Remembering Jiaming Lake and the Southern Cross-Island Highway (Part 4)

This is a photo taken on the Southern Cross-Island Highway – I’m guessing that’s the Xinwulu river

Continued from Part 3.

When I wrote the emails in 2013 about my trip on the Southern Cross-Island Highway, I promised at the end that I would an email about Wulu Gorge, which I never did. Thus, unlike the previous parts of this blog post series, this entire post was written in 2020. And instead of being able to copy and paste a bunch of text I wrote shortly after the trip, all I have to rely on are a few photos and memories which are more than six years old.

Even finding the photos was harder than I expected. All of the photos in parts 1, 2, and 3 were pulled straight from the emails, which were easy to find. But I never wrote an email about Wulu Gorge. And I kept on looking and looking for the photos from the trip, and I kept on not finding them. For a while, I wondered if I had deleted them by accident, and if the photos from the emails were all I had left. As I was searching, I browsed through a lot of computer files from when I was living in Taiwan. It evoked a lot of memories, and prompted some unplanned reflection on how my life has changed since I left Taiwan. (I started this blog when I was living in Taiwan; in some ways, looking through those files was like revisiting the environment in which this blog emerged).

Finally, I used some of the photos from the emails to do a search on the entire digital archive of the files on my computer as of the time I left Taiwan. That was how I discovered that they had all been placed in the wrong folder.

The only picture I took in Wulu Gorge

I went on the 1 km (less than one mile) paved walk in Wulu Gorge. Compared to the hike I had just done to Jiaming Lake, it was easy-peasy in a relaxing way. I was also able to really appreciate how, at this lower elevation, the forest looked really different that the forest near the beginning of the Jiaming Lake trial, let alone the lack of trees once one got to the highest altitudes of the trail.

I recall running into a group of twitchers (birdwatchers) in Wulu Gorge. Apparently, Wulu Gorge is a good place to spot birds.

I also went to the Wulu Hot Spring at the hotel. After my multi-day hike to Jiaming Lake, this was the first chance I had to wash my whole body.

This was before I had been to any onsen in Japan. Generally, the hot springs in Japan are much better than the hot springs in Taiwan. But there are exceptions. Wulu Hot Spring is one of those exceptions. It had this black minerals specks which I could see in the water, and I swear that Wulu Hot Spring is one of the three best hot springs I ever went to in Taiwan. I also recall that they required swimsuits, and that I wore a swimsuit, but I don’t know how that could have happened since I don’t take swimsuits with me when I go hiking. Maybe I borrowed a swimsuit from one of the hotel staff? I don’t remember at this point.

Just as I was checking something, I found that Wulu has a suspension bridge. That spurred my memory of walking across the bridge to get to the gorge trail.

There is another well-known hot spring along the eastern section of the Southern-Cross Island Highway: Lisong Hot Spring. It is one of the most famous ‘wild’ hot springs in Taiwan. I do not think I had time to go there during this trip and/or the access was compromised (which is very common, given the unstable nature of the earth all around the Southern Cross-Island Highway). I remembered talking about it with Ah Wei. Ah Wei has been there multiples times, and recommended that I go there when I get a chance. I never went there. It was only when I was writing this post, and decided to watch a YouTube video about Lisong Hot Spring that I even found out what it looks like.

I believe I took a bus from Wulu Hot Spring back down to Guanshan. But I can’t absolutely swear that I did not hitchhike from Wulu Hot Spring to Guanshan. This is what happens when I try to remember something that happened more than six years ago without notes.

I believe I spent one more night in Guanshan, and spent the following day walking around the town. Guanshan is famous for its bike track, but instead of renting a bicycle, I walked on the bike track. Compared to my hike to Jiaming Lake, walking on flat ground for a few hours was easy.

Guanshan has a lot of rice paddies, being in the fertile rift valley of Taiwan

I recall that the hotel I stayed at in Guanshan was cheap, and possibly the most run-down lodging I ever stayed at in Taiwan. Because it was cheap and (as far as I could tell) safe, I did not mind. I vaguely recall that it seemed a family with kids were in another room. I wonder if that hotel also served as short-term housing for local workers, not just as a place for travellers such as myself. It was not listed in the Lonely Planet guide, and there was zero English spoken, so I think it was completely off the radar of non-Asian visitors (except me, but I lived in Taiwan at the time so I didn’t count).

Then I took the train back to Taoyuan (obviously I transferred because there are not direct trains between Guanshan and Taoyuan – I think I went north and transferred in Taipei, but it is just possible that I went west and transferred in Pingdong). I’m certain I bought one of boxed railway meals that Guanshan is famous for.

And that was the end of my trip on the Southern Cross-Island Highway in Taiwan. I did pass through Guanshan by train a few other times, but I never went back to the Xinwulu Valley or returned to the Southern Cross-Island Highway, and I never went to the portion of the highway west of the Daguanshan Tunnel.

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