A&E on the World Heritage Train East 2009 travel blog


Bamboo pathways diverge

Walking along the train track

Forest path

Tea plantation, Alishan National Scenic Area

Path through bamboo forest

It has been an adventurous old day, and now here I am in the flashiest internet nerd place I have ever been in. Its full of the usual teenagers playing RPGs, but is spacious, light, has huge comfortable chairs, no dividers between the huge PC screens, and is very sociable. If they were like this at home then maybe even son Shea would go out more.

Everything appeared to go wrong quite early this morning. I had been planning to spend a few days in the Alishan National Scenic Area, way up in the mountains of central Taiwan, but when I got to the jumping off point at Chiayi, to go up into the mountains on what is meant to be the best train journey in Taiwan, I found out that the recent typhoon and subsequent landslides had finished off the train line altogether - possibly for ever - and buses could no longer get to Alishan either, only cars (i.e. taxis). There was a bus to the trailhead of a hike I wanted to do through the bamboo forests quite high up, but no way of getting back from the other end, not enough time to walk there and back in a day, and the trail itself was now viewed as dangerous anyway.

So prepared to have to stay up in the mountains somewhere, I set off anyway, pooh-poohing Taiwanese notions of 'dangerous' compared to mine. In retrospect this was obviously the wrong way round, and as I saw the landslide damage on the very dramatic and mildly scary bus journey up into the mountains, I revised my plans (and wished we could have stopped for photos, as I often wish on public transport!) I've been in landslide-damaged areas in Iran, Ecuador and China but have never seen such destruction (and such steep mountains and great views), it was all very impressive.

So when I got as far as I could at Fenchihu - also the trailhead of the walk I originally wanted to do - I asked around, and from what intelligence I gathered then just walked where I could in the general vicinity, sometimes on the original trails, sometimes on the now disused train tracks, and sometimes on roads or jungle trails. It was all very safe and risk-free and really nice too, and all-in-all a very pleasant day. Alishan is an aboriginal area, and if anything the people there were even nicer and more helpful than the average Taiwanese, and that's saying something. When I was on the roads, passers-by (usually on mopeds or in shitty old tiny pick-ups) kept stopping and offering lifts.

It was the best bamboo forests I have ever been in, completely 'Crouching Tiger'. The forests in general were very varied, sometimes tropical jungle, sometimes pine forest, sometimes bamboo forest, and strange mixtures of these. It was beautiful, serene, and quite magical when the clouds came down and through the forest at midday, and it put my mood right back to good. I knew I needed nature. usually the best stuff on any trip.

Back at Chiayi later it looked like it was going to be difficult if not impossible to get to Alishan, so I have cancelled that plan, and now I am hoping to get up around Sun Moon Lake instead. And now I'm in the city of Changhua, staying in another 'love hotel', a Taiwanese one this time, but top of Lonely Planet's list and very nice and cheap (if you blank out the bizarre decor).

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