Tag Archives: Scenery

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?!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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….

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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!

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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!

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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….

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

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

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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….

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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…..

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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?!

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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…

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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…

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

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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…..

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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!

Angkor Wat 吳哥窟 and Siem Reap 暹粒市, Cambodia ~ oh, and nice crunchy spider for dinner!

Think of all those historic buildings in the UK: Durham, Norwich and Exeter Cathedrals; Rochester, Windsor and Warwick Castles and even my lovely CMS link church at St. Andrew’s Church, Haughton, Darlington.  And what do they all have in common?  Well, they were all being built at roughly the same time as the Angkor Wat Temple Complex in Cambodia.  Now, how’s that for Interesting Fact Of The Day, eh?

Angkor Wat has become such a symbol of Cambodia, that it appears on its national flag. How about this?

Angkor Wat is considered to be the largest religious monument in the world ~ the ruins cover an area over 400 sq. km.  It was originally constructed by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as a temple of the Hindu deity Vishnu, and gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century.

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400 sq. km?  That’s 248 sq. miles.  Imagine that!  That’s what I was interested to see – the sheer size and immensity of the whole complex.  Buildings stretching for miles into the forests in every direction.  Jungle, in fact.  Angkor Wat is so immense that you can even buy a 7-day pass to see it all.  7 days!  Or a 3-day pass even.  But me?  I had only one day.  One day to see a little bit of the whole, just a glimpse.

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The way to do it is by overnight bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, 6 hours and very comfortable.  As buses go, that is.  That was me this past Sunday night.  On Monday morning, there I was, bushy-tailed but very bleary-eyed, with a nice tuk-tuk driver who got me to the ticket office at Angkor Wat by 7:00 am, where I was just awake enough to peer at the camera in time for my photo.  It’s US$ 37 for a one-day ticket, with photo attached.  Had yet to even brush my hair.  Ha ha!  Now I have a permanent reminder of what I look like after a night on a Cambodian bus.

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October is the rainy season in Cambodia and the night before they’d had a big rainstorm at Angkor Wat.  So Monday morning was cool and overcast.  Good weather for a day touring round temples.  Grey sky and dark buildings are not easy to photograph, but they kind of fit the mood of the place….

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Anyway off I set around the temple. There’s a whole lot of walking and a huge number of very steep steps.  Loved it!  My friends had told me that their one regret was not having a guide, so they had no idea what they were looking at.  So for one hour, a guide in a uniform came round with me and explained everything and answered all my questions.  He told me how the sandstone and laterite stones were carried from a quarry about 60 km away by elephants and chariots.  He told me that most of the Buddha statues were headless because people were so desperate for food during the years before, during and after the genocide that they cut the statues’ heads off to sell them.

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He told me what everything was and why it was there.  He set me up for the whole day.  Because after Angkor Wat main temple, there are lots of other temples to look at.  The temples are all under restoration, and it seems that every country is helping out, each one assigned their own temple. I saw signs indicating temples being restored by Japan, France, India and China, plus different universities assigned to take care of the archaeological digs.

That’s one temple down, a zillion more to go.  So off by chariot (sorry, tuk-tuk) along a road lined with statues, passing by the elephants….

Bayon Temple comes next ~ “the most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and smiling stone faces on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak. The temple is known also for two impressive sets of bas-reliefs, which present an unusual combination of mythological, historical, and mundane scenes.” And this all leads on to the Elephant Terrace.

On to some more temples – where there were rocks carved as snakes all over.  “The snake symbol is depicted as the hooded cobra or naga. Not only is the naga-serpent the most prominent motif found at Angkor, but the word “Angkor” itself is derived from the Sanskrit nagara, meaning “city,” from the root naga. The common etymological derivation of the two words underlines the link that exists between the symbolism of the snake and that of the “holy city.” Today, the stone nagas watch silently over every major edifice in the city.”

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But the best temple was yet to come.  Known as the Tomb Raider Temple, because that’s where the movie was filmed, Ta Prohm is THE BEST!

“Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm is in much the same condition in which it was found: the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor’s most popular temples with visitors.” And lucky India has the job of restoring it.

You MUST MUST MUST go there! It really is amazing. As you can see, there were even wedding couples posing for photos! And outside were people playing music who had been injured in landmines …..

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And so to lunch.  I chose mine based on colour.  After a morning of Tomb Raiders ‘n doom and gloom and the like, I needed some colour.  Ha ha. It’s chicken curry in a coconut.  And Cambodia beer.  Gotta try the local stuff.  This is it!

And then the sun came out.  Another temple. The last!  Oh, and a lake….

Time for something else.  The tuk-tuk driver suggested I might like to visit the local Killing Fields Museum at Wat Thmei, located in a monastery and temple.  This is not for the faint-hearted.  More on this in my next post about the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh.

After all those dark and gloomy temples and then the Killing Fields, I thought a church was in order.  Going round Phonm Penh, I had only seen one church in all the time I was there, the Khmer Rouge had destroyed them all.  I asked if there was any church around Siem Reap.  Any church of any kind I said.  Yes, said the driver.  And off we went.  Turned out to be St. John’s Roman Catholic Church, where a dear Japanese sister was sweeping the church floor and a catechist was cleaning downstairs.

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If I remember correctly, the catechist said that these days there are about 30,000 Roman Catholics in Cambodia, and 50+ priests, of whom 7 are Cambodians and the rest are foreigners, including their own priest who is from the Philippines.  They even had a leaflet there in English, which said that the church was built in 2004 and the parish also serves several churches in the floating villages on the Tonle Sap Lake.  They are part of the diocese (apostolic prefecture) of Battambang, which is twinned with the RC Diocese of East Anglia, UK. And St. John’s Church itself is twinned with the deanery of Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk.  Ah, it’s a small world ~ Suffolk, I love you!

And so to Siem Reap, which was bustling with tourists.  Lots of places to eat, and lots of choices.  Ha ha, my dinner menu was spiders, scorpions or snakes.  Take your pick!

Time enough to enjoy the late afternoon and night life of Siem Reap…..

And finally to the bus stop for the overnight bus back to Phnom Penh.  Bus departure time 11:00 pm.  (If you’re interested in the bus, get all your info here.)  No shower for a while yet though!

And finally, guess which delectable dinner option I chose?  This one….

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Ha ha!  The spider!  The girl selling it said it was the best choice, as it was crunchy.  It’s true.  It was crunchy.  Very crunchy.  And what’s more, I lived the tell the tale, and am still in one piece all these days later! So, be adventurous and daring ~ and GO FOR IT!

(This is Part 2 of 3 about my visit to Cambodia.  Part 3 coming soon……)

Phnom Penh, Cambodia 柬埔寨金邊 ~ and a great CMS Conference too!

Cambodia is THE country to go to, and Phnom Penh is THE city!  Just forget for a moment that you’re not really sure where the country is, nor how to pronounce (let alone spell!) the capital city’s name.  It don’t matter ~ just get yourself there!

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Because Cambodia is changing, and changing fast.  Phnom Penh has high-rise buildings going up all over the place, tons of private bilingual (or even tri-lingual, in English, Chinese and Khmer) schools, outlet malls, fast-food restaurants, Starbucks and more.  There’s so many ATMs lined up in rows outside the main post office that they don’t even fit in a picture ~ and that means choice, man, choice!

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Like every other capital city, everyone’s stuck in a traffic jam, but in Phnom Penh, there’s a sedate pace to traffic, hardly any honking of horns or road-rage.  Life moves really quite slowly.  There’s a pleasant laid-back French-colonial-style atmosphere, but mixed with modern Chinese-style ‘let’s get this building up’ can-do attitude.  So the Cambodians are not hanging around, they have a city to build and a country to bring into the 21st century.  And Chinese investment and business opportunities are helping to make it all happen.  Now!  This very moment!

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Of course there are problems.  Coming to terms with the past – the Khmer Rouge and Cambodian Genocide is one.  The current prime minister, Hun Sen has been in power since 1985, and is a former Khmer Rouge commander.  Cambodia has one of the highest corruption rates in the world. Then there’s also problems of political oppression, human rights, land evictions, deforestation, poverty, street children, human trafficking, the list goes on.  Challenges abound.  But I’ll just get on with showing you a bit of this great city….

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I’ve just spent a week in Phnom Penh, October 4-11.  Round and round the streets we went on the little auto-rickshaw-cum-tuk-tuk kind of vehicles.  It’s such fun!  Past the Royal Palace, National Museum, Art Deco Central Market, River Mekong, Wat Phnom Temple and many other temples, the night market, monuments galore, parks and shops.  I could go on going round and round that city forevermore.  In fact I did.  Got lost.  Took 2 hours to find the hotel on the back of the tuk-tuk.  Ah, but it was fun!  Not the air pollution that comes with riding in such traffic, of course, but seeing all the life and the people and houses and streets…..

We were in Phnom Penh for a CMS (Church Mission Society) conference for CMS-UK people in Asia and for AsiaCMS people, who are more local to Asia ~ plus lots of VIPs from the CMS family around the world, Asia, New Zealand, Australia, Africa, who were there for an earlier meeting, but some of them then stayed on for the first part of our 4-day conference.  This was the very first photo I took on arrival at the conference, just as we were all going out for the afternoon – posing especially for me!

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These 2 handsome young men posing with me below are our CMS-UK director, Philip Mounstephen on the left – and Raj Patel, in charge of our Asia office at CMS, on the right. Raj came to visit me last year in Taiwan (see that report here) and we had such an amazing time.  BUT now Raj is leaving us ~ and we are so heartbroken!

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I was so pleased to meet Steve Maina, director of New Zealand CMS – he also came to visit me in Taiwan, but that was 6 years ago ~ and yes, we had a great time!  This is one happy Steve in the black T-shirt ~ with Dennis and Lucy, our VIPs from Africa CMS…

For the conference, we were based at the Sen Han Hotel ~ kinda just outside the city centre, with great views from its roof. I was up there regularly at dawn and at dusk – and even to see the rainbow after the rain….

We spent the conference sharing, learning, talking, eating, listening, laughing, praying, singing, worshiping and getting to know each other.  There may have been 60-70 of us altogether, from all over Asia and elsewhere.  Many are working in sensitive areas, so the only photos on here are of those who work from our CMS head offices – in Oxford or elsewhere around the world.  Many new friendships made and old friendships rekindled.  Lots of fascinating stories.  Plenty to think about and reflect upon.   We had fun too.  This was the 3 wise monkeys pose: ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’….

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And we had a great river cruise, ha ha, these guys really know how to pose for photos!

Anyway, the very lovely AsiaCMS people were there only until Friday October 6, while  the CMS-UK people continued on until Sunday October 8.  We had a day on Saturday on strategy, assessment, risk, impact and security.  Important stuff.  This is the very wonderful Anne and Raj who planned and implemented it all….

But I was so pleased to arrive at the party time hour last thing in the afternoon.  The final game involved balloons, and a farewell to Raj as he leaves.   We will miss him so much, he’s so much fun!

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Any conference with balloons will be a success ~ so, of course it was a really good conference!

A VERY BIG BIG thank you to all those in CMS for organizing it all, and for all our CMS friends and link churches for your prayers and support.  Much much appreciated!

But that was not the end of my trip to Cambodia.  Taiwan had 2 extra days off on Monday October 9 and Tuesday October 10 celebrating 106 years of the Republic of China.  So I could take the opportunity to see a bit of Cambodia!

Coming soon….  Part 2, about the trip to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, followed by Part 3 about visiting the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum…..

So watch this space, coming up soon….

Taiwan’s North Coast Kite Festival 2017 @ Baishawan Beach 白沙灣, Shimen District ~ YES!

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Privileged to live so close to one of northern Taiwan’s best beaches, and today is THE day!  Every year we have a kite festival on Baishawan Beach 白沙灣 in Shimen District 石門, with thousands of people, hundreds of kites, lots of sun and hopefully lots of wind.  This is the scene this afternoon, with the lighthouse on Taiwan’s northern tip in the far distance…

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Last year’s blog post about the kite festival 2016 is here.  This year’s kite festival is a bit different.  Although it’s being held all this weekend, in fact yesterday was a working day for most people in Taiwan, in lieu of Monday October 9, to make next weekend a 4-day weekend.  So yesterday at Baishawan was really quiet – in terms of people.  But there was tons and tons of wind.  It was so hot, but the wind was strong, and there were lots of windsurfers and kite-surfers there too.

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Today, there’s tons of people. Lots of kites, lots of sun (it’s even hotter than yesterday – 36°C plus) – but hardly any wind!  There’s not a windsurfer in sight, just surfers today.  Of course there’s always a little sea breeze, fine for the smaller and lighter kites but for the bigger ones, they can’t get them off the ground.  This is the best it’s gets…

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And the other thing that’s different from last year is that on June 2 this year we had a massive rain storm that washed away the boardwalk and the footbridge at Baishawan. Not yet repaired.  It also changed the course of the river flowing into the sea at that point. This is the scene now….

Our students have been volunteering all weekend, and some of our students have part-time jobs in the restaurants there.   It’s hot, hot, hot.

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But there’s some fun kites, a large rooster…..

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Cartoon characters, some struggling to get off the ground…

A Taiwan flag….

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And plenty more….

And when it gets too hot, there’s a museum about the Baishawan scenery and nature – (with air-conditioning!)…

I missed the opening ceremony with the mayor of New Taipei City this morning, plus lots of dancing and singing performances, plus there’s lots of DIY activities for making your own kite, and tonight there’ll be fireworks.

Y’know, all-in-all it’s a great event – ah, I just love kites!

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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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?!

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

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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!

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

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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….

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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.

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

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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

Taipei’s Elephant Mountain 象山 and Four Beasts Mountain 四獸山 and 9-5 Peak 九五峯!

It’s hot and humid and the middle of summer, and yet, Elephant Mountain in Taipei is packed out with people.  Not in the early morning so much, but mid-morning onwards, at the hottest time of day, hundreds and hundreds of everybody are going up!

Last time I was there was Chinese New Year 2016 and haven’t been there since, oh no!

So now I’m back, but early in the morning.  7:30 am.  Today.  Ready for the off.  Would be earlier, but that’s the earliest I can get there from the far end of Taiwan.  And boy, it is steep.  And hot.  Steps and steps and more steps going onwards and upwards.  The trail is excellent, and goes on round a whole ridge, another set of steps, but the views are amazing and worth every ounce of effort.

The views of course are of Taipei City, YangMingShan and Taipei 101 in particular. Check out these few photos!

And hope you like that final photo – a McLaren stopped at the red light just in front of me as I was taking a photo of that red crane in front of Taipei 101.  Love it!