Monday, 5 November 2012

Battleship Rock and Sunset in Danshui

Today we went for a nice walk up in the mountains around Beitou, to a place called Battleship Rock and it was pretty cool. The weather was awesome and the views of Taipei and The Danshui River on one side and the views of Mount Danfeng and it's sister peaks on the other side were amazing. This was a really nice hike and compared to last week's nightmare of a hike was quite mellow. It was nice to once again see some peaks connected to Yang Ming Shan on a really nice day as my last hike there was really foggy and rained a lot, the highlight of that hike was Pete walking in the fog and nearly clattering into a cow that was 'masked by fog' in the buffalo meadow portion of The Old Fish Road. Nevertheless, I digress and Mike and I decided that ending the day with a view of the sunset on the river we could see from Battleship Rock would be a nice way to end the day.

This was a nice hike and getting out of Nankan and really getting to feel a bit more of Taiwan before I do head for pastures new feels like a good idea. I feel all too often down on Taiwan due to the daily grind of my 12pm – 10pm working schedule and it's not really the country so much as the job and the working hours that are making me feel negative vibes towards Taiwan. One thing about living in such a foreign culture that I'm not sure I like is the generalising that takes place, particularly amongst the expats I meet. It's something I think we as people ascribe to 'the other', for me in this case being the locals, to justify our feelings. I tend to attribute any negative experience or feeling at the moment to an image of “The Taiwanese” and it's really bad. After all, people are people and despite cultural norms and physical attributes we're not really that different. The only generalised truth I'm going to accept now is that every Taiwanese person is better than me at the gangnam style dance because they really are, even the pensioners and the monks. The last few weeks I have been more upbeat and have found myself greeted with more smiles in the street and I think that projecting a positive vibe is a lot more rewarding than being a miserable tit.

I am now in what I think will be my last five months or so in Taiwan and it really feels like things are coming to a head. I think I'm going to look for work in Thailand next year but before that I need to make a decision on where I'm going to travel next. Laos, Cambodia and India are all attractive prospects to me and so far I think India has pipped to the front of the race. I hope to save enough money to be able to travel there for 2-3 months on a budget before heading to Bangkok with the last of my savings for the last two years and find a job there. Visiting the southeast Asian land mass from Thailand would make a lot more financial sense if done at a later date and visiting India for a long period of time sounds like a wonderful experience with the possibilities of seeing wild tigers and rhinos, tribal groups living in mountains and The Himalayas all realistic prospects.

In regards to the hike again it was really nice and it was a real pleasure to take in the views of Taipei from the mountains. We were also supposed to find ourselves through a place called Hell Valley but that didn't happen. We found ourselves lost in Beitou and once we found a main road, and signs pointing towards the MRT we thought it better to have something to eat and wind down as opposed to getting lost again.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Trouble in the Taoyuan Valley...

Last weekend's hike could probably go down as a bit of a disaster... but looking back, with a sprinkle of lighthearted reflection it was fun. A lot of fun. Although I fell over, and nearly fell over a lot more if it wasn't for Dylan and a few super tough Taiwanese hikers who all seemed to be twice my age, triple as healthy and probably a darn sight better looking too. They also managed to walk without getting covered in mud unless I splashed them when I tumbled... :P

I've been looking at hiking the Caoling Historic Trail in Yilan for quite some time as I passed by the trail head on the return journey from my trip to Hualien. It's set in a nice part of the world in Yilan County in the northeast of Taiwan. My friend Pete was being visited by his brother Dylan and so we thought, with the weather being good and the diminishing number of weekends before winter arrives, that this was the perfect opportunity to hike one of Taiwan's most famed and popular hiking trails. We chatted the day before the hike and decided that it might be nice to hike a section of the Taoyuan Paradise Valley Trail which can be linked to the Caoling trail and at the end of a long hike we would arrive at Fulong on the beach where we could camp and rest after a nice, long, satisfying hike. So equipped with a tent, a sleeping bag, a change of clothes and enough water to rehydrate Susan Boyle fresh out of a really hot sauna I was ready for a decent trek, followed by camping and a relaxing day at the beach.

Probably against our better judgment we arrived at Daxi train station a bit late at midday and decided to start our planned extended hike regardless of any time constraints safe in the 'knowledge' that if time was a problem we could always cut the route short and perform a circular hike back down to the road and find the train station safely. To what I would call 'real hikers' of whom I would count the author Richard Saunders among, these trails are quite 'moderate' and nothing really that strenuous. (Richard Saunders writes really good hiking guides in English about North Taiwan and Taipei). To myself, 'a fat, slobbering, wobbly mess', this trail was bloody tough and sufficed to say we found ourselves struggling to make much progress with the trail as there seemed to be an endless supply of steps and is in the very least my idea of purgatory. I was also sweating like a walrus at the dentist... a lot! I was rather disillusioned after a few hours and rather unfortunately, we didn't even manage to make it to a decent vantage point in time as to afford ourselves 360 degree panoramic views that are possible in good weather here. The mists seemed to roll in very suddenly just in time for us to get to the triangulation marker at the top of the first mountain. We did however get some nice views of the pacific ocean earlier on and for that I am very grateful.

At about 4pm we met a group of hikers from a local hiking club who were very keen to pass on their information and details of group hikes and they happened to have a fairly impressive grasp of English that I don't find on display in Nankan despite it being the clerical centre for the transport hub of the entire island. These guys were amongst the friendliest people I've met in Taiwan and I am sincerely thankful to them. They gave us some rather wise advice to stop hiking and head back down to the road with them as it was getting late. We did have tents and could possibly have found a place to pitch them but it wouldn't have been that wise due to the narrow path we were hiking. And I was tired and slow... ;) … Regardless, we followed them down a forest path that started out very nicely indeed and was wide and interesting and I felt like I was back in the Indonesian jungles of Sumatra or Java. Unfortunately for me – take into account I weigh a fair bit and my favorite past time is eating Big Macs – the path soon got thinner and thinner and eventually became a two-foot wide dirt trail with a rather steep descent on one side and a crumbly-soiled, steep forested verge on the other. Slightly before that, I slipped and fell over resulting in a Taiwanese fella lending me his hiking stick and very carefully guiding me through the steps. Exactly what happened when I fell this time, I'm not entirely sure of, but I did simultaneously pull both calf muscles and let out a growl like a really sad bear who can't find any honey and is suffering from depression of some kind. After a few more hours and finding a stone path again we found our way to the road and the station and had a rather eventful day. I also neglected to mention earlier that all the pictures I have are courtesy of Pete and Dylan because not only did I manage to break the motor on my camera's zoom lens resulting in it being useless until I can get it repaired, I also borrowed and seemed to break Dylan's camera in quick succession. He handled it well and I replaced it in kind. But the case remains the same for all my tubby friends: “stairs are the enemy!”...