On January 18th, 2010, I took a cab from Yilan (宜蘭) to Lishan (梨山). You may be asking yourself what the heck was I thinking taking an uncharacteristically extravagant cab ride instead of an inexpensive bus ride. That's a great question... and the answer is a long, boring, somewhat frustrating travel story that I'm not going to get into right now...
... so anyway... I took a cab from Yilan to Lishan. My cab driver was a great guy and a very safe driver. We picked up his wife to join us on the long trip and we all chatted in Mandarin as we ascended the mountain. When super-thick fog rolled in at sunset, our visibility on the narrow broken highway seemed to drop to only a few feet! My driver drove like a champ. He was slow and careful, and even stuck his head out the window at times to help him see the road.
Halfway to Lishan, we stopped at a grimy grocery store alongside the highway in Nanshan (南山). Nanshan is a sleepy little cabbage town somewhere between Yilan and Lishan and my guess is that nobody ever stops here unless they grow cabbage, need gas, or have to go pee. We were in the latter camp.
My driver asked if I'd like some tea. I enthusiastically said yes because I had only had a Lara bar and a bottle of ready-to-drink oolong since breakfast. My driver pulled a nearly-empty bag of Lishan high mountain oolong from the trunk of his taxi, and asked the folks at the store if they had a teapot that we could use. Unfortunately they did not.
It's tea time in Nanshan Baby!
My driver seemed a little annoyed and muttered to himself, "who around here doesn't have a teapot?" He concluded that we would just have to "wing it," so he grabbed a couple of grubby beer glasses and a plastic lid. He brewed the tea in one cup and then poured it into the other (no easy task because a lot of tea dribbled down the side of the cup). Because we only had two beer glasses, he and his wife shared a disposable plastic cup. I guess they wanted me to have the other glass cup because I was their guest and the Taiwanese are always such sweet and thoughtful hosts.
My driver's wife bought me some five-spice eggs without asking me first so I had to politely explain that I did not eat eggs. She did not seem to mind and insisted on buying me a vegetarian bun instead. I tried to protest her hospitality but of course it didn't work. I was happy to eat my bun and they ate all the five-spice eggs.
The tea is steeping.
(I love how he put a bit of half eaten egg on top to keep the lid from blowing off.)
We had a good time drinking our tea and chatting with several of the chain-smoking, betel nut-chewing patrons of the little store. They were all totally blown away to see a tea-crazed white boy drinking their delicious local tea from a beer glass while on his way up to Lishan!
With our spirits renewed, and the fog starting to lift, we drove the remaining two hours to Lishan. Unfortunately, the higher we went the more broken the highway became. While the driver focused on keeping the car from falling off the mountain, his wife and I focused on not throwing up. Having the advantage of sitting shotgun, I succeeded. His wife, in the backseat, was not as lucky. Needless to say, we all became a little stressed-out during this leg of the journey. I really didn't envy my new friends who planned to drive home to Yilan that evening, so after we arrived, I happily insisted on paying my driver more than the already negotiated, and already quite expensive (don't ask me how much) price.
It certainly wasn't the best day I've ever had in Taiwan, but thanks to some great people, it was still a pretty good one. I was so happy to have reached my goal and to have had some rewarding and memorable experiences along the way!