What an amazing place, amazing weekend, and what amazing people!
Chief Dadao (頭目達道) of the Truku (Taroko) Tribe lives high up on a beautiful plateau, at over 1,100 m in altitude, way up above the steep slopes of the spectacular marble gorge, Taroko Gorge in Hualien on Taiwan’s east coast. We went there to visit over this past weekend, and here’s us sitting with him on the bench outside his house, with THE view behind us!
The mountains of the east coast go straight down to the sea with spectacular views over the Pacific Ocean. Liwu Mountain 立霧山 (1,274 m) is the first of the range, and has the same name as the River Liwu that runs through the gorge. The mountains also provide some protection from the fierce Pacific weather, allowing flowers, fruit trees and vegetables to flourish in the Truku (Taroko) villages of Dali and Datong 大禮大同部落 up on the plateau just behind and below the Liwu Ridge. It’s a real oasis! This photo shows Liwu Mountain and the mountains along the east coast as seen on Saturday early morning from where we were staying in Xincheng Town on Friday night. It’s these mountains that were our destination!
This was our second mountain expedition of the year, the first one was back in June, when we went to Hehuanshan North and West Peaks 合歡西北峰, in Taiwan’s central mountain range. Both trips were organised by our wonderful friend, Jasmine, who kindly invited me to join her extended family on a 2-night trip to Hualien, this time to Taroko Gorge. The group included Jasmine’s husband, their 2 children aged 18 and 16, her lovely mother – now aged 76, plus 3 of her mother’s younger sisters and 2 husbands, one son, a friend, and of course our guide and leader, Lai San, who always sets the pace, leads the way, carries the heavy stuff and makes most of the arrangements. It was a fun group, 14 of us in total. Lai San somehow managed also to carry a carton of plum wine, 2 wine glasses and ice cubes up the mountain ~ and the glasses and ice cubes were still intact when we came to drink the plum wine, sharing the 2 glasses around!
Noticeboards along our route explained a little of the background of the Truku people ~ in essence as follows: The Taroko (Truku) people settled in the watersheds of the Liwu and Mugwa Rivers 200-300 years ago, after crossing over the central mountain range from their original home in Wushe, Nantou County. During the Japanese era, the majority of the Taroko people were forced to relocate to lower altitudes. Only the villages of Hehesi (Dali 大禮), Shakadang (Datong 大同) and Sila-an were permitted to remain, as they were important planting areas. After the Japanese left in 1945, the elementary school at Datong was merged with the one at Dali and served both villages. In 1979, all the villagers decided to relocate down to the village of Fushi in Sioulin Township, but many of the people love to return to their old homes and continue to farm the land, and have restored and opened their old homes as guest houses. This is one of them, Rainbow Guest House, beautiful eh?!
Life up on the plateau there is precarious, remote and isolated – with no internet or telephone signal, no mains electricity or water, and only accessible by a very steep climb up from Taroko Gorge. More recently a pulley system has been built for hauling up heavy things like gas canisters, construction materials and machinery, but the people still have to go up and down on foot.
Chief Dadao is one of these remarkable people who goes up and down regularly on foot, and we were both delighted and honored to be able to stay in his guest house on Saturday night. He is now 86, as fit as a fiddle and loves to sing! He only speaks a little Chinese, and mostly communicates in Taroko language and Japanese. Most importantly he is a very committed Christian, and was an elder in the Dali Presbyterian Church, which is now closed as a place of worship, but open to book for very basic accommodation.
He and the 2 lady relatives who were helping him to manage the many visitors tried to teach me some Taroko language, ah it was such fun! They were delighted to share with me about their faith, and Chief Dadao delighted to share with visitors how he has never smoked, drunk alcohol or chewed betel nut. Instead he is always thankful and praising God for His many blessings. He’s a real witness for Christ!
We started out on our expedition from Taroko National Park Visitor Center on Saturday morning – and from 9:30 am to about 1:00 pm, we were mostly going up, up and more up. There is a slightly less steep path that twists and turns, winding its way up the mountain, but is apparently mostly steps, so we chose the shortcut, which is steeper and a more interesting climb, but of course hard work ~ ah, but it was well worth it!
At 1:00 pm we reached the plateau, where there’s a kind of level track that runs along for miles connecting Dali and Datong and the top of the tracks leading down to the gorge, but otherwise unconnected to anywhere else. The local people drive along on vehicles carrying themselves and all their things between the 2 villages, but we walked, and it was mostly flat, shady and of course, beautiful.
First we visited Dali Village, at 915 m altitude, where the mists rolled in, and gave it all an other-world atmosphere. There’s the old police post, and the other old homesteads now all boarded up, but outside one of them near the church was a chair with a cross on it. This is Chief Dadao’s home village, where he was elder of the church, and where he was educated in the elementary school in the days when all education was in Japanese.
And so onto Chief Dadao’s home by 4:00 pm – high up in altitude above 1,100 m – his home sits completely alone, but with the best view in the whole world! Except that on Saturday afternoon, as is common at this time of the year, it was starting to drizzle. We were so glad to get there in time before the real rain came. Dadao himself was out clearing his land when we arrived, but the 2 ladies, 2 sisters related by marriage to Dadao, were busy cooking and getting ready for the guests. In total there were 24 of us that night, and the ladies cooked the most delicious meal for us all, followed by Dadao singing and, when the rain stopped, us looking at the beautiful starlit night. We also had warm showers – and all slept in a long line on the wooden raised floors in quilts. It was warm, in fact warmer than my house here in Sanzhi!
Next day, early Sunday morning ~ and by 5:30 am we were up and out, in the dark, with our headlights on, heading up about 20-30 minutes to the Liwu Ridge in time to see the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean. Except that the sun only poked out a bit of pale orange light to have a look, and then went back in again, behind the rain clouds, only to emerge much later in the morning. Ah, but it was beautiful all the same!
And so back to Dadao’s home for breakfast, another amazing feast – and look at the views!
This is the panorama from just above Dadao’s house….
We said our fond farewells, and headed down to Datong Village, about an hour down the hill, past a major landslide that had led to the road being closed for quite some time, but is now clear.
Datong has 10-20 homesteads, many run as guest houses, and much of the land is planted and taken good care of, a real oasis. There’s even an ancient relic of a truck that should be in a museum, it’s wonderful! Oh yes and a family of very lively and friendly puppies!
We headed down the steep slope. This was hard hard work! It took us 3½ very long and very arduous hours to reach the river, but oh, such a relief to get there, and in retrospect so grateful that it didn’t rain!
A great relief to see the water and join the Shakadang Trail 砂卡噹步道 which runs right close along by the river, and crossed the stones at several places higher up. It appeared to have been damaged in recent floods as a key ladder was missing at one place so we had to stand on Lai San’s shoulders to get down!
By now it was absolutely pouring down with rain and we were getting soaked. No time to get out the waterproofs, but I had a small umbrella, which was great (always take an umbrella on mountain trips!) and I could keep the camera dry ~ the marble rock formations in the river and the turquoise water were so stunning, how could I not take any photos, even in the pouring rain?!
But unfortunately time was running out, and by the time we arrived back at the bridge and the main road at 4:30 pm, all soaking wet, we were too late. Too late for the 4:50 pm train, that is, which we were booked on to return to Taipei. Actually, we had only managed to get 6 tickets, and the rest of us had planned to stand in turn, but, as it turned out, we missed the train completely! By 5:45 pm we were all back at Xincheng Station, and changed into dry (or drier) clothes, and decided instead to take the slow train north to LuoDong, which took 90 minutes, stopping at every single station en route. We had to stand all the way, wedged in among hundreds of day-trippers and cyclists, and others who were trying to get back to Taipei. From LuoDong we took the bus to Taipei (the long-distance buses do not allow standing, which meant we all had seats, yippee!), then MRT to Tamsui, arriving just in time to catch the 11:00 pm last bus to Sanzhi, and so home just before midnight!
Grateful thanks to Jasmine, Lai San and all the group for welcoming me to take part in such a great trip, to Chief Dadao and his family for their warm welcome and fellowship, and to Almighty God for safety, good health, mostly (!) good weather, and so many blessings.
For more information about the places we visited, there is a series of noticeboards along the trails in Chinese and English – these are the 3 most important, click on each and enlarge to read…
And for further reading, check out these articles on the internet ~ one in Chinese here and one in English here.
And if you do get the chance to go ~ you just must GO, it’s great!
(PS Updated on March 5, 2018: Chief Dadao sadly passed away in the summer of 2018, but I understand that his son and daughter-in-law have now taken over the running of the business.)