Next:The mountains-Tapei to Fushan/Atayal tribe

Trip Start Nov 06, 2006
Trip End Dec 31, 2008

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Flag of Taiwan  ,
Saturday, March 31, 2007

Route: Shindian - Wulai - Fushan
Total Distance: 26 km
Altitude up: 450m

I am leaving on this Saturday, generally not my favored time due to higher tourist numbers, but because a friend wants to join the trail hike on Sunday, that's what I do.

I walk to Roosevelt Road and take the bus direction Wulai. Important: I have dumped my sport shoes, the ones which are not made for walking, and I am now wearing my old New Balance sport shoes. This should do the trick and I hope not to repeat my blister experience.

Turning a few km into No.9 side road I get off the bus and begin walking to Fushan. I forgot to mention that I will meet Wallace, a retired engineer and now hobby English and Chinese teacher, in Wulai - later more. When I so walk along the road a car honks - many cars honk in a friendly and encouraging tone -, but this one comes to a stop. A woman gets out of the car and comes towards me. She says " Hello Mong Shengshen " ( Mr. Mong ) and I recognize her. She is a former collegue if mine, Nico, and I am glad to see her. She comes here with her husband and friends to Wulai for bird watching.She finds it very interesting what I do and she understands when I reject her offer to take a ride. I say hello to everyone in the car and then continue my walk. Seems today will not be a lonely day. I then switch over to the other side of the river by crossing an old suspension bridge, away from the road to a trail, also a former small logging railway line. It is a nice walk beside the river and views on the hotspring hotels in and before Wulai.

I go through Wulai's lower village and visit the Indigenous museum of the Atayal tribe. The staff is very friendly and gives me some valuable explanation in a mix of Chinese and English .

[ Here is what I learned about the Atayal Tribal Life, Customs and Beliefs:
The Atayal catch carp and ayu, their major protein sources from rivers by arrow shooting, netting and bamboo fish traps. The fishing tools include spears, harpoons, bows, arrows, hooks, nets, traps and barters.
Harvest Ceremony
Before harvesting, the person responsible for the ceremony has to talk to the ritual group and pick a good day for the ceremony. At dawn of the chosen day he picks a few oars of miller, sticks them into the reef of his storage shed and goes home. He shall not meet anyone on his way.
Sowing Ceremony
Before sowing the responsible person prepares a field near his home, sows some seeds and then buries some meal and sprinkles wine on offerings.
Firing Fields

When all the cleared vegetation has dried, cut a fire lane around the field and set the dried vegetation on fire, making sure the wind will not stir up the flow-ashes, which are used as a natural fertilizer.
Clearing Land
Select a good plot of land for plowing and then clear all the vegetation.
Preparing Land

Collect and pile up in rows all the vegetation left by the fire. Then stack stones next to the rows to keep the soil from being washed away.
Head Hunting

To the Atayals, head-hunting is a custom passed down through generations to strengthen the power of their ancestors. It is believed that the sprits of the beheaded will protect the head-hunters by joining their ancestral spirits. In addition to being a means of acquitting blessings from supernatural power, hunting heads is also a guarantee of entering the world of ancestral spirits after death. Head-hunting is usually conducted irregularly and on a small scale. Compared to the large-scaled modern wars between nations, is head-hunting more brutal? (  A question raised by the museum ).
Spirit Mediums
The Atayal tribe usually ascribes disasters or diseases to ancestors' mischief and seek help from spirit mediums, who divine the causes of the problems and provide solutions or treatment. Most of the Atayal spirit mediums are females, except in Wulai, where it is possible to find wizards. The divination tool is a thin bamboo stick of 6 centimeters. On one end is tied a hemp thread of similar length to which is attached a pottery bead. To divine, the medium uses her (or his) legs or toes to grasp the stick, puts the pottery bead on the stick, and then recites all the possible causes. The pottery bead stops rolling on the stick when the right cause is mentioned. Afterwards, the medium uses the same method to ask ancestral spirits more questions, such as whether a patient is curable, what treatment should be provided, etc. She/ He then follows the instructions given by the ancestral spirits to heal patients or solve problems.
Death Spirits
The Atayals believe that after death people will live in the world of spirits, where life is the same as that of the living. The world of spirits is surrounded by a great river. And the soul of the dead has to cross a bridge. However, those who do not obey the ancestors' teachings while alive are not allowed to cross the bridge. They will keep wandering outside the world of spirits and never rest. The souls of head-hunted enemies and hunted animals will follow the soul of their master - the warrior who kills them - to the world of the spirits after the warrior dies. The more followers a dead person has, the more prestigious he looks, and the more passionately the ancestral spirits might greet him. As for women, their diligence in farming and weaving as well as chastity will ensure them a successful entrance into the world of spirits. In the past, the Atayals dyed the hands of the deceased red before burial because the red hands of a dead man suggest that he hunted many heads and animals, while the red hands of a woman imply that she wove diligently and used a great deal of red dye.
The Highest Customary Principles of the Atayals: Ancestor's gaga
The Gaga, the principles taught by ancestors, include customs and moral regulations passed down through generations. One who observes the customs, taboos and ancestors' teachings is granted blessings by ancestral spirits; and, vice versa, one who breaks the gaga will be punished by ancestral spirits. The punishment from ancestral spirits could be a tribe-wide calamity (such as a flood, famine, or an insect plague) or an individual's misfortune. Accidents are usually counted as the consequence of offending ancestral spirits. In such a situation, the chief or the elders of a tribe demand confession from the gaga breaker, who usually admits his guilt to avoid more punishment from ancestral spirits. Those who commit rape, adultery, or larceny can pray to ancestral spirits for forgiveness by presenting pigs.
Facial tattooing is also an old custom from the ancestors. Those who have their faces tattooed are eligible to get married. A person without facial tattoos or with only a forehead tattoo is not an ideal spouse. It is also believed that he or she will be rejected by the world of ancestral spirits after death. Having infected tattoo wounds or blurred and faint tattoo patterns is usually considered to be an ancestral punishment on unchaste young men or women, while a woman with clear and dark tattoos is believed to be chaste. Her parents can ask more betrothal gifts from the groom's family when she marries.]

Wulai is a small village with mainly Atayal tribal population about 20 km south of Taipei nestled in mountains and beside mountain streams. Because of its hot springs many Spa hotels have sprung up, covering everything from
standard to luxury styles. It also has an almost natural hot spring ( some concrete basins ) beside the river - people get hot in the hot spring water basins and cool off by jumping into the cold river. Also here the spa hotels belong mostly to the Han Chinese.

I then go to an outdoor coffee shop to wait for Wallace. He runs a bit late and calls me a few times to tell me where he is. Wallace wants to bring me up to the Yun Shien Resort above the Wulai waterfall which can basically only be reached by the cable car. When we arrive at the base station of the cabel car ( we walked and did not take the small train to get there)  we are greeted by a woman who works for the Resort. Her name is Stefanie and Wallace teaches her English in Wulai. She invites us to the Resort for a free cable car ride. We take some photos in the car and enjoy the great view.  Stefanie shows us around the whole park,  which is really a very natural and beautiful place. It has been an old small fun park, but most of the facilities have been removed as it is not anymore allowed to build in this natural environment. The main facilities are a hotel which has been renovated recently and huts in the forrest, a swimming pool ( only in Summer as the water is from a stream ) and climbing equipment made of wood and ropes. If you want to get away from the city and the humidity and don't want to drive long, this is a nice place to go. In the park Stefanie greets a lady and calls her teacher ( lao she ). She is one of the passengers in car with Nico. So we meet again and a lot of talk begins between everyone. We are also introduced to the President and VP of the Resort and then invited to an excellent ( quality, taste and quantity ) lunch consisting of 2 soups, 3 vegetables, 2 meats ( pork and lamb , 1 fried fish ). Stefany is really friendly and her English is getting even better by the hour.

At about 1:15pm I say good bye and thank you to everyone and walk on the 18 km or so to Fushan. At first I walk on a trail beside the river ( this trail ends at the triple waterfall Wa Wa Gu  - shall have the most health promoting ions of all waterfalls in Taiwan - I feel something, yes I feel younger, rejuvinated ), then I switch back to the road. A group of aboriginies sitting in front of a small store involve me in a conversation. At a police station I have to fill in a registration sheet and pay 10 NT. Don't forget to bring a readable ID document. At 4:30pm I arrive in Fushan village. The village lies at a dead end road in really beautiful scenery, but it seems that efforts to improve the economy through tourism have failed. Basically the homestays are all closed and the village looks a bit run down. I sit down by the river and enjoy the scenery and peace, at least until 3 curious boys ( 5 to 7 years old ) arrive. They ask me one question after the other and then borrow my eye glasses to " read " my English newpaper, which for sure triggered many new questions about the pictures. One boy is very interested in the table with the stock market prices - I consider hiring him as my financial advisor ( can only be better than my own guesses ).

At 5:45pm my friend Jo and his wife Jillian arrive by car. Jillian has brought him here and will return after a break in order not to drive in the dark through the mountains. Jointly we ask at the school for a place to stay. The janitor offers us a class room of primary class students - with mini tables and chairs, except for the reacher. The whole school has only 30 or so students and this class only 6. We pay a fee of 500 NTD for the room ( including TV ) - so if you are many people it gets really cheap - and roll out our insulation mat and sleeping bag. Before sleeping we buy some fried noodles in a small shop, look around the school ground with many aboriginal motives and arts objects. Eating at the small tables on small chairs has to be practiced - as using the mini toilets ( I suppose they have to be so small that the kids don't fall in and get flushed away ). Info: Taiwan features two kinds of toilets, for sitting and squatting. In the villages, don't throw the paper into the toilet, but a basket or bucket for technical and environmental reasons. At 9:30 pm a large hiker group arrives, but luckily get other classrooms . They will leave early next morning for a hike to Bai Cha Tien Shan.

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