Saturday, 19 November 2011

Wulai and a snail called Gary...

I've been thinking recently that I haven't really spent that much of my time in Taiwan doing things that I used to enjoy doing in Indonesia quite regularly. Things such as hiking and going to see sights and generally just getting away from the city and urban life for the day sometimes. Ultimately, I think it was these experiences that allowed me to gain a greater understanding of Indonesia and its' people and accept them on their own terms, something that I haven't really allowed myself to do here yet, despite having plenty of time. I have been very lazy and let the western comforts around me prevent me from gaining a real taste of Taiwan. The cinema and Pizza Hut have recently taken over my life ;) ... so now I'm taking it back! Fuck you Pizza Hut!

I have recently picked up some books about hiking in the local area and have been astonished by the wealth of trails open to me that are easily accessible for a day trip. Having done a little homework and with an invite to go walking in the mountains I had decided that I should finally get my fat arse motivated again! So armed with a local friend and an intent to do something with my weekend, we headed to the town of Wulai – a town some 20km south of Xindian (I think) – in the southern extremities of Taipei County. The town is famous for hot springs and Atayal aboriginal culture but with a slight scepticism towards the cheesiness of local Taiwanese tourism I wasn't really bothered about trying to find any cultural performances in the “cultural tourist village" and was more interested in the natural beauty in the surrounding countryside and therefore we took the classic Wulai hiking route towards the Neidong area with it's waterfall.

The scene was quite dramatic as the afternoon mists were already rolling in and despite hindering our views of some of the mountain tops there was something rather atmospheric about the whole thing and the views of the greenery were awesome nonetheless. After about five minutes into the walk the rains started rolling in too but as I hadn't done anything of this nature for so long I was quite happy to persevere. The road towards Neidong follows a well paved mountain road through a small gorge with a beautiful rocky river through some rather jagged tree-lined mountains and waterfalls. I think I read somewhere that the original aboriginal name for the valley was 'The Valley of the Frogs' but due to a clerical error somewhere down the line – allegedly something to do with poor handwriting or a misrepresentation of the Chinese symbol for 'frog' – the character of the 'frog' was replaced by the similar looking character for 'doll' and is therefore currently named "The Valley of the Dolls" which doesn't really do the valley justice if I'm honest. I prefer 'Valley of the Frogs' personally.

Eventually we reached a bridge crossing the river that left the road and led to a stone path towards Neidong. Having already seen the impressive 80m waterfall in Wulai – which I thus far may have failed to mention – I was quite excited about seeing another major fall in the same day. Along the route there were many frogs and snails and even some wild fowl making their way down from the mountain tops to the river in the valley below. After about 2-3 hours of walking through the rain we arrived at the Neidong Forest hut. Basically this is a place where the local government can charge you to see the Neidong waterfall. Normally I'd be rather cynical about paying to see a natural sight however after experiencing the scenery in the local area with such ease, I think the accessibility is brilliant and the local authorities are doing a brilliant job of managing the Wulai/Neidong area. The only damage to the route has been from some recent rock falls but with the amount of minor earthquakes and things that occur in Taiwan it would hardly be reasonable to judge or criticise on these grounds. Unfortunately we had arrived too late to see the waterfall in the Neidong area as it was now getting dark and the final waterfall is about another 40 minute round trip from the hut. So with that we headed back to Wulai in the rain... I wasn't annoyed and was actually rather satisfied because there were some fantastic views and it really was the first time that I had gotten close to the natural Taiwan. Something I should be inclined to repeat … often. I was also rather relieved that a local bus driver offered us a lift in the rain back down towards the town and saved us from walking the last 30-40 minutes or so... by this point I was very appreciative and on further glance I should probably have offered him some of my chocolate or something...

P.S. Below I have attached a picture of Gary; he's the hardest snail in the forest and he knows Kung Fu, so don't mess!

P.P.S - He's my mate too so don't mess with me either!

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