Monday, 24 August 2015

Two Days in Hualian: Day Two - Hunter School

Two days in Hualian is not long enough, but that was all we had and we were determined to make the best of them. The evening of the first day had been spectacular. We stayed at one of the many hotels that line the ocean road that runs outside Hualian. The rooms in these hotels face nearly due east, which means in clear weather you can see the sunrise, and the rising moon.

Moon rising at Hualian

I don't know what caused the rays behind the moon that night, because the sun sets on the opposite side of the sky, but they were wonderful.

I'm an early riser, so I also caught the sunrise the following day. Mystified at first by dark shadows on the horizon I soon realised, as they began to shift and change shape, that they were clouds.

Such an amazing start to the day was enough to satisfy me, but we also had a whole day of hunter school ahead of us.

As I said previously, hunter schools are not so much about hunting as they are about learning the skills, crafts and knowledge of the aboriginal tribes who lived in Taiwan for centuries before Chinese immigration from the mainland. 

We were told an interesting story about the person who set up the hunter school we attended. Though a tribal person, he had grown up in the city. When he went to live with others of his tribe in Hualian he became a mountain rescue volunteer. One day, he noticed that while he was carrying a backpack of survival gear, his tribal companions brought with them only a knife. They explained that with the knowledge they had of the plants and animals that lived in the forest, a knife was all they needed to live there indefinitely. So the man set up a hunter school to pass on the knowledge to others and help prevent it from dying out.

During our day at hunter school, we learned how to 

  • bait and catch crabs at the seashore
  • make a tribal headband
  • cook soup with hot stones
  • roast meat over a fire
  • make a water carrier
  • set a trap
  • make fire 

On the surface, some tasks seemed simple. For example, to cook soup all you need to do it heat stones and put them in the soup. But first you must make a waterproof and heatproof container, and you must use the right kind of stones, which won't crack or burst despite being heated and cooled over and over again. 

Another example of this detailed knowledge of the natural environment involved making a water carrier from a large leaf. It would seem a straightforward operation, to fold and tie a large leaf, but only the leaves of a certain plant are flexible and tough enough and the correct shape to be folded into a receptacle. They must also be folded a certain way, and only strips of green wood from a particular tree have the right strength and flexibility to tie the leaf.

Here are some photos from the day:

The instructors explained and demonstrated each skill in detail and though the day was hot and long, I found it fascinating and impressive. The highlight of the day came at the end, when the teacher showed us how to make fire. Again, the instructions were very exact, but when using the correct materials and following the correct steps, the teacher made fire within ten minutes.

It was an exciting end to the day. I hope these schools long continue so even us city slickers can appreciate this ancient knowledge and wisdom.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Two days in Hualian - Day One: River Tracing

Lying on the east coast of Taiwan, hugging the mountain range that contains the tourist hotspot, Taroko Gorge and covers about half of Taiwan's terrain, Hualian is a couple of hours' express train ride from Taipei. A weekend destination for city dwellers, Hualian offers tourists plenty of hotels, restaurants and associated tourist trappings, and access to some of the most gorgeous scenery and fulfilling outdoor activities Taiwan has to offer.

Companies owned and run by local indigenous tribes, which provide river tracing, mountain climbing, trekking and educational activities such as learning how to make fire and other tribal skills, are a thriving industry in the area. Often called hunter schools, these companies are less about hunting and more about living sustainably in the natural landscape.

Along with some friends, we had two days booked with a hunter school. The first day we spent river tracing, and on the second day we learned about living in the forest with nothing but a very good knowledge of the local flora and fauna, and a knife.

River Tracing

River tracing involves walking up and down rivers in the water. In Taiwan in summer this is probably the coolest way of walking anywhere. The water is just the right temperature to cool you down without becoming uncomfortably cold, even after a few hours.

There were children in our party, so we had the simplest, safest course, which took about three hours and involved lots of splashing each other and jumping in, but not very much arduous walking.

River tracing in Hualian

The school we booked with were very hot on safety. We were fully geared up in wet suits, special shoes that grip slippery rocks, and if the children wandered anywhere near any dangerous places the guides told them off severely.

At the end of the trip they filled us up with sweet biscuits to replace some of our used-up energy and help warm us up.

I loved river tracing and thought the guides did a great job. I only wished I could have gone further.

Domestic airlines fly to Hualian airport, which is a short distance out of town, but after recent crashes I'm nervous of flying within Taiwan. We went by train instead, though there are also buses that make the journey.