Remembering Jiaming Lake and the Southern Cross-Island Highway (Part 3)

A little after sunrise, with one of my companions in the lower left part of the picture.

Continued from Part 2

Actually, hiking at 3:30 in the morning wasn’t as bad as I expected, and it meant that we got out of the forest right around sunrise, which was nice, and that we had plenty of daylight in the part of the trail with the best views.

We hiked up Xiangyangshan and then … well, there are two trails to Xiangyangshan. The recommended route is the western trail for both the ascent and descent, so I assumed that we would only use the western trail. Well, they headed off onto the eastern trail, and I figured that joining them on the worse trail would still be safer than going alone on the better trail.

In fact the eastern trail was … not as bad as I expected. Sure, it’s in worse condition than the western trail, but it has different views, and actually isn’t any worse than some of the trails around Taipei. In fact, I’m grateful that they decided to do the eastern trail, because I probably would not have dared on my own.

There are two of my hiking companions

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Remembering Jiaming Lake and the Southern Cross-Island Highway (Part 2)

This is continued from Part 1.

I should note that the eastern section of the Southern Cross follows the Xinwulu river. The river originates from Guanshan, Xiangyangshan, and Sanchashan i.e. the mountains I summitted during this trip (except Guanshan, which I didn’t summit). The Xinwulu river flows down into the east rift valley, where it flows into the Beinan river, which eventually flows into the Pacific Ocean at Taidong city.

I started this trip by taking a train to Guanshan (the town, not the mountain), and spent the first night there. Guanshan is a town in Taiwan’s east rift valley, at the southern end of Taiwan’s ‘rice bowl’ (i.e. prime rice-growing region), and relies on the Xinwulu river for much of its water. The next morning, I got on a bus, which went up to the Southern Cross-Island Highway. The bus passed through Chulai, about 300m above sea level, which is where the mountains meet the valley and is the last place along the highway where rice-farming is feasible. After going through Chulai, the next settlement was Xiama, then Wulu, and then Lidao, where I had breakfast.

Most of the road was in good shape, though there were a few rough patchs, and a flooded tunnel where the bus literally had to drive through the water. [UPDATE 2020: A year later, in 2014, bus service to Lidao was cancelled, which does not completely surprise me given road conditions and lack of population. I don’t know whether bus service was ever restored, or if there is currently bus service to Lidao].

Lidao is a Bunun village (every settlement past Chulai is a Bunun village) about 1000m above sea level, and is the last place with flat land. The people there apparently feel they don’t have enough farmland, so many of the mountains around Lidao have terraced fields. The Boss (I explain who he is in Part 3) claims that the people have taken the terracing too far. Continue reading

Remembering Jiaming Lake and the Southern Cross-Island Highway (Part 1)

A view seen near Yakou on the Southern Cross-Island Highway in Taiwan

I recently read the novel Yushan Spirits (玉山魂) by Husluman Vava. In the preface, he describes the incident which inspired the novel. He was traveling on the Southern Cross-Island Highway in Taiwan. At Yakou, the highest elevation point on the road, he was feeling the effects of the altitude change, so he decided to take a break at a parking lot, where there were two multi-story buildings. This is at the border of Kaohsiung and Taitung counties, so passengers going between Kaoshiung’s bus system and Taitung’s bus system would transfer there. Husluman Vava saw an old man waiting with other bus passengers who seemed to be looking at the mountains in a particular way. He addressed him in the Bunun language, asking him if it was going to Taitung. The old man answered that yes, he was going to Taitung to visit his daughter.

They got into a conversation, and eventually, the old man said (note: I’m translating this from Chinese, which was translated from Bunun, and I’m also abridging this, so the accuracy is questionable) “When I was young, I often went hunting here with my elders.”

“Here, in this parking lot?” Husluman Vava replied.

“The mountain forest here was originally our village’s hunting ground … I once shot and killed a deer in this area – just about there! There was originally a giant rock there, the smart deer would duck behind there to get out of our sight … it was rare that we hunted down such a big deer,” the old man continued as he basked in his old sense of glory.

“What? Inside that multi-story building?”

“Yes! But someone who doesn’t understand mountain forests, who doesn’t understand hunting, put a building in a place which belongs to deer … this place has changed, there are more and more things which don’t belong in the mountains. Sometimes when I pass by here, I wonder whether the things I remember actually existed.”

Husluman Vava was really struck by this comment. He pondered what would drive someone to stop believing their own memories were true, and what it meant when it happened to a whole culture. That was the starting point for the novel.

I myself have been to Yakou, in 2013, and I recall looking at the buildings mentioned in the preface. However, at the time I was there, there was no bus service; I had to hitchhike to get up there. The buildings were closed and not in use. When I was looking down at that, I also felt like they looked really out of place in their setting. Continue reading