After class on Friday we arranged to meet with Pascal and his girlfriend Andy at 10:30ish the next morning at the MRT station in Xindian, the southernmost stop on the green line and a pick-up point for the bus to Wulai. Yes, we were going back to the jungle.
I was game for any excuse to get away from nonstop noise and air that literally leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Also, we’d bought and carried fancy river-walking shoes the last time we made this trip and hadn’t used them, so I was eager to try these felt-bottomed shoes on something other than our tile floor.
Felt-bottomed? But Valerie, didn’t you tell us about hiking in the Columbia River in a simple pair of off-brand Keds? Why do you need felt-bottomed shoes to river trace in Taiwan?
I’m glad you asked. I can’t actually find a web site that explains why these shoes work as well as they do, but take my word for it. If you’ve been rock climbing, it’s the difference between climbing in tennies and climbing in too-tight Gryptonite shoes. The felt grips the algae-covered river rocks, and they’re not at all bulky so there’s less chance of getting your foot trapped in between rocks, and you can hop and not be afraid of slipping (though I did slip once). And boy howdy, did we hop.
Technically, we stopped about 1.5 kilometers short of Wulai, at a tiny spot of roadside activity called Chenggong. We found the trailhead and, after a break for a chocolate ice cream cone, the four of us suited up in our boots and got it.
The river was actually a stream, gentle and lazy, reflecting the green of the towering, bushy mountains around us. We waded shin-deep most of the time, but found waist-deep pools to get our trousers wet and stopped at even deeper pools when we fancied a swim.
After a few solitary fishermen and a family having a barbeque right at the start, we saw no one until we made it to our lunch spot. We settled just downstream of a naturally carved-out waterslide that was being monopolized by a group of rowdy, middle-aged Taiwanese people, brightly covered head-to-toe and outfitted with helmets and life vests. They had a system of ropes to fish people out of the chest-deep pool after they’d gone down the slide, and at one point, one of the men leading the group had inexplicably untied the end of the rope from a tree and instead attached it to himself, providing an anchor from above for the people floundering happily below. He seemed stable enough, but standing on slick rock with your harness tied to people clamoring below you strikes me as a bad idea.
When they had safely moved on, we took our turn on the slide, ripping two pairs of pants and accumulating a fair bit of rock burn. But what fun.
The water felt amazing in the heat of the sunshine and a bit chilly in the densely shaded nooks. It’s difficult to complain about anything being chilly when you can’t sleep at night from the heat and spend most of your day sticky with sweat—difficult, but possible.
We traced upstream a bit further and were joined by a stray dog. A larger, deeper pool waited for us, and Andy and I sat on a warm rock while the boys attempted such dangerous feats as pole vaulting with a bamboo stick and diving in head first. When everyone was sufficiently refreshed, we turned back, followed at a distance by the stray dog. She was just a puppy, a mix, and I’m afraid she may have been dumped by someone surprised to find their un-spayed dog pregnant. Colin named her Lola, and she stuck with us until we were nearly back to the trailhead. I thought one of us would be taking her home, but that of course would be impossible.
Other wildlife on our adventure included three water snakes and one land snake (one for everyone in the group to find!), two frogs (or toads), and a load of Taiwanese high schoolers with nothing better to do than smoke cigarettes and throw rocks and sandals at one another.
Pascal and Andy suggested getting a bite near their place when we got back, and we wandered through the busy market streets looking for a number of places they’d enjoyed before. We settled instead on one they’d never tried, a Thai place with royal purple walls. Andy, the only among us with a few years of Mandarin under her belt, handled the menu.
My chicken leg with hot and sour sauce, although it was tasty, was neither hot nor sour, and the leg itself was chopped perpendicularly to the bone, leaving me several cross-sections of chicken leg (and skin and bone and marrow) to try to eat. I was mostly unsuccessful, and filled up on the rice and cabbage and tofu that were brought on the side. The neatly chopped chicken turned into a pile of picked-at carnage after about 20 minutes at the business end of my fork and spoon, and I’m certain the restaurant staff must have thought me horribly ill-mannered.
I was tuckered out by the time we got on our train home at the late hour of 9, and any form of productiveness was put on hold until Sunday.