Alone but Not Lonely
When I told my friends that I will be traveling alone, their first question is WHY? I answered them “Why not?”
Traveling alone, as a mom in her late thirties without their kids, is unfathomable for most. It somehow poses a lot of questions and intrigues many. I daresay though, I am no conventional mom and woman, for that matter. At this age, nothing should restrict us from living our dream. I followed my heart, it led me to the airport.
On to the next adventure
Should I also say that the reason this started was weird as well? Kid you not, my first solo trip was because I was fangirling over Jerry Yan in the TV series Meteor Garden. My colleagues and friends chuckled whenever they heard my story. I smiled and said, “It just happened." I am no typical woman and no typical fangirl.
It was July 17, 2018, when I boarded the plane to Taiwan. At 23:00, my body and mind are debating whether to snooze or not. The excitement and fear kept me up the whole flight. Who wouldn’t be when I am a woman solo traveling for the first time in a foreign country, right?
To my surprise, everything changed the moment I set foot in Taiwan. Dejavu! Was it destiny that brought me here? There is just something about Taiwan that made me feel “at home.”
It does not mean that since I went out on my own that I had to be on my own the whole time. To break the monotony, I booked several guided tour packages around the country. The 1st stop is the scenic mountain view of Alishan National Recreation Forest and the nostalgic Chung Cheng University in Chiayi.
I must admit I hate trekking so I was in for a treat when I saw Alishan! Seated at 2,500 ft above sea level, Alishan boasts of its breathtaking sunrise above the sea of clouds. Unfortunately, I arrived at 9 am and the sun had already risen. Aside from the sunrise, the place in itself is a beauty to behold. Tall cypress surrounds the forest which is accessible via trails. For me though since I am feeling nostalgic, I went back to the memory lane through their vintage train.
Due to my lack of experience in trekking, I found myself deep in the forest with no specific destinations at all. Google Maps was no help as I was smacked in the middle of the forest. Somehow the music of nature calmed my spirit. The trails and the music from the streams and birds gave me the assurance that I will eventually reach a destination. And there it was, the mysterious sisters' lake, with its own tragic story to be told.
Lost in the woods
The next tour was Jiufen-Shifen. It was a good day. Great way to start my day, I met another solo traveler. Oh! The joy of solo traveling. You get to meet new people and even new friends along the way. This experience made me realize that there is a whole world out there waiting for us. If only we could reach out and step out of our comfort zone.
My newfound friend has been solo traveling around Asia all by himself. I asked out of curiosity, “Do you feel lonely traveling by yourself?”
And he said “No. The experience is worth it. You don’t need to worry about anyone but yourself.”
I certainly agree.
So off we went to our next adventure with my new travel buddy. I never thought sightseeing in Jiufen meant climbing a 300-step staircase. I was already exhausted looking at the plight of the stairs. Here goes nothing! You can’t fully appreciate the beauty of Jiufen without going up and down its alley. There I was sharing great moments and food with a stranger turned travel buddy. We feasted on taro balls, Taiwanese sausage, peanut butter ice cream roll, famous beef noodles and samplers from different cute stalls.
From Jiufen, we moved to Shifen Waterfall. I must say I was pushed to my limit. The 20-minute trek required going up and down several trails and crossing 2 suspension bridges. I almost gave up! Thankfully, I didn’t for I would have never seen the majestic beauty of Shifen Waterfall – “The Little Niagara of Taiwan.” As they say, the hardest climb leads to the best views and the best juice in town - acia jelly. I don’t consider myself an adventurous eater. However, this trip taught me to open up a bit more and just let my palette explore unfamiliar tastes.
We wrapped up the tour by sending off sky lanterns in the air. Both of us wrote our wishes on the lantern. The staff was kind enough to take our choreographed pictures and videos. We can’t bring the lanterns home but the memories will remain in our hearts. And like everyone else, we pray that our wish will be granted as send off the sky lanterns to heaven.
I left Jiufen and Shifen with a new buddy in tow. He became my ally in exploring Taipei's famous night markets. We got lost exploring the city. None of us complained. Instead, we asked around and consulted Mr. Google Maps. I learned then that traveling teaches you to become problem solvers instead of whiners, where you learn to compromise. Our tummies were bursting with so much food our night market hopping at Raohe and Ximending.
We can never leave Taiwan without exploring the city of Taipei. Off we went to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, Taipei Main Station Underground Mall, and Taipei 101. It is fun wandering around learning about different cultures, places, and people. The world indeed is an open university waiting to be explored.
And the best way to conclude the trip is to appreciate Taipei’s cityscape at Taipei 101. My buddy decided not to tag along because of his fear of heights. He also mentioned that he will be leaving soon. I, on the other hand, was determined to climb the tower. So we said our goodbyes. That was the last time I saw him.
Bird's eye view of the city at Taipei 101
Taipei 101 did not fail me as it offered a 365 view of Taipei cityscape. From there, I saw how feasible it was for the modern world to live harmoniously with nature. If only the rest of the world can do the same thing. It made me reflect on the days that passed.
My travel has not been all smooth, there had been several hiccups along the way. I have missed my bus drop off multiple times. In my haze, I even lost my hat. Whenever I asked for directions, the language barrier was a huge hurdle. And so, I would be left relying on my own. And the weather was as fickle-minded as me. Did I mention how I really hate trekking? Yet I survived. I came out a changed person.
From the humble hometown girl, I am now a fearless woman ready to take on the world. The world will teach you about people and culture first hand. When traveling solo, you get to face your strongest enemy – yourself. Amidst the internal turmoil, we will discover what we are really capable of. And traveling could bring profound meaning to your life.
Solo traveling, I daresay is a must at least once in your life. It may be daunting especially for women. But with thorough research and fervent prayer for courage and safety, you can safely navigate yourself through different countries. The world is all yours for the taking. It teaches you to be humble as you are reminded that you are just a speck of dust in this vast universe.
On this trip, not only have I rediscovered myself but I also reconnected to God. He has shown me in different ways how he has been walking with me the whole time. Stopping the rain when I am about to go out. Even delaying the flight so I can sleep more. It felt like he has been carrying me like the whole time like in the story of the Footprints in the sand. In those wondrous ways, I never felt lonely as I am assured that every step of the way, someone is always there with me. I remember my travel guide telling me, “You’re lucky!” I smiled and said, “I am not lucky, I am blessed.”
© 2020 Rhona Cardenas