(Catching-up with 2020 trips… November 26&27, 2020)
Early morning, we watch the sunrise at Alishan (see last post), and after breakfast meet up with Kaya’s hiking buddies Sheradine and Linda, who took an early morning bus from Chiayi to get to Alishan Reserve. From here, we ride to Yushan National Park where they take a shuttle to the trail head. We’re at 2,594 metres – they will hike up to Paiyun Cabin at 3402 metres today, spend the night there and ascend to Yushan’s peak at almost 4,000 metres in the early morning hours to be there in time for sunrise. “Jaio” girls – good luck!
Yushan, also called Jade Mountain is Taiwan’s tallest mountain at 3,952 metres (12,966 ft). Although Yushan is one of the easier high mountain hikes in Taiwan, you need to be fit to hike it because of the elevation and time constraints (up and down in two days). The mountain is located within Yushan National Park just next to the Alishan National Scenic Area. We’re in the central mountains of Taiwan. To hike Yushan, you need to apply for a permit well in advance – it’s done by lottery because of the sheer number of people wanting to ascend the mountain. I have no ambition at this time to do it, though who knows…
After seeing the three of them off, I briefly stop by the Visitor Centre and then continue onward through the park, down windy roads with stunning vistas towards Dingpu Hotsprings. It’s a sunny day, and the valley greets me with warm temperatures and agricultural landscapes. So nice after the colder temperatures in higher elevations. My plans change – there is major road construction in the area of Dingpu, the town itself does not attract me, and the idea of soaking in a hot spring bath on such a warm day is no longer attractive. So I drive on along a different route which takes me to a small aboriginal village nearby. I think it might be called Tumpu Daingaz. Time for a walk to enjoy the local scenery and a lunch picnic before heading to the Bunan village Kalibuan where I have booked accommodation.
Along the way, a couple of red bridges cross the river – they have replaced an older tunnel. As I stop to take a closer look at the bridge design, I discover that the old tunnel is being restored, I’m guessing as a future tourist attraction. The walls still bear older aboriginal paintings. Not a place to linger with ongoing construction, but I’m sure it will be worth a future visit. Out of the corner of my eye a movement alerts me. I look around and find a small, very skinny and scared little puppy… any time I approach her, she disappears into a hole in the floor boards of a deck. What a scrawny sweet little being. What to do? I scrape together the leftovers of my lunch, drop them into the hole, and wait, watching from a distance. Is there some movement? I see her little ears pop up. When I check a little later, the food is gone. All coaxing is in vain, she disappears again and again. There is not much more I can do now. In the countryside you’ll find many street dogs, even in Taipei in the parks along the river. Many people feed them leftovers and there are some initiatives to spay the females. She is one of many and it’s out of my hands… I wish her luck and am on my way.
It’s a bit tricky to find the homestay, but after sending a message to the owner he shows up within minutes introducing himself as Ibi. Yes, I’m on the right road, just needed to go a little further.
Ibi, Jojo, little Sai and ten cats make Manaskal Homestay a creative and colourful place to land – I feel right at home here. Kids and animals have a way of creating the homy feel, and my hosts are quite the inspiration. Guests are welcome to bring their pets and I meet a couple traveling with their Great Dane named “Opa” – funny, Opa in German is a nickname for Grandpa. Well, this Opa is having a heck of a time with all these cats around which he’s not allowed to chase… at least he is (mostly) well behaved. Sorry, no photo.
Time to go for a little walk before supper and look around. Welcome to Kalibuan (Wangxiang, 望鄉部落) in Xinyi township. The village is a great place to walk and learn about Bunun culture. Bunun are one of 14 recognized Aboriginal groups in Taiwan. They were the only group of Austronesian people in Taiwan to develop a writing system. The calendar contains information about phases of the moon, hunting, farming activities and significant events like births or marriages.
The images in the slideshow below speak to parts of these two stories:
According to Bunun legend, in times long past, two suns shone down upon the earth and made it unbearably hot. A father and a son endured numerous hardships and finally shot down one of the suns, which then became the moon. In its wrath, the moon demanded that father and son would return to their own people to tell them that they henceforth had to obey three commandments or face annihilation. The first was that they had to constantly observe the waxing and waning of the moon and conduct all rituals and work according to its rhythm. The second commandment stated that all Bunun had to conduct rituals throughout their lives to honor the spirits of heaven and earth. The third commandment told them of forbidden behaviours, and forced them to become an orderly and peaceful people.
Another tribal legend, particular to the mountain people, speaks about the Vonum people living on the plains until an all-destroying deluge befell them. With the flood came a huge serpent, which swam through the stormy waters toward the terrorized people. They owed their deliverance from the great snake to the timely appearance of a monster crab, which, after a terrific battle, succeeded in killing the reptile.
On my walk I meet Thomas and Vanida, both from France, living and working in Taipei, travelling with their partners and friends who also happen to be on the Yushan hike. Vanida, Thomas and his girlfriend stayed back because his girlfriend also caught the stomach bug and they had to turn around. Thomas actually remembers Kaya’s group going up as they were coming down, exchanging a quick “hi”. It’s a small world. Here we are, in this out of the way village, conversation quickly unfolds from this to that and we’re walking around together, exploring the murals, exchanging stories, and finally enjoying sunset and a beer on the rooftop of their B&B. I had planned to have a quiet evening, but life apparently has other plans.
When I return to the homestay, Ibi and Jojo prepare a wonderful Bunun style dinner – creative and very tasty. Bunun fusion?! Jojo takes the time to explain all the ingredients to me, even shows me some of the plants she used and can’t find English names for. Fascinating! The flavours are subtle, and delicious. Grilled Pork with onion, millet, rice, leafy greens, pickles, delicate sauces… I’m surprised and delighted. What a great meal and happy tummy, happy mind as well with all the good conversation had. Besides helping Jojo realize new recipes with old ingredients, Ibi also works as a DJ for a local radio station.
Over dinner, I also connect with “Opa’s parents” and enjoy lively conversation about travel, languages, animals, cultures and so on… They both speak English very well. What a treat. I’m curious about Opa and what it’s like to have such a large dog in a small Taipei apartment. They found him as a puppy on the street not knowing what breed he is and took him in. You can imagine their surprise as he kept growing and growing and growing… too late to turn back, the bond was formed, and he’s a beautiful well behaved animal. Apparently, many people have offered to buy him, and he sure get’s conversations started. Curious, how he ended up on the street.
The next morning I’m up for sunrise (roosters crowing and dogs barking did their part) to see this view of Jade Mountain, which the Bunun people call Tongku Saveq. The Bunun people were moved to this area by the Japanese in 1938. One of the conditions for moving to the new village was that they would be able to see the peak of Tongku Saveq. The Chinese name of the village, Wangxiang, means “the place with a view.”
Breakfast turns out to be the best I’ve had in my time in Taiwan so far. I might come back here just for the meals! Time for a walk to explore the village surroundings a bit more.
Bye-bye, farewell, it’s time to head back up the windy road to Yushan National Park to meet the hikers later in the afternoon. I want to go for a good hike myself and decide on the following route: From “the great Bunun” along the Dongpu Prairie Trail (where I actually see a live Muntjak deer); then further up to the Datieshan Gigantic Hemlock (which is really beautiful); onward to the Linzhi Mountain entrance, along the Linzhi Mountain trail all the way to the Yushan Trail Head (Tataka Saddle) and back along the road past the giant Hemlock and Dongpu Trail to where I started. I think about 7 to 8 km with the highest point Linzhi Mountain at 2,849 metres.
A beautiful hike! I meet other hikers along the way, and also find plenty of solitude. Doing surprisingly well with the altitude, have lots of energy, and am soaking up the splendor around me. The timing works out well, Kaya and her friends have to hustle a bit to make it back in time as one of them wants to catch a bus back to Chiayi. And we want to get back to Alishan for one more night in the tea fields.
Their hike is not my story to tell. But I heard that it was beautiful and hard and worth every minute. Bravo! Congratulations!