before the zoo closed for the day, and 2 of the 3 pandas were outside munching and napping. The glass enclosure allowed me to get some really nice shots, some from over the top.

All in all the zoo though was a bit of a letdown in how large the enclosures were, most were very small, with the animals pacing back and forth habitually. One of the great things about the Belize Zoo was that most of the animals were local to the area, and I think that contributed to their comfort, but that’s not really the case in Taiwan where few of the animals were from local environments.

As the zoo closed we caught our train back to the Main Station. We had Yelped a place, but couldn’t get accurate directions or address and spent way too much time looking around for it before giving up and eating some actually very nice beef noodles at a restaurant near our exit. They were again unable to use my card, but this is the last time it needs to be tried, so hopefully everything will be resolved when my new chipped card comes back home. They were able to use Chuck’s card which meant we had just enough for a taxi to the airport and a couple of those macaroons. Pam though wanted to bring back a box of them, so we got a box from a KFC at the train station, and she changed a $5 at the mall, and we ordered up 12 to go filling the box and using our last bits of change.

Because our flight was so late at night, we had very little traffic getting to the airport which left us with tons of time. Which was great because after we’d checked our bags and gotten into line for security, our check in agent for the airline came and pulled Chuck out of line because there was something in his bag. We continued through and left behind Chuck who had just taken a Xanax to figure out what was wrong with his bag in a foreign country. Good luck Chuck! It turns out the machine was concerned about a battery in his headphones, but once the technician saw what it was, he wasn’t concerned and had him pack it all back up, and we met Chuck on the other side of immigration.

Our flight was delayed 40 minutes, but we ended up arriving in LAX early, which was great, because the new immigration system is super slow, and made Pam and Chuck almost late to their Southwest connection home, except thankfully their flight was also late. We rushed them down to Terminal 1, and got them to the check in counter before finding the FlyAway bus home.

Last time we came through immigration my passport was flagged because someone in England with the same passport number reported their passport lost or stolen, so the automated system for some reason thinks it needs to make me as suspect and I have to go through a second slow line after. The officer had told me to just skip the automated system and fill out the form by hand, which I did this time. Jenn had zipped ahead of me so when I found her I tried to explain I had to go through the “by hand” line and I thought she understood that meant I skipped the automated system, but it hadn’t landed right and when she said ok and I left I thought she was just sticking with her parents. As it turns out skipping the automated system is WAY faster, and I beat basically everyone to the luggage. I just found an agent walking around and told him I was told I had to just go through the non-automated line, and he just helped me get right there. In the future Jenn knows we’re going together through the non-automated line.

We got to bed around 11pm, which isn’t terrible, and hopefully helps us get on schedule.

I’m going to write one more entry after this one to kind of sum up the trip and my thoughts, but it might be a posted a bit later than this one, so keep an eye out.

 

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