Thanks all - especially my Thorn Tree crew who've come out in droves to vote for us, and those who not only voted for us but spread the word to their friends! Keep it coming - we're really getting excited about (possibly) winning this thing now!
The link, as usual, is here: Team Zhen Tai
Here are some photo from our recent trip to the Pingxi area, where we spent the day hiking from Sandiaoling to Shifen. For whatever reason (don't ask me, I don't know) the photos are reversed in chronological order. I guess I uploaded them backwards. Oh well. They're still nice!
The long red bridge leading from the end of the trail to Dahua Station, where a train left just as we arrived - hence our continued hike to Shifen.
The end of the trail culminates in a big schlep up a hill at the end of a creepy parking lot near Wild People Valley, and an accompanying descent down slippery moss-and-stone stairs. Watch your step, and take time to admire the bright green moss underfoot.
Hiking clubs in Taiwan leave these markers not just out of pride in their accomplishments, but to let other hikers know the way down a clear trail.
These folks are the Yangs and the Xiongs (the woman in grey on the right is Yang Taitai and opposite her is Lao Yang, her mother. Her husband is Ah-Xiong and the white-haired lady is his mother.) Their ancestral home - which is huge, equipped with modern living quarters on the edge of the property and is the home of lots of flora and fauna - has a flatscreen HDTV inside. We came across it as we, starving, saw the gate soon after the trail hits a rural road. We thought it might be a cafe because we heard lots of noise and saw picnic tables everywhere. Turns out it was just their house and they were showing around another group of hikers and entertaining their mothers-in-law, hangin' out at the lao jia on a sunny Sunday.
(I wish I had a lao jia to hang out at, but oh well.)
They happily invited us in - we were still all "Is this a restaurant?" - and fed us some green bean noodle dessert and chao mian (fried noodles - think chow mein). At first we were embarrassed, crashing someone's home, but they were delighted to have foreign guests. Apparently we aren't the first crashers - that other hiking group is shown in the photo, and Mrs. Yang said every few years a wayward Aussie or Brit passes through, and they feed them all, but they've never had Americans before and so they're quite happy about that.
Also, Old Yang is well into her 90s and still has quite a personality. I never thought a 93-year-old could strong-arm me into eating "MORE NOODLES!" but she did.
I love this country!
The trail doesn't seem long - it's only a few kilometers. But huge sections of it require wading, climbing or heading up ladders, so it takes longer than one would guess.
My sister at the base of Sandiaoling's main waterfall. It's not a terribly long hike to get here, past another waterfall viewable only in the distance (the path that seems to have once gone to the base is long overgrown), but you do have to wade across a stream where a bridge has given way. There is a cave behind this waterfall but we didn't make it there - the pathway was quite slippery after some heavy rain and the entire roof of the overhang on the walkway and the rock wall opposite was covered in sticky, gooey insect eggs/larvae/gross stuff. Really - I'm not being a priss about this. It was GROSS. I got some in my hair and even the guys were all "ew. Nasty."
Not far from here is a lovely place to sit on a rock and soak your feet. It's also a fun place for a picnic; more unorthodox than the viewing platform by the falls. You could even go for a dip if you were so inclined. Brendan is standing on one of the rocks in this area below:
Along the way we passed a lovely small shrine, half hidden but not forgotten in the undergrowth. As I've said a million times, spiritual beliefs here run deep; deeper than most people can fathom. Everything is sanctified and modernization is not changing that...merely adding to the ways in which people get in touch with their gods (and ghosts, and ancestors, and demons).
The area is lush with bamboo, as you can see, making for a lovely green backdrop as well as calming 'forest' noises as the very slight breeze whistled through.
Locals in this area are...um, zhen tai. More Tai than we'll ever be despite our fancy video. And very friendly.