After a long week of orientation, I decided to seek respite from the city center and hike Dakeng Mountain (大坑山), located in Beitun District (北屯區) of Taichung. Dakeng Mountain consists of ten hiking trails, each varying in difficulty and length. Kathleen - a fellow ETA in Taichung - and I took to Trail No. 9, one of the easier trails.
Trails 1-4 are for "advanced" hikers, trail 5 is considered "medium difficulty," and trails 6-10 are better suited for "beginners." Normally, I would opt for trails 1-4, but the humid and warm weather in Taichung convinced me otherwise. I thought that it'd be best for me to acclimate to Taiwan's weather before hiking the more strenuous trails (supposedly there are many gnarly bridges on trails 1-4, such that hikers need to wear gloves as a precaution.)
Kathleen and I departed from our respective apartments - I took bus 68 from 文心昌平路口 to 台電東山所, a 46 minute ride (28 stops). Once we both arrived, we ordered a few refreshing beverages at a roadside shop (two ice cold oolong teas, sugar-free) to curb the heat. We wandered around for a good thirty minutes before we managed to find the hiking trail, but we learned more about the small town nearby! The hiking trail was walking distance from the Dakeng Hot Springs, a popular tourist attraction. Also nearby were multiple shaved ice shops, most notable among them 老芋仔芋圓, a highly popular destination in Taichung. Their logo is a taro root personified as an old man with a white mustache, rice hat, and a pair of gloves and shoes. Their shaved ice is known for its chewy taro balls, often paired with sundry toppings like red beans, green beans, grass jelly, fresh fruit, among others. We didn't have time for shaved ice, but we plan to re-visit soon!
After asking the umpteenth person for directions, we finally managed to find the trailhead. We started our ascent, passing hawkers selling fruit, vegetables, and luffas, among other goods.
As soon as I caught sight of the luffas, I knew I wanted to buy one. A "luffa" (aka loofah) is a vegetable belonging to the Cucurbitaceae (gourd) family. When they are fully developed, they can be used as scrubbing sponges in the bathroom or kitchen. The inside of the fully grown plant contains a fibrous spongy skeleton, pictured below. I bought one fully grown luffa for $90 NTD (approximately $3 USD). The last time I purchased one was in the U.S. at a Georgia state fair, where they cost about $18 USD each. I highly recommend these - they're excellent for showering/bathing!
Past the luffa stand, we approached the first of many staircases. (The trail mostly consisted of long, winding staircases). We quickly realized the toll that the climate had on our athletic performance - while we both consider ourselves physically active back in the States, we found ourselves out of breath, taking short breaks, and sweating profusely. A friendly older couple walking down briskly gave us smiles of encouragement and a thumbs up, saying, jia you! (加油). We continued onward, laughing at our pitiful appearances, huffing and puffing the rest of the way up. Once we reached the top, we took in a lovely view of the city nestled in trees and mountainsides.
More stands lined the scenic view atop the mountain with vendors selling hand towels (for wiping sweat off one's face) and freshly roasted chestnuts (ah, I will never get tired of that smell!) At the top, we noticed that the end of Trail No. 9 branched off into multiple new trails - 6, 7, 8, and 10. We decided to save those for another day and started our descent.
On the way down, we ran into a middle-aged Taiwanese couple holding what appeared to be a dangling dead squirrel by the tail. Horrified, we walked quickly onward, only to see the presumed dead animal suddenly swing upward and scurry up the woman's arm. We approached the couple and asked if we could touch what we now realized was their pet. We then noticed that there were two -- and rather than squirrels, they were Australian sugar gliders. They said yes, and laughed as we eagerly photographed them and pet them. They were so soft!
Once we reached the bottom of the mountain, we caught the bus home, promising one another that we would return soon and attempt to hike all 10 trails before leaving Taiwan next July.