It’s been a long time since our last post! The summer holidays mean that lots of places are quite busy, and we teachers have a bit of extra work to do running summer activities at the school. That said, it’s important to blow off steam and so, in August, a troop of teachers made our way to the train station at an unholy hour of the morning (seven AM – madness!).
Our destination: Chiayi station, from whence we were going to ride the bus up to Alishan. Now it must be noted that this plan sparked confusion in lots of people I spoke to. The more conventional way up Alishan is taking the slow little train through the forest tracks up to the top. Wrangling a group of more than six, our head teacher and tour guide for the day elected for the faster and easier route.
Off at Chiayi station we encounted the first moment of mayhem. The bus stop was a construction site. However, we had no time to be confused as an elderly Taiwanese woman quite firmly ushered us in a direction, and we quickly found ourselves talking to Mr Xi, who offered us a very reasonably priced lift up the mountain in his shuttle. It turned out to be a good call, as the winding mountain road caused one of our company to take a green turn and Mr Xi kindly pulled over to allow her to recover. He also let us stop at the foot of the mountain to look at a charming temple and suspension bridge, stretch our legs, and buy some tea. The temple was fronted by a number of quite fashionable looking statues doing martial arts in what appeared to be sunglasses.
After our two stops, we made it to the top of the gorgeous Alishan mountain road. The road itself warrants a bit of description. It winds its way between the trees, and seems to go on forever. On our way back, the clouds had descended and in such a moment the road is both beautiful and terrifying! On our way up, though, we could enjoy the views down the mountain slopes, and we even spied a waterfall coming down practically onto the shoulder of the road.
At the peak, we stopped for a bruch at our leader’s favourite spot. We also picked up the tourist map that was full of promising places to see. Without losing anyone, we managed to escape the tourist shopping area and with the aid of an umbrella squeeze our way through a rather large tour group blocking the entrance to the wooden walkway. We were finally in nature.
The forest of Alishan is really beautiful. Enormous trees cover the mountainside and the cool mountain air was a lovely escape from the sweaty Taiwanese summer. The paths lead us up between the trees, passing some truly enormous stumps that looked like something off the set of Lord of the Rings. One was aptly named the pig log, as that is exactly what it looked like. We also learned a little of the folklore about the mountain, including the two sisters who turned into the matched pools and the brothers who became the sentinel trees watching over the water.
Alishan used to be a centre for Taiwan’s timber industry, which is why the narrow train tracks were laid up there. Now the train brings tourists, squeakily, up a long winding route to the summit. In the right season the tracks are overhung by sakura blossoms, according to all the tourism pics. We were far lot too late for any blossoms, but the deep green of summer was gorgeous nonetheless. And then emerging from the forest to find a temple nestled in the low-hanging clouds felt quite magical. It also provided a nice break to get some of Alishan’s delicious tea and to gather the group who had spread out taking photos, searching for birds, and generally ambling along.
The final descent to the train station took us across a suspension bridge, around some long wooden walkways. We passed some ancient trees, Ents over a millenium old. They absolutely towered over us. We finally crossed a bridge over a river and went down to the station. Time was marching on and we had to hustle to get everyone a ticket and aboard the old diesel train. It was quite a fun experience, despite the quite squeaky train carriage noises, and a welcome opportunity to rest our feet. After watching the forest pass by, we went down to the tourist shops for coffee and postcard shopping.
Mr Xi picked us up, and the time he set for us was on the money – a little way into our drive down the mountain the clouds descended and the rain started. Suddenly Alishan’s forest looked like something from a werewolf flick. But we managed to avoid any lurking monsters on the way back to Chiayi station.