Sorry. I know it's been almost a month.
I'm just...busy. I'm getting married in three weeks. In a large wedding. That we planned from the other side of the planet. A wedding on something of a budget in which huge sections that most people delegate to paid professionals...are done by us. DIY. And while B's family has been fantastic, mine have been a little on the dramaaaaatic side. I love them anyway, but it's true.
And yeeess, I took the photo above. I did not rip it out of a calendar or scan a postcard. I took that!
Just goes to show that no matter how much the Taipei basin overpopulates, and no matter how much crap fills the air from China next door (cough cough, wheeze), and now much industry blights the west coast (industry that keeps the economy humming, I know), there's a reason why Taiwan is also called Formosa. It really, truly and deeply is a gorgeous place. It's east, northeast and south coasts, islands and northern mountains along with the central mountains are absolutely stunning. No two ways about it. They say China is beautiful and in some places, it's true. Taiwan still has that beauty - I can't help but think that huge tracts of it have been destroyed in China - tumbled temples, ravaged environments and filthy ecosystems, razed meadows and forests, blanched mountains, depressing zoos, bilious rivers.
It's truly a gem of a place and it's too bad that so many people don't realize it - they think "Taiwan" and it's synonymous with "my keyboard was made there". Not with "mind-bending mountain vistas and cloud seas". Or, if they're a little more astute, maybe they associate it with Sun Moon Lake or Alishan or some such. Eh. I'm sorry, but the sheer vastness, the gut-punching raw beauty of the drive from Puli to Lishan and down to Yilan shoves those tourist-blighted spots down to pale also-rans. And yet you see so few travelers up there.
Which is good, in a sense. I have it all to myself when I go - which is every few years when I need a soul-resting break and a reminder that I am truly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Vistas like the one above are good for things like that. When you're planning a wedding - a large wedding, a DIY wedding, a nontraditional wedding, from a distance, you need that perspective sometimes.
So we rented a car - the bus is an option, but it sucks - you can't scream "WOOOO!" out the windows, play burned mix CDs, lean out the window and stop where you please to eat, take pictures or run around shouting about how beautiful it all is. We burned piles of music, grabbed the car at Taizhong HSR Station (CarPlus - recommended. Very good service though their good cars book out fast - we ended up with a Mitsubishi Colt when a Toyota Camry or Altis (Corolla) would have done better. You can return the cars elsewhere for a $1200 NT fee - we returned ours in Taipei. They do insist that you have an International Driver's Permit and they do check.
Anyway, here are some photos of our recent weekend in Lishan for you:
Side doors of creepy abandoned church.
One of the peaks of Hehuan Mountain. At this point I turned back toward the soaring views beyond and shouted "WOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOHOOOO!" at passing cars. A lot of people shouted back!
And no, the roads are not that safe. Drive carefully, use your horn, watch the mirrors and be prepared to brake at a moment's notice.
Happy folks from Tainan on a weekend trip. It is amazing, the hospitality up in the mountains - we shared tea, shared food, swapped stories and had conversations with so many people.
Drew in a sniper hole at Fushoushan.
Maple leaves at our farm homestay, right outside our door, from the porch. I loved that in the evenings we could sit out there, drink tea, futz around and enjoy the cool (cool!) air.
Fruit and tea grown near Lishan. Lishan's fruit, vegetables and high mountain tea are superb.
Harvesting snow pears in Lishan.
This reminds me of the lyric of a favorite song, "Falling Is Like This" - One minute there was road beneath us - and the next just sky..."
The owner of our farm homestay - Mingxiu (明秀) - it's a kilometer down a steep hill from the top of Lishan proper, but totally worth it. Not cheap ($1500-$2000 /night for a double room with electric blanket, cable TV, hot water and other amenities in a cabin built with local wood) but the best deal in town for what you get and the lovely setting, if you ask me. The owner and his family are very friendly. Drop me a comment if you are ever interested in staying there - I highly recommend it.
Tea at a farm stand just off Hehuanshan.
Lanyang River Valley - after Lishan you basically head down, leaving Taizhong county and entering Yilan County. The signage is terrible once you hit Yilan.
Lanyang River Valley from the top of the mountain on the way down.
View from pagoda on the way to Tianchi lake at Fushoushan Farm about 4km up from Lishan and walkable for those hardy enough - though we drove.