When I first traveled solo series: The fisherman’s wharf

Several empty boats fill the still waters of the wharf. I did not see a fisherman but thought maybe it’s not the best fishing time. It is a rainy day but still perfect for taking pictures so I took out my LX5 then prepared to click away.

In the back draft stands the Lover’s Bridge. A fine structure displaying curved lines. I wonder why they call it that but I guess sunsets will make a romantic atmosphere in the area. I walked towards the bridge which is actually not very far from the bus drop off point. Only a few people were walking around, good timing I thought. After wandering around I crossed the bridge, took few stops for pictures then continued walking. On the other side is a wooden platform with a few stores that are still closed. It’s actually very nice to hang around there if only the weather was good. One can watch the open sea while eating and on the back side is a picture of the wharf. I did not stay too long cause there seemed to be nothing else to do so I went back to the other side and looked around in the building fronting the bridge. Found a few food stores but nothing interested me.

Lover's bridge in Danshui

Lover’s bridge in Danshui

I decided to go back to the city. A full day of sight seeing I thought. I looked for the bus stop and saw a couple already there. I checked the bus route in the map that was posted. Mrt, yep this is my bus stop. But buses rarely came so I had to wait for a while. The couple didn’t move as well so maybe we are waiting for the same bus.

After a few minutes I was on my way back to the city with the memory of the peaceful wharf so fresh within me.

When I first traveled solo series: End of the line

This was going to be my first time to explore a place on my own. Hours and hours of reading through different blogs and forums until everything that I needed to know I knew. I am excited. Excited to see Taiwan. And while I was extremely anxious before I left home, at that moment all of that mysteriously disappeared.

Rainy window

Photo taken by DulceDolce

I woke up 8 in the morning, made myself up then went to the common room. The empty house that welcomed me a few hours ago is now very much awake. I noticed that it was raining so I sat for a while in the living and thought about the day’s plans. A man in his 40’s greeted me. He’s from out of town and is in Taipei for business. After learning that I’m Filipino, he excitedly told about his time in Cebu and how he loved it. We continued talking while the local drama is on tv and was only interrupted when he was called by the receptionist about something. I looked at the window and thought the rain isn’t going to stop so decided to just go on out.

I stopped in the 7eleven store to buy something to eat. I asked the crew about the local SIM card but he couldn’t understand English much. Oh the language issue is about to start. We couldn’t understand each other so much that a customer had to intervene. He just wanted my passport after all.

When I stepped out of the store I only had one thing on my mind. I have to get to the mrt. So I walked my way back to the bridge and onto the building where the bus had dropped me before. It’s a busy day I thought. The sleeping Taipei Main Station now has so many people inside. But I am still not sure where I am going considering the gloomy day. Should I go see the zoo and the cute pandas or head far off to Danshui? I read signs after signs (awesome they have it in English!) for the long distance trains, high speed rails, bus stations, mrts, and several street names. I’m in the center of it all I told myself. Eventually I decided Danshui seems more interesting. Now I just have to find the mrt.

In a distance I saw something, it said “Tourist Center”. Ooh they’re talking about me! So I walked towards the booth and said “Excuse me do you have a map of the city?“. The girl on the other side of the table gladly gave me the city map along with other maps. “Thank you! Can you also show me where’s the mrt station going to Danshui?“. “Sure, you just walk straight”, pointing to the path in front of us, “…then take the escalator and there you will see instructions“. “Okay thank you!“. I started walking just as she had told me and found the signs she was talking about on top of the escalator. This is fairly easy I thought.

Train ticketing machine

Photo taken from Wikimedia

Several machines were lined up in front of the mrt gates. A little panic came to me and thought oh no I have to operate that. I watched others touched the screens then take out their cards. Should be simple I thought but when I got to one of the machines it was all in Taiwanese! So I quickly turned and scanned the area for any possible booths where I can buy it manually. There’s a booth but why is there nobody lining up hmmm. After a few seconds an American family came to the window. They said something to the man inside but I couldn’t hear it. I walked closer. And when the family left, I went to the window and said to the man “Hi, how much is the easy card?“. He told me the price plus the deposit and some other things which I couldn’t really understand so I just gave him the bill.

I went down to the platform along with the human traffic. I hear them talking but couldn’t understand a thing. When the train came I stepped inside with no fuss. This is good, lines are good. I quickly noticed that there were only a few seats in the train and most of the space is for standing up. I settled on the side and just stared at the window. My ride took a while cause my stop was in the end of the line. I saw people get in and out of the train with their everyday agendas and a couple curious eyes staring at me, maybe wondering why I look a bit different.

The train stopped. “Danshui station“. I am here! I got off the platform like everybody else and proceeded to the front of the station. Okay now where is bus #26. I asked around but they couldn’t understand me so I pointed at the picture in the map on my hand. “Ah fisherman’s wharf, go straight“. On a busy street I found my bus, bus #26. I got in and swiped my card then took a seat. I watched over my window as we passed by a series of shops and some schools. Occasionally I glanced at the LED sign in the windshield of the bus. Taiwanese words popped up first then English but I had no idea what they were so I thought it might be the names of the routes.

I got a little worried after some time cause I still didn’t see the wharf. People were getting of the bus and there were only a few of us left. I prepared to stand up and make my way to the driver to ask him but decided to ask one of the passengers instead. “Wait. Wait.” he said. So I guess I just have to wait more. The bus made a couple of turns to some inner streets that looks to be very quiet at night. Then like a curtain being pulled, the wharf started to show and not very far the Lover’s bridge standing tall.

When I first traveled solo series: Room #205

Night bus

Photo taken by Geoff LMV

I was looking at the sleeping streets in the window on my right. A bit dazed, I told myself everyone must be under their sheets by now. The driver pulled over beside a building that looks to be closed already. Then he went down the bus and opened the cargo compartment. Ah this must be our stop.

Everyone started going down and waited for their luggage. I looked around like a confused cat thinking where should I go. Some waited on the side of the road, they must be looking for a cab.  I continued walking with the map to the hotel in my hand. Hmmm where are the signs, where is the bridge. I found myself on the other side of the building, south side I presume so I walked towards the intersection and there I found a bridge. Unsure if it was the right bridge I took my first step then the other and the other. As I was walking I saw a 7eleven at the crossing street but thought that it’s a bit far from how I understood the hotel’s word. I looked on the other side but saw no other so I decided to go down on the 7eleven side of the bridge. I walked towards it but slowly realized that no this couldn’t be it. I turned around, walked around the stairs again and there I found in a not so obvious location the 7eleven I was looking for.

I took a moment with my map again, it said to make a right in an alley then a left. So I went in. An empty alley that has an improvised observation post in the corner inside. Nobody was around only that suspiciously looking man in the post that I didn’t want to deal with at a strangely time. After a few knocks and tries on some random doors I realized there’s still a pathway if I make a turn inside. So that’s why the map said to make a left! And there the hotel’s doorstep was waiting in front of me.

I entered my access code and slowly the door opened. The reception was empty, even the common room empty. It felt strange like someone breaking in but it also felt like going home late to your house while everybody is sleeping.

Room #205 that is my room and when I came in everything was ready.

How to battle solo travel nerves and start making friends

Solo travel is all hit recently. Travelers are talking about it and encouraging others to do the same. But for the unconventional ones it’s a major step not to be taken any time soon. “It would be scary to get lost on my own”, “It’s embarrassing to eat alone” blah blah blah. If we look at it closely though we can see the root of this nervous feeling.

Remember the first time you entered your new school? I’m guessing it felt really awkward. Awkward in the sense that you didn’t know where to sit or with who are you going to eat your lunch. You’re in the edge, you have to approach someone and make friends. He or she will be your entry point to your new world.

If getting acquainted with strangers were easy for everybody then maybe being on a foreign land on our own won’t be bad at all too. But do we really have to be nervous about it? No. From what I learned about traveling alone, local people are actually friendly to travelers. They have this excited-enthusiastic sound that they want to hear the stories of this traveler in front of them and in turn brag about their home town too. It’s a nice exchange that could very well take any travelers whole afternoon.

There is no formula to it just like there is no formula to meeting your future best friend. It just takes a small talk. I remember being in Taiwan on my own and didn’t know how to get out of the town. I went inside 7eleven and asked a crew for bus directions. The query took long because of the language barrier but good thing somebody overheard us and helped. I was just excited to be talking to someone in English so we talked for some time and ended with him taking me to the train station in the next town.

Hostels are great way for conversations too. Since there are different types of travelers in there you are bound to meet someone who’s probably on his own too! Starters like “Where are you from?” or “Til when are you in town?” are a good way too start. You can even go further and ask to go eat dinner out together.

They say if you travel in big numbers it will be much harder to meet someone. So maybe we have better footing when we travel solo. But bear in mind also that being a traveler doesn’t always mean you will be the one in help. Sometimes you have to be the one showing concern. It’s raining and you are waiting for a ride, you see someone beside you struggling a bit because she doesn’t have umbrella. Share yours and you just might have the greatest conversation for the day.

People are just people just like you are so don’t be afraid to approach and make conversations. Of course being careful is still important. Never give too much information cause the person is after all still a stranger to you. Different people, different personalities, so if someone didn’t respond the way you would expect just move on.

Happy conversations everyone!

A fellow Indonesian traveler (middle) we met while going around Borobudur

A fellow Indonesian traveler (middle) we met while going around Borobudur