Without a doubt, one of my fondest memories from Taiwan comes from a nearly disastrous road trip. It all started with good intentions, open minds and a touch of naive optimism, like any great adventure.
My parents were visiting at the time, so we took the opportunity to explore Taiwan’s famous Taroko Gorge. It’s funny how one minute you can be taking in the breathtaking views and enjoying the crisp mountain air, and the next moment you are alone in your Ford Festiva, holding on for dear life, while yor family is a car ahead, dragging you along.
Taroko Gorge is like Taiwan’s Grand Canyon. It is stunning. The sky blue Liyu River runs through it, creating an auditory and visual fiesta. Like ice cream for the senses. The road meanders through dark caves, providing photogenic vistas at every turn and numerous opportunities to get out and pose with the quintessential Taiwanese sign. Peace! It is also where much of the country’s jade comes from, adding to the mystique of this phenomenal journey.
Driving through the Gorge in our 92 Festiva, which we bought for 900 dollars and named Rojita, seemed perfectly sensible. I think that being an expat often causes a hightened sense of invincibility.
After driving through the tunnels and along the emerald waters, the road begins to climb and the scenery turns from gorge to mountains. The efficiency of the Rojita’s motor also turned from happy law mower to overwhelmed go cart. Completely out of its league and being passed at each turn by more approprtely equipped SUVs, Rojita slowly puttered up each subsequent hill with diminishing gusto. It’s white flag emerging from the rusted hood. At this point my mom was starting to worry a bit, as she does. Considering that their flight back to California was the next day, maybe she had a point.
At each plateaue I revved the engine and tried running up the hill. After this ceased being effective, my mom, dad, wife and dog Bones got out and pushed us up the next hill. Then a hairpin turn came that screamed at Rojita, and essentially made it soil it’s pants, bringing her to a whimpering halt, white flag raised.
We could go no further. All logic pointed towards this being Rojita’s last hurrah. We were hitch hiking home for sure. The good thing about a 900 dollar car is that you just accept it’s inevitable demise and that you may need to leave it behind as a permanent monument of the gorge or whatever journey you may be on. Our thumbs were ready.
Thankfully, the Taiwanese are the most hospitable people in the world. A family saw us in our desperate situation and offered to help. So, I took a rope out of the trunk and tied Rojita to their bumper. With all the family plus Bones joining the Taiwanese family I was left alone with one foot hovering over the break pad like a hummingbird over a feeder.
With no more than four feet separating me from my tow and 100 foot drops laughing at me on either side, I prayed that each hill was the final plataue. At one point we bulldozed straight through a wedding photo shoot, horns blaring, as any stop or slow might end our progress and cause a crash.
Eventually we made the peak, high-fived, drank beers, and took photos with our new friends, as we breathed in the high altitude relief.
With each passing year since the Taroko Triumph, my parents, Tahnee and I retell the story at least once to a new friend. With each telling, the story’s significance in family lore galvanizes. If we had rented a more appropriate car, we wouldn’t have the same story. A much more adventurous story was meant to be. It remains as a reminder that a real adventure often needs a touch of naive optimism, an open mind and a willingness to embrace the journey. The view from the top is always sweeter when you have to brush shoulders with disaster to get there.