Jiufen Old Street

Waiting. Waiting for a number. Number 1062, the bus number that will take me across Taiwan to a picture of something I once saw, an idea I’ve followed here. Is this a good idea? The number appears, I drop my money into a box, and squeeze my way into a crowded bus, standing room only. An hour later, I am surrounded by lush, green hills, and the bus drives into a painting. A painting of an old city on a hill, colorful temples, a market like a maze that stretches deep into the village, winding roads that travel up the mountains, weaving through the city, contrasted by a piercing blue sea below.

I eagerly jump off the bus and practically run into the market, stopping to purchase the first thing I see, peanut mochi. I tentatively bite into the squishy peanut dusted treat and move on, taking in the covered pathways, red lanterns guiding my way, the incense burning on the streets, tables of food offerings for the temple God’s, and venders calling out to try some tea. The smell of sweet meat, stinky tofu, incense, and fruit follows me throughout the market. I duck in and out of the market pathways, trying fried oyster mushrooms, tea, dodging the squid balls waved in my face, and finally emerge into the village.

A mountain calls to me as I sip my sweet green tea honey lemonade, and I start to climb. Umbrella in hand I climb up, in my black shirt and fashion shoes. Quickly I regret the sugary drink and wish I had opted for water. Sweat pours down my face, my heart pounds and I feel my pulse throbbing in the temples, yet I keep going. A slow and steady climb, but I won’t stop. I must reach the top, my damp clothes and shaky legs are rewarded by the stunning expanse of mountains and ocean views that emerge as I reach the peak, a sight I can only see once I’ve climbed. I pause, taking in the old mining town, the green mountains and villages below.

I must find the Golden Waterfall. I hike through the mountains, down old pathways, having likely not been traveled in years. My umbrella clears away debris, cobwebs, butterflies dance around my head, I feel the repeated tingle of bugs and spider-webs on my skin. I stumble upon a structure with the doors propped open; I desperately need a bathroom. A store maybe? A house? I tiptoe in and look around at dusty, unused objects, stored for some unknown purpose, now forgotten. I peek behind a curtain and discover exactly what I was looking for, a bathroom. I enter at the risk of being caught and dash out quickly, extra toilet paper in hand for the next time.

I’m lost in the maze of pathways. Dead end after dead-end. I sit on a rock and fight tears. Where am I? I suddenly notice an old man doing Tai Chi in his yard and watch his calm, calculated movements. He looks up and catches my distraught, teary eyes, and smiles, his wrinkled face is lit up by the old, wise eyes. The moment of despair passes, and I get up to move on. I will find my way. I keep moving through different pathways, climbing rocks, jumping down hills and finally, I see it. Golden rocks sparkle under the flow of water that falls down gracefully from a mountain above. I follow the golden rocks, the trail of water all the way to the sea below.

Despite my tears, my sweat, blistered feet, my dusty and dirty clothes, I’m grateful I made it here. It’s all worth it. The deserted sea-side mining town is beautiful in an old, sleepy way. Rusty houses built into the mountains overlook a pure, blue sea. I imagine the bustling town, families eating dinner overlooking the striking coast with waves breaking into the boulders after a hard day of work. Retreating from this little village, I slowly make my way back to the market, Jiufen Old Street, in the mood to get lost, before number 1062 takes me back to Taipei.

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