When my friend in Taiwan heard that I am coming over to Taiwan, she immediately planned my itinerary for my three days stay. Ainee is the mother of a boy my son stayed with during his school exchange trip last year and we became Facebook friends. My Chinese is not so fantastic and it’s worse if I have to message in the language with hanyupinying. So I said ok to all her suggestions.
She had planned my first trip to Toayuan Valley to see what looked like ornamental grass, which to me looks like lalangs. In autumn, this grass blooms into wispy feathers of seeds and the whole mountain appears golden, a sight that attracts Taiwanese hikers to the mountains during this time of the year.
Toayuan Valley is located at YiLan, at the north eastern tip of Taiwan island. A new tunnel cuts the travelling time from Taipei city to YiLan to one hour, increasing tourism to this area. Previously, one had to drive around the coast which took 4-5 hours.
What I had thought was a light walk turned out unexpectedly to be a treacherous climb not unlike my climb to Mt Kinabalu in June. Among the group of friends Ainee had gathered, two had climbed this hill before and acted as our guides. The rest, six of us were newbies. After a continuous uphill climb, one had to turn back 500 meters to our climb.
Mike came prepared with only a pair of hiking boots. His cotton tee shirt and denim long sleeves were soaked with perspiration. We only carried our own bottle of water, but unknown to us, the rest were carrying loads- packets of rice rolls, bananas, guavas, bottled teas. We stopped often to take group photos and to eat so as to lighten the load.
I couldn’t help thinking that when I complete this 5 km route, I am almost at Tana Rata of Mt K.
The total route that was planned is 10 km. We started only at 11am and stopped often. It’s good being ignorant at this point, for then we didn’t have to worry about being still stranded in the mountains without lights, until a group we met warned us about it. They had started in the opposite direction at 9 am and expected to complete at our beginning point at 4 pm. So we were way too slow. They advised instead of doing the full 10 km, that we should take a shorter route to go down, saving us 1.5km.
My leader agreed. So thinking that we were now saved, he assured us we could take our time. So we posed for hundreds of of photos, had picnic. The green forest gave way to grass land at the ridge. The lalangs were indeed beautiful. As we walked further along the ridge of the mountain, we saw signs warning us of wild cows. I am not very sure how these cows happened to be here but their presence keeps the pastures trimmed and green.
At the highest peak, we met a group taking photos. One look at them and it was obvious they didn’t climb. Indeed, they had driven up to the peak. Although the scenery at the peak, with the view of the Pacific Ocean on one side, and mountain ranges on the other side was awesome, these tourists missed experiencing the lalangs.
I looked enviously at the cars, for we still need to walk 3.5km down the mountains, and the sun was setting very fast at 5pm.
Unlike most people, my climb down is always slower than up. I thought about my knees and gave thanks to the Viartrils-S glucosamine I have been taking. I worried about my glut, still recovering and very stiff. My thigh muscles felt very tight, because I stopped running since August. The only exertion I had was a mild 3-hour hike in Nepal. Would I be able to walk after this?
The group were mostly silent on the way down, focused on trying to reach civilisation before dark, while negotiating slippery rocks covered in algae. It was futile. At one point, the fastest man shouted that there was no more route. We all groaned. It was near impossible to climb back up. After scrambling for his phone, he shouted sheepishly that there was a path, hidden in a right angle to a stream, bringing a sigh of relief and scolding from everyone. At this point, everyone took out their smart phones for the torch – a life saver.
Along the way, I noticed sweets/candies/lollypops along the path, which they later told me that it was offerings to the mountain gods for a safe journey.
We finally reached a main road. The lady who had turned back had waited for us, worried. She had been trying frantically to contact us but the signals in the mountains were poor. The first thing she said was, it’s pitch darkness, why are you still up there?
Her turning back was a blessing in disguise as she came within minutes to pick us. It turned out that our starting point was just 2.5km away, 5 minutes by car but another 30 minutes to walk.
An unforgettable but no less wonderful experience.