Alishan Adventure

TAiwan Map page in diaryThe word “adventure” came up often the last few days: a friend wondered why I have so many more adventurous stories than she does; another so much wants adventures she takes leave of her career this week to work for an Outdoor Adventure firm for a while. My best friend is off today to Thailand for an adventure vacation. And today, a long-time colleague and friend leaves her very successful engineering career to soon start Law School studies; and yet another just called to tell me that he has just finished his mid-career PhD studies with the filing of his dissertation. (Take it from one who has done it: going to school in mid-career is a major life-lurching adventure).

Last week, a friend so much enjoyed a placid lake snapshot I took during an adventure that I revisited my diaries to read the scribbles I jotted the day I took the shot – Friday May 17 1985. I was wandering near Alishan, close to Yu Shan, the highest peak of Taiwan. That jaunt was just a tiny bit of an almost two-year world wander in 1985-1987. Reading the notes took me back to a younger, even more restless me; a person who can now relate to, and applaud, people taking excursions from their careers to have adventures. So: as a gift to my adventurous friends, here is what this adventurer wrote 25 years go this week on my Alishan adventure – mispellings and all [with editorial comments here and there]

Diary Notes to Sun Moon Lake Wednesday May 15 1985; Taipei and Hualien, Taiwan
Left Taipei ~0800 on train, slow one to Hualien. Uneventful trip except I was in my usual state trying to figure out where I was with the small scale map. Almost got off at wrong station a couple of times.
[ink color darker] Trying out new pen – makes a difference, eh?

The ride had pretty spots, but tunnels obscured the cliffs. Arrived Hualien (Hua-lane) ~ noon. Checked into Teachers Hostel after walking a couple of miles from train station. Had lunch at little café when a guy v. helpfully drew me a map of how to get to hostel. Part of problem of getting from A to B is knowing how to pronounce B. Once I got that right, and had little map, the street signs started to show english phonetics! Can’t win. I gave the guy a box of cigs and he promptly repaid me with 3 cans of soda.

Decided to go to Toulong (Doolon) to see the Ami tribe. Fielding guide stated it was song and dance and lo and behold it was a song and dance. Looked like a night club with gaudy dressed girls in plastic regalia, jazzed up music. I got roped in to perform a number. Took a few shots and taped some for Cheri. I got trifle pissed at the affair, it really is a tourist rip-off. I’ll have to keep on learning. Back at hostel met a Dutch guy who is also travelling alone; we exchanged some info. He was a little nervous. I didn’t want to spend much time with him. I only enjoy my own company at present.

Wandered around town, taping bits for Cheri and Judy and photographing in the market. Bed by 1000h. Tomorrow by bus to Tsiengshan and Taroko Gorge. Mailed postcards.

MAp detail ReducedThursday May 16, 1985; Hualein – Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
(1030) Wrote above and this part here sitting on wall waiting for bus to Wushu, Taguling and places west. I had decided to overnight in Tsienshang but loads of buses and tourists and commerce put me off. My original plan had been to hike Taroko to Tsienshang but I took bus to Bridge of Motherly Devotion only. Hairy bus trip to there- road v. narrow, cut into cliff face, trucks and all coming other way – and buses and trucks have to negotiate around each other. Many tunnels and crazy Chinese driving would have made it dangerous. I walked about 8 km; beautiful morning. From Tsienshang to here ~ 3.0 km. I walked and got too hot, so will take bus now for a way. This is peaceful; country side and vegetation just like Hawaii.

(next day) Well, I hitched to Taguling; shortly after writing above 2 horrid tour buses came and parked right by me; occupants galloped into nearby Chinese Youth Activity centre hostel for lunch. I got ride with 4 people; 2 guys and 2 girls. Madcap ride. Ate at Taguling where they feed me. I had interesting soup made of mushrooms, fungus and bits of a tree. I got totally ripped off when I bought some sweet and sour fruit; but I guess I deserved it. I asked the guy to make up a mixture which he did; then asked the price.

At Taguling the road turned to dirt on the leg I wanted to travel between Taguling and Wushe. I got rides with 2 people, the 2nd one giving me a placid but jolting ride in a v. small engine truck. Monumentous ride over the saddle pass. Went right thru Wushe – I wasn’t fast enough in protesting!. The valley ride was great down from ~elev 3500 m to elev ~ 700, through vegetation and cultural changes to v. prosperous valley. The guy dropped me off at bus station at Puli where I caught a bus to Sun Moon Lake – arrived ~ 6 pm. Was worried cos guide book said nowt about accommodation in this big town. Size of circle on map did not suggest size of town! Sun Moon Lake was v. small whereas Puli was v. big. Anyway, after trying to get directions to Chinese Youth Activity Hostel; I was suduced [sic] by a persistent hotel keeper into looking at his tatami rooms. He quoted 1st $NT, but showed me twin room also. Wanted 450 but I got for 200 (~ $5 U.S.) I took it – just as well, rain pissed down at that time & I had considered walking/hitching 8 km to the hostel! Was dog tired, bit grumpy. Ate silly dinner of pastries & pop and went to sleep 8:20 pm after enjoyable bath and shower. The twin room was rated at $100, excessive for mouldy walls musty furniture. Hotel was virtually empty (took 10 mins for hot water to get to 2nd floor) so I expect that was the reason for cheap room rate.

Sun Moon Lake at dawn Near Alishan Taiwan Spring 1985 (E Medley) - REDUCED Friday May 17, 1985 Sun Moon Lake – Ho She/Tungpu
Was out by 5:20 a.m. Walked several km along lake in cool misty morning. Lake was beautiful, placid and I think I may have several good pictures. Got lost on a dam site after a morning shit detour & attempting a short cut. Had to double back, but did not lose temper over it. Took bus to Shuili, and then decided to try to head for Alishan via the Tungpu route. The recommended route would have been ~120 -130 km route west via Sungpaikeng; train to Chiai, and narrow gauge train to Alishan. I desperately wanted to avoid that. Got ride to Sinti where I had to get out to obtain a pass necessary for non-mountain residents. Police officer explained I could not walk to Alishan alone; and he gave me a permit for Tungpu only. Well, so much for that!

I got a ride almost immediately with a construction superintendent for Hwa Sun Construction (Chung Su Mei); who took me to his construction camp, honored me with tea and introduced me to the supervising government engineers. Of these, Dong-Jye Jan, spoke English. It was agreed that I would spend the day with them, then they would take me to Alishan tomorrow. I spent part of the p.m. visiting construction sites on the highway project and answering questions.

In evening, dinner was delicious. I caused some difficulty by not accepting beer or wine [I did not smoke nor drink alcohol], but did OK in the tea ceremony. Started a report for Dong-Jye. I can’t really be of help to these people since have no info. I suspect that they will construct according to the design manuals; and hang the expense. In fact another English-speaking engineer, from another camp, said that money was no problem, the government was paying the shot!

I was offered gifts, Dong-Jye gave me stamps to commemorate my visit. I accepted a can of beer which I will carry a little way only!

Bit  of Taiwan report ReducedSaturday May 18, 1985; Ho She/Tungpu Area – Chai-i

Day started early @ 0500. Finished some writing; report. Took early morning photos of mist shrouded mountains. Farewell to engineers. By car to Alishan Highway when Dong Jye-Jen left with colleagues. I had lunch with them. One spoke English – I did not learn his name but I spent time with him walking along road. We drove to Alishan village; dropped off my permit and got it re-stamped. The drive was a little hurried, I would have taken more geology photos. Decided not to stop in Alishan due to weather and concern about getting back to Taipei from Chiai. Too bad- in retrospect I should have stayed in Alishan. There are trains twice an hour to Taipei from Chiai. Well, the experience has taught me a lesson – stay in the country as long as possible. If I whittle my baggage down further I may be able to get away with not needing the briefcase, and will not have to check it in to train stations etc.; hence will not have to rush back to places like Taipei to pick it up.

This is a shit town. I spent time walking around and it was rush, rush, rush. I sat at one of the central roundabouts watching the antics of people driving; counted 500 scooter/bikes per minute passing me. Record # of passengers was 5; 4 was common; and 3 typical! Scooters are the family car.

On highway to Alishan saw Chris Fong of Central Geology Survey: he had just made a visit to McGill in Montreal. Spoke in english! He and others were looking a mx [metamorphic] rocks and it would have been a good idea to have spent time with him and learn the geology of the area. Too bad- missed opportunity. I don’t grab all of them.

I booked into the Teachers Hostel, with help of the engineer whose name I cannot remember. $NT50/night ($1.25). It was empty when I got there but soon filled up. I was in bed by 9:30 p.m.; herd of people came in. Not a particularly good sleep. God- I hate this town! (will be leaving in 2 hrs, writing this as I wait for the train). [Journey continued to Taipei the next morning]

About Ed Medley

Ed Medley has been on a random walk for over 50 years. Many scribbles and snapshots at this site are from his vagabond transits; others are from his decades of international experience in geological and geotechnical engineering, academia, and mineral exploration prospecting.
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