Nov 17: With Gino and Jenny in Zhuzihu and Beitou
Time flies! And I can’t keep up with recording all the experiences and adventures. We have just returned from Alishan and Yu-shan (Jade Mountain), and there are hundreds of photographs to sort through. So I go back a couple of weeks to previous hikes in Yangmingshan Park, just northeast of Taipei, and a morning spent with my neighbours Gino and Jenny in Zhuzihu and Beitou.
It starts on the rooftop of my building (17th floor) where I’m watching the sunset and meet a neighbour who is collecting his dry laundry. Rooftops make great places to dry laundry (when it’s not raining), and at times meeting your neighbours. Plus, we have a fabulous view! Gino introduces himself in English and is eager to practice. (Most Taiwanese have English names, as we Westerners struggle pronouncing their given names. Who knows what we’re saying when pronouncing the name incorrectly?!) We look at the sunset and the mountains in the distance – it’s a clear day. He points out Yangmingshan and Seven Star Mountain – the first time I see them clearly in the distance since I moved to this location. These mountains in the northeast corner of Taiwan are often shrouded in clouds. I’ve been wanting to hike there for a while, especially since the Silver Grass is in bloom now, but the weather hasn’t cooperated. It may be sunny elsewhere, but Yangmingshan has its own weather,
On my first day out of quarantine, Kaya took me to the Bayan natural hot springs near Jinshan in Yangmingshan park – what a fabulous adventure that was! I mention this experience to Gino and he invites me to come with him sometime. He and his wife Jenny drive to the mountain park two to three times a week to feed and visit “his dogs.” They are mountain dogs, roaming freely, I learn later. So a couple of days later, 6:30 AM, I’m getting into their van not knowing where exactly we’re going and whether it will be a hike or stroll or? Gino has lived in Taipei all his life and knows the city very well. And he bought me breakfast ready to go – milk tea, a sandwich and a burger, breakfast Taiwanese style. So nice of them! Both are in their sixties, retired. She strikes me as a gentle and quiet soul, and he as quite energetic and -in his own words- impatient. I can tell that “not being able to express himself freely in a language” is frustrating him at times. He calls his sister who used to teach English to serve as our translator. She’s accommodating and super nice. Maybe I meet her one day? On another call it’s his daughter who lives in Los Angeles. I’m being introduced to the English speaking members of the family who get to ask me questions and later relay the answers to Gino.
He sure is a character. 🙂 Gino loves Karaoke and oldies and we sing along to “Yellow River” while his wife smiles at both of us – what a hoot. At this time of the day, traffic is reasonably light and soon we are following a narrow mountain road up to Zhuzihu. Special treat – we see a couple of Formosan Blue Mag Pies (I like the name “long-tailed mountain lady”) and I’m able to snap a quick photo from the car.
Nestled between Mount Zhongzheng, Mount Datunshan and Mount Qixingshan, Zhuzihu is a quaint agricultural village with a tourism focus. I see fields of Calla Lillies. Vegetable gardens, fruit trees, lovely walks along the local creek over bridges, through gardens passing ponds. Gino asks me to pose for photos and sends me off for a little walk along the creek with Jenny. Ah, okay, that’s the kind of hiking we’ll be doing today. I itch to stretch my legs and get to the top of the mountain, but not today. Jenny is not very strong. Maybe an illness? I don’t want to pry. So I just follow along, grateful for being shown around by locals. It’s lovely up here!
Mountain tops are soon shrouded in a few clouds again. I finally meet the dogs who are happy to get food and accompany us. We drive to the end of the road – there was a major landslide some time ago and the road and trail have been permanently closed.
As the clouds are moving in, Gino changes plans, promises me a surprise and drives down the windy mountain roads. The air becomes pungent with rotten egg smell as we’re nearing the Beitou Hotsprings area. Again, Gino sends me off for a short walk, this time around Sulphur Valley. The springs are boiling! And you can see the sulphur deposits on the rocks. FYI – the park is a volcanic area covered with interesting landforms including both cone and strata volcanoes, volcanic craters, crater lakes, waterfalls, springs, and fumaroles. These Fumaroles (what a name) are sulphur gas exhaust holes for the geothermal-heated hot spring waters. These holes and their steam can be seen (and smelled – oh yes) from various places around Yangmingshan. See more about the history of Yangmingshan at Guide to Taipei.
There is a public free wading pool – I want to go, even though it’s pretty busy, but Gino waves me back to the car. Okay – today I follow his lead and soon I’m glad I did. We drive a little further to his auntie’s old home (currently uninhabited) where I get to actually soak in a tub of hot spring water all by myself! How divine is that?! The smell however, follows me for the rest of the day… haha 🙂 and took a couple of showers to wash off.
After a short rest, we head back to town to be home by lunch time. Though it was very different from the various scenarios I imagined, it was a great way to spend six hours. Gino invites me to come again in a couple of days to join some kind of reunion with old university friends in Beitou. On the one hand I’m tempted, on the other, I itch to actually go for a good hike in Yangmingshan and the weather looks promising for Thursday. So I politely decline.
I really enjoyed myself and now I welcome some alone time and an opportunity to get the “itch” out of the body and move! A long bike ride north along the river to Tamsui sounds just right. (Will be another post.)
Nov 19: Lengshuikeng to Qingtiangang Grassland and Juansi Falls
Thursday is a clear and sunny day and Yangmingshan is showing its peaks – so I have to go! And, as I’ll find out soon, many others have the same idea. Even though I start relatively early and make my way quickly via MRT to Shilin, I have to let two of the smaller S15 buses pass by before finally squeezing myself onto a third one. And I mean SQUEEZE! I am jammed in on the doorstep, hardly able to move.
Up we go a mountain road and I’m being held up by others around me as the bus leans into the curves. Woweeeee… Holding, or is it hanging on, shifting my weight, finding the optimal position for myself and my bags… what a ride. The good thing – because the bus is full, it moves faster only stopping once to let one person off, and take one on. I keep my eyes on the shifting bouncing horizon to avoid car sickness on the windy road. Lengshuikeng Visitor Centre is my stop, glad to get off the bus I find my bearings, look at my options for hikes – up the steps of steep Qixingshan or a more leisurely hike through shaded areas to the Jingshan Suspension Bridge and onwards to the Quingtiangang Grassland? One is steep and in the sun, the other gentler and in the shade, my choice is easy and clear – Lengshuikeng to Qingtiangang Grassland.
It’s a lovely walk through forested area, passing by a pond, crossing a suspension bridge and then a crossroad – Qingtiangang Grassland or Juansi Falls? Why not both? Okay, lets go to the falls first. Up and down many stairs, along a narrow path lined by bamboo and blossoming bushes and flowers at times, often accompanied by the trickling sound of water – it’s just lovely. I’m enjoying myself… the falls are not spectacular, but sweet, refreshing, and I realize that it would have been good to start the hike at the waterfall, and move up to grasslands, Lengshuikeng, and -if one still has energy- Qixingshan. That would be a really full day!!
After a brief rest, I head back up to the Grasslands. It’s busy here. Has everyone who could take a day off tried to make it up here? I can’t blame them – it’s a spectacular day. And it’s still possible to get away from the crowds. I hike up Zhugaoshan to 830 metres where I enjoy my lunch looking over the grasslands and to the far distant peaks of Qixingshan, Dulanshan, Guanyinshan, Shamaoshan… and more.
Kaya and a friend are also in the area pushing for a harder hike on Qixingshan. We share our locations and track each other’s progress via google maps, and actually manage to meet back at Lengshuikeng at about the same time. Their calves are mud streaked and they tell me about their off path adventures. Very satisfying hikes for all of us.
The line-up for the bus is long but a taxi driver approaches and offers a ride for 100 NT (CAD4.50) each to Beitou. Great to have someone with us who understands Mandarin and Taiwanese. Looking at the line-up and wait time the choice is clear – let’s take the cab. Three others decide the same and seven of us fill the Van – it’s a comfortable ride down the mountain to the Beitou MRT station. Happy and tired after a day in the sun, nature, the mountains of the Yangmingshan National Park we get on the MRT. Life is very good, indeed.