Friday, August 1, 2014

My Wanderings and Such Around Taiwan

Sites and Stuff

I didn’t realize it before, but Taiwan is truly a land for people who love the outdoors.  The island is chock full of opportunities for cycling, surfing, rock climbing, hiking, and other fun outdoor activities.  It’s almost as if the interior of the island is one giant hiking path.  Taiwan has a series of 100 mountains known as the Baiyue, (百岳), all of which are 3000 meters above sea level, and most are climbing accessible.  Unfortunately for me, I have neither the equipment nor the permits to attempt any of these more challenging hikes.  I’m afraid I’m going to have to save them for another time when I might come back here, in which case, I will be much more thoroughly prepared for it.

I write this now to let the dozen or fewer people reading this know what they have in store if they choose to come here.  Bring your hiking boots, go here, here, here, or here to figure out what permits you need, and find a method of transportation to get out into the baiyue because they all look truly stunning.  For those of you with a little more money to spend and prefer a more guided experience, there’s also this company, which I’ve heard good things about.

Instead, my explorations have been a bit more modest in scope.  I first decided to take the subway down to Elephant Mountain (象山-xiangshan), a short but steep hike that gives beautiful views over the city.  I think this place is a good start for anyone looking to do some simple outdoorsy type things around the city because it’s extremely convenient to get to, with well maintained paths to explore.  If you come in the summer, however, be prepared for scorching heat accompanied by swamp-like humidity levels.

The next weekend, my roommates and I looked for something a bit cooler, so we decided to partake in something called river tracing close to an area south of Taipei called Wulai (烏來).  River tracing, is basically hiking in the actual river, and climbing up the rocks, boulders, and waterfalls of said river.

We started this trip out by taking a subway and then a bus out to Wulai.  We were originally going to get off a few stops before the more popular Wulai park area and head straight to the Jiu Jia Liao (加九寮) trail.  From the bus stop to the river would have taken a total of 20 minutes to walk to.  However, one of the passengers on the bus overheard our conversation and informed us that the path to the river had been washed out by a mudslide and was currently inaccessible.  Dismayed, we decided to just head up to Wulai and see what we could find there.

When we got to Wulai, we were still a little unhappy about the reported mudslide and decided to see if there was still a way to get to the river.  After wandering around for a while, we found signs directing us towards what we thought was an alternative path that would eventually lead to the Jiu Jia Liao.  Unfortunately, the final sign we saw warned us that there had been a mudslide and that the path had been blocked off.  It was then that we realized the passenger on the bus had been misinformed.  He told us that the 20 minute path had been blocked, when in reality, it was the path we had just stumbled upon, about 3 miles away from Jiu Jia Liao.

Fortunately for us, just as we were ready to resign ourselves to a non-river tracing fate, two local construction workers sauntered by carrying some long pipes that they were going to install along the trail.  We asked them if the trail was safe, and they said that the mudslide had made it a bit difficult, but it was still passable.  With that news, we began our little adventure.

Thanks to the warning signs, my roommates and I were the only four people daring enough to brave the path (aside from the two construction workers, of course).  We had the whole three miles all to ourselves.  Along the way, we ran into a half broken, but still easily passable bridge, and a portion of a partially washed out path.  Aside from those two parts, the three-mile path out to Jiu Jia Liao was peaceful and beautiful.

Part of the path, to Jiu Jia Liao

A nice little waterfall area that we stumbled upon along the hike.

About an hour and a half later, hot, sweaty, and hungry, we made it to the trailhead of Jiu Jia Liao.  We sat down for a quick lunch, then stripped down to swimsuits, donned our river-tracing boots, and began tracing up the river.

The feeling was amazing!  The water was refreshingly cool, the people were few, and the views were gorgeous.  We spent the rest of the day navigating up the river as far as we could before it started to get dark.  At that point, we headed back down the way we came, eventually ending our trip by jumping off one of the man made waterfalls close to the trailhead.  Overall, it was am exhausting, but amazing experience.  I very much hope that I have the opportunity to do this again before I leave.  Taiwan has a number of places hidden away that are just asking for me to explore them!

My roommate and I in the middle of the river.  I wasn't able to take many pictures because obviously I was essentially climbing around in the middle of the river the whole time....

After spending the last two weekends in the mountains, I decided to change things up a bit with a trip to the beach.  A few classmates and I decided to head off to a small town called Wushi (烏石), located on the northeast coast of Taiwan.

It was here that I decided to try my hand at surfing.  Though I don’t think I’ll be going pro any time soon, I did manage to stand on the board quite a few times and ride out the waves all the way back to the beach.  Keep in mind, though, these waves were really nothing to write home about.  Nonetheless, it was a good time and a good way to deal with the searing Taiwan heat.

I promise I looked much cooler while I was riding the waves, or at least that's what I tell myself.

The following week was time for a trip further into the interior of Taiwan.  My friends and I ventured about 45 minutes away by car to the town of Pingxi, known for its lantern festival, it’s old street, and a few lovely little hikes up some small mountains (they’re too steep to be hills, but really too small to be mountains—I just don’t know what else to call them).

We started off the trip with the intention of taking a hiking path up to Xiaozi Mountain (孝子山), and later Cimu Mountain (慈母山), both of which, according to Google maps, were basically right off of a path from the Pingxi city center.  However, given the fact that the signs leading to the trailhead were hidden by tons of parked cars and scooters, we passed right by them.

Instead, we ended up wandering around until we found a sign directing us to another trail called Mumu Shan (畝畝山).  We thought, “Why not be adventurous and check this one out instead?”  Little did I know how often I would be cursing Mumu Shan for the rest of the day.

Upon reaching the trailhead, we were happy to note that there was absolutely no one else around us.  That meant that the trail was all ours, a great, secluded place to go explore!  What we didn’t realize was that in Taiwan, if a hiking path is not well worn from hikers, all kinds of varieties of freakishly massive spiders quickly occupy it.

This was one of the dozens of monstrosities we saw throughout the hike.  At one point we ran into one that was slightly smaller than my fist.  It had just trapped some sort of lizard in its web and was sitting their watching it squeal as it waited for the venom to work its magic.

I am thoroughly displeased with the number of spiders we encounter.

The initial walk into the forest didn’t seem too bad.  We saw one or two massive spiders with webs along the side of the path though, and began to get nervous.  That’s when we decided to employ man’s greatest tool, a stick we found laying on the ground, to wave around in front of us as we hiked, so as not to accidentally walk straight into a spider web.  The stick worked most of the time, but there were at least four instances where one of us came face to face with one of Taiwan’s majestic Golden Silk Orb Weavers.

But I digress…

We continued along a very faint path, battling spiders, thick underbrush, and steep hills for the better part of an hour and a half, determined to make it to the top of Mumu Shan before we started heading back.  The problem was, the foliage surrounding us was so thick that we couldn’t see further than 50 feet in any directing during most of the hike.  We would reach what we thought was the top of the mountain, asking ourselves, “Is this the top of Mumu Shan?” only to find that the path seemed to continue ahead.

This is what most of the path looked like.

The hike was only supposed to be about a mile long, but because of the constant twists and turns, along with the periodic steep climbs and spider battles, we couldn’t exactly go at a brisk pace.  On top of that, the deeper we got into the forest, the more we began to see the faint outlines of other former hiking paths.  Given the fact that our own path wasn’t exactly well marked, and the chances of getting lost in the woods seemed to be increasing, we assumed that we had to have already reached the summit, but just couldn’t tell.  After that, we decided to head back down.

Thankfully we got back to the trailhead without much incident and proceeded to head back into town.  Along the way back into town, we ran into a beautiful waterfall, where we were able to cool down for a while and relax before going the rest of the way.  This was actually one of the highlights of the trip, particularly because we had just spent the last three hours in barely visible, sweltering hot hiking path.

Cool, refreshing waterfall
After cooling down for a little while, we made it back into town where, after asking around a bit, managed to find our way to our originally intended hiking paths.  From there on out, the rest of the day was defined by its lack of enormous spiders fun trails up steep rocks and stunning views of the surrounding area.  The entire area was essentially our playground to run around in and explore for the rest of the day.  It was a very welcome contrast to our morning’s adventure.

Path up to the top of Xiaozi Mountain

Me, loving the view from the top.

Path to the top of Cimu Mountain

My friend, snapping pictures of me while I'm trying to get to the top.

Loving the view
Once the sun began to set, we decided to head back home, sweaty, exhausted, but very satisfied.  This trip has made me realize that even though this is a small island, a summer is not nearly enough time to take in all that it has to offer.  I only wish that I had more time to discover all the other beautiful places that define this island.

Sadly, from this point on, there’s only about three weeks left for me here.  These last three weeks will be spent essay writing and buckling down on my studies.  If I can manage it, I’m going to try and make it out to an abandoned Japanese fort in Xinzhu county, and maybe another river tracing trip close to Yangming Shan.  I’ll do my best to keep everyone updated on such activities.

Until then, 再見!

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