About Me

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Yilan, Taiwan
I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Astonishing Alishan

Alishan is one of Taiwan's must see attractions after Taroko Gorge and Kenting and I finally made
it. Its a mystical mountain, cloud and tea country and home to the indigenous Rueli tribe. Now its pretty touristy and there was an eye sore of a car park full of mainland Chinese tourists and their smog making mega buses. I am already aware of the reputation of mainlanders, from the personal accounts of local Taiwanese and the confessions of traveler's tales. What was interesting is the Taiwanese steering me away from buying oolong tea that was sold only to mainlanders (cheaper quality). When we dined in Fenchihu, my friends also checked a few restaurants and told me we couldn't eat there because they cater to Chinese tourists.Quality for the locals, nice to be on the receiving end. (For all the pics click here.)I finally made it to Alishan. Ive been meaning to go since Z and I first came to Tainan, especially since she was into Thomas the Tank and wanted to do the old steam train from Chiayi, but that was destroyed by the floods of Morokat (major Typhoon a few years ago.) My friends took us, Allen and his family, Vicky and hers. Allen's wife has a friend whose sister and husband have a home stay outside of LongMei off of road 129. We left Tainan Sat morning, had lunch in Chiayi sampling some of its famous Turkey rice (huo jirou fan) before heading up the winding mountain roads. I braved the black jelly egg (skin egg).

We quickly checked in and were welcomed, getting to know one other over several pots of oolong, and oversampling some local varieties. Their home stay was in a modern, all glass building, with 3 large bedrooms, 2 with double queens and the other a family room with 2 large doubles, all with their own bathrooms TV, wifi. The place is called "53.1" and surmounts  a mountainous valley, complete with a hiking trail through misty tea farms. They have a little cafe in the back that serves the included breakfast (you will be satiated) and a shop in town that sells tea, hand made glycerin soaps, etc.(For their website click here.)

My room was great, actually it was Vicky's but she kindly traded with me since my glass walls commanded the glorious views. Our rooms were 2800 NT per night including breakfast which was hearty and dinner.Two of my walls were all glass and overlooking this grand mountain view that dropped along side the hiking trail. The trail cut through terraces of lush tea and white powdery bamboo full of butterflies. Z and I climbed it the next morning after breakfast while all the others went back to sleep after watching the sunrise.

 It started to rain as we left out homestay and we assumed it would clear.  We bought rain jackets at 7-11 an I had a much needed coffee and we waited for 30 minutes or so and decided to go for it.  It really was coming down hard and the kids were whining to go back and Allen thought we were crazy  to try (maybe we were). We checked out some local eateries. The kids  had bamboo soup and we adults had strong ginger tea. The rain was hard and the kids didn't want to hike so Allen and his wife took them back to our homestay and the rest of us, Vicky and her husband and Allen's mother in law decided to brave the downpour and walked around the park.

Our feet were soaked, but the scenery inside the ancient forests was stunning. The trails were empty but for this young couple we happened upon and we made new friends. Isabella is a finance attorney in Taipei and her ex boyfriend is a lower district judge in Kaohsiung. When we first entered the ancient Cypress forest I was of course amazed when I saw the first few 800 year old Cypress trees. Then we walked along and there were 900 year old specimens, 1000, 1600 and when we started to be in the presence of 2000 year old trees I was awe struck like in the presence of something sacred. I thought about the Rocky mountains that are always growing and they are  millions of years old,  but was is it about trees? Then I thought about a road trip I took when I was 18 to B.C and our chance and private encounter with the Redwoods somewhere on the CA/OR border, all misty and majestic. The darkness of the forest, like in Germany or England the feeling of timelessness, it was dark like that under that tall foliage, the sound of water and birds then the rain stopped. I took off my raincoat for the rest of the day still using my umbrella as the trees were dripping from the recent downpour. I liked how seedlings would land on an ancient stump and revive the stump, make a new and more interesting life. There were 4 seedlings that landed on the same stump and thrived. Some Taiwanese person named them The 4 Sisters and it stuck. There were some funny signs, how this Cypress resembled an elephant head or a dragon and phoenix but there was one tree that had 3 generations all growing from the original stump which was interesting.

In the middle of our excursion we reached a temple next to a small market catering to tourists selling locally grown wasabi and aboriginal wild boar jerky, so Vicky bought 6 bags of the jerky for gifts and gave one to me. We went into the temple and Vicky's husband explained that on that particular god's birthday (the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month) all the forests moths of this particular species come pay him a visit and land all over his idol. There was  a poster showing his beard and costume all covered in moths, kind of weird and creepy and Id like to see it.

When we emerged from the thickness of the forests, we were greeted by a smiling rainbow. I expected it to disappear quickly but it stayed around the remainder of the day to look over our shoulders and watch the sunset w/us. When the sun was setting over the clouds and mt tops obscured by firmament, the rainbow only deepened her hue.Near the parking lot we climbed to a viewing area for the sunset which of course was just as stunning as our day had been. There wasn't this clean sea of clouds like a blanket that covered the earth, like you see on pictures everywhere in every shop and restaurant, but the clouds were curling and moving, with wisps like hair and changing color like a blushing girl or a garden, coral, lilac, rose. Overlooking everything was the aboriginal holy mountain which I instinctively knew was sacred as I couldn't keep my eyes off of it.

We returned in the rain, famished, my feet blistered from walking in soaked sockless shoes and were greeted by a big pot of noodle fishball soap, dragon fruit for dessert followed by hours of endless Oolong. Our host was a self confessed expert (as is every Taiwanese' friend I have haha), but he really did know hi s stuff and his English was excellent.  Im so well educated in tea from my friends, thanks for teaching me to taste if the tea was picked in spring or winter, from the high Nantou peaks to lower tropical Taidong. (High is best). Drinking a pot of oolong is like having a body high, alert yet calm, like smoking a spliff w/o the paranoia or coughing. The sweetness, after a few good cups my whole palate is sweetened, refreshed.

I had our host swear to wake us for the sunrise. He said 5:15. My body is always on farmer time so I woke at 4:45, made myself some instant Alishan coffee and when I saw day breaking at 5,woke up Vicky. We were ready by 5:15 and walked 5 min up the road to a grand pavilion, empty but for us and our hosts 3 dogs. I had to carry Z on my back, she was tired. We waited til 6 am and the clouds all but obscured it. It wasn't the photo perfect blanket of clouds and this golden orb but it was still mystical and magical and I love early mornings. We returned and everyone but me Z and Jeremy (Vicky's son) stayed awake and ate. I was pretty beat but Z and I hiked the top of the mt behind our guesthouse. Of course at the top was all white clouds. On the walk down I power napped at a few rest stops. We checked out and took lunch at one of the better rail stations, Fenchihu, with its old street, reminded me of Anping or Makong. The kids had fun climbing all over the old steam engines parked in the garage. We ate at an old wooden restaurant that served Japanese style worker lunches from times gone by. Walking along the shops and sampling some of the snacks we were tired and returned home Vicky's husband driving like a speed racer and us asleep in the back a lovely weekend with friends what can be better?

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