Monday, 22 September 2014

Camping in Wulai

Wulai is one of my favourite places. Less than an hour from hot, sweaty, busy, cramped Xindian, Wulai is clean, green, forested Taiwanese mountain landscape at its best. The steep, winding mountain roads that transport visitors and residents to Wulai and other natural areas around Taipei are sometimes tricky and nauseating to navigate, but the difficulty of the terrain is what prohibits its large-scale development, so complaining would be churlish, especially as I'm never the one doing the driving.

We arrived in Wulai on the Saturday of the Mid-Autumn, or Moon Festival, long weekend. My previous experience of camping had opened my eyes to the typical amenities available, such as plenty of clean toilets and hot showers, electric hook-ups and outdoor sinks with running water, but this campsite had another feature, which was roofs on posts over each plot. Very sensible considering the monsoon-like downpours that are common, especially in the mountains.

It's difficult to know where to begin describing our lovely break in Wulai. Probably the highlight came at the end of the second day, when we drove to a translucent, blue, slow-moving mountain river.
I don't think my son will ever forget leaping and plunging time and again into its depths. Speaking for myself, cooling off in the tepid water was wonderful.

Most of the rest of the time was spent chilling around the campsite, which had its own built mountain pool. The weather was very, very hot, even where we were, which was above ear-popping altitude. No one felt like doing much except relaxing, eating, drinking and enjoying the view.

I went on a short hike alone up the track at the back of the campsite, where the woodland was full of butterflies and dragonflies.

I had to constantly wave my arm in front of me as I was walking, however, because the track was also filled with spider webs. Not the huge golden orb spiders, but much smaller black ones (though the webs weren't any smaller) that I'm now reluctant to research.

The rest of the happy campers did manage to rouse themselves for one short mountain hike. I went along, and we came across a mountain skills course group. I'm not sure exactly what the course involved, but they had a campfire lunch being prepared for them, and the organisers kindly let our kids play on the rope swing.

Driving is something I haven't missed through most of our time in Taiwan. I don't enjoy it and we don't need a car for our day-to-day living in Taipei. It's only when we go camping that I feel the need, because our opportunities are limited and we have to rely on kind friends who go out of their way to help us. We have less than three years left in Taiwan. Maybe we need to get a car. Just for camping.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Gold Ecological Park

We first visited the Gold Ecological Park on one of our reconnoitering holidays to Taiwan before deciding to move here. I remember the visit well. It was cool, damp and cloudy, and the park was wreathed in mist. The journey to the park had been nerve-wracking, as we were negotiating the trains and buses with no Chinese and were also completely unfamiliar with the area. The contrast with our recent visit was pronounced. This time, we passed easily through the transportation systems, and the weather was clear, bright and hot.

A relic from the years of Japanese control, the Gold Ecological Park is named for its former gold mine and the protected mountain landscape surroundings.
Guan Gong - once a Chinese general, now a god
A 25 tonne statue of Guan Gong, which sits on the roof of the Quanji Temple, is the park's most noticeable feature, and it contains the remains of a Shinto temple; a lodging constructed to house a Japanese crown prince; and a former dormitory for high level Japanese mine employees. My favourite places were the old mine entrance tunnels, which are open to the public, and the Gold Building, which houses an exhibition about the history of gold in Taiwan and the rest of the world.

Small fees are requested for some of the attractions, such as the walking tour of the old mining tunnel. Before entering the tunnel everyone has to put on hard hats. In some areas the roof is low, so that even people of my vertically challenged proportions are in danger of hitting their heads.

Each time I enter mining tunnels I'm always humbled by the conditions and dangers miners endure, even in these days of high-technology mining.

I think the place my husband most enjoyed visiting was the derelict Shinto temple. It's a 10 to 15 minute climb up broken-down steps to reach it, but I agreed that it was worth the effort. There's an atmosphere about forsaken religious sites and religious buildings that's difficult to put into words.

Of course, I couldn't resist photographing some of the local flora and fauna.

There's too much to do at the Gold Ecological Park to cover it all in one day if you include walking the many hectares of mountain landscape. Some sights we failed to see (again) on our most recent visit were the Gold Waterfall, the Octagonal Pavilion, which was a head-shaving barber shop exclusive to the Japanese, and the Changren Tunnel No. 3 flue pipes, which criss cross the mountain like giant snakes.

My son also missed out on practising gold panning in the Gold Building because this only takes place at set times during the day. But he did have fun pretending to ride the stationary mining cart.

Kids and adults alike also enjoy touching the massive gold ingot on display in the Gold Building. Is it real? Surely not.

Easycards make using public transport in Taipei a doddle, and now their range has been extended to the rail network covering the surrounding areas. To travel to the Gold Ecological Park we caught the train to Jilong (Keelung) from Taipei Main Station, simply finding the train we needed and swiping our Easycards to get through the barriers. Catching the 788 bus to Jinguashi, which terminates at the park, was trickier because it leaves from the bus stop over the road and to the right of Jilong train station, not the most obvious bus stops to the left. You can also catch a train to Ruifang, and catch the bus further along its route there, but it's standing room only by the time the bus arrives in Ruifang, though the overall route is shorter. This is the way we returned to Taipei. The park publishes an English language brochure giving all the details.

How did we feel about our trip to the Gold Ecological Park? Sorry, I can't resist. It was golden.