Monday, August 20, 2012

3:50am wake up call

After not so much convincing I decided to cancel my train Sunday morning and stay in Taipei for another day.  I think a major factor was the wine buzz I had going Saturday night and thoughts of catching an 8am train were no where in sight.  After realizing he didn't have to work the rest of the week Grant asked if he could tag along for the next leg of my trip. Why I agreed is beyond me - after all this is the guy that told me I looked older (that's a first) than 23 due to my wrinkles, although  he later determined it's because i'm always smiling/laughing so i'm okay with that.  But in all seriousness I was up for having a travel partner, and with his help renting a scooter was now a much likelier possibility.  

Monday morning we set out early to catch the train and by 8am we were on our way to Chiayi - destination Alishan National scenic area.  We arrived around 12, checked my large bag into storage, enjoyed a lunch of the local dish turkey rice and rented a scooter, pretty efficient hour if you ask me.  Before heading to the mountains we wanted to stop and see the tropic of cancer - Grant had been here before and said it was worth the detour.  We followed the directions from the woman at the information center and found ourselves at some strange, closed or maybe abandoned space attraction. Wasn't the same place Grant remembered visiting but it still had a plaque clamming the tropic of Cancer ran through, plus I got to sit on Mars so i'll say it was worth it.  Again on our way, zooming down the streets of Chiayi we made one more stop at some random temple - there wasn't much there but I did manage to take a few pictures. 

Tasted like Thanksgiving 

Signing our lives away 

Sitting on Mars

So sad - no more Plutto 

Not your typical tourist photo 

We were finally approaching our destination when all we could see was a huge traffic jam, thankfully being on a scooter we made our way all the way to the front to see what was going on.  Turns out the road was closed as they were working on chunks of it up ahead - best guess is they were clearing debris from a landslide/fallen rocks.  Yeah, sure does make you feel safe when you're about to head up that way and there's been multiple reports of damage due to typhoon.  It was at this point that I was grateful Grant came along and that I was on a scooter.  My original plan was to take the bus up the mountain, but that would have A) caused me to want to vomit every 5 minutes and B) likely hate all the other tourists I was traveling with.  Before long the road was open to traffic and we were at the head of the pack, making our way up the mountain. Oh and while we were waiting we bought some pineapple from one of the nearby vendors - dare I say that was the most delicious, fresh, juicy (and cheap!) pineapple I have ever eaten.
Destination in sight 

What they were working on, looks pretty safe....

The winding drive up the mountain took a total of maybe two or three hours but we made a few detours and multiple stops for both photos and food. The views were breathtaking and the ride itself was something to remember - again glad I wasn't on that damn bus. I'm still impressed with myself at the amount of trust I put in Grant to drive us safely up to Alishan, the roads really weren't too bad except the part where the house sized tour buses come flying around a corner at you. 

View from the cafe we stopped at 

Helmet hair for days 

Candid shot
The windy roads 

One of many tunnels we passed through - I felt like I was living Crusin' USA

Building a new bridge 

How they keep the mountain from washing into the road - not sure how effective it really is

We arrived at Alishan national park around 5pm just as the visitor center was closing - talk about perfect timing.  The staff was extremely pleasant and helpful, giving us directions for the next days activities as well as suggestions on where to stay for the night.  We chose to spend a bit more and get an actual room compared to the dorm options (which were in a creepy old church) and i'm glad we did.  It's amazing how much the temperature drops when you go up in to the mountains so the first thing on my mind was a hot shower and change of clothes. After warming and cleaning up we made our way to find dinner - I said all I wanted was for someone to give me food, i'd try again. So, when we came across a restaurant with a set menu at a reasonable price we went for it - Chicken in brown sauce, Tofu, Mountain veggies, lotus flower soup and something else i'm forgetting.  It was all delicious and being the gluttons we are decided to get the mystery dessert which wound up being deep fried taro (kind of like rice cake in Korea) delicious but even better when we got a doggie bag and paired it with some ice cream at 7/11. Shortly after we were ready for sleep, thankfully our early start and long day caused us to be tired enough to doze off by 10pm- after all we had a 3:50am wake up all coming.  Why you may ask? To ride the mountain railroad up to see the sunrise over Jade mountain of course! Although we were up in plenty of time we were still somehow sprinting to the train at the last minute, complete with snacks and beverage for breakfast, lunch and snacks for the rest of the day.  The ride up was a bit under impressive (thanks to Wiki travel/blog posts) but the views at the top sure did not disappoint. 

4:30am train ride 

View to the west 

I'd say it was worth it 

First glimpse of the sun 

getting higher 

and higher 

and now i'm blind 

but then a nice woman gaver her glasses to me - aren't they hot?

Holding the sun in the palm of my hand 

I would apologize for taking so many pictures, but I got up at 4am for this

someone's hungry 

Breathtaking  - and my day's just getting started 

After having way too much fun with my camera and goofy pictures we joined the rest of the crowd and headed back to the train - again thinking we would miss it we ran through bushes and crawled onto the platform rather than taking the normal entrance. Our plan was to get off at Chaoping station and then head back up the mountain taking Tashan trail to the peak.  The first half of the hike was a lot of stairs, and some really slippery places. There were a few non-slip strips but most of those were torn away due to hikers almost wiping out thus causing them to tear - as we figured out on our way down. We stopped a few times for pictures but mostly just enjoyed the scenery and peace and quiet - the trail was our except for one other friendly hiker.  

Inside the train - not the lack of foreigners 

sun rays breaking through the trees


having fun 

Going to find a place to pee - thanks for documenting that, Grant. 

3 really old trees that grew inside of each other  

By the time we got to the top we had eaten most of our food (7/11 bakery, bananas, coffee, and some kimbap), shed most of our layers that were required for the early morning and it was still only 10am!  We took our time enjoying the views, taking pictures, and doing a bit of yoga. 

Those little buildings are the village we stayed in

I guess the view's alright 

Side crow - it's coming along!

Bow pose!

Just relaxin'

Crazy boy went over the fence 

Incredibly peaceful at the top 

I like it here 

We eventually made our way back down the mountain to explore what else Alishan had to offer.  There are numerous hiking trails mapped out throughout the area - although we both knew nothing would be quite as impressive as what we had just seen.  

Kind of makes me want to live in the woods 

More fun on the tracks 

Before the hoards of Chinese tourist came and ruined my zen moment at Jiemei (Sister) lakes

I think it was supposed to look like a pig...

Red Cypress

Shoujhen Temple - love all the dragons 

Forest railway - looks kind of like a toy 

Alishan sacred tree - 3000 years old, collapse due to rain in 1997

Another really old tree 

As soon as we spotted the tourist we ran the other way - time to go.

3 generation tree 

As the park got more crowded we decided it was time for us to move on.  We were supposed to get the scooter back by 2 (although we weren't too worried about paying more for being late) and there were still other parts of the area we wanted to see. We packed up and headed on our way to find the smaller towns of Rueili and Jifeng.  The drive was a bit more peaceful this time since we took smaller roads and were able to avoid the tour buses.  We weren't 100% sure where we were going but we can read a map and street signs and there's always the fallback of asking the locals (Grant has a pretty solid Chinese vocabulary/ability).  We did take a few wrong turns but the result was just seeing more of the beautiful scenery.  We stopped in one town, I think Fenchifu for some snacks and to look around, not much but I did try a 1000 year old egg (or at least that's what they call it), 'cooked' by being burried in the ground for about a year.  It was good until you got to the yolk and being the generous person I am I shared the majority of that part with Grant :) Back on the road to Rueili we encountered some rougher roads - rocks and mud, as they were doing some construction on a new tunnel - would've been nice if that was already finished.  There was one hill that was just too much for our little scooter to bear so I got off and jogged along side (for like 2 second until I gave up and walked).  After making it to the top and halfway back down we decided I could get back on.  You know how black ice kind of creeps up on you out of no where - well that's what this mysterious sludge did to us, and before you knew it we were both on the ground.  Thankfully we were both fine, minor cuts and lots of bruises (but hell I get bruised in my classroom) so really not a big deal - plus it made for a good story, although I was a bit hesitant to get back on the scooter.  

Chuggin along 

annnd down for the count 

When we finally did make it to Rueili we were both a bit worn down and didn't care too much about stopping for another hike.  There were a few more trails with the shortest being close to 45 minutes, as it was getting late and we still planned to make it South to Kaohsiung we let a stop in the bathroom to wash our cuts be the extent of our visit.  An hour or so later we were back, safe and sound in Chiayi, our first stop was at a fruit stand where we bought more delicious pineapple and some cantelope - can't pass up the fruit in Taiwan.  Afterwards we made one more attempt at what Grant remembered to be the location of the tropic of Cancer - well so much for that, wrong again, but we did get to see some random tower. 
can you see my enthusiasm? 

By this time the 3:50am wake up call, hiking and lack of food were starting to wear on me. I was ready to be in a bed or at least on the train - we returned the scooter (and didn't have to pay any fees for the scratches, score!) and made our way to the train station.  Our luck continued as they let us use the tickets we had for earlier (we originally had bought tickets for a 1:30 train) and would be on our way within the hour.  What better way to end the day than with pineapple and beer? 

Drinking in yet another train station - we classy 

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