Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Photos We Didn't Take

Richard Saunders' Taipei Escapes enticed Number 2 Son and I on another mountain excursion this week.

I thought we'd be a little more adventurous and attempt a 'moderate' hike, a step up from the 'moderately easy' one we went on at Wulai. Unfortunately I found, among other disasters, that Mr. Saunders must be considerably fitter than I am.

Yet where are the photos to prove it? I can show you the nicer parts of the day. The rest I will have to leave to your imagination as, for reasons that will become clear, I didn't record our difficulties.

We went on Walk 25, Bishan Temple and Yuanjue Waterfall.

Bishan Temple is at the top of a mountain so to get to it you have to climb a lot of steps. All the way up. But at the bottom there's another temple where you can have a short rest before starting the long climb. This is Jinlong Temple, which contains a huge statue of Guanyin.

Guanyin is the Goddess of Mercy. If you watched the 1970's Japanese series based on Monkey's Journey to the West, this is the goddess sent by Buddha to release Monkey from his 500 years of confinement beneath a rock, where she has put him in order to teach him patience.

The temple was deserted the day that we went there, except for the local wildlife which was out in force. On our trip to Wulai a photographer had proudly shown us his amazing shots of the Formosan Blue Magpie. My own photos were nowhere near as good but I was gratified to get this one of this beautiful bird.

Its common name translates as 'long-tailed mountain lady'. 

In this hot, humid isle, insect life abounds and you always need to walk a little warily out in the countryside. Blundering into spiderwebs is a common occurrence, and they're usually a Golden Orb Weaver's construction. (I've just briefly read the Wikipedia link and it says that in Taiwan they can reach over 5.7 inches across in mountain country. Eeek.)

At Jinlong Temple there was a slightly more pleasant obstruction along the path. At one place at the back of the temple, these were hanging everywhere, exactly like live and slightly creepy Christmas decorations.

After navigating the caterpillar obstacle course, we commenced the climb to Bishan Temple. As it's steps all the way it's quite easy, it's just that there are an awful lot of them. It was a boiling day so we took our time. We were passed by lots of other climbers. One man passed us walking up, then coming down, then passed us again on his second climb!

They all stopped at the exercising area at the top, though. We were actually much tougher because we were going on a much longer walk, we assured each other. How prophetic.

So we made it to the top and followed our guidebook's very clear instructions for the next part of the walk, through the beautiful mountain-top countryside. The air was pleasantly cooler than than at ground level and the going was much easier than our initial long climb.

One thing that surprised us was how populated the area was. Wherever there was level ground there was some kind of dwelling or someone was growing something.

Some of the constructions were very interesting.

Gratuitous photo of a flower.

Eventually we came to what was for us one of the main attractions of the walk: Dragon Boat Rock. And to the first of the photos I didn't take. Dragon Boat Rock juts out of the surrounding forest like a single remaining tooth in a bearded old man's smile. It's an interesting sight both because of the way it breaks the constant lush greenery of the trail and because it harbours strange carvings. The only explanation of the carvings I can find is here

You won't be surprised to find out this isn't the photo I didn't take. The photo I didn't take was of what can be found at the upper and lower edges of the rock. Which is nothing. There is nothing whatever to stop you falling a long way if you happen to stumble off Dragon Boat Rock, and I didn't take a photo of this phenomenon because I was clinging to the rock with both hands and feet at the time.

The next photos I didn't take were of our descent from Dragon Boat Rock all the way back down the mountain to Neihu. When we were climbing the long stairs to Bishan Temple, we'd speculated that coming down was going to be a lot easier than going up. Hee hee. 

In Taipei Escapes this part of the walk is described as a 'rough and steep descent on a dirt path with some small rocky obstacles'. That doesn't sound too bad, does it?

What I hadn't realised at the time was how long this rough and steep descent was. I can take rough and steep for a certain distance. I discovered that rough and steep nearly all the way down the mountain, when the mountain is full of water, and when you have short legs, is quite taxing. That was before I ripped my trousers too.

It was inevitable really. My trousers were suited to gentler occupations. They were old but loved. They'd seen many places and done many things. It was time for them to quit, and they decided to go out with a bang. Or rather a rip. Never mind, I thought, I'm pretty sure the tear isn't that noticeable. Time for new trousers. We continued our descent, helped by ropes in the steepest places.

Then I really ripped my trousers. As in,' my trousers are hanging off me and everyone can see my knickers' ripped my trousers. I hope you can understand why the photo record is blank on this event.

At this point, the enjoyment of the walk started to become a little jaded. When a woman has ripped her trousers wide open, she really needs to get home straightaway. But the rest of the mountain and a walk through Neihu stood in my way. We continued our descent.

Then we took a wrong turn. Where the guidebook said we had to cross a stream, we thought we had to cross something like this, scrambling from rock to rock:

After all, we'd just come down an under-described descent, so presumably equally arduous labours lay ahead. But from what we could tell from the last part of the walk, the guidebook's author probably meant 'cross a stream by use of an extremely convenient and well-positioned bridge'.

Moving hastily on. We emerged into civilisation and with the help of my son's bag positioned behind me, and holding my guidebook apparently carelessly in front, we eventually made it home.

I think I'll read my guidebook a little more carefully next time, but, Mr. Saunders, if you're reading this, you might want to consider reclassifying this walk as moderately strenuous, you know? S t r e n u o u s. And tell people to be careful with their trousers.

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