Bridging the gap in spirited sojourn

ELISE HIATT and her mum cast aside fears and enjoy bonding time in Taiwan

We clutch hands, paralysed with fear, over the dilapidated, narrow, dangerous bridge.

I’m not sure who takes the first step but I know if we don’t start moving soon, it will only get more difficult. Eyes fixed straight ahead, we stride quickly. I can see the terrifying drop in my peripheral vision. The edge is drawing me closer, pulling me over into the oncoming traffic.

Nauseous and unable to keep it together much longer, I run the last few metres on to sweet, safe ground. From here, the imminently collapsing deathtrap looks like nothing more conspicuous than a pedestrian overpass. We can’t help but laugh as we realise we could’ve just taken the crosswalk.

I’m travelling with my mum on a two-week cruise through Asia aboard the Celebrity Millennium. We haven’t spent this much time together in years. I worry what will happen if we get to a bridge we can’t just run across or worse, we both get “hangry” (anger caused by hunger) at the same time. But I also know this time together is to be treasured.

It’s an opportunity to get to know the woman who raised me and so far, compared with my usual methods of travel (a swag in the bush), the leisurely cruising lifestyle is proving pleasant.

Mum has been telling me “There’s something magical about waking up each morning in a new place”, and as usual, she’s right. Last night, we were rocked to sleep by the ship’s gentle motion and today we have awoken in the still, JU

Despite the dreamy scenery, I feel overwhelmed by all the people and grumpy that we’ve definitely missed the entrance to our mountain hike. Mum remains calm and accommodating. At times like these, the only sensible thing to do is have a cup of tea. Lucky for us, tea housesteahouses are abundant in Chiufen and we wander into the nearest one. Replacing our shoes with the supplied slippers, we’re shown to a balcony table boasting the same spectacular misty mountain view. We sit a metre or so back from the edge for safety. Two glass teapots are delivered, each filled with delicate flowers that unfurl before our eyes. Rose for Mum, jasmine for me. The tea is invigorating and it is with a new sense of resolve that we set out for our mountain pass.

This time, we shake off the tourists and enjoy a gentle stroll through the back alleys. Just as we’re losing hope of finding our trail and working up courage to ask for help, I spy a sign, Mt >span class="misspelled" name="spellmarker75">Keelung Hiking Trail. Success!

Bird twitters and gentle whispers of breeze through the tall native silvergrass quickly drown out car horns and traffic. Shiny gold and blue lizards dart across the mossy stairs as exotic butterflies show us the way. We climb this picturesque staircase into the rising mist.

We climb it some more. Then we keep climbing stair after stair after cobblestoned stair, getting higher and higher above the town. We grumble sarcastically about what a great idea this was and suddenly realise how high up we are. Halfway up a very steep, long, uneven staircase, a knee-high rope fence is the only thing between us and a drop into the unknown. Surprisingly, this doesn’t bother me as much as the overpass this morning. Mum, however, finds this much worse. I walk on her right so she can’t see the view and tell her I’ll catch her if she falls. Visibility becomes so low, we can barely see 20m in front. Thankfully, this means we can’t see how high up we are.

With perseverance, an hour of climbing gets us to the top. On a clear day you can see all the way to Taipei. We rely on the information board to assure us this is the case as all we see is ever-encroaching white. These are orographic clouds and a sign it will rain soon. They form when moist air is lifted over a mountain range and are the reason nearby Keelung port gets its name, “rainy harbour”. I lay on the cool, moist grass to catch my breath and am startled by a fearful yell. Mum is being chased by a giant bee. Probably too calmly, I waltz over to her as it buzzes away. We agree that perhaps we’ve faced enough fears for one day.

A wise woman once told me to wear sunscreen every dayeveryday. She stands next to me now as we both reapply and put fresh tissues in our pockets. Sometimes it’s uncanny how similar we are. I’m optimistic about the days to come. I may have inherited her fear of heights but I got some good stuff too. If we can support each other getting lost through crowds and up mountains, I reckon we’re gonna be all right. Besides, hanger is no match for my emergency muesli bar stash.

Congratulating ourselves on a day well spent, tThoughts of warm showers, clean sheets and delicious food beckon us back down the mountain to our comfy cruise ship.

The ship gangway is just a bit too high over the water for my liking but I know I can do it with Mum by my side. I’m so grateful to know she’ll always hold my hand when I need her. I hope she knows I’ll support her too, one bridge at a time.