If you have lived in Taiwan for awhile then you probably dread the local temple festivals. Typically they start early in the morning with crates of firecrackers and drums and continue late into the night. In addition to all of that noise they also burn ridiculous amounts of paper (fake) money as an offering to the gods. After exploring the southern cross island highway (possibly re-opening April 1st) we arrived in Baolai Hot Springs for a quick lunch at the height of one of these festivals. It was a welcome diversion to our weekend and we (and our motorcycles) managed to escape unscathed.
Not every festival features the elaborate face painting and costumes.
Yes, our motorcycle and scooter were in between the firecrackers and barrel of burning paper money. There wasn’t a safe parking spot in the entire town. Every business (every 10 feet) was burning an offering to their god while we were there.
The man on the left in the yellow multicolored robe is the representative of the god. He stopped at every local business to bless them for the next year. This god is particularly known for his love of spirits and he drank at every blessing. He was loaded by the end of the day.
The focus of the trip was locating some lesser known waterfalls on the southern cross and in nearby Namasia. Despite a deluge of rain in this area 3 weeks ago the valleys were mostly dry. We did get a lot of questions answered about locations and other interesting information about the waterfalls. Many of them have actually had landslides across the faces of the waterfalls. There still is a waterfall during the summer and fall but much of the beautiful foliage that the waterfall flowed through is gone. The Yuanlin trail near Baolai was an unexpected find on our waterfall hunt. It’s an 8km trail weaving through a mature forest along ridgeline. At several points it offers stunning views of valley below although that was obscured by haze while we hiked it.
I returned to familiar terrain on my last motorcycle trip and I served as an assistant guide for our group since I have made about a dozen trips to Maolin. Unlike previous trips we explored Duona this time. Duona is the last village in Maolin Valley and it suffered a terrible loss when its famous hot springs were buried under a cliff. In the last 3 years Duona has transformed into a pleasant bustling aboriginal village. There are now a half dozen nice restaurants and several nice tourist shops. There’s a chance that it becomes overly touristy but currently it’s just about perfect.
Despite being to Meiya Waterfall a couple of times before I got us lost. Not such a great a guide I guess. I was also so convinced that the waterfall would be dry that I left my tripod and needed to balance my camera on a few small rocks for this photo. Directions to Meiya Waterfall are on my waterfall website.
Duona High Bridge is the tallest suspension bridge in Taiwan towering 103m above the valley before. We chose to Evil Kenevil it across the bridge (not necessary for visiting Duona). It’s not particularly difficult but it is a little tense.
The trip gave me an opportunity to visit a new place in Maolin. Guifu Canyon (Ghost Axe) is located about 1km upstream from Duona and it seems to be flying under the radar. Apparently before Typhoon Morakot the canyon was full of small rock swimming pools but there are filled in with rock and silt now. Perhaps they will resurface in a few more years. Directions to Guifu are on my waterfall website.
Guifu Canyon is a narrow canyon that is similar to some of the tight canyons in the American Southwest (minus the red rock). Not far from the entrance a waterfall drops into the canyon over the cliffs. It is possible to go further upstream past the waterfall but you should bring some ropes and safety equipment with you.
The walk out of Guifu Canyon back to Duona.
Richard Saunders also led us around to several scenic oddities in Taiwan. These are part of Taiwan’s Badlands.
Yangnu Mud Volcano was one of several that we visited during the weekend. This isn’t actually a geothermal vent but rather a methane vent that can be lit on fire. It didn’t actually smell from where we were. Taiwan is one of the few countries in the world with mud volcanos.
An action photo from the weekend. This was taken by Trevor Barth while wearing a backpack and twisting around on the back of a scooter traveling at 50km/hr on bouncy mountain roads.
There are many reasons why Kaohsiung is a great place to live. One of the biggest drawbacks to living here is the winter air pollution. Starting as early as September every year a smoggy overcast fills the sky until the following May. Everyone agrees that Taiwan has drastically reduced their pollution levels in the last two decades but considerably more improvement is needed.
Saturday was one of those rare winter days when all of the pollution blows away and we are left beautiful blue skies filled with puffy white clouds. To take advantage of this I bicycled to the Secret Beach at Jhongshan University once again. Initially my attempt to access the beach was thwarted by a new 4 meter fence with razor wire on top but the other entrance is still accessible making the Secret Beach a little more secret again.
The Dragon Sunset
Nick Kembel has started a new facebook group to share blogs about Taiwan and the group hosted a blog of the year contest. About a dozen bloggers entered including myself with topics varying from raising your foreign child in Taiwan, setting up a photoshoot, dating in Taiwan and of course several travel blogs. My Nenggao blog was voted one of the best by the group and I received an autographed copy of Nick Kembel’s ‘Taiwan – in the eyes of foreigner’ book adding to my small collection of expat books. Of course I flipped through a couple of chapters while waiting for the Dragon Sunset at the Secret Beach.
Everyone has probably noticed that I haven’t been blogging much this year. Instead of traveling I have been rewriting the curriculum for 15 classes of students. I think it’s finally starting to wind down but there are still an endless number of little projects to do. This is a photo with 3 classes of our younger students from our Christmas party. Shortly after this photo was taken I learned that we need to keep a very close eye on the boy in the striped shirt.
Taiwan offers some great hiking at the base of the central mountain range but there is some truly special areas in the high mountains. The Nenggao Trail is one of my six mountains trails that are at the top my list to hike. I have already hiked Yushan and now I can check the Nenggao trail off of that list also. The Nenggao Trail is one of few trails that crosses completely over the central mountain range connecting Nantou County to Hualien County. The Nenggao Trail not only contains amazing forests, a 200 meter waterfall and a mountain cabin but it also connects to a vast network of spectacular mountain trails in central Taiwan. To the north a hiker can connect to Hehuanshan, to the south a hiker can exit at Aowanda and to the east a hiker can reach Hualien.
But the trail is much more significant historically than that. It was originally built by the Japanese before WWII to control the local aboriginal tribes and to exploit Taiwan’s great forests. Unhappy with this Japanese interference the Sediq aboriginal tribe attacked a Japanese sporting event killing over 100 people (The Wushe Incident). The Japanese responded swiftly and crushed the rebellion with its far superior military. Seediq Bale was a recent Taiwanese blockbuster movie and more in depth reading is available (The Wushe Uprising).
Our hike was much more pleasant than that. Taiwan Adventures provided a first class trip and there was great weather all weekend.
There are two major landslides that need to be crossed on the way to Tianchi Cabin. These landslides closed the trail for a long time after they occurred.
Rebecca and Evangeline hike on the well maintained trail. Most of the trail is easily graded all the way to Tianchi Cabin.
The central mountain range extends to the south as far as the eye can see.
Cynthia, Rebecca and I admire Nenggao Waterfall in the misting rain.
There are 88 bunk room spots available at Tianchi Cabin. There is also a large camping area but they don’t restrict how many tents are allowed. Without restriction this results in a very busy area on the weekends and considerable impact on the area. Hopefully this is addressed in the future.
The evening started with a chilly drizzle but the sunset was quite spectacular.
We woke up at an absolutely ridiculous time to summit Cilai South Peak at sunrise. We were unfortunately joined by an army of Taiwanese hikers (shown later).
There are numerous mountain trails crisscrossing this area giving hikers numerous hiking opportunities.
Martin went through one of the occasional pine sections of the trail.
Cynthia emerges from an overgrown spot on the trail.
I have long been completely frustrated by the standard Taiwanese hiking mentality. This is a clump of at least 100 hikers that marches as a unit and this is common. At least we were going the other way when we saw them.
Looking south planning future trips.
This post will have to serve as a prelude to the Chaiyi motorcycle trip that Richard Saunders led 9 of us on. Richard led us all over the back roads of Chaiyi county. I was initially incredibly impressed that Richard was able to navigate all of the tiny mountain roads using road maps but we actually ended up lost several times. This didn’t surprise me since there are 1000′s of these small mountains roads that don’t show up on any map. Trying to navigate these roads using a road map is nearly impossible but even when we ended up lost we saw some great things. We also verified that an incredible mountain trail is still hikable.
This is an abandoned mountain road near Tsengwen Reservoir that served as the perfect camping spot on Friday night. I found this spot in the dark and discovered that I was camped next to a small waterfall in the morning.