Yesterday we took a lovely and not-too-challenging hike from Shenkeng (深坑) to Cannon Mountain Falls (炮子崙瀑布), a high waterfall known because you can wade into the pool around it and stand under the falls themselves.
To get there, as you exit Shenkeng Old Street at the end closest to the bus depot and old mansion, turn left and cross the bridge. Head right at the Y and take the next right, which turns at a small shop selling cypress wood items (a good place to pick up cypress oil and other things if you want - I want to go back and get a fruit basket). Cross the large road and head straight up the road that starts at the betel nut shop across from you. Keep right at the sign for 文山 spray painted on a metal fence. Keep going slightly uphill for awhile. Ignore the sign telling you to turn right for Paozilun Trail and keep straight up the steep hill. At the top where it evens out you'll see a very small trail inlet to the left - hopefully there will be cars parked around it, better marking it. It's very easy to miss and doesn't look like the right way (but it is). Turn in and walk up - it's "paved" with blue foam pads (???) and at one point, carpeting. Don't ask - I don't know either - and much of the trail is made of sandbags.
The trail is clear with no deviations or turns - follow it to the falls themselves. (There's a continued trail veering to the left behind the shower if you want to keep going - we didn't).
It was so hot on the road yesterday that I started to feel dizzy as we climbed and got prickles all over my head, so we sat on the trail for awhile as I drank water, poured cold water on my neck and waited for the feeling to pass. I snapped this picture as I was starting to feel better. The hike is not steep, long or terribly difficult (but would be very slippery in the rain, especially going down) but the time spent under the sun on the road really wiped me out.
Once there, you can set up a picnic (there are chairs lying around a makeshift rest area that you can probably use, or just bring a blanket), wade in the water or sit under the falls. These guys - we suspect they were "brothers" (兄弟) but didn't ask - were having a blast doing just that. Towards the end they all went back under the falls, praying both before and after their showers. It was unclear from their explanation but it seemed as though showering under it was both a spiritual and medicinal act. The water exerts a lot of pressure on whoever is below it, and turns the skin bright red from the pounding, which gets the blood flowing - a practice which is very much a part of Chinese medicine. We believe there's a spiritual component as all of them prayed before getting under the water.
Of course, as wimpy foreigners, we just hung out below the falls and got wet that way under the cold mountain spring. It was perfect after a hot and sweaty hike that nearly knocked me out.
Not every local can handle it - this younger guy went under the falls at the behest of his girlfriend, and really couldn't handle it.
Paozilun (Cannon Mountain) is so named because you often hear thunder but rarely get rain along with it. We heard thunder and beat a quick path back to the road. "Oh, don't worry about it," the guys told us, "you always hear thunder here but it never rains."
Well, it rains a lot in northern Taiwan so we are sure that it does, in fact, occasionally rain here too, so we headed back anyway. As we re-entered Shenkeng proper it did in fact start to rain. I waved to the betel nut girl and her two aunties as we returned to eat some stinky tofu and shaved ice.
Update: chatting with a student about this, he said "it's not that there's a god in the waterfall, it's more that nature is full of gods and spirits. So in dangerous areas people will pray or bring ghost money. You can find a lot of ghost money along Bei-Yi Highway (the winding mountain highway that has been the site of many fatalities between Pinglin and Yilan before the construction of the Xueshan Tunnel) for this reason. So those guys were praying to respect nature, because the waterfall must be a little dangerous. Maybe the pressure can break your neck, or a stone could fall down from it. They're praying to 大自然 - nature."