May 18th, 2008

The weekend 週末

I spent a lot of time in the outdoors this weekend, beginning with Saturday morning's hike with Michael Turton up the No. 4 Trail in the Tak'eng (Dakeng) 大坑 area of T'aichung (Taijhong) 台中. Micheal has a great write-up of our walk on his blog The View from Taiwan, so let me just say that I deny completely the rumors that I was stuck behind this old American Toto fan who was routinely being passed up on the trail by obasans several decades older than him.

Following the morning hike, I went to work as usual in the afternoon. Immediately afterwards, however, Pamela (with Amber in tow) picked me up, and we drove straight to Hsit'ou (Sitou) 溪頭, a national forest recreation area located in the central mountains, where Steve and his family were waiting for us. We arrived before 7pm, and after checking into our shared room at the Youth Activity Center, the three of us (Amber, Pamela and I) took a walk in the dark. We were far from alone, however, as we were surrounded by fireflies 蛍, a sight which delighted Amber to no end (and got me pretty excited too, I have to admit). Naturally, it's extremely difficult to photograph fireflies, but we had an easier time getting this shot of a monster moth ガ clinging to the window of the Youth Center when we got back:

This morning, following breakfast, we set off on a long day of walking. Little did I know at the time (namely because my wife failed to inform me of the fact until afterwards), but the 2880 meter (1.79 mile) trail we took to reach the Giant Cypress Tree 神木, Hsitou's most famous landmark, was also the most challenging route to get there. It took a couple of hours of uphill walking, most of the time with a 30-pound child strapped to my back (and towards the end, she fell asleep, and all her weight shifted to my left side as a result). The tree itself, when we finally got to it, was something of a letdown. True, it is 46 meters (151 feet) high, 16 meters (52 feet) wide and over 2800 years old, but I have to say I've seen more impressive redwoods back in California and Washington. However, the rush that came with having successfully carried Amber uphill for almost 3 kilometers more than compensated for any feelings of disappointment I may have had regarding the tree.

From the Great Cypress Tree, it was mostly a downhill stroll to the University Pond 大學地. The scenery along the way was great, thanks in no small part to the fact that the forest recreation area is run by the forestry department of National Taiwan University 台湾大学. As a result, there are several experimental groves of trees located there, which means you can see a greater variety of trees in Hsitou than you would normally expect to see in one small area. It all makes for a great walking experience, though the overcast skies made for lousy photographic conditions. Amber really enjoyed the walk down to the pond, and shamelessly lapped up the attention she received from many of the other visitors. Here she is dancing to her father's tuneless rendition of "Surfin' Bird":

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Once at the pond, we finally met up again with Steve and his brood who, having done a lot of walking around the previous day while we were still en route from Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原, hadn't gone with us on the hike up to the cypress tree (but eventually ended up following our route anyway). The University Pond contains Hsitou's other photo op, the Arched Bamboo Bridge 竹拱橋:

Walk completed, it was getting late in the afternoon, so we left for home (Fengyuan in our case, Taichung in Steve's). Hsitou looks like a great place to explore, so I hope to come again.