February 24th, with Covid19 on the horizon but not yet in clear view, I started a one month itinerary document for a trip to Taiwan. I never imagined that my plan for a quick run-around of the island would turn into over six months of lockdown.
But to my surprise, Taiwan proved to be abundant in interesting places to see and things to do, immeasurably adept in dealing with a pandemic, and very welcoming to stateless wanderers like myself
Before the virus really took root globally, I was in the north of India trying to reignite the spark of traveling after feeling isolated and unfulfilled in tourist-run Rishikesh. I decided last minute that it was time for a quick run home to Canada, something that has been a rare event in the past 4 or so years on the road. With an absurdly expensive last minute flight from Delhi, I returned home to the icy February cold of my small alpine town in British Columbia.
While cooped up at home for a month, and in typical traveler fashion - I quickly decided that my future was back in Israel; a country I spent nearly 2 years in, and the home of my partner, friends, and career. As comfortable as Canada may be, the thought of subsequently becoming stuck there didn’t appeal to me. At this point, C19 was still new and borders were open, so I saw a chance to move on and wait for my Israeli visa abroad. That’s when my Taiwan planning began.
But why Taiwan? In my mind Taiwan was this jewel of brilliant culture mixed with familiar comforts. My friends all reviewed the country well, and I imagined it as a haven for travelers. Not too expensive, just different enough, and highest on the list - experienced with handling deadly viruses.
But things quickly took a turn for the worse, just days prior to my flight from YVR to TPE - Italy, the first country of many began to close their borders. Following in tow, on March 19th Taiwan would do the same. Somehow, randomly, I managed to sneak through the smallest possible window of opportunity, because it wasn’t until March 13th that Taiwan issued mandated quarantine on arrival. However, as a responsible traveler, I self-isolated the best I could and only ventured out for essentials those first two weeks.
Once I could safely say I was Covid-free, my exploring began, and boy does Taiwan not disappoint. From Taipei, in a clockwise direction I hit almost every major site. First I started with the North in the geologically diverse area of Shimen and Jinshan - Found rich culture in Keelung, and Ruifang. Headed east by train to see the marvelous beauty of Hualien’s Taroko Gorge. Continued down the coast to rainy Taitung. Took a miserable ferry to Green Island, and saw massive corals. Endured the long bus to Kenting for pristine beaches. Eventually, I relaxed in Kaohsiung, and found a community on Lambai. I traversed narrow streets on bicycle in Tainan, and climbed through misty tea plantations in Alishan. With months under my belt at this point, I headed back to Taipei, where I sit writing this entry.
I will go into further detail about each city later on, but I would like to end this post by thanking Taiwan for being the most gracious host. The country welcomed me in, at a time of uncertainty, and has continually extended my stay without need of any application. Taiwan has been precise and hard-hitting with it’s C19 restrictions, but has maintained an environment of compassion and understanding. I am grateful for choosing such a warm place to get trapped in. It is August as I write this, five months after arriving, and it’s likely I will stay months longer. Taiwan will always be a second home to me, a place of refuge, and a light amidst such dark times.
As a traveler who has seen a handful of Asian cities and fell completely in love with every single one of them, Beijing left a lot to be desired. The city left me feeling unusually lost and isolated. This all faded when we made our first few steps into one of the Hutongs.
Golden dogs and stand guard upon red, gold, turquoise, and cobalt backdrops. Stone fountains sit motionless, without water to run through them. The Imperial Garden floods you with greenery and you understand why it sits beyond the Gate of Terrestrial Tranquility.