Usually hikes are just hikes but sometimes there is much more to a hike than that. Despite Taiwan’s west coast being densely populated Taiwan’s mountains hold many secrets that take some effort to find. Jiuhaocha is one of those secrets. Jiuhaocha is a Rukai aboriginal village located deep within the mountains of Pingtung County in southern Taiwan. The Rukai are one of Taiwan’s 14 recognized tribes (more unrecognized). Despite being located close to China, Taiwan was originally settled 1000’s of years ago by an Austronesian people. The Chinese (now the dominant ethnicity) didn’t start settling Taiwan until the 1600’s.
Jiuhaocha offers one of the most authentic aboriginal experiences in Taiwan. In 1979 the village chose to move five kilometers from the mountains into the river valley below. Life was good in Xinhaocha (Jiu = old and Xin = new) for many years but in the 2000’s the village began to suffer from flooding caused by Taiwan’s many typhoons. 119 houses were damaged by Typhoon Sepat in 2007 (Taipei Times). In January 2009 plans were made to relocate to Rinari near Sandimen (China Post). Unfortunately the infamous Typhoon Morakot occurred that summer before they were able to move the villlage. Unlike Xaiolin in Namasia everyone in Xinhaocha was evacuated before the disaster but their homes were either washed away or buried under silt and rock.
Today the only part of the village that remains is the top of the two story church. Aside from one electrical pole you wouldn’t even know there was ever a village there. Unfortunately more silt and rocks wash down from upstream every year and the church will soon become completely buried. This video (in Chinese) shows the rising levels silt in the 5 years since Typhoon Morakot (video link). Originally the river was located far below the village and 15 meters of silt and rock have since been deposited.
Here is a good blog link that shows original pictures of Xinhaocha in 1979 and also a 2007 photo. It also shows another trail out of Jiuhaocha back to the river. Blog link
We were more interested in visiting Jiuhaocha that weekend though. Our aboriginal guide and Daniel wait for us to upstream of the buried village.
It seems a little silly but we went to extraordinary lengths to keep our feet dry. We were lucky since we only had to cross the small river 5-6 times but trips earlier in the season need to cross it at least twice as many times. During the summer there is likely too much water to even make the trip to the village.
Our guide is a true mountain man. He only needed a chainsaw, a bottle of water and some betelnut for the hike.
Shortly after this dry waterfall we encountered the most impressive and slightly terrifying part of the trail. The trail is cut into and steeply switchbacks up a cliff face. For some this will be the highlight of the hike. For others it will be a good chance to face their fears. There are ropes to guide you and it isn’t actually that dangerous but it is very impressive.
Eventually you reach the top and hike through a beautiful forest the rest of the way to the village.
An impressive waterfall across the canyon that requires future exploration.
Dennis takes a break five minutes away from the village.
Jiuhaocha once had 300 families living in the area. The houses aren’t setup right next to each other like a modern village but they are spread out across the mountain. We visited about 10 houses that remain in good condition. There are probably many more all over the mountain. Today a handful of aborigines still live in the area at least part time.
The first house in the village is setup as a bunkhouse for guests although it also serves as living quarters when tourists aren’t there. Nearly everything except the roof, wall and door supports is made out slate. This is a typical building method for the Rukai tribe and you can find similar slate houses in southern Taiwan. These are probably the best examples though.
A couple of houses had a throne outside. We didn’t ask what the story behind them were.
The team hard at work on an excellent dinner.
Mark Roche from Blue Skies Adventures guided the trip and arranged our aboriginal guide, Jiuhaocha accommodation, transportation, meals and every other detail of the trip. Mark prepared a massive feast that evening and those pork chops were just the beginning. Note the game meat hanging and drying above the fire. We didn’t have any of that. That is the aborigines continuing to live as they always have.
This was obviously a great hike but it is set apart from other hikes as offering a unique experience that is difficult to find. This is the type of thing that everyone spending a few years in Taiwan should do to really understand the country. Aboriginal recognition and festivals are becoming more popular but they have been focuses on mass tourism and entertainment. This little hidden (still hidden) village offers a truly authentic experience into aboriginal life.