Strawberries for Christmas

The strawberry season in Taiwan starts in December, just in time for Christmas.  Yesterday we took Christine and Joan’s suggestion and drove north to the strawberry fields.  We hopped on highway shield 3 (not flower 3 which is larger, nor squiggle 3 which is smaller – you get used to it) and drove an hour or so into lovely foothills.    The road was lined with orange trees (they are also in season now)

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and wild poinsettia bushes

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and cute (Taiwanese are very big on cute) giant strawberries,

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and small, well-tended strawberry fields.  Dan stuffed his feet in the provided plastic boots and headed out to pick his own.

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He got a little carried away.  We have plenty of strawberries now.  Fortunately they are pretty tasty.

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We headed back home through the misty, jungle foothills.  Lovely day.

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Spring Break Exploring

Time once again for spring break exploring.  We arranged for cat care (thanks, Christine!) and took off on our favorite road to Hualien.  What a spectacular day!  Beautiful views and lovely weather.

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The cherry trees were blooming.

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We found two traditional markets just blocks from our hotel.  I tried to restrain myself to just buy apples and bananas for the drive back.

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The trip home turned out to be more of an adventure that we really wanted.  We thought we’d try a new route across the mountains this time so we stayed on Highway 8 instead of turning off on Highway 14.  This part of Highway 8 is clearly more of a working road. The guardrails are not kept as neatly painted as on the more tourist road.  It’s a little wider, but not as well repaired.  It’s also steeper.  But it is beautiful.

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There were fruit orchards along much of the road.

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And then there are the landslides.  At this point we were carefully let across once car at a time, with one man assigned to just watch the slope carefully for more slipping.

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And the construction/clean up.

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We were very thankful to get off this particular mountain road.

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Summer Solstice Hike

It’s hot this time of year.  We tried telling some local friends that it was a bit warm but we were clearly corrected – it’s hot.  When the conversation turned to local hikes, a friend told us that the thing to do this time of year is get to the trailhead by sunrise. That way you can go up the mountain and be back at your car before the temperature is unbearable.  So on this summer solstice, that’s what we decided to do.
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It was crowded at 5am.  Really crowded.  We found a parking spot and followed the crowd past the inevitable market stalls just opening for business.  This was supposed to be the easiest of the official trails.  Right.  This photo is of the steep initial part of the trail.  After that it changed to stairs.  The two trails we were on (#9 going up and #10 going down) were reopened last year with newly built stairs and boardwalks.  They are very nice, very steep stairs.

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You’ll notice that most folks are carrying towels and extra water. That would have been a good idea.  We got plenty of encouragement from the others on the trail.  We really had a great time doing this.  Of course when we got back to the car we made a beeline for long showers, clean clothes, and a good long nap.

Let’s see if we will tackle this again another weekend.

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Camping with the Butterflies

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(Do I mean the middle school students or the actual butterflies in the forest?  It did seem at times like we were in the middle of a butterfly display at the zoo.)

Sorry for the gap in writing recently.  We’re in the last week of school now and it’s been hectic between the friends who are moving away, the friends who are moving to new apartments, and all the end of school activities.

The most absorbing of the end of school activities was the annual middle school trip to Camp Taiwan.  We signed up long ago to be chaperones for this three day trip.  It was Vickey, Chris, Dan, and myself (plus the experienced camp staff) trying to get 35 flitting 6th, 7th, and 8th graders moving in the same direction.

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Like all good camps, this one ran the kids hard with plenty of new activities.   The first night they were still hard to settle down, but the second night they were fast asleep (or at least too tired to talk above a whisper) by lights out.  That would have meant a good night’s sleep for me, but the cicadas around my tent started at 4am.  I was up and dressed for the day by 4:30.  While that did mean that I had several hours of peaceful alone time (which I desperately needed), it was a bit of a problem when I had finished my book the night before and all the writing material was in Dan’s tent in the boys’ camp.  Contemplation in a sub-tropical rain forest is good for the soul, but I made sure I had a book for the second morning.

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Once again walking with a cane gave me an advantage.  All the mountains in Taiwan are steep so the paths in the camp are also steep and often had rough stone steps with only a rope as a handrail.  I just don’t have firm enough footing to handle those steps.  Fortunately there was a girls’ campsite that was more accessible so I stayed there with the 6th and 7th grade girls while Vickey took the 8th grade girls at the lower camp.  The camp staff took me to the different activity sites by air conditioned car.  I tried to not flaunt my good fortune.

Most of the activities involved rock climbing harnesses and helmets. The kids really became quite skilled at helping each other with the harnesses.

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The students hauled each other up a giant tripod and swung out over the valley, climbed a wall, jumped off a platform on a zipline, walked up a river and jumped off big rocks into swimming holes, went kayaking in the ocean, and even tried their hands at archery (which mostly involved searching over the hill for the arrows that missed the target – there’s some work to do here).

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The food at camp was good and the tents were “roughing it” comfortable (although the electric lights and fan were both disconcerting and welcome).  This amount of living with nature was a stretch for some of these city-raised kids, but they got to the point where they wanted to watch what the big spider did with the moth that flew into its web instead of running away screaming.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s a success.

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Lion’s Head Mountain

(another guest post from Casey)

I spent much of the drive up to Lion’s Head Mountain with my head hanging out of the window like a puppy dog. There is a large temple on the mountain and also beautiful, lush, jungle.

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My dad and I, the half of the expedition without canes, clambered up the tricky, uneven stairs to the top of the temple.

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I kept admonishing the view to ‘stop it’ since everywhere I looked was over the top, ridiculously picturesque: mountains rising up into the haze, colorful dragons on top of orange tiled roofs, flute music wafting through the air, tropical flowers, etc.

 

When I was a small child one of my favorite places ever was a plant conservatory in Vancouver. The air smelled delicious, the humidity would cause strangers to remark on my curly hair (relieving me of the responsibility of insisting that my hair was, in fact, curly in the face of well meaning, “what lovely wavy hair you have” comments), and since the whole place was a relatively small bio-dome, I could wander around by myself in what felt like my own personal jungle. I adored it, and secretly hoped each time we had a vacation that we would go back and visit it again.

With that in mind: the drive up to Lion’s Head Mountain and the surrounding area are a giant, real version of my perfect childhood place. There are even butterflies! My dad, the great naturalist that he is, pointed to a butterfly and said, “I call that one a ‘white butterfly!’” (Please feel free to make fun of him for this.)

There are vendors spaced around the temple selling food, trinkets, walking canes, and musical instruments. I got a little distracted by the musical instruments. I was entranced by the flute music and asked to try one out. The straight flutes were tricky to get a sound out of, so the man selling them handed me a smaller one that played more like a recorder. He tried to teach me to play a scale and started singing solfege syllables to me. Since I speak solfege we had a common language! I wasn’t allowed to leave until I could play “happy birthday” without messing up.

 

Standing on the top of a mountain, surrounded by tropical mist, smelling burning paper, struggling to play an unfamiliar instrument while being patiently taught by a man I share a total of eight common words with.

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Lightheaded and out of breath we continued on trying to figure out if we could snake around the back to get back to my mom and grandma. We were unsuccessful and instead found another flute seller.

 

ETREMELY light headed (I am not a wind instrumentalist) we made our way down the mountain and found the rest of the family.

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