A couple of weeks ago Andrea and I accompanied two friends of ours and their baby daughter (less than 12 months old) away from Tainan and up into the mountains in an area called Rueli, a place with a name for which no one, it seems, can agree on a fitting English transliteration. I will stick with the transliteration R-U-E-L-I and save the alternative 11 versions for those moments when I get bored waiting for trains or buses and discover that I have no reading material and am desperate for some cognitive gymnastics.
Here then is a photo-diarisation (not a real word) of our whimsical wanderings in the clouded somewhat-hinter-lands of inner Taiwan...
Step 1: Find a good camp site.
Craig knew of a great site to camp where the ground was flat and grassy (something to be treasured in Taiwan) and the site came with a shower/toilet block. Perfect. I have to say that my Chinese is almost non-existent so Craig did all the talking while we admired the scenery and baby Susie sat in her child safety seat. Once the negotiations were over and we had secured a prime piece of outdoor real-estate, Craig, Helena and Susie left to check in to their slightly more upscale villa while we erected our pathetically small and cramped hiking tent which we had brought with us from Australia. We set up and then left our tent and our belongings for a walk in the mountains. The walk was a fantastic affair, perhaps the first time since we had arrived in Taiwan that we felt we were in something like unspoiled nature. Actually I wrote that because it sounded good. Viewed from a distance the mountains look rugged and wild but walking along the sealed roads you see that the rugged, wild bits are just filling in the spaces between the extensive, terraced tea plantations, coffee plantations, groves of bananas and other food crops.
When we had first arrived at the site with our friends there were no other tents and so, not expecting to have to share our beautiful, green flatness, we surveyed the land for the nicest, flattest, greenest tent-sized area and pitched our tent there. Upon our return from the walk through the mountain sides we were horrified to discover that an army of campers had arrived and descended upon our small oasis of flat grass. Our tent, originally pitched in el primo location, was now surrounded on all sides by larger, much more impressive structures and we felt, perhaps, a little embarrassed to admit ownership to the diminutive tent that, to everyone else's eyes, was obviously much too small for the giant foreigners that we were.
I have to say that we were relieved in the late morning of the second day when most of the tents were gone and we thought we might have a more peaceful night. Wrong. That night we shared the camp ground with even more fellow campers. On the first night there had been 16 other tents and on the second there were 17. We didn't sleep any better on the second night, which was poorly.
Step 2: Locate a source of food.
The only places that sold food close to us were a formal restaurant (which always seemed to be closed) and a small convenience store. As it turned out they were apparently both run by the one old lady. There were so many things that the store did not have. From what it did supply we chose to have instant noodles for lunch. The old Taiwanese lady was quite nice and put the kettle on for us and bade us sit down and make ourselves at home, which we did as much as someone who harbours a lingering fear that they have misinterpreted the situation is able. Thus you see me as I appear in the photo above.
Just a nice shot of us on a walk up the mountain side.
Here was a beautiful place to be, a tea plantation sandwiched between a bamboo forest on the one side and a sheer mountainside on the other.
This pockmarked wall is called "Bat's Cave" although the interpretive signage points out that bat numbers aren't what they used to be before the area became more touristed. Funny that.
City of the dead.
What you see here is a Chinese graveyard full of tombs. The graves in the foreground are more like what I'm used to but the tombs in the background are another matter. It is a little difficult to get an idea of the scale of those tombs up there but basically they are small houses. They have a front door which would require most people to stoop a little to enter. We came across this graveyard when we finally managed to get to the top of one of the mountains in our area and we spent a while there resting, reflecting and admiring the tombs and the view.
Banana trees are prolific in the Rueli area, often seeming to grow wild. Here you can see Andrea, half starved and desperate for anything vaguely edible, reaching out towards the inflorescence and its consequent fruit.
This being Taiwan, the centre of the island is a mass of mountains. Being mountains in Taiwan, there is a lot runoff water from the rains. There being a lot of runoff water, there is a hydrologically efficient network of rills, rivulets, creeks, streams and rivers. There being a network of waterways, there is a need for a lot of bridges if you want to be able to get from A to B without taking the 60-minute long way around. Here you see one such bridge, a suspended-deck suspension bridge to be precise. Note the lovely green mountain sides.
Life takes root wherever conditions allow. These are Andrea's feet by the way. I'm not cool enough to wear sockettes (is that what you call them?).
At the end of a long, exhausting day it feels so good to lie down on a nice pillow. It doesn't matter what the bed itself is like but having the weight of your head absorbed by something big and very soft is bliss. And so I fell asleep to the sound of Taiwanese children playing games directly on the other side of our very thin, water-resistant-treatment-68-Denier-Ripstop-polyester walls, and the sounds of people barbecuing, preparing food, eating, talking, using the toilet block and moving their cars. Ahh bliss.