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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Taiwanese in the mist at Sun Link Sea

2010 is here, and the Kaminoge family spent most of the first two days of the New Year high in the mountains, away from the far maddening crowds down below. Our destination was the Nant'ou County 南投縣 resort of Shanlinhsi 杉林溪, which we reached late on Friday afternoon after a long drive up a twisting mountain road in heavy fog. After checking in and dropping our things off in our room at the Shanlinhsi Hotel, we set out on a walk in the thick mist, bundled up against the 10C (50F) chill 1600 meters (5250 feet) above sea level:

We first walked to the Stone Well Rock, a series of natural stone pools carved out by the river:

Leaving the Stone Well Rock area, we encountered a troupe of monkeys leaping about high in the trees above us (and raining branches down onto the ground below with every jump). The fog and dimming daylight prevented any photos being taken of the monkeys, but we could easily see and hear them overhead:

We then walked further on, and down, to a vista overlooking the beautiful Blue Dragon Waterfall, before making the trek back to the hotel area, where had dinner and then retired for the night:

And what a cold night it was, for our room lacked any kind of heating. Fortunately, the small space heater we brought along worked well in tandem with the heavy comforters provided in the room, and while the cold tile bathroom floor had me dancing on my toes, at least we didn't have to wait long for hot water. I woke up at 6 the next morning, and following a quick shower, got dressed and stepped outside around 6:30, leaving Pamela and Amber still asleep in their shared bed. Despite the fact the thermometer read 6C (43F), it didn't feel as cold as the previous day, probably due to the clear skies and fresh air, as I took a walk along the old-growth forest Yuehling Trail. Here's the view from the 展望台 at the top:

The walk took less than an hour, and when I returned to our hotel room, Pamela and Amber were already awake. Naturally, I was ready for a hearty breakfast, and just as naturally, the buffet at the hotel was Chinese-style (blah!) - anyone for spicy cucumbers and cabbage at 8 o'clock in the morning? At least there was coffee, and after going back to our room, getting our things and checking out, we took a shuttle bus about 3.3 kilometers (2.05 miles) to another waterfall area. The Sunglung Rock Waterfall wasn't as impressive as the previous day's Blue Dragon falls, but the setting was attractive, especially the adjacent grotto:

The other "highlights" were a short walk uphill from the falls, but neither the Ancient Red Cypress nor the The Eye of Heaven and Earth were as interesting as what we had seen the day before. However, the natural surroundings were beautiful, and the alternate path back to the shuttle bus stop avoided most of the crowds:

The great thing about Shanlinhsi (other than the obvious physical features) was how well organized it is. Walking trails are well-marked and maintained (the Yuehling Trail I took this morning had trash cans posted along the route), the shuttle buses were frequent and efficient, and there were only a few restaurants and shops. This is because Shanlinhsi is managed by the government - if this were private land, the narrow roads would be clogged with cars parked along both sides, and the resort would be overrun with food and souvenir stalls catering to the tour group hordes. The only place that would qualify as a tourist trap, the Medicinal Garden, was where Pamela wanted to visit next, however. Fortunately, a 1.6 kilometer (1 mile) walking trail led from the garden back to the hotel area, and while my wife and daughter waited for the shuttle bus (both being understandably a little tired from all the walking), I opted for the route through the forest:

Meeting up back at the car, we drove out of Shanlinhsi, going down the same mountain road we came up the day before, only this time being able to actually see more than a just a few feet in front of us! Things got "interesting" when Pamela noticed a turnoff for what appeared to be a shortcut to the town of Chushan 竹山. The views across the valley were fantastic, as the short movie I made attempts to show:

The already narrow road we were on soon got narrower, to where it was only wide enough for one car to drive on (at one point we were almost hit by an oncoming 4WD, which had to back up quite a ways in order to let us get by). The surface condition worsened as well, with potholes and puddles forcing us to go slowly in many places. The road literally hugged the side of the mountain, and the tea plantations on one side, and the steep drops down into the valley below on the other made for a drive that was thrilling in virtually all meanings of the term. The one thing it wasn't, however, was a shortcut! Eventually, we came out onto the main road again, reached the plains down below, and then took another road back up into the mountains! The purpose was to see a long wooden suspension bridge called the "Sky Bridge", posters of which we had noticed on the walls of a restaurant where we had stopped for lunch the previous day. We finally reached the parking lot for the bridge after a long drive along more twisting roads, only to learn that the bridge was a good hour-long walk from the 駐車場. As it was already 3:30, we didn't fancy having to return to the car in the dark, then have to face a long drive home, so without further ado, we turned around and went back the way we came. We did stop, however, to take in the view of the "Sea of Bamboo" from a lookout point on the way down:

It was close to 7 this evening by the time we got home. We're all tired, of course, but we enjoyed the chance to get away from dirt and chaos that characterizes most of urban Taiwan. Shanlinhsi may not be as popular or well-known as Hsit'ou 渓頭 (it's 17 kilometers, or 11 miles, further into the mountains from Hsitou, and the narrow, twisting road no doubt limits the number of tour buses), but it was a great choice for welcoming the New Year. I just wish somebody would put a stop to all the "Sun Link Sea" nonsense!


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