We visited Alishan County and the Forest Reserve in the last week of November, as well as Yu-shan, the highest mountain in Taiwan. This area touches a special place in my heart. Such peace and beauty in the rolling high mountain tea fields and bamboo forests. And silent communion with the giants in the forest reserve. So far my favourite area, along with Taroko Gorge, and Sun-Moon Lake.
This time, Kaya and I get on the HSR to Taichung (1 hour super fast at 300km/hour) where we pick up our rental car from IWS which I booked through Klook at a great deal. Rental cars here can be rather pricey, so it’s really worth to look around. In February, I used Formosa Car Rental, this time I’m getting a better deal with Klook for IWS Car Rental. Both experiences have been great.
After we pick up the car, I’m on the road, sitting behind the wheel of a new, scratch-free car after roughly seven weeks not driving… and am feeling a little bit nervous finding my way through city traffic in Taichung (pronounced Die-djong). We have some last minute shopping to do for Kaya’s Yu-shan trip, find the camping fuel for her burner, some red wine and cheese, other food items for the trip and finally our way out of the Quarrefour store, through the maze of the car park and the many white cars (which one is ours??) and onto our route to Alishan.
The Freeways on the west coast take us through mostly industrial areas, not very interesting to look at, a sea of concrete, brick and glass blending with a greyish sky, but fast if you’re trying to get somewhere. A couple of things stand out along the way – a giant golden Buddha statue and a giant Ferris wheel. No time to stop, (not that we really want to), we’re trying to make it to our B&B before nightfall.
Once we get off the highway and head into the mountains the driving and the scenery become way more interesting. Small country roads become very narrow and curvy – Google maps, where are you taking us?? Oncoming traffic is at times intense, requires sudden stops, alertness and patience. Where are they all coming from? Ahh, apparently, there was a marathon today in this area and folks are heading home now (it’s Sunday). We’re glad we missed the marathon, and glad when we join Hwy 18 again. Later, looking at a map, I see that the tiny road was a shortcut saving us quite a few kilometres. Thanks google!
And then there are the spider colonies with massive tunnel webs and spiders of all sizes spanning roads… I wasn’t able to get a good shot to show the dimensions and frequency of these webs – luckily mostly high above us! What looks like specks of dirt are all spiders and their prey.
We arrive at our B&B in the Shizhao area of Alishan Township – high mountain tea fields nourished by the cooler and moist cloud forest climate. Our hosts greet us with freshly brewed Oolong tea from their fields (many homestays are located right in the tea fields), freshly roasted peanuts. And, as the sun sets, the sea of clouds rolls in. An ever-changing spectacle to watch in the evenings and mornings. The “cloud baths” are what makes the tea of this area so special.
We enjoy a snack-style dinner and tea on the porch outside our room; it’s noticeably cooler here at about 1600 metres. An evening walk up the hill as darkness envelops the landscapes around us leads us to what will be my morning sunrise spot where the road leads into bamboo forest. I see a single fire fly, would like to venture further, but it’s dark, we’ve got no flashlights and don’t know where the path leads.
The next morning, I get up early to see the sunrise and enjoy the play of light on the tea fields, the valleys and mountains. Delightful!
But as the day progresses, we’re both not doing so well. Kaya has been struggling with an upset tummy, which at 4 a.m culminates in a major let-go bathroom session… I leave the rest up to your imagination. The arthritic joints in my left foot are acting up and thus slowing me down. Okay. I get the message. Slow down. Let’s drive and take in some sights… alas, even that becomes at some point too much on the narrow windy roads. Vistas can’t compete with a turning stomach, so back to the B&B and into bed for Kaya; and I head off to the market to get ginger and find other local medicines in Fenqihu.
Prior to the stomach turning, the drive to Dinghu was lovely. A narrow one-lane road through bamboo forest; then Hwy 18 back to Shizhao; Hwy 159 (Dahua Road) to Kuang Hua Ting Ben Tzu Recreation area (驛馬溪休閒農場) by the Bazhang river. As one traveller describes it, “a great place for emptying” and another adds, “a great place to go for a firefly walk” – very quiet, peaceful, hardly anyone about. Along the way we see a pheasant and a deer. It really is a very lovely drive, as so many in the Fenqihu (or Fencihu) area. The firefly trail is something I’d love to do, alas, not the right season, much better in late spring, early summer.
And the sun rises again filling the world with colour and light…
Kaya calls it “squeezing through the eye of the needle”… and she squeezes through, all perked up and hungry the next day. This one-day stomach bug and its many cousins have moved on to my body and take over in fast progression. By the evening on the next day I’m ready to die (says the drama queen in me). Instead, I slip into a hot bath, a very hard bed, take a strong painkiller and sleep! We made it to Alishan National Forest Reserve, but that’s about it for me – made it. Miraculously! I wake up after 12 hours of sleep, still groggy, but alive and pain-free. We’ve missed the sunrise this morning, but there’ll be another one tomorrow. Over the course of the day my energy comes back full force. I’m amazed. We are at around 2500 metres and today’s hike, though gruelling for me in the beginning, leaves me energized, with a healthy appetite, no rumblings and ready for more adventures. We’ll get up early tomorrow – 5am – to catch the Alishan sunrise train.
Alishan Forest’s red cypress trees are famous in Taiwan and beyond. And there are only a few of the ancient ones left. During my last visit in late February/early March the Sakura cherry trees and some early Magnolias were in bloom drawing many visitors. These blossoming trees are indeed a lovely sight, and were planted by the Japanese in the early twentieth century — in place of the ancient red cypress trees, which they had logged and turned into thousands of smoothly lacquered tea tables… Sniff, ahhh, when it comes to the destruction of virgin forests my heart bleeds. But such has been the way of it for millennia all over this planet, and sadly, it continues as a recent stand-off in my home province British Columbia in the Fairy Creek area shows. I am glad to see the efforts made here in Alishan to preserve the few giants left.
So much to love here, and so much to let go off. As everything in life… this too shall pass. On the way down, we came across this lovely group of hikers who invited us to a bowl of soup freshly cooked on the camping stove. So typical of Taiwanese outdoor enthusiast – cooking and sharing along the way!
The next morning, we get on the Alishan Train to take us up the mountain from where we walk another brisk 20 minutes to the platform to watch the sun rise over Yushan and touch the clouds below. It’s a beautiful morning, conditions are favourable (clear skies, some clouds and mist in the valleys)…
It wasn’t the most colourful sunrise, but we enjoyed it, especially hanging out after most people had left, taking in the the beauty of it all…. 🙂 Alishan is a special place… We finally say farewell to the views and head back down to pack, depart and meet Kaya’s friends for her Yushan hike. Another chapter…
Off to Yushan, the Jade Mountain, we go…