Photo of the week #57 – 6 years in Taiwan

I have already been in Taiwan twice as long as I planned and I will probably stay here at least twice as long as I already have been.  Taiwan might not be perfect but it is an easy life and there are a lot of great places to explore.  This photo was taken on Banpingshan (click for directions).

I have a lot of exciting plans in the works for the next couple of years.  Some things will change while others will merely be tweaked but there will be more waterfalls, more hikes, more summits and more countries.

Photo of the week #52 – The Drought Ends

Water is becoming an increasingly critical resource in various parts of the world.  A strange thing happened this winter in Taiwan though.  Almost the entire country of Taiwan faced water shortages.  This is almost inconceivable in a country that gets 1500-2000 mm’s (60-80 inches) of rain in almost every part of the country every year.  There is a seasonal drought in southern Taiwan where it rarely rains between November and April every year but it still seems impossible to run out of water.  It reached a point where the government was implementing a 5 days of water and 2 days of no water policy to reduce usage.   This lead to many class jokes about stinky students (and stinky teachers).  By May many reservoirs were down to 15% of their capacity.

A picture from Dadi Gorge in April.  Every year the reservoir empties enough that you can cross the inlet river to a small gorge.

Outside my apartment a couple of weeks ago.

In late April the seasonal monsoon (The Plum Rains) usually relieves 6 months of drought.  This year however the rains didn’t come in late April for southern Taiwan.  Northern Taiwan received some relief but southern Taiwan went as far as planning but never implementing the 5/2 water outage schedule.  Finally in late May the rains came in southern Taiwan.  When it rains in Taiwan it really rains.  Many of the mountainous areas in southern Taiwan received 1000 mm’s of rain in a week.  Now most of the reservoirs are at 50+% capacity (link).  It will take a couple more storms to completely fill up the reservoirs to avoid this situation next year.

But why did this even occur?  Michael Turton covered part of this on his blog earlier this spring.  One of his main takeaways is that water is really, really cheap in Taiwan.  This brings us to one of the great ironies in Taiwan.  Taiwanese individuals are amazing at recycling, reuse and are usually very conservative with resource usage.  Yes, there are some instances like plastic bag usage where there is excessive waste but overall individual Taiwanese do very well at conservation.  One area where they don’t even try is water consumption though.  One of the frustrating things that we saw when the 5 on/2 off water outage was scheduled was the mad dash to buy 100 liter tubs to store water that they would likely never use.  Maybe it’s just my camping background that didn’t cause me to panic at the thought of being without tap water for 2 days (less because of storage tanks) though.  Another issue is that Taiwan has an aging infrastructure and loses 18% through pipeline leakage (link).

I have heard many talk about building new reservoirs or using state of the art technology (desalination for example) to solve Taiwan’s water problem but that is just silly in my opinion.  Those are very expensive options and much easier solutions in a country that receives ample rain even during dryer years.  This will be an interesting situation to monitor over the next decade for Taiwan since shortages in the future are expected to continue.

Xitou Recreation Area, Nantou, Taiwan

Xitou is one of Taiwan’s most popular National Recreation Areas.  However that is both a blessing and a curse in Taiwan.  It is an incredibly beautiful forest with some excellent hiking trails.  There are enough trails to keep the typical hiker occupied all day.  We didn’t have time to hike the Fenghuangshan (Phoenix Mountain) trail but that looks like a nice trail to get away from the crowds.  That is the lead in to the mixed reviews.  Xitou is a very popular place to visit on the weekends.  Traffic becomes terrible going up the mountain and there will be people everywhere. This can be remedied by going on a weekday if possible.

Another interesting aspect of Xitou is that it is an experimental forest for National Taiwan University and you can visit several different types of sub forests including cedars, bamboo and gingko.  The other part that wows you at first but unsettles you is that everything is a little bit too manicured.  Many probably won’t even notice this and some will enjoy that everything is kept tidy but I enjoy the the natural forest with down trees and random undergrowth. Also the area must have also have been logged by the Japanese and replanted with Japanese cedars since the spacing is a little too perfect.  Despite Xitou being stunningly beautiful I prefer a more natural environment and a little off of the beaten path.  This doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a great time or that I won’t return though.

One of the many pavilions to rest at.  The interesting part of the Xitou pavilions is that the wood is not really wood including the roof.  Most of the mountainous areas in Taiwan are continually damp and wood rots very quickly in this environment.  It is very common for trails and pavilions to be made from concrete but made to look like wood.  I was fairly certain that the roof was concrete but I had to touch it because it looks so real.

I believe this is Fenghuangshan (Phoenix Mountain) but the actual peak could be on this ridgeline to the right.  That looks like a worthy hike to do sometime and you should be able to escape most of the crowds.

The cedar forest was huge.  This trail was only 1.5kms long but I loved the trees.  Overall there must be about 15-20 kms of trail in the forest.

Adrian brought along Arthur and he was fascinated by everything.

One of the most popular things to do at Xitou is to walk on the skywalk.  The skywalk is basically a 22.6m high bridge (180 meters long) that makes a loop.  It takes you right next to trees but doesn’t touch any of them and is instead suspended on massive stilts.  I found change in perspective interesting but I preferred to view the forest from ground level.  It’s not scary but I find the plant life at ground level fascinating.

Lake Maria State Park, MN

For the next week there will be a completely different flavor to the blog. I have returned to the US to visit with my family and explore a few local Minnesota places. The first short hike was a state park near my mother’s house in the northern suburbs. Despite being close to the Twin Cities it was practically deserted on a holiday weekend. It doesn’t actually have a main draw but rather it offers pleasant tranquility.

Most of trails lead through a mature forest with many picturesque fallen, mossy trees.

A columbine flower.

This would be a giant lake and a major tourist attraction in Taiwan.  I’m not even sure this counts as one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes.

Even this would be a tourist destination in Taiwan.  This was just one of dozens of small waterholes at Lake Maria State Park after a rainy spring.


Even deeper reaches in Hsinchu – Jianxibao ( 鎮西堡)

Jianxibao is located across the valley from Smangus.  Smangus has become famous for being the most remote aboriginal village in Taiwan.  It was just 20 years ago that roads and electricity reached it.  Since then it has become an overly popular as a tourist destination.  It’s almost laughable thinking about the large tour buses that continuously make the trip to Smangus on the narrow switchbacking roads with tourists that wouldn’t consider stepping off of a sidewalk into the real nature that surrounds the place.  Somehow they pass right past Jianxibao and keep going.  Even though we saw it from our breakfast table we chose not to go to Smangus this time.  Instead we hiked two outstanding trails through Jianxibao’s grove of ancient Red Cypress trees and found a secret place that was an amazing mixture of dark/gloomy and beautiful.

The million dollar morning view from our guesthouse.

On a previous weekend our guesthouse had a similar million dollar view but was completely forgettable in every other way.  This guesthouse (500NT/person or <20USD/person) was amazing.  (035847715/0919281283)  Most of the mountain guesthouses are old family homes that have been retrofitted into guesthouses since most of the family has moved away from the mountains.

On the first day we hiked an 8.3km loop (loop B) through the forest on a level and well maintained path.

Smangus and Jianxibao are notoriously wet as seen by the endless moss clinging to branches.

I have been incredibly lucky so far this year with weather.  I expect that will cruelly change on my next hike with an overabundance of rain.

Richard, the ladies and myself in front of one of the giants.  It seems like a person could sneak through that hole…

Another one of the giant Red Cypress trees (2000+ years old).  I think this one was named Giant Tree while others were named King, Queen, Adam, Eve and countless other creative names.  Adam and Eve were particularly naughtily named…

Hiskia tried to warn me that I might be disappointed since there wouldn’t be any waterfalls on this trip.  I knew that but we were completely shocked when we crossed this stream not once but twice.

The giant trees are such a big attraction that these waterfalls don’t show up marked on any maps or brochures of the area.  They are now marked on my waterfall website though.

On the second day we hiked the significantly harder Loop A to some more giant trees.

Hiskia in front of one of the smaller giants.

Ginny walking through one of the few flat places on the trail.

Shortly after this the trail went vertical and presented challenge after challenge as it climbed over 800 meters mostly in the 2nd half of the 5.4km hike.


A place that was so eerily dark and depressing yet so incredibly serene and beautiful at the same time.  It was coated with a layer of pond scum and was unlikely to be more than a meter deep in the middle.  In the US this would be dismissed as just another swamp but Taiwan’s geography doesn’t allow lakes to form and this is one of the few lakes that I have seen in my 4 years in Taiwan.  There is perhaps no better name than the English translation of Poison Dragon Lake to describe this almost mystical place.