About Taiwan, FotoZon and lots of other stuff

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Taroko Gorge 太魯 閣 - A five Day Trip

Since I first took a motorcycle trip around the island in 1998 and saw this place for the first time, it has always stood out as probably the most fantastic natural place in Taiwan. The Taroko Gorge (太魯閣) would be amazing enough, but the addition of the highway threaded through the vertical walls with many tunnels and cutouts just makes it all the more incredible. When I first rode through on my old 150cc, there weren't so many bypass tunnels. Now the "Swallow Grotto" and the "Nine Turns" area are bypassed by wide new tunnels and you can walk the old road which turns out to very pleasant without the traffic. However, something in me missed the sight of all those tour busses trying to navigate the tiny twisting road. There are still several choke points in the road though where it narrows down to one lane providing some tight squeezes.

On the way, passing the Suao Port. We decided this time instead of driving over the Central Cross Island Highway, we'd go around on the freeway through Taipei and go through the new tunnel to Ilan. It looked close on the map.... The first day, in about 5 hours from Yuanlin, we emerged at the Jiau-Shi Hot Springs where we rented a deluxe room with a big soaker tub.

On the second day, after leaving Ilan we came to the Suao Cliffs. The turquoise blue water and white cliffs are striking. I like this shot because it shows the highway and also the railroad tracks on the right side.

Trucks, Trucks and more Trucks. The road was crawling with big trucks. I passed countless numbers of them even though we're only driving a Nissan Cefiro with a weak 2 liter engine. They all seem to be hauling rocks to and from the big cement plant there in the distance. The road around the cliffs is slow and winding, so we didn't really save that much time compared with driving over the mountain pass.

Ah, we finally made it to the gorge in the afternoon of the second day. This was the Thanksgiving Holiday back in America, so after finding our cabin we made our way to the Grand Formosa to enjoy a fine dinner. The hotel was strangely very empty though, and instead of the usual buffet, they were offering entre's instead.

My boy was thoughtful enough to take this shot of the cabin we stayed in for the second night.

Meanwhile I was busy snapping shots of the bugs. These cabins are up the road from Tian-shang and in a scenic area where there are some fields tucked into a plateau. The bugs were intense.

On the third day, we took the trail of the nine turns. This section of the highway is now bypassed by a new tunnel and offers a spectacular meandering walk. I wouldn't want to be there during an earthquake or heavy rainstorm though - a lot of rocks overhead.

Me, your author, sporting my camera. My six year old son took this shot with my old camera I gave to him. He is starting to catch the photographer bug and is excited to have his own equipment.

The eternal springs shrine 長春祠 . It seems to get dark even earlier in the gorge. This picture was taken from the railing of the coffee shop across the way near the parking lot.

A close up of the shrine. The tripod was sitting in the trunk of our car back at the parking lot, so I had to take this shot by pressing the camera down on the little bridge over the stream. I felt a little silly and poor when a bunch of Japanese tourists came behind me fully laden with gear, tripods lenses and camera bags. The shot came out ok at a special "low angle".

On the third night we stayed at the "Leader Village". I believe this place has taken over from the Grand Formosa the nicest place to stay in the gorge and could explain why the hotel was so quiet the night before.. The duplex cabins offer heated blankets which were most appreciated due to the cold weather. The food was great - I ordered a huge tasty meal called "When Wild Boar Meets Eiffel Tower" for dinner. On this fourth day of our trip was the first time the sun finallly came out. It was a beautiful blue sky morning in a beautiful place to wake up.

After spending the fourth night in Taipei, it was time to conclude our long trip and head back home to Yuanlin. It was a great 5 day trip during a very quiet time of the year. Its amazing that such a small island as Taiwan can offer so many fantastic places to see and how long it takes to drive around the island due to the rugged terrain of the east coast.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Snake Kiln in Shueili - 水里蛇窑

On the way to thesouth end of Sun Moon Lake, after the town of Shueili, ( 水里 ) there's a place called the "Snake Kiln". We've driven past it many times, but never stopped. This time we decided to stop the car and go see what it was all about.

The Shueili Snake Kiln ( 水里蛇窑 ) gets its name from this long earthen
tunnel that serves as a kiln to make pottery. Many parts of this kiln
were reconstructed after the JiJi earthquake. It is reportedly the
oldest kiln in Taiwan.

A fire at the bottom of the tunnel, three separate stoking
boxes heat up the kiln and the fire is not wasted as it is used a
long ways in the tunnel before reaching the chimney at the end.

An old time wagon used to carry the pots to market.

Pot Wall. Pottery is everywhere outside and inside the Snake Kiln Museum.
Pipes, bowls, all kinds of pots and live demonstrations are available.

The walk from the road up to the Snake Kiln area is pleasant.
Even if you don't pay the entrance for the museum, its a nice
place to stop off for lunch. We stopped and enjoyed a yummy
plate of fried up Mountain Pig . I guess they re-use the skulls
as decorations. That does it for the stop over at the kiln. Now
we know what's on the side of the road!