Tag Archives: Nantou County

Adventures with Advent Church Choir 台灣聖公會降臨堂詩班 @ Jiji 集集, Checheng 車埕 and Wang Hsiang 望鄉部落 Kalibuan Village, Nantou County!

IMG_4484

A choir that has fun together, laughs together and goes on trips together is sure, yes, sure to sing and harmonize better at church on Sunday mornings.  And y’know, our Advent Church Choir is not just any old choir singing any old hymns. This choir is really quite special.  They are dedicated, not just to singing in the morning worship, but also to their rehearsal time on Sunday afternoons.  They spend hours and hours practicing.  And when they sing in the morning service, they sing with great joy.  They look happy.  Smiles all around.  This is a gift from God.  Not every choir sings quite so joyfully, believe me. What’s more, they are all friends.  And friendship means having fun together.  And having fun involves an annual trip somewhere interesting, usually involving an overnight stay, and singing at that church on the Sunday morning.  Visiting other churches and other denominations is a great blessing, and in doing so, we bring greetings from the Taiwan Episcopal Church, and our own church, Advent Church @ St. John’s University, Tamsui, Taipei.  The annual choir trip is officially called their choir retreat.  And so it was that this past weekend, I was invited to tag along too.  Thanks to the choir, especially their leader, Meng-Zhen, who invited me to join them.  So, early on Saturday morning, off we went in cars driving to Nantou County, in central Taiwan, about 3-4 hours south of Taipei…

107728南投之行_180730_0129

First we went to Jiji Town 集集 , famous for its train station, originally constructed by the Japanese colonial government in 1933, but very badly damaged in the Sept. 21, 1999 earthquake. Since rebuilt, incorporating the original design, and now a major tourist destination for Taiwan people.  And that means us – that’s us at the train station above.  The station is beautiful, and the surrounding station area is full of things to take photos of.  And with.  And next to.  And behind, in front of, above, below and around.  You can jump up.  Or sit down.  Or buy a balloon.  Or whatever.  By the time you have taken 100 photos, the train might have arrived.  For that is our main purpose.  To get the train along the Jiji Line to Checheng 車埕 Train Station.

The Jiji Train Line was built in 1922 as a single track to help move construction materials used in the Sun Moon Lake Hydroelectric Project.  Get to the very front of the train and the view is especially wonderful!

Checheng 車埕 Town lies just below the Mingtan Reservoir and Power Plant, with water coming into the reservoir from Sun Moon Lake further upstream.  Checheng itself is an old logging town, with a log pool and old buildings where the Japanese workers lived and laboured in the wood-processing plant and in preparing the logs for transportation downhill on the railway.  Now the buildings are a huge museum with all sorts of interesting things to do and look at….

About an hour or so from Checheng, further up in the central mountains, is Wang Hsiang Village.  Our main destination ~ and the real reason why I came along on this trip.  Any chance to visit an indigenous village with friends who know people there – and I’m in!

Wang Hsiang 望鄉部落 is known as Kalibuan in the Bunun language. This is a Bunun Village.  The Bunun people 布農 are a Taiwanese indigenous people, traditionally living in the very high mountains of central Taiwan.  Famous for their singing and their physical strength – turned out I recognized several of the men in the village who have come with us on our mountain expeditions in the past, helping us to carry everything and cook the food.  One of the aims of our visit this time was for us to learn something about the village – and the challenges, customs, faith and way of life of the people there.  The current population of Wang Hsiang is over 900, all members of the Presbyterian Church (built in 1951), where we worshiped on Sunday and our choir sang, accompanied by Yu-Jie on the piano – all so beautifully!

The Bunun choir sang too, their songs are incredible.  The church has 2 services, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with 200 at the morning service – often extending to 300 if all the children come too.  The church was so full that many were sitting outside.  Services are held in the Bunun language, but with a power point so everyone can follow the words in pinyin.  Actually, for our benefit, the sermon and some of the announcements were in Chinese, with translation into Bunun.  The preacher was Rev. Wu, who was visiting from a neighbouring village.  Most of the people now are second or third generation Christians – a challenge in itself, and in his sermon, Rev. Wu talked about how for Kalibuan Church to be a strong church, it needs victorious Christians, who are well-equipped through prayer, Bible reading, teaching and fellowship, united in love, and with a vision to go out and share the Gospel with others.

Wang Hsiang was not always a Bunun Village.  The history of Taiwan’s indigenous people and their relationship with the Japanese authorities during the colonial period of 1895-1945 is complex.  The Japanese authorities wanted Taiwan to modernize and develop, and all in Taiwan to be law-abiding model citizens under their control and management.  The indigenous peoples, especially those in the high mountains (like the Bunun people) – who were known as fierce warriors, resented such interference and responded with hostility. This led to conflict, violence, uprisings, killings and brutal crackdowns.  The Japanese authorities forced the high mountain peoples to relocate to lower altitudes where they could be more easily controlled, and killed many of their fiercest warriors who opposed their authority – including those in this photo, displayed on the village wall. This is the last known photo of the men before they were put to death.

IMG_4187

Wang Hsiang was originally inhabited by the Tsou 鄒 people, and when the Bunun people first moved here, there was much conflict.  But as the Bunun people grew in numbers, so eventually the Tsou moved away to the Alishan area, where they still are today.  The story goes that when the Bunun people were forced to move down from the high mountains, they were offered 3 choices of location, and they chose Wang Hsiang because of its distant view of Yushan 玉山, Taiwan’s highest mountain (3,952 m).  From their original high mountain village they could also see Yushan in the distance, so they felt more at home.  Their original home village was located up over 3,000 m in altitude, with snow every winter.  Down in Wang Hsiang, they’ve had snow once in the last 20 years.  The name, ‘Wang Hsiang’ means ‘looking towards home’ and that described their own longing to be back in their high mountain village, which was over the mountain of the same name – and / or maybe it described the feeling of the young homesick Japanese police officers stationed in Wang Hsiang.  Many theories of where the name came from… but the view is there all the same.  Except in the afternoons, the clouds roll in and it often rains in the high mountains ~ like on Saturday afternoon, when we arrived.  Yushan is in the clouds on the left of that big mountain in the centre…..

IMG_4046

Towards the end of the Japanese Era, the first missionaries appeared in the Wang Hsiang area and eventually the village elders made the decision to convert to Christianity.  In doing so, they also realized that their days of headhunting and violent conflict with the authorities were over, and so started a complete transformation of their way of life and thinking.

IMG_4184

These days, the pastors and church leaders are Bunun people from the village, and together with the tribal and village leaders, several income-generating projects have started locally.  These are community enterprises, designed to benefit the whole village.  Originally considered one of the most underdeveloped and backward of the local villages (they were the last to be connected to mains electricity, for example), in recent years there has been much hard work, and success is coming slowly but surely.  The government provides a lot of support, like free wifi throughout the village.  These days also, when the Bunun people remember the Japanese era, not all is completely negative, they say they are grateful for the infrastructure, education facilities and benefits provided by the government.  But still, it must have been terrible at the time.  Recent development projects are in 3 main areas: leading and supporting mountain-climbing expeditions – training and licensing as mountain guides and high-altitude porters, providing guest house accommodation for mountain expeditions and for weekend visitors / ecotourism (like us!) and thirdly the development of high-altitude agricultural projects, particularly fruit and vegetables.  Ah yes, and coffee too…

IMG_4047

This was not the first time I had stayed in Wang Hsiang. Last year at this time, on the night before our ascent of Yushan, we also stayed in Wang Hsiang.  This time, we stayed in a different guest house and had a tour of the village with one of the local guides.  This time also, the personal connection was that Sheng-Feng (Simon) and Hsuan-Ying (Grace), one of our choir couples (who had also invited me to join their trip to visit Grace’s home village at Nantian, Taitung earlier this month – see that post here) are old friends of the pastor and his family – actually they had been student members of a fellowship group that he led in Taichung many years ago.  That personal connection made all the difference, and we enjoyed hearing their stories and sharing time together in the guest house…

S__46497844

The food was amazing.  Loved it all!  Delicious, completely so!  The bamboo tubes are a traditional dish – filled with sticky rice. The lemon slices are flavored with – guess what?  That dark stuff is coffee granules.  Really special!  And then we sang…

On our tour of the village, we learned that it consists of 4 streets, all leading off to the left of the main road.  The walls of all the houses and gardens have mosaic / stone patterns showing aspects of Bunun daily life.  Each house – and corner – has a notice explaining about each place.  Really amazing.  In some places, millet, the staple food was lying out in the sun drying….

We finished our tour with a group photo at the village sign at the entrance to the village…

107728南投之行_180730_0009

Early on Sunday morning, some of us climbed up the hill behind the village.  Bit foggy, but by the time we got back the mist had cleared and the view toward Yushan was beautiful. Yushan is the pointed peak in the far distance.

IMG_4354

One of our group had a drone – this is us!

20180729_045757778_iOS

And so to church.  First to the rehearsal – our choir are dedicated!  Our music conductor on the retreat was Shiao Chien, she has a real gift of enthusing everyone with a love of singing and music, and always chooses really suitable songs to sing.  She had also asked everyone to wear one (any one!) of the Advent Church T-shirts, of which we have many,  going back years, hence all the bright colours.

Also at the church were a group of young ABC (American-born Chinese) whose families are originally from Taiwan, they are here for a few weeks in the summer as part of a project to help Wang Hsiang children learn English.  They also sang a song, and the church provided lunch for us visitors after the service.  Ah, it was so delicious!

A big ‘Thank You’ to Advent Church Choir for their kind invitation and welcome to me to join their trip.  Thanks to Paul and Christina for driving me there and back – and all the way home.  It was all a wonderful adventure.  The choir all love singing and having fun ~ a great combination!

P_20180728_155016_vHDR_Auto

Thanks too to the pastor and people of Wang Hsiang Village, for their hard work and time to make us so welcome.  And thanks be to God for safe travels, beautiful views, delicious food, new experiences, fresh mountain air, and of course, friends, fellowship and fun!

Hehuanshan 合歡山 Main Peak 主峰 (3,417m), East Peak 東峰 (3,421m) and Mt. Shimen 石門山 (3,237m)

Three big Baiyue 百岳 mountains in one day ~ Nos. 34, 35 and 66 of THE list!  The Baiyue list refers to the list of the ‘100 Peaks of Taiwan‘, the 100 were chosen from among Taiwan’s 260+ mountains which are over 3,000m, and were selected for their ‘uniqueness, danger, height, beauty and prominence’ ~ an ambition for all those enthusiastic about mountains.  So we did 3 of them on Saturday.  Impressive, eh?  Ah, but looks deceive!

IMG_3194

In fact, these 3 peaks in the Hehuanshan range are considered by far the easiest of the Baiyue Peaks, mostly because the main road across Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range from east to west coasts goes right up to the saddle, Wuling at 3,275 m – which is right there at Hehuanshan. So, none of these peaks is more than an hour’s walk from the main road, and none are considered too strenuous ~ though the high altitude and weather means visitors still have to be well-prepared.

Meet my good friends, Jasmine, and her husband Kenny ~ photo taken on Friday at Nina’s Chocolate at Ching-Jing Farm (yep the chocolate is amazing, as is the decoration!)….

IMG_3073

Jasmine kindly invited me to join her family group for the weekend in Nantou County, central Taiwan ~ and to spend this past Saturday climbing some of the mountains in the Hehuanshan range, our annual mountain trip. In June 2016, we went up Hehuanshan North Peak and the never-to-be-forgotten killer hike to West Peak (see that blog post here) – but until now I had never done the Hehuanshan Main Peak or East Peak.  So for 2018, this was our challenge!

This is Hehuanshan Main Peak, viewed from East Peak, with the saddle / carpark at Wuling ….

IMG_3186

Actually there were 10 of us in the group, and on Saturday everyone did different combinations of mountains in the Hehuanshan range. Jasmine’s amazing 77-year-old mother, husband and daughter started with the smaller – but very steep – Hehuanshan Jian Peak 合歡尖山 (3,217 m), which unfortunately is not on the Baiyue list.  There were lots and lots of people on that mountain!

We all started off together at the car park below Jian Peak, near the Song Syue Lodge 松雪楼, Taiwan’s highest hotel (run by the Forestry Bureau) and looking towards Chilaishan 奇萊山 Mt. Chilai  (known as Black Chilai). Our path started behind that hotel…

IMG_3146

We climbed Hehuanshan East Peak 合歡山東峰 (3,421 m): No. 35 of the Baiyue.  The ascent takes about an hour, and is really spectacular.  Loved it!  This is East Peak, taken later in the day, by then with its summit just in the clouds….

IMG_3272

Mornings are the time for mountains in Taiwan, by the afternoon, clouds are rolling in and it often rains.  We spent the morning on the East Peak and it was glorious, hot but with a cool breeze.  This is the view from East Peak – looking west to the Hehuanshan road that we had driven up that morning….

IMG_3196

Hehuanshan is a busy place all year round. In the winter, people go up there to see the snow, and in the summer they go up there to escape the heat of the plains below.  Always crowded!

It is a major cycling challenge to ride up to the saddle at Wuling (3,275m).  And so it was that the area was even busier than usual this past Saturday with the summer edition of the Taiwan KOM Challenge (King Of the Mountains), a cycling race of 105 km from the east coast at Hualien up to Wuling, starting out at 6:30am. Rather amazingly, it so happened that we were on the top of the East Peak about 11:00am right as the first rider reached the finish line, we could hear the cheers going up as he got nearer and nearer.  Spot the winner below…

IMG_3189

Until 1980, Hehuanshan was a military base, and the remains of the barracks are still there – see all those buildings in rows – a bit dark and gloomy down there!

IMG_3278

On the East Peak is the remains of what used to be a ski lift – used by the military and elite, it was closed in 1985. But these days there isn’t enough snow anyway.  Fascinating to visit the abandoned ski lift building….

There’s also lots of flowers….

In the afternoon we went to Hehuanshan Main Peak 合歡山主峰 (3,417 m): No. 34 of the Baiyue, where there’s a working weather station, also the remains of military fortifications…

IMG_3295

And a road winds it’s gentle way all the way to the top.  It takes only 30-40 minutes to get to the summit, and lots and lots of people make the trip every year.  It’s almost a rite of passage for Taiwan youth groups, families and even toddlers.  The place was full of people ~ including us!

And finally 5 of us went to climb Shimenshan (Mt. Shimen) 石門山 (3,237m): No. 66 of the Baiyue, which is considered the easiest of all the peaks in the area…

I had climbed this mountain a few months ago in the fog.  And it wasn’t much different this time.  This was the descent just before that big bank of cloud came rolling in!

IMG_3311

By the time we finished, about one minute from the car ~ it started to rain. We’d done it in time! YES YES YES!

By then it was 3:00 pm and we sat in a traffic jam in the rain, not moving for over 30 minutes, as we arrived at the Wuling saddle just at the end of the KOM race, and all the vans loaded with bikes were departing down the mountain…..

On a good day, Hehuanshan is about 30 minutes drive above Ching-Jing Farm and resort area, and we had stayed there the night before, fortifying ourselves for the mountains ahead with Nina’s Chocolate, ha ha….

36526700_189232881773473_3083570563277389824_n.jpg

Earlier that day, Friday, we had had lunch at Tarowan (塔洛灣) looking down on Bihu 碧湖 Lake Bi, (also known as the Wanda Reservoir 萬大水庫) below…. how’s this for a lunch-with-a-view?

IMG_3054

Anyway, as well as a chocolate shop, Ching-Jing Farm also has a new skywalk – so we tried it out….

IMG_3092

There’s a great view from Ching-Jing….

IMG_3106

We even saw rainbow colours in the clouds….

IMG_3116

And dawn and sunrise the next morning were good too!

By the time we got to Hehuanshan ready to start walking on Saturday morning, it was already almost 10:00 am, but hey, it meant we got to see the winning cyclist of the KOM!

Thank you to Jasmine and all our lovely group of people for a great weekend, and especially to our 2 amazing drivers, Kenny and A-Kuei.  Mountain climbing in Hehuanshan 合歡山 needs not just energy and strength to climb the mountains – but also skilled drivers with plenty of patience to find parking spaces!  We finished our trip in Taichung, and Jasmine and I even managed to attend part of the morning services at St. James – her first visit.  Then we went sightseeing in Taichung!  And here we all are…

1531740079135_1.jpg

Got home about 5:30 pm.  Thanks be to God!  Such amazing scenery, good company,  safe travels, and wonderful mountains!

Autumn Colours, Mountain Views! 台灣聖公會2017年蒙恩得福家庭生活營 Taiwan Episcopal Church Fall Trip 2017

Beautiful red maple leaves against a blue sky ~ now how’s that for a perfect picture of autumn?!

IMG_0619

And the best place in Taiwan to see maples in autumn is at the high elevations, up in the central mountain range.  So off we all went, all 60 or so of us, in a total of 9 (yes, nine!) minibuses, all in a long line.  Almost processional – well, after all, churches like ours are good at processions!  Large coaches cannot travel so far in the high mountains, so minibuses are ideal. The trip was 3 days and 2 nights, Tuesday – Thursday, and all were invited ~ and here we all are!

23794897_1286426638130786_7086597849346594586_n

The Taiwan Episcopal Church has organized many trips over the years, usually in the spring or autumn, to interesting places ~ like in November 2015, when we went to the Matsu Islands.  That was my first church trip.  And now this is my second.  I had managed to rearrange some classes, and most of the members of my Thursday afternoon class at St. John’s Cathedral actually came on this trip too ~ so I signed up – thanks to Bishop Lai and all my students!

Church members, their relatives and friends came from a wide range of the churches that make up the Taiwan Episcopal Church ~ we had 3 clergy, 3 clergy spouses, many energetic seniors, some couples, some younger working people and one lovely 3-year-old boy, who came along with his grandmother and her sister, and he only fell asleep once!

IMG_0711

We all met on Tuesday morning in Taichung, gathered from all corners of the country – and set off eastwards, up into the mountains.

The Central Cross-Island Highway from Taichung to Hualien was constructed in the late 1950’s, about the same time as President Chiang Kai-Shek and his government were establishing farms up in the mountains to provide employment for retired servicemen.  These days, the farms are still managed by the Veterans Affairs Council – together with the Tourism Bureau and some private companies – mainly for the benefit of visitors.  Visitors like us ~ and thousands of others who travel there every year.  We visited two of the famous farms, Wuling Farm 武陵農場 and Fushoushan Farm 福壽山農場, both places packed out with people enjoying the scenery.

When I left Sanzhi on Tuesday morning, it was, as always, raining.  It had already rained for 4 days, and so it continued, for all the 3 days we were away.  Cold too.  Miserable, in fact!  It is still drizzling today.  And cold.  But up in the mountains, there was blue sky every morning, all morning ~ and the clouds came rolling in beneath us in a sea of clouds every afternoon.  It did rain a little at night, but we never saw it.  Ah, it was wonderful!

IMG_0663

The highest point on the Central Cross-Island Highway is just below the very famous mountain, Hehuanshan 合歡山 (3,416 m).  Just nearby is Mt. Shimen 石門山 (3,237 m), well-known as supposedly being the easiest of the ‘100 Peaks of Taiwan‘ 百岳 to climb.  So up we went!  There was a biting wind, and it was 6ºC at the top – that’s very cold for us subtropical coastal dwellers!  Maybe a third of us managed to get to the top, where breaks in the clouds gave us great views down below.

The road has been badly damaged due to typhoons and landslides and earthquakes and everything else, and is still under repair in many places.  But our minibus procession got us through and down the other side to Lishan and then Wuling….

IMG_9492

We stayed the night at a hotel in the Wuling Farm area 武陵農場, about 2,000 m above sea-level….

And we woke up the next day to beautiful blue skies and autumn colours…

The nearby river is famous for its Formosan Landlocked Salmon (yes, we saw some, but they’re impossible to photograph!) and further upstream is the Taoshan Waterfall 桃山瀑布, known as the ‘Sound of the Mist’ Waterfall.  The walk there is 4.3 km each way – through the forest, and takes about 3 hours in total there and back.  It was my first visit ~ and we had a wonderful morning.  It is really beautiful!

IMG_9646

Nearby is Taiwan’s second highest peak, Xueshan / Syueshan 雪山 (Snow Mountain), which I went up in 2011 ~ this time we went up to the trail entrance to look at the view. The view is spectacular. And so are all the lovely people in our group!

IMG_9707

And then down to visit some of the Wuling Farm tea-growing area, and a small museum dedicated to what the farm was like in the old days….

We left Wuling and headed back to Lishan 梨山, where we’d passed through only the day before.  Lishan (literally means Pear Mountain) is home to the Atayal People 泰雅族, many of whom are Christians.  The area is also about 2,000 m above sea level, so lots of fruit and vegetables can be grown here that normally only grow in cold countries – like dear old England.  The steep mountainsides in Lishan are no longer covered in big forests of beautiful trees but instead are covered in fruit trees, and at this time of year there’s no leaves, and the fruits in season are covered in paper bags to protect them – so the mountains look bare – but covered in white flowers, which turn out to be paper bags.  They’re mostly apples, pears and peaches.  It’s amazing – and yet devastating – all at once, to think what amazing things man has done to produce all that fruit, and yet at what cost to the environment.  Reminds me a bit of the UK Lake District really – but just replace fruit with sheep!

Anyway, we went to buy some of the apples – oh, and cabbages….

Incredible clouds nearby….

IMG_9901

And no, it didn’t rain, eventually the blue sky came through!

IMG_9932

Oh yes, and a very regal line of trees….

IMG_9885

Fushoushan Farm 福壽山農場 is one of the Veterans’ Farms, very high up in altitude, and before it got dark, we just had time to visit Tianchi ‘Heavenly Lake’ 天池, where President Chiang Kai-Shek liked to visit when he was at the farm.  Check out his green house….

We stayed at the most amazing Lishan Guest House, just down the mountainside from the farm, and designed in the same style (and by the same architect, Yang Cho-cheng 楊卓成) as the Grand Hotel, Taipei. This was where President Chiang Kai-Shek and his wife stayed when they were in the area – but the building was badly damaged in the 1999 earthquake, and reopened in 2012 – as a hotel.  It is very very popular, and certainly scores 100% for atmosphere ~ all that red colour, and all those lanterns!  There are no lifts / elevators, and we were assigned the top floor – 3rd floor.  So me and Ah-Guan, good friend from St. James’ Church, Taichung, struggled up to the third floor – to find that we had been assigned the room next to the Presidential Suite.  It was a ‘hit the jackpot, won the lottery, gob-smacking moment’ lol!

We were clearly in the room that originally would have been used by the presidential bodyguard, and the most amazing thing was that we had access to the presidential balcony.  This was the balcony with THE VIEW!  And so we spent a happy hour or two welcoming all our friends to come and have a look!  The presidential suite, as far as we could see (from peering in the windows!) has been left much as it was when President Chiang and his wife stayed there – we could see into a tea room, and into the mahjong room at the end….

IMG_0209

That evening, after dinner, and after the Atayal Concert, we had a short service in the hotel dining room for our group.  Ah, what a happy evening, and what a wonderful group of people!

Next morning, Thursday, yesterday in fact, and I was up bright and early (well not very bright, but certainly very early!) to see THE view across the mountains…..

IMG_0154

See the Taiwan flag? From directly outside the presidential suite, it’s positioned exactly right in the centre of the ‘V’ in the mountains…. how’s this for a view?!

P_20171123_075331_vHDR_Auto

The hotel and the whole area is very atmospheric.  Ambiance, man, it’s all about ambiance!

And so after breakfast, and more tours of our presidential balcony, we packed up, checked out and spent the morning at the Fushoushan Farm.  What a place, and what a history!  It is famous for a huge pine tree with an interesting story…

IMG_0316

IMG_0266

And even more famous for its Apple King Tree, with over 40 different kinds of apple grafted into one tree…

We had a tour of the farm….

And finished with the maple trees area near the main entrance, where a zillion people were taking a zillion photos, ah, it was photo-heaven!

And so it was reluctantly time to say goodbye to the farm and head back over the big mountains, westwards… but first a photo-stop near Hehuanshan, at the Central Cross-Island Highway summit (3,275m) – the highest point on the highest main road that crosses northern Taiwan, and a major destination for cyclists!

Follow my finger and in that direction is Nanhu Big Mountain, (the one on the left of the pointed one!) which we climbed in 2012…

1511489741367

This is a gathering of all from Advent Church, plus Mr. Di, our tour leader (third left)….

IMG_0706

And finally to lunch, and back to Taichung High-Speed Rail Station to return to our separate destinations…. and I got home at 7:30 pm.  And guess what, it was still raining in Sanzhi, in fact it hadn’t stopped all the time I’d been away!

A big thank you to our leader, Mr. Di Yun-Hung ‎(狄運亨) for planning and managing the whole trip, along with a tour company team who drove us in their minibuses, and organized all the routes and meals and everything. It was a wonderful trip – the highlights being the waterfall, the maple leaves and of course the presidential balcony views…..

P_20171123_074750_vHDR_Auto

But it was also wonderful to be together with such a lovely group of people, renewing old friendships, making new ones, enjoying time together, taking lots of photos of everyone in different groups, and having a lot of fun!

And finally, thanks be to God for His amazingly stunning creation ~ and the colours (and miracle) that is the season of autumn ~ YES!

On Top of the World! Yushan / Jade Mountain 玉山 ~ Taiwan’s Highest Mountain 3,952 m 12,966 ft!

Occasionally, just very occasionally, so many good things happen all at once to make an event so amazing and unexpectedly awesome, that even the hardest of sceptics are won over.  Such was our ascent of Taiwan’s highest mountain, Yushan / Jade Mountain 玉山 these past few days.  Incredible!

If you’ve been reading this blog over the last month, you’ll see I’ve braved the intense heat and humidity of Taipei to climb a few mountains.  Endurance, resilience, stamina all put to good use.  But without telling you why.   Just in case.  Don’t want to say too much. Well, it was all because of Yushan.  Because after years of applying for a permit to stay at the Paiyun Cabin / Lodge (2.4 km below the Yushan Main Peak – and the place to stay in order to make an early final ascent to the summit), we finally got THE permit.  YES! And for 12 people no less.  No mean feat, I can assure you. And what’s more, we got permits for two nights!

My good friend, Jasmine Yu, who has kindly included me on her mountain expeditions with her extended family over the past few years, also invited me to join them this time. Their dream has long been for a trip to Yushan, really ever since Jasmine climbed Yushan for the first time in 2010 with a group of her colleagues. And so, nearly every summer she spends hours and hours applying for the chance to get a permit.  But there’s only bunk spaces for less than 100 people at Paiyun, and summer is a popular time. Two years ago, we did actually get the Paiyun permit, but then a typhoon came and we had to cancel the whole trip.   This time, Jasmine started applying about 6 weeks ago, and applied every day for 2 weeks.  The applications have to be made one month in advance. But every day, the answer was ‘no’.  Then suddenly on the last day, we got news.  Yes!  12 permits for Paiyun, and not just for Thursday July 27 only, but it turned out for the previous night too.  2 nights?  At Paiyun? Are you sure?  How did that happen?  Well, we were first on the waiting list for Wednesday night, but still eligible to apply for Thursday night.  We hit the jackpot on Thursday night – then 12 people in different groups cancelled for Wednesday, so we had permits for both nights.

But we were still a little nervous.  Anxiously watching the weather forecast…..

Last weekend, it seemed like the whole of the western Pacific was roaring with typhoons and tropical storms blowing this way and that.  Three were up near Japan. One was down near Vietnam.  And a low pressure area east of the Philippines might possibly strengthen into a typhoon and be coming this way.

But by Monday, the weather forecasters were announcing that it wasn’t coming after all. Phew. We could go!

So on Tuesday we breathed a huge sigh of relief, packed our rucksacks and set off.   Our group included Jasmine’s husband, their 2 children, her 76-year-old mother and 2 of her sisters, one husband, one nephew, one friend, and of course our guide and leader, Lai San 賴桑 ~ who did an amazing job leading the way, carrying 30 kg of luggage too. We had applied for our permit using our new group name, Edelweiss – the flower grows all over the high mountains of Taiwan – including Yushan, and the song was performed by Jasmine’s son at a recent musical event.  So we were the Edelweiss Group!

On Tuesday night, we stayed at a small guest house in the Bunun Tribe’s Wangxiang Village (望鄉部落) in Xinyi Township, Nantou, where many of the men work as porters or guides for people climbing in the high mountains.  We had already met two of them on previous trips. The villagers are mostly all members of the Presbyterian Church.   From the place where we stayed, we got our first view of Yushan early the next morning…. excited YAH!

By 9:00 am on Wednesday morning, we were at Yushan trail-head (at 2,600 m above sea-level) ready to start our 8.5 km climb to Paiyun.  The sun was out, the skies were blue, the clouds were white, the path was clear, the weather was cool, and we were smiling away ~ and all in yellow!

20293024_10214430203335350_4877928964508668078_n

The trail is well-marked and has very helpful signboards all along it explaining things.  It also has a few rest places with eco-toilets ~ and of course lots of people going up and down. Our ascent to Paiyun Lodge took us about 6 hours.  Most amazing of all the people who we met on the trail were the guys who work at Paiyun, they have to carry everything up on their backs – 35 kg at a time.  Respect.

Most afternoons in summer, the mists come rolling in and it rains.  We got to Paiyun just in time.  We watched the rain from our sleeping bags!

Paiyun provides meals, sleeping bags, toilets, hot water (for drinking, not bathing) and shelter from the cold.  It was 15°C when we arrived – and falling.

Paiyun is 3,402m in altitude – that’s High with a capital ‘H’!  At that altitude ~ and on the wooden boards that we laid our sleeping bags on, sleep is difficult and headaches are common, and all the people around on each side are busy snoring away (ha ha, actually my neighbours were quite quiet!) Anyway, it really means that nobody can expect a 5 star night’s sleep. Plus, at 1:00 am, we were all getting up.  Yes, 1:00 am! Breakfast was at 1:30 am and by 2:30 am we were all ready, with our headlights on, for a day on the Yushan mountain tops.

The idea is to do the final push (2.4 km) to the summit in the darkness, and arrive on the top to see the sunrise. Most people are then descending all the way down back to the trail-head and going home.  But we had 2 nights at Paiyun, so we had a whole day.  Yes a whole day!  Jasmine’s mother stayed at Paiyun all day, resting and talking to everyone (she’s very friendly!) but she got up to see us off.   It was 10°C at 2:30 am and cold ~ but the slopes are steep, and soon we were removing layers.

The stars were bright, amazingly beautiful. But we had to focus on the trail ahead of us. It’s not easy to climb a mountain by headlight only!  Up and up the trail went, on and on. All 100 (seemed like it anyway) of us, on the route upwards.  A long line of headlights moving slowly upwards.  Some going faster than us – and we let them pass.  It was possibly the only place in Taiwan where there was a serious traffic jam at 3:00 am on an early Thursday morning.  We passed along – and up – steep scree slopes, where metal chains are provided to haul ourselves up – gloves came in handy.  Edelweiss came into view. My only photo in the total darkness.

Relieved that actually we couldn’t see much.  It was very steep!

And so we arrived at the top of the ridge, Fengkou (‘Wind Mouth’) at 4:30 am. Glimpses of orange in the sky were appearing in the far distance.  Everyone else was turning right for the final 200 m to the summit.  But with zillions of people up there, we had already decided to head instead to the Yushan North Peak first.  For us, this meant a STEEP Descent.  Unbelievably steep.  Felt like it was vertical.  All scree and rocks.  A fence with metal chains guided us down.  By the time we were down there, it was daylight. Headlights off.  A sigh of relief!

And we headed up to the North Peak.  Didn’t get too far till we turned round and saw the early morning sun hitting the main peak. THE view!

IMG_2056

People and websites in Taiwan will tell you that Yushan is nothing special.  In fact, they say that nobody would bother to climb it at all if it wasn’t the highest peak in the country. It’s not particularly difficult or beautiful or dramatic.  So I have heard a million times. How wrong they are!  That’s because people who say such things have only gone to the top of the main peak and back down again. They can’t have seen the view of the Yushan Main Peak from the north.  In the early morning sun.  Because this is the view to surpass all views.  In fact it is so beautiful, that the NT$ 1,000 note has this view on it.

20292858_10214440225345894_8299569770718420981_n

We spent ages just admiring the view and taking a zillion photos. And enjoying the fact that we were not with the masses of people on the main summit having to take turns for photos on the summit market.  Piccadilly Circus right there.  Instead, this is us!

20374289_10214440226025911_6932169682257998246_n

Celebrated with everyone by eating my huge Mauritius chocolate bar which my good friend, Alice had kindly brought and which was still in one whole piece even after all those hours in my rucksack – this is me holding it!

IMG_2081

And then up and on we went, heading to the North Peak….

On the top there’s a weather station ~ apparently the highest permanently manned (didn’t see any women, so ‘manned’ is the word) weather station in the country.

Three men stay there for a month at a time.  Year round.  They walk there and they walk back. Occasionally a helicopter comes and delivers things. They are there through snow, rain, hail, sun and even throughout typhoons.  We had heard that the tropical storm had finally decided to spring into action and was on its way – but not expected until Saturday. The weathermen assured us that we’d be fine. Very heavy rain expected. But not until late Friday.  Y’know what? Usually 2-3 days before a typhoon, the weather is fantastic. The views are always so clear.  Blue skies and crystal clear views. You can see for miles and miles.  Well, it was like that on Thursday.   Isn’t that amazing?  That an approaching typhoon should bring such amazing weather beforehand ~ and that we should be on Yushan to experience it. Anyway, the men kindly gave us coffee and let us make some of our own.  How’s this for a coffee location?!

IMG_2228

They’ve planted white daisies around the place and a few vegetables too.  Isn’t this beautiful?!

IMG_2265

And they send their weather reports to Taipei to the Central Weather Bureau (check here). Just look at this location ~ it’s just got to be the weather station with THE view!

IMG_2218

Just behind it is the North Peak summit at 3,858 m….

IMG_2258

By then it was 8:30 am and if we wanted to get to the main summit before the clouds came rolling in, then we needed to move on…. so back down the slope and up that nightmare of a scree slope that we had slithered down in the darkness earlier that morning.  The final 200 m is so steep that the metal chains are constantly in use.  It’s more like scrambling than walking.  But oh the views.  Just don’t look down!

Got to the very top just before 11:00 am, and just before the clouds, fast rolling in!

IMG_2366

Yes we had done it.  At last.  After all these years of waiting in great expectation, we had done it.  YES YES YES!  Yushan, Jade Mountain, 玉山 3,952 m, 12,966 ft.  Mission accomplished.  Thanks be to Almighty God!

20264604_10214444799260239_6365787175029806554_n

And so we slowly returned back to Paiyun, back down the same trail we had come up in the darkness…. past tons of Taiwan Edelweiss too  (玉山薄雪草 Leontopodium microphyllum, endemic to Taiwan, related to European Edelweiss) ~ the views were stunning!

IMG_2443

Arrived back at Paiyun at 1:30 pm, after 11 hours on the go.  Time for a nap.  We was, all of us, totally exhausted!

IMG_2484

And then after dinner, a little walk to a viewpoint to see the North Peak and a bit of Main Peak, where we’d been earlier in the day. The clouds rolled away and the sun came out ~ YES!

This is Paiyun from just above….

IMG_2492

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. So they say.  On Thursday night, we were in bed soon after 7:00 pm, and up with the alarm yesterday morning, Friday, at 3:00 am. But none the healthier, wealthier or wiser.  Sorry about that. At such altitude, sleep is not easy to come by, and anyway, an early start gets us to see the views – and the sunrise!  So 8 of us from our group set off before 4:00 am to the West Peak, 3,518m, a 3-hour round trip. West Peak is all covered in forest, but through the gaps in the trees, there were some amazing views.

IMG_2518

From the summit we looked down on a sea of clouds above Xinyi Township….

IMG_2529

The wind was strong, and I was wearing 4 layers of clothes!  But well worth it for the views ~ and the achievement of our third mountain summit of the trip!

20431568_10214457095927648_6959479358741544915_n

And so back for breakfast and packing up.  By then, the Central Weather Bureau had declared a sea warning for the typhoon, so after 8:30 am nobody could set off to climb to the summit.  A few people came rushing up to Paiyun just in time to set off for the summit before the deadline came. They were trying to do the whole trek in one day rather than cancel altogether. No wonder they looked exhausted.  And they would have had no views at the top, it was already clouding over as we started our descent.

We had a group photo taken outside Paiyun Lodge.  Y’know, this is a great achievement for Jasmine’s mum, after all, she’s 76!  Our greatest cheerleader ~ even if she couldn’t come all the way to the summits, she was up each day to see us off on our way.  Hope I’m like her at that age!

20294580_10214457097887697_8986033104103430981_n

So bye bye to Paiyun.  Farewell.  We started our descent, and down we went.  The clouds were behind us.  Mostly.  A typical pre-typhoon day.  Usually immediately before a typhoon, we have alternating rain and sunny spells.  That is what we had yesterday.   A few minutes of drizzle then the sun came out.  Repeat.  All day.  Fortunately we had sufficient rain to make it worthwhile getting into our rainproof over-trousers.  Even for 5 minutes, it was worth it.  After all, I do not like to carry something all the way up to a huge mountain and not use it, ha ha!

There were flowers growing everywhere.  Not easy to photograph ~ partly cos they are small, also because I had to bend down and it’s not easy with a rucksack – balance, man, balance!

By 1:00 pm we were back at the trail-head, just ahead of the clouds. Relieved.  Happy.  Ah yes, time for a photo!

20293074_10214457095487637_5258422620844487787_n

And so to the carpark and off to find a place for lunch / dinner combined.  Yummy!  And then back to Taipei.  Got home about 8:30 pm.

Today, we have alternating heavy rain and sun all day in Sanzhi.  The typhoon is well on its way.  Due to pass over central Taiwan overnight tonight.  Hoping it’s not too bad.

Much appreciation to those who made this trip possible, and those who made this trip fun. To Jasmine for her hard work in applying, planning, organizing and leading us.  To her husband, Kenny for being the official chief photographer. To Lai San for his calmness and professional leadership.  To Jasmine’s extended family for their ongoing cheerfulness, amiability, friendliness and warm welcome. To the children for their enthusiasm to take part in a family event with relatives of all ages.  Not every teenager would be so keen!

I am forever grateful to be able to live in Taiwan and to have had this amazing opportunity to climb Yushan.  It is without doubt an extraordinary mountain.  Just climbing to the top in itself is an incredible achievement.  But it is easy to dismiss it as just something everyone does – once in a lifetime, a kind of rite of passage.  To appreciate the mountain and its grandeur, it’s massiveness, its presence, you have to see it from its northern side, from the slopes of the North Peak. From there, you can truly appreciate it in all its glory ~ and magnificence and beauty.

We spent much of our trip in awesome wonder at how everything had all worked out. The Paiyun permits for 2 nights ~ and the timing of the typhoon and the timing of our visit.  All was just so perfect.  If we had had only the one night at Paiyun, we’d have been trying to do it all in 24 hours, so we would have been on the summit on Friday morning, as the typhoon was approaching, and the views already obscured, and everyone a little concerned.  And the wonderful weather on Thursday was so perfect – possibly because there was, in fact, a typhoon coming!

Grateful thanks to Almighty God.   Truly an awe-inspiring experience.  We saw so much. Experienced so much.  Wondered in amazement at so much beauty.   Truly humbled by God’s mercy and grace shown towards us.   Privileged to have seen what others can only dream of.  Honoured to have known God’s guiding hand, protection and safe-keeping throughout.  To God be the glory.

And one last photo ~ a stone in the shape of Taiwan found by Jasmine’s daughter on the North Peak!

20374295_10214444798620223_1751556987907301328_n

Beautiful eh?!

PS Monday July 31: an update on the typhoon ~ turned out to be 2 weather events, Typhoon Nesat and Tropical Storm Haitang both came sweeping through Taiwan over this weekend. One person missing, over 100 injured, lots of damage to buildings, crops and power lines, and severe flooding particularly in Pingtung.

Article in the Taipei Times here: Storms deal damage, injure 111 – Taipei Times

Cherry Blossom Time @ 萬大發電廠, Nantou!

img_6330

Yes, it’s that time of the year, and up in the mountains of Taiwan, the cherry blossom is out ~ and looking stunning!

img_6309

Yesterday afternoon, after the St. James’ Church Sunday services and lunch, our good friend, Ruby took us up to the area around the Wanda Power Plant, in Renai Township, Nantou, about 2 hours drive from Taichung City – to see the cherry blossom.  Beautiful! The azaleas were looking great too. The power plant and the housing for the workers were built by the Japanese during colonial times ~ the houses still stand, and some are in use.

And here we all are!

16806819_1212988362147797_3611171845952373226_n

Thank you Ruby and all my friends from St. James’ Church for a great day – and to Guan-Hong for the group photo!

合歡西北峰 Hehuanshan North (3,422m) and West (3,145m) Peaks ~ must see, must do!

AND we lived to tell the tale ~ and all still smiling, just!

Can’t believe I’ve never been to Hehuanshan ever before, because it’s just, oh so famous! It’s Taiwan’s highest road, linking west and east coasts, and gets heavy snow in winter ~ so it’s become a major tourist destination especially for families wanting to show their children some real snow.  And in summer the place is full of flowers, and it’s lovely and cool.  End result is horrendous traffic jams all day every day.  But it’s so beautiful that who can deny people a chance to come and see for themselves?

Even on Saturday, it was busy…

IMG_9574

Taiwan has a list called ‘100 Peaks of Taiwan‘ (Bai Yue 百岳), which are the 100 best of the 260 mountains in Taiwan over 3,000m, chosen mainly for their ‘uniqueness, danger, height, beauty and prominence’.  Hehuanshan is the best place to start, because the road is so high up that it’s just a short walk to the top of the Hehuan Main Peak and hoards of families, youth groups and passers-by find themselves there every year.  Hehuanshan is also a big cycling destination, the route over the central mountains being considered one of Taiwan’s main cycling challenges.  All those cyclists seem to stop at Taiwan’s official highest 7-Eleven. Forget Alishan, where I was a few months ago at their unofficial highest 7-Eleven, the one on the Hehuanshan Road even has a plaque to show they are the highest, at 2,050m. We went there on Saturday, and this is it!

Yes, this past weekend I’ve been up at Hehuanshan, invited by our good friend Jasmine, from our neighboring junior high school.  For the past few years, she and her extended family have kindly invited me to join them for a few days climbing up some of Taiwan’s 100 peaks.  They invited me this time too, and off we went on Friday afternoon, driving first to Lushan 廬山 in Nantou County. Lushan used to be a thriving hot spring resort, set in a deep valley high up in the mountains and surrounded by cherry blossom. But they’ve had a succession of devastating typhoons and landslides, and now, with less visitors, it has a neglected atmosphere.  We stayed in one of the hot springs hotels, ideal for our early start the next day.

Saturday early morning, up we got and off we set, up and up, following hundreds of cars and zillions of lycra-ed cyclists, all of us all heading upwards to Hehuanshan, via the famous 7-Eleven!  Hehuanshan is part of the Taroko National Park, and we arrived at the Hehuan National Park Center at ShiaoFongKou 小風口 ready for our big trip!

Our aim was Hehuan North Peak @ 3,422m and then along to the West Peak @ 3,145m, but that was for yesterday, Sunday.  First we needed a bit of altitude acclimatization, which meant we carried all our big rucksacks to the main North Peak campsite at 小溪營地 (approx 3,200m), set on the east side, some way below the summit.  Ideal for sunrises!

Here we all are, setting off, note our oldest member, Jasmine’s mother, aged 76, and our youngest, her daughter about 16, and all ages in-between.  3 generations in one family. Amazing.  Her mother was planning on climbing the North Peak but not the West Peak, to be accompanied by one of the young men.  All of us led by Lai San, our esteemed guide, he’s the one whose rucksack is so big and so heavy, he supports it with a strap round his head, amazing!

IMG_9597

The environment up there is distinctly Alpine, and the grassy meadows make it look like scenery from the Sound of Music, except there’s no cows with bells round their necks like you’d kind of expect. But there is eidelweiss and lots of special high-mountain flowers. The rhododendron season is over, but there were still many pink azaleas in flower. Beautiful!

IMG_9645

We arrived at the campsite by lunchtime, set up the tents, had instant noodles for lunch, followed soon after by afternoon tea, well, actually coffee.  The most helpful, gracious and kindest A-Kuei had brought along Hawaiian Coffee, specially ground the night before, plus a very elegant long-spouted teapot to pour the water, which really upgraded the tone of the coffee ceremony!

IMG_9805

Coffee was closely followed by dinner, and then it was dark.  But all this time, lots of other campers had been arriving and setting up their tents and cooking.  It was a very busy place ~ in a stunning location!

IMG_9876

One group had decided that this was to be the location of their wedding photo shoot. Taiwan custom is to take your wedding photos at special locations and in different special outfits several months before the wedding.  Turned out that this couple had met climbing mountains, so a group of their friends had organised this weekend, and had arranged to bring the bride’s dress, the groom’s suit, balloons and of course bubbles. I was so impressed I joined in the photo shoot too.  And it turned out that the bride teaches just down the road from us at TamKang University in Tamsui!

IMG_9900

After dark, time for a quick look at the view and the clouds, and flashes of lightning – I even got one in this photo!  At this time of year, the early mornings start off clear, but by mid-morning the clouds start coming in, and apparently around 6:00pm almost every evening there are torrential rains. Amazingly, the clouds on Saturday night may have brought rain elsewhere, but not to us. Just flashes of lightning and thunder in the distance…

IMG_9958

And so to bed.  But be warned, staying in a campsite of over 30 small tents, dozens of people and at over 3,000m high is not luxury.  I took photos of the 2 toilets to show you the luxuries available ha ha!  The main luxury is water, down a steep slope at the stream. Other campers in other places in Hehuanshan have to bring all their water with them, which would be a nightmare. Camping with so many people is also not conducive to any kind of sleep. Unless you are naturally a heavy sleeper who can sleep through small children crying in the next tent, students chatting until midnight round their fire, and even an accompanying dog barking, forget sleep.  By 3:00am our alarms were going off, and we were the first group up. Bleary-eyed and wondering what had hit us, by 4:30am we were headlighted and rucksacked up and in our warmest clothes, ready for the off.  Off to see the sunrise which was starting just as we were departing the camp…

IMG_9973

The sunrise was truly spectacular.  Worth the sleepless night, the heavy rucksacks and the unluxurious toilets, yes worth every penny!

IMG_0001

And so, off we went to the North Peak, leaving our heavy rucksacks in a hidden valley to be picked up later on the descent.  Such a relief to drop them off.

The North Peak (3,422 m /11,227 ft) is No. 34 of Taiwan’s 100 Peaks, and by 6:00am it was already full of people, me too!

IMG_0045

Many, like us, were on their way along the North-West Ridge Line to the West Peak. We knew it would be challenging and steep.  But it well exceeded all our expectations, groan groan!  There is only really one path there – and the same path back.  In between the 2 peaks are officially about 5 or 6 smaller peaks (all over 3,100m in elevation) but it felt like hundreds.   All very steep, sharp and yep, totally exhausting.  Many have fixed ropes up / down the steepest parts….

IMG_0135

A steep ravine on one side reminded us that in mist, it would be dangerous.  Every peak we slithered down grabbing onto the ropes only reminded us that in a few hours time, we would have to come back up again.  But the views were certainly spectacular, in every direction.  We could even see Yushan in the far distance, Taiwan’s highest mountain. Other more familiar peaks also stood out. Familiar because in the last few years, we’ve done several of them (雪山 Syue Shan in 2011, 南湖大山 Nanhu Big Mountain in 2012 and 奇萊南峰 Chilai South Peak in 2014), and this time we seemed to be in the middle of them all!

And so we arrived at West Peak (3,145 m / 10,318 ft) about 11:00 am for a quick lunch and then back the way we came.  This is the view of where we had to return to, and that’s the ravine in the distance…

IMG_0240

It was long, long, oh so long.  And so exhausting.  Every time we stopped, well, a chance to have a little nap!

IMG_0243

Up and down, up and down. Several of our group struggled with altitude problems, lack of sleep and sore feet, so our going was slow, and from North Peak to West Peak it took us 5 hours in each direction. We thought we’d never ever get there.  And having got there, we never thought we could make it back.  Energy zero.  Speed virtually at a standstill. Certainly the number of photos taken on the way back is in single figures.  Just putting one foot in front of the other was enough of an effort!  But we arrived back where we’d started at the same time as an 80-year-old man walking the same route with his son and 12-year-old grandson, and the old man was wearing wellington boots.  That put us in our place!

And so back to pick up our rucksacks and to get some longed-for water.  We’d all been down to our last drop hours before.  We started on the route back to the car.  It was almost dark, and at 6:30pm, the heavy dark clouds did what they’d been promising to do for hours, and that is let loose their wrath upon us.  The rain came down in such torrents that we had no time to do much other than just get wet.  Soaked through in fact.  The paths became rivers in seconds.  At that moment I had just arrived at the road, and we waited for the minibus to come in the pouring rain.  There was no shelter, so we just stood there. Others behind me were worse off cos they had to walk in the water rather than just wait in it.  What a relief to go and change our clothes, have a yummy dinner to celebrate our survival, and head back to Taipei.  Home at 1:30am!

This morning of course the word is ‘stiff stiff stiff, ache ache ache’. Can hardly walk or bend!  14 hours more or less non-stop walking yesterday, with about an hour’s sleep on Saturday night and 3 last night ~ now I’m paying the price ha ha!

But y’know, it was fantastic, truly fantastic!  How can I delete any photo that reminds me so well of yesterday’s sunrise, the flowers or the views.  Spectacular, truly spectacular!

And here they are!