Thursday, July 6, 2017

Hualien (花蓮) - Taroko (太魯閣) Travel Series - Swallow Grotto Trail/Yanzikou (燕子口步道) [Travel in Taiwan 170705: A Midsummer Night's Dream Part 1]


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The east coast of Taiwan. A place my girlfriend had always wanted to see. A place I've always wanted to take her. It would be her first time to see Taroko and the hot air balloons in Taitung. My number one fan and critic of my travelogues was her with me. Sitting beside me. I locked her in my embrace and held her hand as our train ran fast along the shore in the Pacific Ocean. We closed our eyes as we begin to think of a wonderful dream.

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Escaping the noise of the Taipei was one great feat. We fled not to the woods but to a valley that had been cut by the strong current of the Liwu River. Yanzikou. In English, it means the Swallow Grotto Trail. A haven for geologists. An amazing scenic spot for tourists. It is the best place to see in Taroko. 

Patience is a virtue in Hualien. If you are a person who is in a hurry to see everything then take the expensive taxi tour. But if you are on a tight budget, then board the Taiwan Tour Bus in front of Hualien Bus Station. It is cheap and on-time. A 1-Day Pass for NTD 250 can bring you too many places in the national park. If a day trip is not enough then go for the NTD 400 2-Day Pass.

At the entrance of the Swallow Grotto Trail



My girlfriend couldn't believe what she saw as the Taiwan Tour Bus passed by between mountains and enter tunnels. After one hour, we reached the entrance of the Swallow Grotto Trail with the Zhuilo Old Trail's exit point at its entrance. “Every visitor that enters that dangerous 10-kilometer trail is being counted”, I told my girlfriend as I reminisced about my experience two years ago.


The hanging bridge at the exit of the Zhuilo Old Trail





At the Yanzikou East Trailhead was a hanging bridge. It floats above the big rocks that had been carried down by the Liwu River. On our side was the mountain road that cuts through the cliffs in Taroko. Its rocks were soft enough to be drilled forming artificial caves along the road. They were like hanging knives that can easily puncture one's head once they fall. My girlfriend and I were quick to saw tourists wearing helmets. I asked the guy manning the Zhuilo Old Trail about the helmets but I got disappointed with his answer. “It is safe. Just be careful”, said the guy.


Can you see me?



We took many couple selfies at the start of the Swallow Grotto Trail until a strong wind blew my girlfriend's hat off her head. She followed it as it enters the rocky tunnels in Yanzikou. It was the start of her nightmare. The moment my girlfriend realized that she was standing above the cliff, she felt like falling below on the river. The thrill of being in Taroko. Seeing its marvelous marble cliffs is the one thing that keeps visitors coming back to this place. That's the case for most tourists. But for my girlfriend, the experience was a bit different, she experienced some sort of vertigo.






The cabin in Yanzikou which also serves as a restaurant
The view from the restaurant

Jinheng Bridge
As we walked towards the Jinheng Bridge, she felt that the mountains were about to fall on her. It was too big. Too large to engulf everyone in the park! She took a rest in a restaurant while I continued the exploration. Most visitors would return back to where the Bus 1133A stop is located but those on a private tour would probably have to walk towards the West Trailhead where their service vehicle is waiting.

Walking above Jinheng Bridge
The view from Jinheng Bridge


Can you recognize in this photo the Indian Chief Rock?

Liwu River







The view at the West Trailhead of Yanzikou


I was so curious to see what's on the end of the trail. There were fewer visitors here after passing by the Jinheng Bridge. The scenery was the same compared to the start of the trail only that the gorge had become narrower. There will a come a point that there will be a tall mountain wall in front of you. It was so high that I too felt dizzy looking at it. The sound of the rushing Liwu River making its way towards the Indian Chief Rock reminded of the dangers of falling rocks.


My girlfriend and I walked back to the bus stop to catch the Taiwan Tour Bus going to Hualien Station.
After I reached the end of the 1.4 kilometer Swallow Grotto Trail, I returned to the restaurant where my girlfriend was waiting for me. She had regained her energy and enthusiasm to continue our journey on the east coast of Taiwan. Our quest in Taroko was over and we have decided to move to another place. To the land of Taiwan’s myths, origins, and legends. Taitung! (To be continued…)

Notes:
1. The Swallow Grotto Trail is closed during or after typhoons, earthquakes, and heavy rainfall.
2. Public transportation options:
a. Bus 302 (Xincheng Station -> Tianxiang)
*A one-day ticket costs NTD 150
Departure times from Xincheng Station: 7:10/8:00/9:40/10:30/11:20/13:00/13:50/14:40/15:30/16:20/17:10
Departure times from Tianxiang: 8:50/9:40/10:30/11:20/13:00/13:50/14:40/15:30/16:20/17:10/18:00/18:50

b. Bus 1126
[1] Bus 1126 (Hualien New Station -> Luoshao)
*This bus starts from Hualien Station. Only one bus leaves at 6:30 am and it returns the following morning from Luoshao at 8:40 am.

c. Bus 1133 (Hualien -> Tianxiang)
Departure times from Hualien Station: 10:50 and 13:50
Departure times from Tianxiang: 14:00 and 16:40

d. Bus 1133A [Taiwan Tour Bus Taroko Route] (Hualien -> Tianxiang)
Departure times from Hualien Station: 7:00/8:30/9:10/10:00/11:10/12:00/13:20/14:10/15:10
Departure times from Xincheng Station: 7:33/9:03/9:43/10:33/11:43/12:33/13:53/14:43/15:43
Departure times from Swallow Grotto Trail (going to Hualien Station): 8:52/10:12/10:52/11:52/13:02/14:22/15:12/16:02/17:12

e. Bus 1141 (Hualien→Taichung(Lishan))
*Only one bus leaves Hualien Station at 8:40 am. The bus returns from Lishan at 3:00 pm
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