Friday, June 18, 2010

What do they mean the road is broken?

After my adventure at Jade Mountain I'm not entirely sure where to begin, so I'll just go chronologically. 

Note: This is an exceptionally long post, but I assure you it is worth it.

 The weather looked like this pretty much the whole time.
We left Saturday night after a full day of classes. Honestly, there is nothing new about using Saturday night to get somewhere or do something fun. It was the next morning that just made Saturday night seem like the worst idea ever. If I did it over again, I would leave earlier so I could be better rested.

Sunday morning we woke up at 5 a.m. so we could arrange ourselves, grab some Mickey D's to go for breakfast and get on a bus heading into the mountains. Our bus, if you can really call it that, left promptly at 6 a.m. Looking back, that part of our adventure was mostly painless. At the time, though, it was pretty annoying. We got tossed around in the back of the bus as it ascended the tightly curving mountain road toward Shueli. 

Our intention was to, like many before us, was to get off the bus in Shueli only to board another headed to Tataga, our selected Jade Mountain base camp. It took about 20 minutes of broken Chinese-English conversations with a million different people before we realized that "the road is broken" meant there had been a massive landslide. 

Having already come so far and knowing it was still only 8 a.m., we opted to take a — quite expensive — cab until they just wouldn't take us anymore, presumably to the aforementioned landslide, and then we would hoof it across and probably make it to Tataga by before noon. 

We were determined to say the least. 

Our cabbie drove over small rock slides and across washed out portions of road that were being taken over by the river that is usually nothing more than a barely-wet creek. When we arrived at what I will call a "mini landslide" he even placated us by driving past it after we tore back branches of a fallen tree and kicked rocks the size of my head out of the way. We proclaimed ourselves superwomen and he simply laughed along. He probably also though he'd get to charge us a fare for getting us out there and then another when we decided to turn around and come back down immediately rather than stay.

I bet her was disappointed. 

We got to a gate and despite the fact that is was 23km away from where we needed to be and we had yet to see the big landslide everyone had been talking about, we got out of the car, put on our rain gear, paid the nice man and bid him "xiao xing," or to be careful. 

Gates and landslides be damned, we would get to the mountain, or so we thought.

About ten minutes later, some construction workers who had been camping in an empty shipping container near the gate came chasing after us on their motorcycles. We argued with them for a few minutes in Chinese telling them we thoroughly intended to continue on foot. 

They seemed horrified that we wouldn't heed their advice and we eventually gave in when it seemed apparent that these guys weren't going to lay off and might even opt for kidnapping us if it prevented us from ascending the mountain. 

Of course at this point our cab had left to back to where it came from and we were stranded. 

It was only 9 a.m. Who knew you could have that much adventure before 9 a.m.?

The construction workers were nice enough to let us hang around the fly-infested shipping container and call us a car. 

This is the furthest we ever got at YuShan National Park...

This is where things got interesting, or boring...

After hanging around for a couple of hours a car finally came, or so we thought. The guy said he would help us, so we got in the car all excited to get away from the shipping container, out of the rain and off the mountain. As much as we wanted to be there, it sucks when you're not actually climbing the mountain. About 2km down, though, he turned off the road and stopped in front of some random building 

Turns out her was just taking us to this security office to get us out of the rain — and presumably out of the construction workers' hair. 

We sat around watching the National Geographic channel on TV and waiting for a car to come and rescue us. About half-past noon, the guy came in to give us the bad news. 

"No car."


So we opted to go upstairs to one of the nicely furnished bedrooms and pass out for the next five hours.

Best. Sleep. Ever.

We heated up some dehydrated food in our room and while we were eating the guy came in and said he was making dinner. Considering he was being so nice and hospitable, we couldn't exactly refuse, so we ate dinner twice. 

It was a pretty decent meal, too. I thought I was going to vomit, not because it wasn't good, but because I ate far too much. My body wanted to purge. 

We helped him clean the place up a little, took care of our dishes and then spent the evening watching soccer. I know nothing about soccer, but everyone is going crazy over the World Cup right now and I like sports in general enough to try to learn, especially when it keep me entertained. 

It was around this time that we learned our host's name, Mr. Lin. He told us over dinner that he has four kids, his youngest a 10-year-old boy and his eldest a 20-year-old girl attending university in Taichung. 

All of this was in Chinese of course. Our language skills really got tested throughout this whole ordeal. I understood most of what was going on, but still found myself deferring to Leila or confirming with her to make sure I didn't get my wires crossed. 

I'm still not all that confident in my Chinese skills, but I have learned that I know more than I think I do.

After the soccer game, we went back to hibernating in our room. We probably passed out around 11 p.m. It's easy to sleep when it's raining and you're in the mountains with not a whole lot to do. 

It was again a pretty great sleep, at least until 3:30 in the morning when our host opened our door. 

We have no idea what was going on. He just opened out door and stared at us. At first we were a little disoriented and thought maybe our alarm hadn't gone off and so we were late getting up. 

He didn't really even say much of anything. Leila asked him what time is was and he just kind of grunted. Then she look at her clock and told him that it was only 3:30 and he grunted. Then she told him we were sleeping and just grunted again, shut the door and padded away. 

Needless to say it was a little disconcerting and made it difficult to get back to sleep after that. 

But we managed of course. That be was too comfy not to sleep.

About three hours later we got up, got our junk together and went downstairs. Mr. Lin, who now seemed slightly creepier, had told us the night before that we would take us as far as Sinyi, the village he lives in. We could apparently get a bus from there to Shueli. 

He had also informed us the night before that we couldn't tell anyone that we had stayed there. I suppose he wasn't supposed to be there either and be certainly wasn't supposed to be letting a couple of foreigners spend the night. 

Mr. Lin checking out a mini-landslide too big to pass.

We got about 2km down the road only to find a mini-landslide. Unfortunately, superwomen or not, it wasn't small enough for us to simply move rocks out of the way and continue on our way. 

We turned around.

Mr. Lin took us back to the shipping container and the construction worker who had originally told us we couldn't go up the mountain. 

He seemed really confused about why we were still on the mountain and asked us why we had slept there.

"Uhm, we were tired, bored and told we were stuck here for the night."

The he informed us that a car had come for us the day before but we were asleep. That was about the time that I got hopelessly angry and upset. 

In my mind I was thinking, "Why the hell didn't someone wake us up and tell us to get our stuff together and get out the door?"

We never figured out why no one said anything. So we resumed trying to find someone to help us get off the mountain, only now it had been raining harder and longer and had made the conditions on the mountain even worse.

Leila called the visitor's center to find out that someone who spoke English would be in the office two hours later. We decided just to hang around until then considering we'd probably have better luck getting something accomplished in our own language. 

While we were sitting there waiting, we heard a landslide happening just up the road from us. We actually ended up walking up the road to find it. In case you were wondering, landslides simply sound like thunder. 

The landslide we heard happen...

Finally around 9 a.m., Leila managed to get ahold of the English speaker at the visitor's center. After a few conversations with them it was determined our best bet was to start walking down the mountain as far as we could. 

Apparently there was a massive landslide about 20km down the mountain from us so the park service couldn't just send a car up to get us

The plan was to clear the landslides on foot and if we came across anyone with a car, we would flag them down and ask for a ride to the next obstacle on our course. 

We made it across the first landslide that had blocked our way down that morning and we stayed on foot for about 10km or so before coming across a building that had a bunch of cars parked outside. We asked a guy loading a utility truck if we could hitch a ride with him to Shueli, or at least as far as he could get us. 

That turned out to be our best decision the entire weekend.

Turns out the guy worked in the local farming industry, something I gathered from the bags of seed in the back of his truck. And being in the local farming industry means you're also in the know about all the ways to avoid the highway and its hazards. About 4km down the road the guy took a sharp, unexpected turn onto a road that can really be better described as a treacherous, narrow, muddy path curving back and forth down the side of the mountain like a snake. 

It fed directly into the produce farms in the valley, completely bypassing about 10km of mountain highway, including the section where the large landslide was supposed to be. 

He took us all the way to Shueli in about an hour and he wouldn't even let us pay him for it at all. 

From there we managed to get back to civilization on a mini-bus packed like a sardine can full of high school students and senior citizens. 

After a quick and painless train ride home, I decided that I deserved a good meal and a beer despite not actually having climbed a mountain but for having withstood and equally difficult weekend. 

Oh, I love adventures in Taiwan.


  1. Jimmie u really need to be more careful, that guy could have been an ax murderer or worse!
    I am not sure what would be worse but can't be good. :)

    Promise me on your adventures you will be more careful.

  2. Thanks for the concern, mom, but the guy was easily in his 60s. Leila and I could have taken him, ax murderer or not.

    I'll be careful in SE Asia.