Zhuilu Old Trail (Hualien, Taiwan) + A Photography Rant

December 14, 2016

Ryan and I will be in Cambodia and Laos for the month of January. I'm really excited to take such a long journey. We've never traveled together for more than two weeks at a time! As our trip approaches, I'm busy with planning tasks: booking guesthouses and hostels, buying a new backpack, reading up on regional history (spoiler alert: a lot of it's pretty painful), researching language/customs, catching up on posts like this, and deciding which camera to bring on our trip. Oh, and listening to a lot of Cambodian psychedelic rock. Interested? Check out this awesome/tragic documentary.

Deciding which camera(s) to bring on a trip is a constant struggle for traveling photographers. I'm a film photographer at heart and I always will be. So it's no surprise that after much deliberation, I decided to invest the money and space to bring 20 or so rolls of film and my vintage Pentax K1000 on our trip. I even splurged on a few packs of the best film ever. At first, I thought I'd bring my DSLR - why not? I can take as many photos as I want! I can shoot in more challenging lighting conditions! Yes, yes. That's true. But to argue my case, may I present Exhibit A? I took the above digital photos during our trip to Taiwan in January - 11 months ago! There were so many shots to sift through and edit that, for nearly a year, I completely gave up on ever getting through them.

When it comes down to it, I don't travel for photo opportunities. I travel to see new and wondrous things, to meet people, to learn more about the world, and to open my eyes and my heart. And of course, I travel to eat amazing food. Along the way, I capture photos of things that delight or interest me. You know what neither delights nor interests me? Editing photos. I hate post-processing. At the same time, film photography is expensive, especially when you add the cost of high resolution scanning. And someday I might like to try my hand at professional photography and will need to improve my digital skills. Alas, my photography practice is evolving slowly over time, and this is where I'm at now: lugging around film canisters, shipping rolls off to the lab, and spending more on processing. Is it old-fashioned? Perhaps. But it's the best way for me to deliver my creative perspective. Someday, when I'm begging hopeful employers or collaborators to give me a chance at taking photographs for money, I'll have figured this whole digital photography thing out. In the meantime, on with the real topic of this post - Taiwan!

If you travel to Taiwan - which I sincerely hope you will - you absolutely must go to the Taroko Gorge. You may be thinking, "Duh, it's the #1 tourist attraction in Taiwan." Which is true, with good reason. But I'm here to tell you that you cannot simply visit the Taroko Gorge. If you do, you'll be missing out on the best part: the Old Zhuilu Trail. Any photos you've seen of Taroko were likely taken of or from this trail. It's the prime viewing spot and in lieu of hiking the Old Trail, you'll be stuck on less impressive side trails or taking a tour bus along a crowded road. That's for the birds. Instead, apply for a permit to hike Zhuilu before your trip. You'll need a permit because the number of hikers allowed each day is limited. Why? Because it's an extremely narrow cliff that you could easily fall off of should you encounter a crowd of people approaching from the opposite direction. Doesn't that sound fun? It's really, really fun. During this hike, I felt a sense of awe I've only felt once before, when I was 15 and I visited the Grand Canyon.

We got our permit with the help of a generous local man named Jimmy (his English name), whom I contacted on Couchsurfing. He submitted a permit request for us and even picked us up from our guesthouse the morning of the hike. We hiked the trail with him, his best friend (Teacher Spring, the kind older gentleman pictured above playing music for us), and a very sweet couple from Germany. It was a wonderful group to spend a day with. Teacher Spring's music, which emanated from his strolling position at the back of the group, made the entire experience mystical. We met some local hikers on the trail and sang together, including "Happy Birthday" in four different languages - Chinese, German, Korean, and English! 

I'll be posting several more times over the coming week about Taiwan, a wonderful place home to the kindest people on the planet. Ryan and I visited during the coldest winter in over 50 years, completely unprepared for the weather and freezing our butts off the entire time. No matter; it was a wonderful trip. Everywhere we went, people approached us just to say, "Welcome to Taiwan!" It was the first country in which we stayed with other couchsurfers and met up with them as travelers. I will never forget our two days in Kaohsiung, riding on the backs of scooters in the pouring rain with our new friends Yang and Anita. We shared traditional Chinese takeout breakfast in their apartment while watching Korean TV shows two mornings in a row (spoiler #2: it was delicious). We talked all night like old friends. All they wanted was to get to know us and help us have a fantastic time in their city.

If you visit Taiwan, there are so many things to appreciate: convenient and affordable transit, beautiful hikes and waterfalls, luxurious hot springs, delicious food, scooters upon scooters, bike lanes on the expressway, interesting temples (that's saying a lot for someone who lives in Korea, where there are Buddhist temples in every town), and most importantly, wonderful people. If you've never considered going to Taiwan, you've been quite foolish indeed - but there's time to come to your senses! Taiwan is a truly special place that left a deep impression on our hearts. I can't wait to go back.

Do you have any tips for making post-processing less time-consuming and/or soul-sucking? What's on your Taiwan travel list? Are you a non-relative/friend reading this blog? I'd love to hear from you!

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