Colorado National Monument (What to Know Before Going)

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Do NOT underestimate this gem based solely off of its name. Although not deemed a national park, Colorado National Monument is worth the drive West from Denver and has one of the cheapest entrance fees for parks in the Southwest at $15/vehicle or $25 for a 7 day pass.  However, I highly recommend purchasing the annual park pass for $80 which lasts for 1 year and allows you to visit any National Park Service- affiliated park in the U.S. It was a great investment and definitely worth the money.  Continuing on… The monument includes multiple hiking trails that differ in difficulty and bike trails as well. There are no bodies of water in the monument and is mainly for hiking, photography, and scenic driving.

For the 1 day visitor who simply wants a summary of the monument, a drive through would take 1-2 hours, and this includes stopping at the major impressive points and taking photos quickly. For those who want a more in-depth summary of the monument, it would take approximately 3.5-5 hours, and this includes stopping at every point, taking photos, and walking down to the photography points (which are at the most a 5 minute walk). There is only one path to drive through the monument although a couple stops may require divergence into a smaller road. There are two entrances into the monument, a West entrance and an East entrance. Those who are entering from Colorado would likely enter from the East and those who come from Utah are would likely enter from the West. As I entered from the East, I exited from the West and a complete drive through the monument would take you towards the town of Fruita and Highway 70 on the way to Utah. The drive to Arches National Park from the monument takes approximately 1.5 hours and the drive there is barren, with only miles or crude land, so I highly suggest getting a full tank of gas before going into Colorado National Monument and filling the car up with snacks and water. Using the restroom in the monument before heading out would be a smart move.

From personal experience, I highly recommend the following stops, as they are extremely breathtaking and worth the stop, but of course if time allows, all stops are worth the stop.

1.) Cold Shivers point: the first major point when entering from the East side. The spot is just as it sounds. It will give you the cold shivers due to its high elevation and massive drop below your feet that was carved out from rapid waters. Beautiful and daunting photography spot.

2.) Echo canyon at Upper Ute Canyon Overlook: This one stop is the most memorable and fun stop in the entire monument; it is also not written on the monument map or labelled anywhere so this is sort of a hidden gem. There is a mummy-like statue that lays on the opposite canyon walls, but beyond that, the walls have the best ability to echo your voices. It is surreal and enigmatic in a way because it truly does sound like your twin is thousands of feet away from you, repeating your words a couple seconds after. I spent about 10 min here, yelling at the walls. This is a must!

3.) Artists Point: A very photogenic spot due to its array of rock colors, hence the name. The vibrance of colors will depend on weather conditions of the day, and is most colorful to the human eye on a day when clouds partially cover the sun.

4.) Independent Monument View: Stop here to see an odd rock formation that looks as if it were carved by humans.

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side view of Independent monument

5.) Grand View: Why would you even skip this stop when the magnificence is IN ITS NAME? It’s Grand.. no further explanation needed.

Thus, these are my top 5 stops, but once you visit the monument, you, of course, will eventually come up with your own top list.

Additional spots:

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Ute Canyon

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Balanced Rock

 

 

Banana Carrot Cake Breakfast Bars (Vegan + GF)

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Packed with protein and fiber!

The best way to use up downright blackened bananas is to make desserts because they are far too soft to enjoy, yet they are the sweetest at this point. In the past couple weeks, I’ve been terrible at consuming my bananas at their peak aesthetic and have been forced to make banana bread from the charcoal-black colored bananas. However, I am shocked to find myself say that I’ve gotten tired from banana bread, since I’ve baked a surplus of loaves, but today two blackened bananas lay on my counter and I couldn’t stand tossing them in the compost bin. Making banana bread was obviously not an option, so I decided to make some banana carrot cake breakfast bars, which also helped me use up some carrots in my fridge! A win-win situation, and I know have scrumptious to-go breakfast bars!


 

Banana Carrot Cake Breakfast Bars

yield: 12 squares

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. rolled oats
  • 3/4 c. almond meal
  • 3 tbsp. vegan sweetener (agave/ maple syrup)
  • 2 tbsp. almond butter (check out how to make homemade almond butter)
  • 1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 c. grated carrots
  • 1/4 c. flax seeds
  • 2 overly ripe bananas
  • 1 tbsp. applesauce or flavorless oil

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F.
  2. Place the rolled oats and almond meal into a food processor and pulse until the mixture becomes coarse crumbs, but has not completely turned into oat flour yet. Then add the cinnamon, ginger, and flax seeds and pulse until the flax seeds have become slightly chopped.
  3. Add in the sweetener, almond butter, bananas, and applesauce/oil and pulse until the mixture begins to clump together and is thoroughly incorporated.
  4. Pour in the grated carrots and pulse for about 10 seconds, or until the carrots are combined into the mixture.
  5. Pour into a square baking pan lined with parchment paper or sprayed with cooking spray. I also used a pan that cuts the bars before baking, which is convenient.
  6. Optional: Top your bars with walnuts, chocolate chips, or any toppings of your choice. I put dark chocolate chips on half of my bars.

These breakfast bars are perfect on the go and a great option for breakfast because they’re low in sugar and high in fiber and protein, certain to keep you full for your busy mornings!

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pre-baked bars

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baked bars

Matcha Energy Bites (Vegan + GF)

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Matcha energy bites

Here I am, yet posting another matcha recipe because matcha is a gorgeous, dainty ingredient that provides antioxidants for the body. Today’s recipe is matcha energy bites, which I played around with by gradually adding ingredients I believed would accompany each other well. On first attempt, the result was divine: perfect consistency, not too sweet, and packed with flavor! Pleased and legitimately overjoyed, I devoured four energy bites in one sitting and uncontrollably reached for more. I really do hope you try this recipe out because these bites are delectable!


 

Matcha Energy Bites

yield: 16 balls (1 in. diameter)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2. tsp matcha powder
  • 3/4 c. rolled oats
  • 7 medjool dates soaked in hot water
  • 1/2 c. almond flour
  • 20 almonds
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds.
  • t tbsp. flax seeds

Directions:

  1. Remove the pits from the dates and soak in hot water for at least 10 minutes. This helps soften the dates, adding moisture, and making them easier to blend.
  2. Place rolled oats in a food processor and process until a fine oat flour is formed. Add in the matcha powder, almond flour, chia and flax seeds, and pulse until the flour is well incorporated.
  3. Add the soaked dates and pulse until a smooth, dough-consistency mixture forms.
  4. Place the mixture into a medium-sized bowl.
  5. Place the 20 almonds into the empty food processor and pulse until the almonds become “roughly chopped”. This will add crunchy texture to the energy bites and also cleans any leftover sticky mixture left in the food processor. Add the chopped almonds into the mixture in the bowl and thoroughly incorporate with a fork or spatula.
  6. Using clean hands, damp with a little bit of water, and roll the mixture into balls. You can also dust with a little bit of cocoa or matcha powder if you’d like!

These energy bites are great for a snack and can last in the fridge for up to two weeks!

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Soft and chewy

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Pulse the mixture

 

Power Smoothie Bowl (Vegan)

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Power Smoothie Bowl

To say that I love smoothie bowls would be honestly be an understatement. I enjoy having a smoothie bowl for breakfast, lunch, and sometimes even dinner to pack in potassium, fiber, and folic acid for the day! While I am more than happy to consume a bowl of sliced fruits topped with granola, there is something extremely refreshing about an icy, cold mixture that cools the body down during the sizzling summer days. The seemingly never ending list of smoothie bowl pro’s often conceals the fact that smoothie bowls are alarmingly high in sugar content (ahh!!), and I hate how my body feels lethargic when I consumer too much sugar. The fructose in fruit is all-natural, but consuming many grams of fructose does not benefit the body, and so I have concocted an flawless blend of fruits that keep the sugar content in a smoothie bowl relatively low. 🙂


 

Power Smoothie Bowl

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c. frozen spinach or kale
  • 1/2 frozen banana
  • 1/3 c. sliced frozen strawberries
  • 1/3 c. non-frozen mango
  • 1/4 c. unsweetened (vanilla) almond milk

Directions:

  1. Blend all the ingredients in a food processor or powerful blender until smooth.
  2. Top with toppings of your choice! I used fresh dragon fruit, mango, pumpkin seeds, unfrosted bran flakes, and chia seeds.
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Blend all ingredients together

The major sweetener in this smoothie bowl was the non-frozen mango, and it’s important to use non-frozen because it’ll make the smoothie bowl sweeter since it’s really the only sweetener here. Although bananas and strawberries can be sweet, they lose sweetness once they are frozen so they don’t contribute much sweet flavor to the smoothie bowl.

This power smoothie bowl kept be full for 5 hours and I felt exceptionally energetic after consumption!

1 Ingredient Almond Butter

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Homemade almond butter

If only almond butter were as cheap as peanut butter, I would have jars after jars of almond butter orderly lined up on my pantry shelves. But unfortunately, a typical 12 oz. jar costs at least $7 and at the rate that I consume almond butter, I’ll be exceptionally broke in no time. However, I recently whipped up a batch of homemade almond butter at home, resulting in a jar made at a fraction of the cost of store-bought AND the recipe requires 1 ingredient ONLY. You heard that right, 1 ingredient almond butter? I was utterly shocked as well, but through experimenting, I found that the natural oils in the almonds is enough to make the spread creamy. No added sweeteners, fats, or preservatives. Need I say more?


 

1 Ingredient Almond Butter

yield: 12 oz.

Ingredients:

  • 3 c. unsalted almonds ( roasted or raw, doesn’t matter)

Directions:

  1. Spread the almonds out on a baking sheet and bake at 300°C for around 8 minutes. This activates the oils in the almonds and gives the almond butter a deep, decadent roasted flavor. Once baked, remove the almonds from the oven and allow them to cool for 10 minutes to prevent heat from touching the plastic food processor.
  2. Pour the almonds into a food processor with a blade and process for 15-20 minutes. I used the “chop” mode and kept the processor running consistently. After every 2-3 minutes, I scraped down the sides with a spatula so that the mixture would all be on the bottom of the food processor. side note: the almonds will become a coarse texture, like almond butter. After more processing, the almonds start to look like a thick paste, and you’ll be tempted to add oil because it’ll look too dry, but DON’T, just continue to process for about 5 additional minutes. 
  3. After 20 minutes, the almonds should have become almond butter: thick and creamy, and your entire kitchen will smell like almond paradise.
  4. Store the almond in an airtight jar and store at room temperature. Because the almond butter is literally almonds, the butter can last for up to a year.

If you had enough patience to finally see the almonds transform to almond butter, I want to congratulate you!! It’ll be difficult for me to ever buy almond butter, knowing that I can save money by making it at home as well knowing that it is only made with 1 ingredient.

Enjoy you almond butter with toast, make cookies, or muffins, or simply eat it out of the jar!

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Processed almond butter after 20 minutes

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Store in an airtight container

Strawberry Chia Jam

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Chia jam used on my nut and seeds bread

Jam and peanut butter make the quintessential combination, and although peanut butter provides health benefits such as protein and Vitamin E, jam is often straight up added sugars, packed with preservatives. Thus, I wasn’t too big of a fan of jam ever because the flavors felt all too sweet and artificial for me.

Luckily, health enthusiasts have been genius enough to conceive up a recipe called “Chia Jam” which I think is pure genius. By using chia’s nature to form a gel to make the jam without having to use any added corn syrup or sticky starches cuts calories drastically and actually makes the jam healthy! I attempted a strawberry chia jam recipe and it was an absolute success, and better yet, you are able to control the sweetness of your jam. Since I don’t have too big of a sweet tooth, I think that mine was perfectly sweet enough to my liking.

Strawberry Chia Jam


 

Ingredients:

yield: 1/2 c. jam

  • 9 medium-sized strawberries
  • 1 tsp. honey (use agave or maple syrup if vegan); this part is totally up to your tastebuds, so keep adding sweetener to your liking
  • 4 tbsp. chia seeds

Directions:

  1. Place the strawberries and sweetener in a food processor and pulse for about 20 seconds, or until the jam has become a puree.
  2. Place the puree in an airtight container and add the chia seeds. Combine the mixture and place in the fridge for at least 10 minutes.
  3. The jam should be a thick, spreadable texture.

I am still extremely amazed at how genius this recipe is and I enjoyed it on toast, in a peanut butter sandwich, and even made thumbprint cookies using the jam!

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pulse the strawberries in a food processor

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Chia seed and fruit puree

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chia and puree before the fridge

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chia jam

-Jamie

Taiwan Day 13: My Luck to Visit Bayan Village (Now Closed to Outsiders)

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Crisp reflection at Bayan Village

A delicate layer of stratus clouds shrouded the skies above and reflected its image on the stagnant waters beneath, as subtle smoke piped continuously from the few homes in the quiet and unassuming village. Bayan village, indisputably beautiful, was an unknown gem in the Yangmingshan territory, distinct for its terraced fields running alongside mountains and its unique natural hot springs and waterfalls that provide so-called healing elements to the human skin. When word got out of the area, the village’s popularity grew and unpleasant hordes of tourists poured in daily, overwhelming the 20 inhabitants who were once accustomed to merely the sounds of nature.  We are all too familiar with the consequences of tourism, and indeed the inhabitants agreed to prohibit visitors to their village for issues reached unacceptable levels, including destruction of crops and use of the paths as restrooms. Despite my streak of misfortune in life, I fortunately experienced Bayan village 3 months before its unforeseen closure, and when I returned to the states, I spoke non-stop of Bayan, promising my brother that I would take him soon, only to hear it had closed….


My Experience: 

Access to the village was highly challenging for it is located in a conspicuous area in Yangmingshan, with few signs indicating its location and limited parking spaces nearby. Billy parked his sedan in a desolate spot and we were prepared to cross the street when an old man with a white undershirt and blue massage sandals approached us, requesting money in exchange for the parking spot. Turned out if the villagers were to be disturbed, they might as well make a little profit. We gave the man 30 NT and walked past a couple homes with washboards in a creek, food laid out drying in the sun, and vegetables growing profusely in garden patches. There was a miniature path of stone, hand-laid out over running waters and another local man simply sitting on a boulder, collecting an entrance fee in a bowl for the terraced fields/ sky reflection view. Imposing mountains fringed our surrounding and a murky body of water situated amid was an optimum canvas for the sky’s reflection. The sight was a thing of wonder, and luckily I had come on an unpopular day and time where masses of tourists were nowhere to be found, so all was far too serene.

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Smoke from a chimney

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View

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Large boulders in the water

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Intense reflection

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Not a model at all

Nearby the exit, an elderly woman sat underneath a rickety straw roof, showing off her vegetables and fruit, freshly picked this morning and grown traditionally by hand. Billy told me that her food was phenomenal and home-y, so we strolled over and bought two steamed corn and tea eggs, both scalding hot as I juggled them between my hands. Piping hot juice splattered all over as I bit into the sweet, succulent corn, and I rapidly continued to eat because the pain was worth each decadent bite. As we nibbled on the flavorsome tea egg to prevent mouth burns, we walked along steep, zig-zagged paths, enclosed by towering bamboo stalks and shrubs on either sides that forbid any breeze. The demanding trek to the hot springs required great stamina and at the half-way point, I wondered if I’d ever make it as I slowly but surely progressed down winding and deteriorating stone steps. But then my eyes glistened at the sight of flat land ahead of us (a huge relief from the prior tedious path) that was accompanied by a behemoth fumarole, filling the atmosphere with pastel yellow, sulfuric clouds. Based on intuition, it seemed we were approaching our destination soon, and indeed there was only an additional half mile descending down a serpentine path until the hot springs.

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Within the mountains

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Smoke from underground

Very highly likely there was an easier access to the hot springs, but Billy and I entered from a threatening path as we nimbly hopped from jagged stone to stone down hill, avoiding the steaming, cloudy water beneath us. Masses of steam engorged our bodies, obscuring our view ahead, and we weren’t sure if we could withstand the fumes, but a miracle occurred when we reached the bottom and regained our sights.

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Our dangerous path to enter the springs

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Clear water from the waterfalls

I witnessed a fictitious image with varieties of different sized natural springs and melanin-rich individuals bathing in the streaming water, soaking in the sun’s and water’s nutrients. The pale blue, almost grey, hot spring water was too hot for comfort, but it came in contact with crystal clear water from a waterfall nearby to form the optimal temperature for humans to enjoy a dip. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a swimsuit so I was semi- crestfallen, but I got to dip most of my legs into the pools and relish the setting, the people, and the sounds. And since Bayan village is no longer open, all that occurred on this day remains in my memories and in my photos. And I know I’ll read back on this blog whenever I need to recall the allure of this place.

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Cooling down next to a waterfall

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Cloudy hot spring waters

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Venturing

 

-Jamie

Taiwan Day 11: The Traditions of Paper-Making

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Fo Guang Shan Monastery

Before my eyes was a massive spectacle of temple after temple in a Versailles-esque setting, but you can imagine how the architecture of all differs between East and West. There weren’t intricate gardens and it wasn’t nearly as widespread as Versailles, but both gave off Christopher Nolan vibes with labyrinthine plots. This was Fo Guang Shan, the largest Buddhist monastery in Taiwan, a sacred place where monks silently strolled past visitors and minded their own business. The grand view of the monastery is looking forward to see repeated temples on both sides and a 36 meter tall golden Protection Buddha statue at the end, staring right back at you. With the right hand palm up and the open left hand rest on its knee, the towering Buddha sends a clear message of “No fear” to all guests because he wants to offer protection from delusion, fear, and anger.

Afterwards, we spent the remainder of the morning driving halfway up the country to visit the GuangXing Pulp Factory,  a quaint factory displaying the traditions of paper-making. All paper products at the factory were made by hand and we got to see the employees go through the procedures of ancient paper making which included soaking the tree pulp, drying it, weaving and pasting the mush together, and spreading and ironing out the mush on a heated metal surface. The sweltering summer air made us sweat, but the sultry atmosphere caused by steam and engines made our skin drench furthermore. I want to praise the employees because tediously forming each delicate sheet required patience and strength.

Then, we all fortunately got to experience making our own paper fans from the delicate, hand-made sheets, which turned out to be quite hellish. If you messed up one simple step, your fan was ruined altogether, and naturally as the hapless being I am, my fan turned out to be a catastrophe, but I brought it home anyways and showed it off. The process required putting your sheet on a cast iron mold, spraying some water (apparently I sprayed a bit too much), and gently patting down with a brush (apparently I didn’t pat gently enough). You then softly apply some paint and then carefully remove the sheet to transfer to a plastic fan. At this point, my sheet already looked defective, but I glued it onto the plastic fold, sealed the edges, and sobbed at my dreadful incompetence. Check out below to see the design on my sheet! I didn’t include a photo of the fan because it was a soggy, wrinkled mess. So that pretty much concludes what I did today, and it also reminds me that I should start being more competent at life.

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A rooster mold

-Jamie

Taiwan Day 10: An Entire Road Trip Packed in One Day ft. Spirited Away’s Movie Inspiration Location

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Crowded nightlife at Jiufen

Hopefully “Spirited Away” caught your attention, or if you are unaware of its existence, it is possibly the best animated film in history directed by world renown, Hayao Miyazaki. Indeed we visited its movie inspiration location, but prior to visiting the location, we visited two other magnificent places, which is why by 11 PM of today, my feet had blisters, my legs were shaking, and my clothes reeked of sweat. My cousins and I packed an entire road trip into 14 hours and crazy would be an understatement of our adventure. Without further ado, here is the tale of Taiwan Day 10.

At around 9 AM, my older cousin, Kevin, picked me up from Taipei city and I was so delighted because I had not seen him in six years. He looked pretty much the same, but I know I looked taller, older, and more mature than my 12 year old self. I hopped into shotgun and we conversed nonstop during our drive to Taipei train station to pick up my two other older cousins, Kiwi and Villea, (These are their real names, but uncommon English names are prevalent in Taiwan), who I have not seen in 7 years, and they pretty much looked the same as well.

“Where would you like to go?” Kevin asked me.

Yikes, I’m the foreigner, and I didn’t know much of the area, but based on Google Search “Taipei attractions” I saw a beautiful location called Yangmingshan National Park so I asked to go there. And indeed he swerved his miniature car towards North and drove 45 minutes up sinuous roads until we saw a parking lot and awkwardly maneuvered to squeeze into a tight spot. We hiked down to Qingtiangang, a grassland within the mountains with cotton ball-esque clouds hovering not too far above your head and Japanese shorthorn grazing tranquilly. The shorthorns wandered around freely and thankfully all the visitors respected them, as nobody hollered and ran towards them, took selfie stick photos, or tried to pet them. Several people laid on the grass, wrote in their journals, read a book, or enjoyed a picnic while others had large cameras, snapping photos of the stunning scenery. My cousins and I simply walked along the trails and eventually sat down to converse and listen to the running waters nearby in the midst of fog and comfortable 70 degree weather.

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Two Japanese shorthorn resting

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Qingtiangang

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Typical jump photo

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Japanese shorthorn grazing

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Got a photo with it!

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Xiaoyoukeng

Afterwards, we hiked two miles to Xiaoyoukeng, a fumarole that spews sulphur gas from underground, filling the atmosphere with a rotten egg smell. Large clouds of gas constantly piped up from underground and the surrounding rock was stained yellow as we could feel the increased temperature nearby on our skin. Thus after a morning of spectacular views, we headed East towards Yehliu Geopark, on behalf of my request. The Queen’s Head formation at Yehliu was always shown in Taiwan brochures and travel videos, so I decided it was about time that I go. I expected a large desolate land with unique rock formations in the middle of nowhere, but to my disappointment, the area was highly developed with apartment buildings, stores, and a gaudy aquarium with dolphin shows. The plethora of billboards with vibrant colors just didn’t suit the monotonous yet enchanting colors of the Geopark. Then within the geopark, bold red, painted lines with the words “Do Not Cross” were drawn all along the borders of rocks, wrecking the nature of the rocks. And even with the garish bold line, people kept jumping across the lines to take pictures and touch the unique rock formations as park rangers indignantly hollered at them to back off. It was such a pathetic site, and it vexes me that humans have such little respect for nature.

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The famous, Queen’s Head

Despite what I said above, if you ignore what the humans had done and focus on the rock formations, you begin to wonder how the earth does wondrous things such as forming such spectacular oddities. The rock formations remain a mystery to this day and the park seemed a little eerie because it really looked as if aliens had come millions of years ago to mold the rock figures.

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The mushroom rocks

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The coast

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More mushroom rocks

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The Candle rocks

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The Candle rocks

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The pedestrian bridge

After walking through multiple shapes of rocks, my cousin suggested we end our day at Jiufen, an old street in the Northern mountainous area of Taipei, aka the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s vision in Spirited Away. I felt a yearning to experience this old street, and when we arrived at its exceptionally narrow entrance, I was ready to enter a mesmerizing world. It was 6 PM and the sky remained bright, but once I forced myself into the horde of people, my surrounding suddenly became dim, chit-chat filled my ears, and a conglomeration of food scents reached my nose. It was a Saturday night so there was absolutely no leeway on the paths as everybody slowly, but gradually took baby steps to move the traffic. There were countless number of vendors selling handmade jewelry, purses, egg rolls, musical instruments, passion fruit jam, glutinous balls, literally anything you can name! I took my time, looking at all the fascinating little shops, and then reentered the sluggish crowd to continue moving along the paths. As we dawdled along the path, I heard Chinese spoken infrequently and instead it seemed as if only Japanese was being spoken. Suddenly, three bulky camera crew men, an elder man, and a tall, slim, and well-dressed lady unexpectedly walked through us all as many people behind me began to take photos of the woman. She was speaking Japanese, and it looked like she was doing a travel TV show, but I had no clue who she was, perhaps someone famous? And to this day, I keep wondering if I had bumped into a Japanese celebrity.

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Crowded pathways

The night gradually approached as the sky dimmed drastically when we decided to dine at Zhang Ji Traditional Fish Balls, a simple restaurant specializing in handmade fish ball and noodle soup. There was an awfully long line of people waiting to be seated indicating that the food served was probably exceptional, and indeed when we were finally seated, the food was exceptional! Despite being stuffed from dinner, there were two more things that were a “must try” at Jiufen, so we exited the restaurant and headed up to find Lai Ah Puo Yu Yuan shop that serves sweet potato, green tea, and taro glutinous rice balls in a brown sugar ice mixture or brown sugar hot soup, topped with adzuki and green beans for 40 NT a bowl (approx. $1.30). Customers have the option between brown sugar ice or soup, but because the Summer days were hot, we ordered 3 bowls, all with ice. Because I grew up accustomed to eating glutinous products, the bowl of soup tasted phenomenal and not weird to me at all, but if foreigners visit Jiufen, I highly recommend trying this odd-sounding dessert because it is truly something you’ve never tasted before.

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Taro, sweet potato, and green tea glutinous balls

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Zhang Ji Traditional Fish Balls

If you have made it this far, I want to thank you!! I am almost done, but not quite yet…

The time was 8:30 PM and the sun was close to setting so everybody in the vicinity enthusiastically waited for the entire Jiufen area to light up its red lanterns and bring the “Spirited Away” essence to life. As each red lantern gradually lit up, all that could be heard were peoples “oohs and ahhs” and the moment was truly indescribable as people rushed out of restaurants to see the views, crowds stopped moving to take pictures, and everyone was appreciating the night life with Taiwan’s mountains and oceans in the background. I find it so difficult to describe the atmosphere at that moment, but it seemed like there was a charm placed on Jiufen; it looked like we were all characters in a utopia.

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Jiufen at night

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Overview of nightlife at Jiufen, PC: reddit

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View from Jiufen

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The sun sets

Finally, it was time to leave the utopia for we were all exasperated and were ready to dive onto a fluffy bed and pillow to relax. Because of the mobs of people, we estimated it would take about 30 minutes to exit the old street so we headed towards the original path we had taken and wandered through the crowds to exit. On our way back, we quickly stopped at the Ah Lan Hakka Glutinous Rice Cake vendor to purchase some glutinous rice cakes stuffed with sweet red bean or savory dried preserved vegetables at 10 NT per cake.

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Ah Lan Hakka Glutinous Cake

Miraculously, we located our car at 10 PM, piled in, and passed out during the hour drive back to Taipei Main City, except for Kevin, who unfortunately was the designated driver. I remember very little of what else occurred that night, but all I know was that it was a glorious day and Taiwan never ceases to amaze me. I probably wouldn’t recommend touching down on 3 locations in one day, but if you are crazy like we are, go for it 🙂

-Jamie

 

 

Taiwan Day 9: Aboriginal Amusement Park and Feng Chia Night Market

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Sun Moon Lake

Today’s adventure led us to Nantou, a serene county known for its mountains and waters that are perfect for the outdoor fanatics. As our car meandered through the narrow roads, high rises gradually disappeared and all that could be seen were trees within the mist and seldom wooden homes. We arrived at the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, a monumental amusement park amid the mountains that integrates aboriginal culture and modern thrill together into one. The park accurately depicts Taiwan’s nine principal aboriginal tribes throughout, displaying meticulously hand-carved and painted totem poles, old-style wooden homes, and hand-spun textiles. The entire experience brings you back several hundreds of years to the aboriginal era, especially since the workers are dressed in cultural garments and often put on shows of dancing, singing, and rituals.

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Aboriginal ritual

Surprisingly, the amusement portion had several invigorating rides not for the faint of heart. However, if you want relaxation, I highly recommend the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway, a cable car ride that carries you aloft the mountains from the bottom to the highest point of the park. A second cable car must be boarded to visit Sun Moon Lake, one of the most beautiful destinations in Taiwan with waters blue as can be and silhouettes of perpetual mountain ranges, all engulfed in heaps of clouds. The weather at the Culture Park consisted of clear skies and constant sun, but as the cable car traveled towards Sun Moon Lake, cloud mass increased and colors deepened in hue. The temperature dropped drastically and our view became slightly clouded. The ambiance was serene and all I could hear was the slight chatter from other people, who were in awe of the view as well. We were fortunate to see the sun in process of setting, which lit up the sky creating an aura of peace, as I frantically whipped out my phone to snap a panorama of the altering scene.

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View from the cable car

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cable ride

We stayed overnight at the Sun Moon Lake Youth Activity Center which had a large balcony several stories high with a perfect view of the lake. My friends and I sat on a wooden table and watched the sun set until the sky became pitch black. When there was nothing left to see, we headed out to Feng Chia Night Market, which was an hour drive away, but we were out for a good time accompanied by good food.

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Egg cakes

Parking at the night market was such an infuriating task that we almost decided to head back home, but after 20 minutes of honking and hair-pulling, we finally found a spot. The large night market was packed like sardines as I constantly had bodies up against my skin, transferring sweat from one person to another. It was insanely unhygienic, but I was craving savory and sweet goodness on my taste buds, and I luckily was able to purchase food, despite the mobs of  hangry people. I hastily munched on my gua bao (steamed bun with pork belly, fried egg, cucumbers, cilantro, and peanut hot sauce), egg cakes, grilled kebabs, and matcha snow ice with adzuki beans, as people shoved and hollered to get in line for food. Smoke from cooking shrouded the sky and the smell of fried and grilled meats filled my nostrils as I enjoyed being among the mass of food lovers.

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Matcha snow ice with adzuki beans

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Selection of BBQ kebabs

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Pork belly bao

-Jamie