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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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I have now returned home, two days earlier than planned. The reason for this is fairly simple, but since I do not want this entry to be about that, I intend to tell you about all the good bits first. In short, my five days alone and away from civilisation were awesome. I had a really nice time and I learnt a lot. I spent three days exclusively on walknig, and two mainly on other things (writing, mostly). I totalled around 120 kilometres.

Here are some observations from the excursion in no particular order:

Walking is meditative – Perhaps no surprise, but walking in silence is great. It is not boring in any way, but after a while my mind settles as it does in meditation. I can of course focus on various things if I wish, like the landscape, a creative idea or anything, but walking in itself is great.

My boots are merely 99.9% water-proof – Had this figure been lower, it would have been a show-stopper. 99.9% is still enough to work on a hike like this, but it was not enough too keep my feet dry when the ground was very wet (splashing through pools of water where no other option was available). Perhaps better treatment of the boots would have helped.

Terrain does affect speed – Seriously. I planned a short trip which would last four hours, but the terrain was horrible! I ended up walking for eight hours that day.

Butterflies are nice creatures – No comments.

Food out in the wild always tastes better – Familiar to most hikers, I am sure, but food does taste better. Probably it has to do with exhaustive work (walking), the atmosphere or something.

I can be creative on my own –
This might seem a little bit surprising, but those of you who know me personally, know that I rely much on others to discuss ideas and make progress. During these few days, I have learnt that I can be creative on my own as well. I will write more about this later, but I think it has to do with mindset and allowing time to pass. Whatever the cause, I managed to produce an awfull lot of good ideas, mainly for my novel.

Drawing and writing compete – If I have paper in my lap and a pencil in my hand, I will write, not draw. This is a problem if I want to learn to draw.

A day is very long – Without television, computer, books, music or communication of any kind, a day is very long. Of course, it is not possible to use all that time to something useful, but the insight is nevertheless profound. Removing external distractions helps me write.

Cows have a sense of humour – I was walking across a meadow with grazing cows when suddenly the path in front of me was blocked. Twenty or so cows had decided to park in the small opening in the fence into the next meadow.

I stared at them for a moment. They stared back. I am not afraid of cows, but wrestling my way through a crowd of them is not something I am comfortable with. I backed off, slightly to the side to see if they would follow. They did. With quite some speed. However, they all stopped a few metres away where the rocky ground I was occupying began.

I stared at them for a moment. They stared back. I decided to just walk and see what would happen (having lured the creatures a little bit to the side, I now had an opening). They did nothing. Then suddenly I heard this stampeding noise, and feeling the panic rising, I spun around to see what horrible death awaited me there. The cows stopped dead, again a couple of metres away. Some of the grazed lazily, some bellowed faintly.

After some shuffling, they presented what looked like the leader of the pack, a black and very kind-looking cow. She looked at me timidly for a while, as if saying:
“Uh… hullo.”
“Hi”, I replied aloud.
Since nothing more seemed to transpire from this conversation, I turned around and continued walking again. Silence. Then the stampeding noise again! I stopped and turned around once again. There they were, innocently grazing. The leader said:
“So… do you come here often?”
“What are you doing? Why are you following me?”
“Just grazing, generally speaking.”
“Generally speaking?”
However, she seemed to lose interest after that she and her pals went off to find someone else to harass.

Fire is fascinating – It is as fascinating why humans, me included, can spend an almost infinite time on making them.

I really look forward to my year in Taiwan
– I thought a lot about leaving Sweden. Conclusively, I think my stay in Taiwan will be great.

I hate being semi-alone– At home, I am rarely alone for more than a couple of hours straight. Leaving civilisation was an experiment in being alone, but it failed at least partly. I like being alone, I like being with people, but I do not like being semi-alone. That is, aiming for being alone, but always running the risk of meeting people. I have no trouble with being alone in the dark woods for several days, but I hate meeting other people when I do so.

50 kilometres is a long way to walk in one day – Still, I managed to complete this goal on my 101-in-1001 list. Actually, I specified that I should have at least ten kilos of equipment. I had almost twenty. I walked a total of 78 kilometres the first two days. Not bad.

Orienting is fun – Although this trip was not primarily about orienting, one cannot hike without running into it. I have a task on my list which specifies that I should learn to orient. This was the third trip I did with map and compass. I have confirmed that I know the basics, but it would be fun to practice more explicitly on this another time.

Candles take a long time to burn – Another task on my list was about watching a candle burn down as some sort of meditation. It was fairly relaxing, although I was luck to pick a very small candle (it still took almost two hours to burn down).

I failed a task on the 101-in-1001 list – You might think that camping near a lake in August with a perfectly clear sky and some wind would be cold, and you would be right. The first four night were agreeable indeed, but the fifth is the reason for my being home early. This is how I went to sleep after creating a huge fire nearby, feeling warm and cozy. My standard outfit for sleeping is a tent (The North Face Spectrum 23, very nice), a sleeping mat, a sleeping bag, a cap, socks and covering underwear (shirt and trousers).

Unfortunately, the sleeping bag was not up to it. The weather must have gotten much, much colder suddenly, because regardless of what I did, I still froze. I ended up in a foetal ball, inside the sleeping bag, with the opening sealed shut except for a hole the size of my fist to let air in. And I still froze! At four in the morning, I went up and started another fire and made sure it held me occupied until the rising sun could banish the cold. I still was not warm when I paused for lunch six hours later!

I do not want this to happen again. It is bad for my health and it is a very unpleasant experience. I hate freezing, even though I am seldom bothered by cold weather. So, the prospect of this happening again was what made me turn home in the end. This night might have been even worse, because I had no way of washing myself off before going to bed. Being sweaty to start with in such a situation as last night is very bad indeed. So, after having decided that, it was easy walking the 37 kilometres home.

There is no place like home – Really.

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In a few minutes, I will leave civilisation, heading south on foot. I have no particular goal, but I have several potential destinations. The idea is that being alone out in the wilderness for a week will be interesting. I already know it will be relaxing, but apart from that I do not know. Leaving civilisation means, among other things, that I will not use any technical devices such as my mobile phone or mp3-player. Furthermore, I will bring any media for consumption in any way (no books, no studying). I see little point in speculating further about this adventure, but I will of course tell you about my week when I return next Tuesday. Until then, take care.

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On Thursday, I left home together with my parents for a short hiking trip to Omberg, bordering Vättern, Sweden’s second largest lake. As you will see, the terrain is not at all similar to that of the rest of the region (flat and cultivated), which makes it a perfect place for hiking. My main goals with this trip was to have a good time together with my parents, as well as testing my strength for another hike later this month. In short, I wanted to know how well I could manage fifteen kilos of equipment.

I will not spend much time describing the hike itself; I have photographs for that. In short, though, it took almost six hours, including short breaks. The path was occasionally extremely steep, which made the walking fairly arduous. Other parts were flatter and much less punishing. All sections were pleasant to walk though, with beautiful landscape and clement, somewhat humid weather. The hike overall was very nice indeed.

The rucksack proved heavy, but not overly so. On flatter ground I am pretty sure I will be able to manage many consecutive days of walking, which is my intention. I will set out for another test hike with my new tent once it has arrived, but until then, enjoy the pictures:

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Several of the items on my 101 list include hiking and outdoor activity, either directly or indirectly. For instance, I have already bought a pair of boots. Another thing I needed was a rucksack big enough to be sufficient for longer trips. Last year I borrowed an old rucksack from my parents, but I wanted one of my own and was not quite satisfied with the one I borrowed either. The problem with premium gear is that it costs a lot. After browsing the internet for quite some time, I found several models that interested me. Hence, I was delighted when I found a forum post recommending a shop on German eBay. They sold the Berghaus Cyclops Atlas roughly 60 % cheaper than in Sweden: just short of €200, shipping included.

I received the package yesterday after only five days, which is very satisfactory. The rucksack itself looks fine as well, but I will have to test it thoroughly before making any judgement of its qualities. Anyway, it has got a total capacity of 100 litres, including two detachable 10-litre side pockets (which can be zipped together to form a 20-litre pack for shorter detours). The main compartment can be accessed from the top as well as from a zip near the bottom and it is divisible by means of a drawcord. The rucksack weighs roughly 2.9 kilos and looks like this:

I intend to use it for hiking, but it is probably excellent for travelling purposes as well. My expectations are rather high, since it scores incredibly well on various reviews all over the internet. As I said, I will have to get back to you on this when I have actually tested it properly, but for now I am quite satisfied.

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Buying a pair of boots may seem like something easily done and this is indeed the case, provided one knows exactly what boots to purchase. When I composed my 101-list, I knew that I wanted to have new boots, both because I wanted to increase my rate of outdoor activity (hiking, for instance) and because I thought it would be good to wear shoes which were actually comfortable and adequate for walking long distances. Last summer, I borrowed a pair of Meindl boots from my father and tried them out during several hikes. During the autumn, I found out that they worked pretty well for everyday usage as well.

The problem was of course that these boots were not mine. I have been looking for other, similar boots, but I have not been able to find any until last week. As it happens, I managed to find several different brands on sale in town. Being extremely lucky, there was a pair identical to the one I had borrowed. The original price was set to 2200 SEK, but it was lowered to 1400 SEK. I bought the very last pair there was and I am very satisfied indeed.

There is a bewildering idiosyncrasy of the boots in that their name seems to be specific for the shop in which I bought them. They are called Meindl Lugano GTX, a name which does not appear anywhere on the Internet. I e-mailed the shop and asked them about it and they confirmed that it indeed is a name solely used by them. Their answer to my query also indicated that it was a unique model as well, but that seems highly unlikely to me. However, I have been unable to find any other name for them. Anyway, this concludes item 87 on my list. Hurrah.

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Hemma igen

Nu är jag tillbaka igen. För att vara lite mer exakt kom jag tillbaka igår kväll, men jag orkade inte skriva något om det då. Jag har alltså varit ute på Östgötaleden igen, den här gången söderut mot Kisa. Till Kisa är det dock 97 kilometer och det hade jag inte riktigt lust med. Jag har fortfarande inte så bra koll på mina begränsningar, så jag tyckte att Rimforsa var ett lagom mål, 51,3 kilometer.

Nu är dock det inräknat att man går rätt hela tiden och inte gör några avstickare. Jag gick fel en del och gjorde en del avstickare och jag gissar på att det blev cirka 58 kilometer totalt. Jag gick sträckan på två dygn, fördelat på 16 timmar inklusive pauser. Bättre strumpor gjorde att det gick förhållandevis bra och jag har idag inte ont någonstans och inte heller träningsverk.

Det mest spännande som hände var att en älg lufsade förbi tältet mitt i natten. Jag tror i alla fall att det var en älg, för det är inte så många djur som går rakt fram, låter hur mycket som helst och frustar högt. Jag blev jävligt rädd i alla fall, för det är inte helt roligt att vakna av på någon meters håll ensam ute i skogen.

I övrigt rekommenderar jag verkligen sträckan. Mycket fin natur och det finns gott om ställen att bada på. Nästa gång ska jag dock inte gå själv. Det är helt okej att gå själv, men allting utöver det tror jag blir trevligare med sällskap.

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För lite drygt en vecka sedan kom jag tillbaka från en liten tur mot nordväst på Östgötaleden. I eftermiddag är det dags igen, fast den här gången bär det av åt söder och jag går ensam. Jag gör det dels därför att de flesta andra har mycket att göra och dels för att det på ett sätt ska bli skönt att det är jag själv som bestämmer dagordningen.

Planen är att vara borta ungefär tre dagar och ta mig söderut mot Kisatrakten. Nu tror jag inte att jag kommer att ta mig så långt, eftersom det är nästan 100 kilometer dit, men jag har flera stopp på vägen som har bussförbindelser hemåt (Brokind och Rimforsa ligger ungefär 50 kilometer bort på leden och det bör jag klara utan problem).

Jag beger mig iväg så snart jag fixat klart en del saker här hemma. Packa gjorde jag igår, men jag har fortfarande en del skrivande kvar. Jag har inte berättat det tidigare, men planen är att jag ska slänga iväg ett utkast på den modul jag håller på att skriva till Skymningshem: Andra imperiet. Det vill jag ha iväg innan jag sticker, för på så sätt får jag dessutom en välbehövlig och motiverad paus från skrivandet i väntan på att jag får in lite feedback.

Sidan kommer dock att fortsätta uppdateras under tiden jag är borta. Jag hade en del att skriva om och det ligger just nu fyra artiklar i kö på att publiceras under de kommande dagarna. Utöver dessa har jag dessutom två filmrecensioner att skriva: Gattaca och första Harry Potter. Men det får bli nästa vecka. Hej på er så länge!

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Jag och Fogge har under sommaren pratat om att det vore roligt att ge sig iväg på en liten vandringsexpedition. Mina tankar har hela tiden cirkulerat kring att gå söderut, mot Kisa. I ett första försök skulle förstås inte Kisa vara slutmålet, eftersom det är nästan nio mil dit, vilket är lite mastigt för en helgtur i komforten och nöjets tecken. Istället gick vi nordväst mot Borensberg. Fogge och hans kompis Gustav kom upp till Linköping på fredagskvällen och vi gav oss iväg kring halv nio. Målet var bara att ta oss ut ur stan och hitta någonstans att slå läger.

Båda momenten visade sig vara svårare än väntat. Till att börja med hittade vi inte leden och var tvungna att irra runt ett bra tag strax norr om stan. När vi väl kom ut ur tätorten, var det mycket svårt att hitta någonstans att slå läger. Allting är antingen väg, gård, åker eller dike och inget av dessa erbjuder några möjligheter att slå upp tält på. Strax efter midnatt nådde vi fram till Svartån, där vi slog läger på en gräsplan i närheten av några hus och hoppades på att ingen skulle komma ut och jaga bort oss med hagelgevär och hund.

Efter en natts dålig sömn tog vi en avstickare till Vreta kloster, varpå vi fortsatte in till Berg. Där badade vi, åt mat och slappade i allmänhet. Vi hade ju trots allt inte bråttom. Så här i efterhand var badet det bästa under trippen. Vi fyllde på vatten, köpte lite proviant och begav oss vidare längs Göta kanal mot Borensberg. Nu var naturen mycket trevlig och solen sken. Mina solglasögon gick sönder. Fogges fötter havererade och på kvällen bestämde vi oss för att avbryta och ta en buss hem.

Sammanfattningsvis tycker jag att utflykten var riktigt lyckad. Det var skönt att komma ut och gå lite och jag har egentligen inget emot missöden med att inte hitta leder och sådär. Extra krydda bara. Jag var osäker på hur mycket jag skulle orka, vilket jag inte vet ännu. Att jag kan gå längre, snabbare och med mindre vila vet jag, men inte i hur hög grad. Packningen var tung men helt okej; det går framförallt att ta med sig mindre vatten om man kan fylla på längs vägen. Jag har lärt mig följande: ha extra pengar i necessären, ha en bra huvudbonad, gymnastikskor går utmärkt att gå i på led. Jag vill snart ge mig ut igen, men den här gången blir det norrut med mer skog och mindre åkrar. Vill du följa med?

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