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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Taiwan Road Trip, Day Three, Part Two

Above 2500 meters the flora changed drastically. Gone were the jungly taro leaves, the ubiquitous ferns and the flowering trees - this was now the realm of conifers, lichens, moss and general creepiness.

At 2600 meters, we passed the Sacred Tree at Pilu, a 3200-year-old, 40 meter tall fir tree (Cunninghamia konishii). It's an amazing feeling to touch a living creature that was already alive at the start of the Iron Age, around the time when the Romans established their Empire.

Just below the top we stopped for lunch in Dayuling. The restaurant had iron garage-style pull-up doors instead of front walls. These doors were wide open, and DAMN, was it cold in there. But the mountain cuisine helped us forget the arctic climes: wild boar, highland cabbage and tiger lily blossom soup. I'd crawl all the way from Hualien for that sauteed boar with wild onions!

At 3100 meters, the Hehuanshan guest house offers hikers a place to stay overnight for a nominal fee (breakfast included). Check out the hiker-made snowpersons (can't say if they're boys or girls). Sorry about the asinine pose, guess I've been in East Asia for too long.

Then the serious part began: narrow, slippery roads on tundra-like terrain, swept clean just that morning after a fresh snowfall, and fog. Boy, the FOG! If you want to see the view from Wuling Pass, the highest road in East Asia, you need to arrive before 1 pm, because after that the fog will restrict your line of sight down to five feet. Not desirable in combination with the above-mentioned road conditions and the gaping maw of the valley three feet to your left.

The fog stayed with us all the way to ca. 2500 meters and then finally lifted to reveal the lovely slopes of lower Nantou County, aka "Taiwan's Orchard".

More about that and Day Four tomorrow!

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