Fri, Jul 25, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Green trails a journey of self discovery

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

A trekker inspects remains left of a house at Kulou.

PHOTO: IAN BARTHOLOMEW, TAIPEI15TIMES

Last Saturday, a group of 16 trekkers set off from the small town of Nanhe in Pingtung County on a journey that will take some of them the full length of the Central Mountain Range, the spine of Taiwan.

The trek, led by Wu Yuan-he (伍元和), will gain members at various stages of the trek, while others will drop off to make room, the total number of trekkers staying at around 16 for most of the journey, with five, including Wu, completing the whole 50 days of the trek.

The trek, which is taking place in what even the main organizing body, the Taiwan Forestry Bureau (林務局), admits is probably the worst season for trekking -- ?it is the height of summer and also the typhoon season -- was designed particularly with students in mind, and had necessarily to take advantage of the summer holidays.

The purpose of the trek is to promote the Forestry Bureau's project to develop a National Trail Network across Taiwan in imitation of the Appalachian Trail in the US. The first four days of the trek, in which this reporter joined (further reports on this trek will be based on information provided by other participants), was a good indication of the enormous potential, and equally enormous problems the Bureau faces in establishing such a trail network.

The group set off July 19 after a small ceremony held in the playground of the Nanhe Primary School, which lurks under the very tail of the Central Mountain Range as it winds its way down to Kenting.

The first day's target was the settlement of Old Qijia, one of the most complete villages of Paiwan-style stone houses currently still inhabited. Although for part of the way, Wu led his trekkers through mountain trails, the town is actually accessible by four-wheel-drive, and sections of the road, especially in the lower reaches, which are inhabited by fruit farmers, are paved with cement.

From the White Stork Bridge along the Lili River, where we stopped for lunch, the trek moved rapidly out of the more intensively farmed lowlands and into the foothills, which were once the domain of the Paiwan Aborigines, but which have since largely been returned to wilderness.

Old Qijia, where we stopped for the night, receiving the hospitality of Guo Tung-xiong (郭東雄), an elementary school teacher who returns to his family home most weekends. According to Guo, the town can now boast a population of 60 to 70 people, though most only visit occasionally, for the one-hour drive to the nearest lowland settlement makes the location inconvenient. The houses are largely still built of slate slabs, the traditional Paiwan building material, but the intrusion of modern materials is increasingly evident. Kavasi, an elderly odd-job man who is now one of only a few permanent residents in Old Qijia, pointed out, not without irony, that it took 30 people a week to help fix his slate roof, and two people two days to build a wooden extension.

From Old Qijia, the trek moved off deeper into the mountains, and the trail deteriorated significantly, often disappearing into dense foliage. This is a continuation of the Kunlun-Au trail that joined Qijia and the even bigger Paiwan settlement for which we were heading, to the plains.

Our target was Gulou, which in its heyday was one of the largest Paiwan settlements in the area, with a population of over 1,000. The Japanese thought enough of it to establish a police and medical station there. All that remains, however, are ruins hidden among jungles of cactus, hemp and other plants, many of which one would expect to see in a tropical garden rather than a tropical wilderness. The abundance of brightly colored flora is one of the many indications of the highly sophisticated life that once existed in this now desolate spot.

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