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Patagonia: El Chalten

Posted on 25 September 2016 by Dreidel Regala

El Chalten

Week 19

El Chalten

“Oh we love El Chalten. You can do day hikes and there’s no park fee and Fitz Roy is beautiful.”

When somebody tells you this with excitement in their voice and sparkle in their eyes, and you still do otherwise, there must be something wrong with you right? I know this because once upon a time I decided to ignore the sparkle in somebody’s eyes. It’s not something out of habit but I’m running out of funds and Argentina has a lot to do with that.

Fast forward to Puerto Natales, another girl tells me this – “Between Torres del Paine and El Chalten, I’d go for El Chalten. In Torres it’s like walk walk walk then wow walk walk walk then wow. In El Chalten it’s consistently nice.” Now while this kind of description is very subjective (cause I liked Torres del Paine even though I didn’t hike it) it still hit me that I missed it. So I backtracked to Argentina and to this place called El Chalten.

***

Getting there

From Puerto Natales I took a bus to El Calafate (4hrs) then to El Chalten (3hrs) all in one day. I got in town sometime in the afternoon but it should be noted that the bus between El Calafate and El Chalten can sell out especially during peak season. Buy tickets in advance and if coming from Chile, buy it from there cause I got mine at a slightly lower price doing that.

El Chalten

El Chalten

El Chalten is a small town in between mountains. But it is far from being off the beaten path. Nowadays I think it mostly runs for tourism. And almost everyone will be outdoors in Argentina’s trekking capital.

El Chalten

There are restaurants, souvenir shops, and outdoor stores but most of them will not accept credit cards so before heading out, get cash in El Calafate.

Budget options are also not a lot in this town.

Treks

When you wake up in the morning, you can just walk to one end of town (or the other) then start the trek. It’s really that easy and most importantly – free. Sadly though when I woke up it was grey and raining. I could see the diagonal drops of rain, evidence of the winds outside. I was warm from where I was sitting and I could just watch the trekkers passing by the window all day. But I didn’t.

After consuming my unending encounter with bread and butter and jam and dulce de leche for breakfast, I put on my non-waterproof jacket. We’ve been through a lot so I think we can get through a little more Patagonia rain, albeit wet.

Now there are two mainstream day treks in El Chalten: Laguna Torre (for Cerro Torre) and Laguna De Los Tres (for Cerro Fitz Roy). These are the ones I usually hear from people’s raves. A long hike but is possible to do in one day.

El Chalten

But there are also shorter treks for those wanting to take it easy or in my case, if the weather isn’t cooperating. I decided to check out Mirador Fitz Roy instead for my rainy day. It’s more or less 3-4 hours walk back and forth. And along the way there’s a view of Rio de las Vueltas but that area was so much windy I thought I was gonna be blown away and nobody will ever know.

Rio de las Vueltas

Rio de las Vueltas

Fitz Roy

As predicted, there was no Fitz Roy that day. Sigh. One should really have adjustable schedule when in Patagonia to compensate with the weather.

El Chalten

Aside from that it was pretty much an easy hike and there was no chance for me getting lost cause the trail was well defined, felt weird at first though. If you’re still worried, I found that Maps.me covers the trails in the area too. On the way back, side trip to Laguna Capri. On a good day this is a nice short walk from town to see Fitz Roy over a lake.

Laguna Capri

Another day trek that I took but farther than Mirador Fitz Roy, is Laguna Torre. This took me around 6 hours through varied landscape back and forth.

El Chalten

Notice these guys below. This is one of the big difference between trekking in El Chalten and Torres del Paine. You walk without a big pack on your back. Day hikes, yes?

Laguna Torre

El Chalten \

El Chalten

On a good day this gives an awesome view of one of the sharpest climbs in the world – Cerro Torre.

Laguna Torre

Laguna Torre

Laguna Torre

Wait it should be out there somewhere *squint

Cerro Torre

Now my friend here is amazing. Wearing only shorts, a really light leggings, and a non-waterproof jacket (just like me!). Good thing it didn’t rain that day or we’ll be miserable lol.

Laguna Torre

Laguna Torre

Laguna Torre

Laguna Torre

Laguna Torre

Finally, let me say that El Chalten can also be a multi day hike. Although I didn’t have experience on this, the treks I mentioned plus some other farther out can be combined to create a more intense adventure. There are several campsites but I’m not sure if there are refugios like those in Torres del Paine. Most are free though.

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Transsiberian: Where to stop along the way

Posted on 06 August 2016 by Dreidel Regala

Transsiberian

Week 2

Transsiberian

Direction: East to West
Transsiberian lines: Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Siberian
Number of train changes: one
Major stops: Beijing, Ulaanbaatar, and Moscow
Time in train: Approx 127 hours
Visas: Chinese, Mongolian, and Russian

While the main (and probably longest at approximately 7 days) transsiberian route runs from Moscow to Vladivostok, there are other branching routes which goes through China and Mongolia. I would say doing the whole Moscow-Vladivostok vv train is quite extraordinary but I’ll probably be train exhausted in the other end. So the tolerable version is to make stops along the way and enjoy some scenery.

That is what I did when I took the railway last year. I passed by three countries (China, Mongolia, Russia) and made a stop in all three in a span of almost 20 days. The actual time spent in the train was around 5 days. Of course one could easily spend a longer time on each.

Transsiberian

Transsiberian

Terminus #1 | Beijing

Beijing is a destination in itself that is why I don’t see the reason not to make time and see some of it when passing through the city. There’s actually quite a number of things to see there but it’s no question that at the top of it is the Great Wall of China. This should take at least a day out of the train. Tip, don’t go there on a holiday or weekend.

Great Wall of China

Another one is the Forbidden City. This was a palace in the old days but is now a museum. The place reminds me of Chinese movies with kings and queens or royalties in red robes and women in silk dresses. On the flipside, what I didn’t like though are the unbelievable amount of visitors it gets.

Forbidden City

Terminus #2 | Ulaanbaatar

Ulaanbaatar or Ulan Bator is the capital of Mongolia. I have to admit I didn’t quite experience much of UB save for the Naadam festival that I got to watch when I got back from the desert. The festival happens in July wherein competitions in wrestling, archery, and horse racing take place. It’s a weekend affair so allot 3 days out of the train for this.

Naadam festival

Now I’m sure UB has it’s own charm too but what you’ll really like is a roadtrip in the Gobi desert. It’s a rough drive because the Gobi is mostly rocky instead of sand. There are wild horses, lone gers, sand dunes, vast landscapes etc. And if you really want to go deep in the desert you have to at least have 8 days.

Gobi desert

Terminus #3 | Moscow

The transsiberian starts or ends in Moscow and here is maybe a good place to get to know Russia, the creator of the railway. The Red Square is pretty much where you’ll want to be. From here you can walk to Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral.

Red Square

Here’s something interesting, the Moscow metro has some gorgeous stations. Hop on a train and discover the underground architecture.

Novoslobodskaya station

There is also the Cafe Pushkin which first appeared in a song and was later built into reality but that is only after a lot of people have mistaken that it existed even before the song came out. And the setup, let’s just say you can either eat in an old library or a pharmacy.

Cafe Pushkin

Extra | Other possible stops

The stretch from Ulaanbaatar to Moscow is 4-days long. This can be further cut by adding stops in the Russian side.

  • Ulan Ude – Ulan Ude is in Russia but there is a strong Mongolian influence.
  • Irkutsk – If you want to go to Lake Baikal, this is where you should stop.
  • Yekatarinburg – Also called Ekatarinburg. Yekatarinburg is an urban city but it has monuments, churches, and even a Mafia cemetery for the curious.
  • Kazan – Kazan is predominantly Muslim. If you want to see how this looks inside Russia then head there.

Transsiberian ticket

It must be noted that all train tickets are point-to-point basis. This means it is only valid for the duration of your ride. If you plan to get off the train for a day of sightseeing in Irkutsk, you will have to purchase another ticket for the succeeding ride. Think flight tickets. Of course it is a different case when you go down the train to just stretch your legs for a few minutes.

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Chile: The Atacama

Posted on 24 July 2016 by Dreidel Regala

Atacama

Week 14

San Pedro de Atacama

The Atacama Desert. To some, it’s the driest place on earth. To others, a stargazer’s junction. To me, it’s Mars. It looks so much like it! Not that I’ve been to Mars already. But my imagination has and I think Mars is a perfect description to Atacama Desert.

San Pedro de Atacama

About 2,400m high in the Antofagasta region of Chile is the oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama. I went here a few days after entering the country from the north. Took an overnight bus (Turbus) which was supposed to take 12 hours from Arica but mine took longer. At some point in this 12+ hour journey the attendant took my passport and I think he said something about an inspection but I didn’t quite understand a lot of Spanish then. He did give it back though, the next day after the said inspection, but not after I asked him many many times about it. The inspection was pretty much straightforward save for food which has strict rules. Chile is dog-sniffing serious about this and some people end up being fined. By morning we’re near San Pedro and when I looked out the window I was convinced that I will never say no to NASA if they asked me to go to Mars. Let me say that again – hello NASA, I’m ready for Mars.

San Pedro de Atacama

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While the town is pretty small, it makes up for popularity. Throngs of outsiders busy themselves with the idea of desert cycling, sandboarding, stargazing parties, archaeological tours, and a visit to a salar, laguna or geyser. It’s very touristic and expensive but it’s kinda cute.

Valle de la Luna

Valle de la Luna or Moon Valley. Another cosmic reference in Atacama but it’s really otherworldly out there.

A vast land of sand and salt formation caused by wind and water coming from surrounding mountains. The valley’s landscape is so extraordinary that it has become well visited.

Atacama

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As I’m not keen on biking from San Pedro, I took a guided tour with a friend from one of the many shops in town. It was less than ch$10,000 with haggling if I remember right, excluding the ch$2,000 park ticket. We started around 4pm and went on until after sunset.

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These elements are actually alive. If you take the time to just quiet down and listen, you will hear the forming and unforming or the breathing they make.

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We were led through canyons, caverns, and slopes of salt and sand in red hue. How did all of these happen, I kept asking myself quietly as I followed everyone.

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The formation on the right is called Tres Marias and the one on the left is for your imagination.

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The guide let us wander for some time but there were areas that were off limits. Even if I don’t understand much Spanish I think the message is fairly obvious.

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Now this isn’t called the driest place in the world for nothing. The air really felt dry and the sun as if it was on your back. You should have water at the least. After sunset though you’ll need a jacket for the cold.

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Atacama

Sunsets in Valle de la Luna are magical. But turning around from it was my favorite. A palette of pink, purple, and blue with the moonrise was all it took. The moon in the picture below was the beginning stage of the Supermoon. Later in the evening we were out again to watch it turn blood-red.

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Tip: San Pedro de Atacama is close to Bolivia’s Uyuni Salt Flats. Many travelers go from one to the other by signing up on the many tour operators in both San Pedro and Uyuni.

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Arequipa: Trekking Colca Canyon

Posted on 05 June 2016 by Dreidel Regala

Colca Canyon

Week 12

Colca Canyon

I think we’ve been walking for six hours and still no sign of our town. Fure, where are you? Up ahead I see another incline and an involuntary curse escapes me. We’re here! One of my friends yell. Yah? Where is here, I don’t see a town anywhere, I thought to myself. It doesn’t help that I’m ways behind from everyone so I just drag my body in hopes that we are indeed here.

Fure is a small town in the middle of Colca Canyon. This is the second stop in our two night trek in one of the world’s deepest canyons. Deeper than the more popular Grand Canyon.  No more than thirty houses greeted us along with the sound of wind. You see, Fure is empty tonight.

By the time we realized there was no one coming, we had waited for three hours already and the sun no longer high. All the doors were locked and all of them have been yanked with no luck. It was dark. It was cold. We were hungry. We were tired.

***

Arequipa

Colca Canyon is found in south Peru. It is closest to Arequipa city which is about 16 hours away by bus from capital city Lima. Three volcanoes surround the city: El Misti, Chachani, and PichuPichu, and two of those are possible to climb.

Chachani

El Misti

From Arequipa, it’s a 3-4 hour bus to Cabanaconde which is the starting point of the trek. There is a tourist ticket (70 soles) to the park, we got ours from a man who saw us standing in front of Pachamama hostel. If I’m not mistaken, the trail is on the right side of the plaza. After that you decide your route.

Colca Canyon

We did a 3days/2nights trek stopping in Llahuar (hot pools), then to Fure, and then Sangalle (oasis) but didn’t stay the night in Sangalle. I’m not sure where my friend got this map but whatever happens don’t set off without one. Maybe ask the guys in Pachamama hostel or your place in Arequipa.

Colca Canyon

Depending on where you’re going, the trek may involve altitude so prepare you’re body for a few days if possible. Most hostels in Arequipa serves Coca tea. That helps.

Colca Canyon

Bring the following:

  1. Chlorine tabs/water purifier – rivers and springs are your source of water in between towns and they’re not really clean
  2. Trail food
  3. Swim wear
  4. Torch
  5. Cash

Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon

Those lines are where you’re going to be walking so wear good comfortable trekking shoes. Sometimes there will be jumps but I’m sure you’ll manage.

Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon

In September the weather is cold. However you may get hot during the trek so wear something that can easily be taken off.

Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon

I didn’t see a condor during the trek but maybe I wasn’t looking up much. If you want to see condors though there is a mirador enroute to Cabanaconde from Arequipa. You can either stop there before or after the trek.

Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon

Above picture is Sangalle, also called oasis. There are hotels down there with pools. And that faint zigzag line on the right is the trail to Cabanaconde. There is an option to mule it up for 60 soles instead of walking.

Colca Canyon

I do consider the trek difficult but that is because I’m not a good trekker and especially not with altitude. There were moments I thought I can no longer make another step but those guys kept me going. That said I still think inexperienced trekkers can make it, maybe just a bit slower.

Colca Canyon

Finally, I think Colca Canyon is really beautiful. I’m glad to see it. Oh and I recommend jumping in the ice cold river in Llahuar! And by the way the pizza in Pachamama hostel in Cabanaconde is quite an awesome reward.

Note: There is an option also to arrange a guided trek. I saw many operators in Arequipa around the Plaza de Armas and also in our hostel. Price ranges from 75 – 135 soles not including tourist ticket.

***

The electricity came on some time after dark. To be honest it was kinda creepy, an empty town that seems to have the basics still up and running. Like everybody just disappeared in the middle of the night.

We have pasta with tuna, a squash-looking fruit, some dried raisins, and nuts in the table. A few minutes ago we may have pried open the door to a kitchen and a bedroom to seek refuge and find food. It was crazy move and we’re not proud of it but it was our final card. The survival card.

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Patagonia: Torres del Paine for a non hiker

Posted on 28 May 2016 by Dreidel Regala

Torres del Paine

Week 19

Torres del Paine

Some ten thousand miles from Manila is a place called Patagonia. A region so vast it covers two countries – Chile and Argentina. Go to the south end of both and you’ll find yourself surrounded with trekkers from all over the world. Why? This is because the region is among the list of renowned climbs along with Everest, PCT, Mont Blanc, Kilimanjaro, and many others. From green landscapes to icy peaks, angry winds to shy animals, cold nights to pink mornings, Patagonia seems to be in the mind of trekkers looking for a beautiful challenge. But as for me, I don’t even dare say I’m a hiker. It’s not my first trek but my skill in this area has a lot of fine tuning to make. So with the abundance of excitement, I sorta forgot I’m not trained for Patagonia.

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales

It was early November when I got to Puerto Natales, Chile. The nearest city to Torres del Paine. It was this that made me decide to see the region. Go ahead and google images “Torres del Paine” and prepare to be amazed.

I stayed in Hostel Cuatro Estaciones which is in between the water and Unimarc. After a few minutes of checking me in, Yasna was already explaining to me in front of her wall map how to trek Torres del Paine and where to camp. Goes to show that this is the norm. And I’ll be the exception.

I decided to sit out a few days instead – walk around town, blog a little, and contemplate some more. I was almost considering the idea of doing the W. The W is the more famous circuit in Torres del Paine. It takes about 4-5 days and can either be from East to West or West to East until you form a W. I heard some people base their direction on the wind to make the walks easier. If I haven’t said it yet, the wind in Patagonia is a beast. The other circuit is the O or the full circuit. This one takes 10 days I think. The Torres del Paine trek is not an altitude trek so that’s a good thing there. The not so good is if you’re on a budget and can’t afford the luxury of a refugio stay, then you have to carry camping gear, add to that your food. But this is just a slight complication to the many trekkers that take on the challenge everyday.

Here’s a sample base expense that I found:

Bus to park (15,000 RT)

Park fee (18,000 valid for 3 days)

Camping gear (cheap rentals in town/hostel)

Campsite fee (some are free but some are paid 4,000 – 8,000)

Grey boat (15,000, can also opt to just walk it)

W circuit

W circuit. Photo by www.back-packer.org

I’ve met friends who did the W and many of them said that it’s fine for non-hikers too. Just take it at your own pace, they told me. And be prepared to encounter four seasons in a single day. As is the case when in Patagonia region, a rain/waterproof jacket can solve this although I didn’t have one. But again it’s possible to rent it out in town.

O circuit

O circuit. Photo by www.back-packer.org

And this is the O circuit.  By the looks of it, that’s a lot of nature day walking.

Now I said I almost considered the W. Until I didn’t.

One morning in the breakfast table of Cuatro Estaciones, I met Carina and we decided on the day tour. We’re both not prepared at the time on carrying a lot and camping in the cold. So the 25,000 tour was our price. This version was all spent in the park, no stop in Milodon cave. I think there were about 9 stops but some may have been due to our demand to “stop the car!” Compared to the google images I saw, the view of the torres in this tour are farther. I didn’t see the reflective lake beneath the torres but what I saw was good too. Those are not the kind of landscape I’m used to in the Philippines. So a bluish icy mountain surrounded by green-blue water made my heart skipped a beat. There were still some walks but nothing a kid can’t do.

Glacier Grey

The first stop was to see Glacier Grey. Quite cold in this area and super windy too. Here’s Carina trying to walk despite the wind. The glacier itself was very far from the shore but there were chunks floating in the lake.

Glacier Grey

Torres del Paine

After that we had lunch in this camp. The tour didn’t include lunch so we packed a sandwich and told stories with our tour mates who cycled around Patagonia but like they said – at our age, we don’t have to prove anything anymore, we just want to do it. That is so right, lovely couple!

Lake Pehoe

And this is Lake Pehoe or I just dreamt it.

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine

If you notice, the mountain is bluish. To be honest, I have no idea why. But it is the case so they named it Paine which is an old word for blue.

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine

And that’s a Guanaco. If the north has Llamas and Vicuñas, Torres del Paine has Guanacos. Behind him are the torres and those mountains are probably where the hikers are.

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine

We came home exhausted and sleepy. I came home unbelieving I really got to see that. It stuck with me that I couldn’t make myself leave the region. So I decided to backtrack and re-enter Argentina and sprint my way to El Chalten. I only had 4 days left in my Argentinian visa and I was that crazy I squeezed some Los Glaciares to that.

In the end, there’s no pressure. You don’t have to hike if you don’t want to. There are plenty of beauty around the park to be had. And I think I’ll be back for the others too.

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Is traveling to North Korea Ethical By Wandering Earl

Posted on 04 September 2013 by Dreidel Regala

North Korea is not really something you see in the map of a traveler but one thing’s for sure, we are very curious about what’s going on inside.

In this article Earl writes about his recent experience in North Korea and the mind debates he had along the way including the ethics of it.  Maybe some us have plans to go there too or maybe just reading about it is enough. But whether or not you agree to his visit you gotta check out why he says
“I still believe that the benefits of traveling to North Korea do indeed outweigh the negatives”
in Is Traveling To North Korea Ethical?

Kim Il-Sung Square Photo taken by www.wanderingearl.com

Kim Il-Sung Square Photo taken by www.wanderingearl.com

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When I first traveled solo series: Danshui Old Street

Posted on 20 August 2013 by Dreidel Regala

So I am back in downtown Danshui just a few hours before lunch time. The bus stopped at a red light in a super busy intersection. Maybe I should get down already. The area looked a little familiar but I didn’t stand up from my seat. I noticed nobody was getting off the bus so I thought it wasn’t the right place to go down. So scared little me of being caught of illegal jaywalking, I waited for the light to turn green and my bus to move to the opposite side.

The bus stopped. Great! I got off and started walking. But just as I was about to get on the train station I saw something. It looks to be a port or another wharf so I decided to check it out. This port looks more ordinary than the fisherman’s wharf I just visited. There was no romantic bridge but the little park beside has more people than the previous one. I felt a little lonely as I watched friends and families wander around but it didn’t bother me too much, I guess the unfamiliarity of the place got me busy. After walking for a while I went inside a convenience store. I grabbed one of my favorite snacks – a flavored milk plus a donut. My feet were a little tired already after walking for some time so I sat in a table eating while watching people pass by. I thought the people in Taiwan were just like the people in my home country. Some goes to work, some hangs with friends or family, others were just wandering by themselves. I was up on my feet as I sip the last drop of milk. I walked further down thinking there might be something else interesting. When I saw that people were walking into a street I can’t help but follow. Could this be Danshui’s Old Street? So when I got to the opening I found stall after stall lined up selling anything from food to diferent goods.

Danshui Old Street

Danshui Old Street by CC Yee

I love walking in markets cause I get to see what locals eat or buy. One was selling a really tall ice cream, the other had fruits on display. I continued to walk with curious eyes on every stall not noticing I was already on the end of the street. Standing in the corner I found there were more shops in both directions. Stalls have slowly disappeared with stores now taking over. Okay I’m going back now, thinking same old same old stores. So I turned and headed back to the mrt picking up a hot pastry filled with red beans on the side.

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How to score good valued air ticket

Posted on 20 August 2013 by Dreidel Regala

Kolkata Airport Terminal

Kolkata Airport Terminal by Yuvipanda

I am one of those who frequent their favorite airline sites looking out for promo fare deals. Sometimes I visit the site even if I don’t plan on going somewhere. Why do I do it? Well mostly because I don’t wanna miss out on good finds. But if you think this method takes too much time then maybe you can check out the points listed by the author of The Epic Adventurer on how to score good valued air ticket.

Julia writes about web tools and useful tips that can help us average joes find a reasonable flight price. So check out her post on – Flight hacking for the rest of us.

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When I first traveled solo series: The fisherman’s wharf

Posted on 19 July 2013 by Dreidel Regala

Several empty boats fill the still waters of the fisherman’s wharf. I did not see a fisherman but thought maybe it’s not the best fishing time. It is a rainy day but still perfect for taking pictures so I took out my LX5 then prepared to click away.

In the back draft stands the Lover’s Bridge. A fine structure displaying curved lines. I wonder why they call it that but I guess sunsets will make a romantic atmosphere in the area. I walked towards the bridge which is actually not very far from the bus drop off point. Only a few people were walking around, good timing I thought. After wandering around I crossed the bridge, took few stops for pictures then continued walking. On the other side is a wooden platform with a few stores that are still closed. It’s actually very nice to hang around there if only the weather was good. One can watch the open sea while eating and on the back side is a picture of the wharf. I did not stay too long cause there seemed to be nothing else to do so I went back to the other side and looked around in the building fronting the bridge. Found a few food stores but nothing interested me.

Lover's bridge in Danshui's Fisherman's Wharf

Lover’s bridge in Danshui’s Fisherman’s Wharf

I decided to go back to the city. A full day of sight seeing I thought. I looked for the bus stop and saw a couple already there. I checked the bus route in the map that was posted. Mrt, yep this is my bus stop. But buses rarely came so I had to wait for a while. The couple didn’t move as well so maybe we are waiting for the same bus.

After a few minutes I was on my way back to the city with the memory of the peaceful wharf so fresh within me.

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When I first traveled solo series: End of the line

Posted on 18 July 2013 by Dreidel Regala

This was going to be my first time to explore a place on my own. Hours and hours of reading through different blogs and forums until everything that I needed to know I knew. I am excited. Excited to see Taiwan. And while I was extremely anxious before I left home, at that moment all of that mysteriously disappeared.

Rainy window

Photo taken by DulceDolce

I woke up 8 in the morning, made myself up then went to the common room. The empty house that welcomed me a few hours ago is now very much awake. I noticed that it was raining so I sat for a while in the living and thought about the day’s plans. A man in his 40’s greeted me. He’s from out of town and is in Taipei for business. After learning that I’m Filipino, he excitedly told about his time in Cebu and how he loved it. We continued talking while the local drama is on tv and was only interrupted when he was called by the receptionist about something. I looked at the window and thought the rain isn’t going to stop so decided to just go on out.

I stopped in the 7eleven store to buy something to eat. I asked the crew about the local SIM card but he couldn’t understand English much. Oh the language issue is about to start. We couldn’t understand each other so much that a customer had to intervene. He just wanted my passport after all.

When I stepped out of the store I only had one thing on my mind. I have to get to the mrt. So I walked my way back to the bridge and onto the building where the bus had dropped me before. It’s a busy day I thought. The sleeping Taipei Main Station now has so many people inside. But I am still not sure where I am going considering the gloomy day. Should I go see the zoo and the cute pandas or head far off to Danshui? I read signs after signs (awesome they have it in English!) for the long distance trains, high speed rails, bus stations, mrts, and several street names. I’m in the center of it all I told myself. Eventually I decided Danshui seems more interesting. Now I just have to find the mrt.

In a distance I saw something, it said “Tourist Center”. Ooh they’re talking about me! So I walked towards the booth and said “Excuse me do you have a map of the city?“. The girl on the other side of the table gladly gave me the city map along with other maps. “Thank you! Can you also show me where’s the mrt station going to Danshui?“. “Sure, you just walk straight”, pointing to the path in front of us, “…then take the escalator and there you will see instructions“. “Okay thank you!“. I started walking just as she had told me and found the signs she was talking about on top of the escalator. This is fairly easy I thought.

Train ticketing machine

Photo taken from Wikimedia

Several machines were lined up in front of the mrt gates. A little panic came to me and thought oh no I have to operate that. I watched others touched the screens then take out their cards. Should be simple I thought but when I got to one of the machines it was all in Taiwanese! So I quickly turned and scanned the area for any possible booths where I can buy it manually. There’s a booth but why is there nobody lining up hmmm. After a few seconds an American family came to the window. They said something to the man inside but I couldn’t hear it. I walked closer. And when the family left, I went to the window and said to the man “Hi, how much is the easy card?“. He told me the price plus the deposit and some other things which I couldn’t really understand so I just gave him the bill.

I went down to the platform along with the human traffic. I hear them talking but couldn’t understand a thing. When the train came I stepped inside with no fuss. This is good, lines are good. I quickly noticed that there were only a few seats in the train and most of the space is for standing up. I settled on the side and just stared at the window. My ride took a while cause my stop was in the end of the line. I saw people get in and out of the train with their everyday agendas and a couple curious eyes staring at me, maybe wondering why I look a bit different.

The train stopped. “Danshui station“. I am here! I got off the platform like everybody else and proceeded to the front of the station. Okay now where is bus #26. I asked around but they couldn’t understand me so I pointed at the picture in the map on my hand. “Ah fisherman’s wharf, go straight“. On a busy street I found my bus, bus #26. I got in and swiped my card then took a seat. I watched over my window as we passed by a series of shops and some schools. Occasionally I glanced at the LED sign in the windshield of the bus. Taiwanese words popped up first then English but I had no idea what they were so I thought it might be the names of the routes.

I got a little worried after some time cause I still didn’t see the wharf. People were getting of the bus and there were only a few of us left. I prepared to stand up and make my way to the driver to ask him but decided to ask one of the passengers instead. “Wait. Wait.” he said. So I guess I just have to wait more. The bus made a couple of turns to some inner streets that looks to be very quiet at night. Then like a curtain being pulled, the wharf started to show and not very far the Lover’s bridge standing tall.

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