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Fish, mist and jade

Nothing seems to be seriously ẃrong with me, because I did indeed sleep a lot Tuesday night (see this entry to read why I only slept three hours for the first two days of this week). Twelve hours, in fact, which is roughly twice as much as I usually sleep, but it was badly needed. During the day, we visited two places, first some sort of aboriginal fishing area, which was interesting, but not terribly so. I’m sure that the landscape would have been breathtaking if there would have been more water in the river, but as it was now, it wasn’t that spectacular. Nice bridges and fresh mountain air still made the two hours worthwhile, though.

After lunch, the host dropped us off for a two hour hike to the top of a small mountain. The mist was pretty heavy, so there was no view to talk about, but walking through bamboo forests on a steep slop in fog still is something worth mentioning. The evening proceeded slowly from then on, with a new family arriving to our hotel, which meant some more Chinese for me and yet another (unsuccessful) tour to see the flying squirrel for my parents.

It felt a little sad to leave our host on Alishan; he was really nice and I got to talk to him pretty much during our drives to different places. The lodging was perhaps not the best I’ve encountered, but everything else was perfect. It was a nice mixture of guided tours and free time. Anyway, he dropped us off at a tourist centre in Yushan National Park (Yushan means Jade Mountain and is Taiwan’s highest mountain, standing almost 4000 metres above sea level), where another driver would pick us up five hours later to take us to Sun Moon Lake.

Yushan was the best thing so far on our vacation. We hiked for a couple of hours and the landscape was absolutely stunning. We followed trails running along high mountain ridges with steep drops on both sides, walked over high passes, all under a clear blue sky and beaming sun. At almost three thousand metres, the air was cool and fresh, which clearly reminded us of the Alps and skiing. It is a particular feeling, this mixture of temperatures. I managed to burn myself pretty badly in the neck, but it’s worth it anyway. Just take a look at these pictures, which are a fairly bad attempt at capturing the magnificance of Jade Mountain.

This English on this sign might be true, but it’s pretty certain that that isn’t what the writer intended it to mean. After some dictionary browsing, I think I’ve found the reason for this translation mistake. 階梯 means ladder or staircase in Chinese, but the first character might also mean “rank”, which loosely translated perhaps could be “social class”. Signs of this kind are abundant here, but that doesn’t stop them from being entertaining.

In the afternoon, we were picked up to go to Sun Moon Lake. The trip was pretty strange, because the driver had a peculiar driving style. The first few kilometres down the mountain, he drove extremely slowly, almost like he was paid per minute and really wanted to exaggerate (we had agreed on a price beforehand, so this wasn’t the case). Then, later, he suddenly decided to accelerate randomly only to slow down again. This change of speed had no apparent bearing on the actual outline of the road, sometimes making him crawl along a perfect straight section of the road, only to accelerate wildly in the next curve.. The trip was also somewhat complicated by the fact that I learnt that my future landlord hadn’t received my money. This was resolved fairly smoothly and it seems like I’ll still have somewhere to live when this vacation has come to an end. My stuff has also arrived in my new apartment, so it seems like I can relax for real now.

I’m writing this in the evening, after having had dinner in a nice restaurant overlooking the lake. We have only vague plans for tomorrow as yet; probably we will try to rent bikes and go around the lake, but since we have no real idea of where we are and what we want to do (the information centre was closed when we arrived), only time will tell. We’re only going to stay here for two nights and will leave very early on Saturday in order to go to Taroko National Park on the east coast. I’ve managed to adjust my sleeping rhythm now, at least, so it means it’s soon time to go to bed, even though it’s only slightly after ten. See you tomorrow!

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I think that an enchanter must have cursed me and transferred my parents jet lag to me. Even though I had slept only three hours the previous night and had had a pretty busy day, I didn’t manage to sleep more than perhaps thirty minutes! My plan to adjust my sleeping thus proved to be a failure of epic proportions. This was not the kind of night were one wonders if one’s awake or asleep, and constantly drifts back and forth into wakefulness. Instead, I was fully awake all the time. Fortunately for me, I had pretty nice company in the form of an audio version of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War.

After a very long night indeed, the host knocked on our door and informed us that it was almost four in the morning and that we should get going if we didn’t want to miss the sun rising. The sunrise as seen from Alishan was a bit hyped up, in my opinion. We had to drive an hour, then wait in a very cold train station (please bear in mind that most peaks in the Alihsan areas stand well above 2500 metres tall) for almost an hour, before we could board a train to the summit. I don’t want to think about how crowded that place must be on weekends or in the Chinese New Year, because it was pretty bad even this Tuesday morning.

The summit itself was a beautiful place which would have been worth a visit even with no sunrise. The sunrise itself was also stunning, but very quick and thus left me with a feeling of “okay, so that was supposed to be it?” There were no clouds, so the famous cloud sea of Alishan eluded us this time (see pictures). I don’t regret that we went there, but on the contrary to everybody else, I don’t think that it’s something you have to do if you visit Taiwan. Sure, if you happen to be in the vicinity, by all means go there, but don’t go out of your way to see this. Pictures of the sunrise and the associated cloud sea are beautiful, but one has to be lucky to get that (for reference, check this, this and this photo).

I did tell you it was beautiful, right?

This is were it’s supposed to be a sea of clouds. I’m not complaining, though, the view was pretty indeed.

Yes, it’s as cold as it looks. Once the sun actually rose, it wasn’t that bad, but the early morning in combination with sitting a long time made the mountain air quite freezing.

Below Alishan, there are two Sister Lakes, one big and one small. This is the small one. I could tell you the story behind the names, but since it’s pretty boring, I won’t.

This is from a short fairly close to the peak from which we watched the sunrise.

Alishan is a lot more than mountains and we could probably have spent a few days just in this area.

Yours truly.

After a fabulous meal with the most delicious tofu cooked by the host’s mother, I had at least an hour or two of sleep. This was so badly needed I can’t find words for it. Sleeping just a few hours is fine if one studies, socialise or things like that, but if one is travelling, moving, climbing mountains, trying to transfer money, waiting in cold train stations, worrying about contracts and generally not being in control of the situation, three hours sleep out of fifty isn’t a lot, let me tell you.

As I write this, I sit outside our room, with my mother beside me reading a book and my father standing in the middle of a small tea plantation taking pictures. The sun has disappeared and a mist has settled over the valley, almost obscuring the opposite side. Still, this mountain landscape with its beautiful scenery and fresh air is awesome. If I’m unable to sleep tonight, there’s something seriously wrong, because with the accumulated lack of sleep I should sleep like a baby for at least ten hours. Tomorrow, more hiking is planned, but that is, as they say, a completely different story.

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Towards Alishan

This day was to be a bit hectic, I knew that from the beginning, and right enough, the first few hours left me pretty winded. With the help of my parents, I managed to get my things to the post office in order to send them to Gaoxiong, post a signed version of an apartment contract to my landlord, as well as pay deposit for that very same apartment. Since my sleeping rhythm was rather non-existent at this point anyway, I had decided to only sleep a couple of hours on Sunday night so as to fall asleep more easily in the evening.

Our initial plan after leaving Xinzhu was to go to the train station and take the high-speed rail to Jiayi and then change train station via taxi to take the old, small train up to Alishan. However, the taxi driver managed to convince us that going with him all the way would be about the same price, but faster. He was right and we arrived in Jiayi ahead of schedule and could enjoy lunch before boarding the train.

This train is rather spectacular, especially disregarding the boring bits in Jiayi I managed to sleep through. It was first built to haul timber from the mountains down to the lowlands, but now it’s turned into a tourist attraction. The train runs four hours on a narrow track through beautiful and steep mountains, with plenty of bamboo and other plants. Arriving in Fenqihu, our host picked us up and showed us a round for a while, before taking us down a short hiking trail. The landscape of these mountains is exciting and the peculiar overhanging cliffs added to the effect (see pictures below).

A typical view from the train on the way from Jiayi to Alishan.

Because of a rock slide, part of the railway was out of order, so we had to walk roughly five hundred metres. With a view like this, that’s not something bad, though.

Take a guess, which bag is mine and which one is my mother’s?

A small cluster of buildings surrounding the train station at Fenqihu, where we got off the train.

My mother and our host, Mr. Liu, on a short hike just after we arrived.

More from the same hike.

It looks nice, but it’s pretty demanding to climb these stairs considering that the height isn’t enough even for my mother to walk straight.

Back at the hotel (I’m not sure it’s actually a hotel, but that’s the best word that comes to mind), we were treated to a dinner of local specialties, and showed our room. Everything was nice, except perhaps that the room itself wasn’t at all meant for staying in apart from sleeping. Of course, we plan to spend most of the time outdoors anyway, but I’m still not used to this kind of lodging. The host and his parents were very nice to us and we felt that we were in good hands.

After dinner, we went on a white-faced-flying-squirrel hunt. Armed with flashlights, the host and his father took us up a steep mountain road surrounded with lush trees, turned into looming shadows by the deep night. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what we were looking for, but soon enough, we found a couple of flying squirrels. They have a beautiful brown-red luster to their fur, but since we only saw them from a long way away, I refer to this and this photo, rather than any picture of my own.

In all, the day was much more eventful than I expected. The host took us with him to do lots of stuff where I’d only expected to rest and have dinner. Since he knows almost no English, I also had to speak lots and lots of Chinese, which went incredibly well, I must say. I understand roughly 90 % of what he says on the first try, including descriptions of various plants, landscape peculiarities and instructions and so forth. I don’t know if my listening ability has taken a quantum leap for the first time since I came here, but it seems like that now. Feeling tired, but satisfied, we all went to bed rather early after having some local tea. Going early to bed seemed like a good idea, because we planned to leave in the early morning to see the famous sunrise from Alishan.

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