Even just typing the title of this blog post makes me feel exhausted! Yesterday (Sunday) I went hiking with my Taiwanese host family at Dongmao Mountain, located in Guguan Township, Taichung. Guguan is in a valley surrounded by mountains, aka The Seven Heroes (谷關七雄). Although the seven trails can individually be hiked in a half-day, Mt. Baxian is the highest (2,366m) and most difficult of the seven. Dongmao Mountain falls somewhere in the middle, with a height just under 1,700m.
First off, let me explain the host family part. As of this year, all of the Taichung ETAs have host families. While we don't live with them - which is what one might regard as the defining characteristic of a host family - we do meet with them once or twice a month. In previous years, there weren't any host families assigned to Taichung ETAs, so we're considered the guinea pigs.
In terms of the selection process and matching of the host families and ETAs, I'm pretty much completely in the dark. Most of the work was done by the wonderful Dean Min of Shang Shih Elementary School (上石國小). All we know is that Dean Min was flooded with a ton of applications from hopeful host families. I'm not sure how much time it took to collect, review, and select from all the applications, but knowing how diligently she works, I'm sure she downplayed how difficult the task actually was.
In any case, I think Dean Min truly worked her magic in the host family assignments, because I've heard so many positive things from fellow ETA's experiences with their host families. For example, I know that one of the ETAs was assigned to a host family with one French parent, which is fitting because she happens to speak French!
About one month ago, we were paired with our host families at Shang Shih, where we attend workshops every two weeks on Wednesday afternoons. On that day, I met one of the members of my host family, Sylvia, and we exchanged contact info via LINE, a messaging app that basically everyone in Taiwan with a pulse uses.
Pictured above are all of the ETAs with members of our host families at the "big reveal!"
I have a lot in common with my host family: they live close to Fengyuan District (what I call home), love the outdoors (hiking, rock climbing, skiing, etc.), all things tea, and are pretty serious world travelers (they've been to Germany, Sweden, China, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, Mexico, and even the U.S.) They're also Couchsurfing hosts, so they often have guests from all over the world come to stay in their home. I couldn't be happier with my host family -- they are generous, open-minded, intrepid, and positive people.
From left to right: Sylvia works at a charity that provides social welfare for the elderly. Her husband is a high school chemistry teacher. Their youngest, Joshua (11 years old), is in robotics club, ping-pong club, and plays the flute on weekends. Their daughter, Euna (14 years old), ironically doesn't enjoy hiking but likes badminton and playing outside.
On Sunday morning, I drove via scooter to the Dongshi bus station (a halfway point between Fengyuan and Dongmao Mountain) to meet my host family at precisely 7:30AM (for those who know me, it's a rarity for me to wake up this early on weekends). I parked my scooter and we all headed towards Dongmao Mountain. A 50-minute car drive and 7-Eleven pit stop later, we made it to the parking lot next to a temple called 谷關大道院.
From the parking lot to the trail-head is a 1.1km hike.
Above is a speckled sunlight view of the Dongmao Mountain trailhead 東卯山步道 (see the sign on the right). The signs on the left warn visitors to beware of bears and poisonous bees (小心毒蜂). For someone who has a fear of bees, you could say I was feeling a tad anxious at the thought of being stung by poisonous bees in the middle of a 7.5 hour-long hike without cellphone service.
The Dongmao Mountain trail is a 6km ascent with many switchbacks, although you can cut down on the time by taking short-cuts. Joshua was dubbed our official "short-cut finder," as we followed his lead climbing up winding short-cuts laced with thick tree roots, slippery rocks, and autumnal foliage. Joshua would announce a new short-cut discovery by shouting, "onemore short-cut!," despite the fact that we took many, many short-cuts.
Below is Joshua at the top of another short-cut showing off his water bottle.
Probably a beehive for those poisonous bees the sign was warning about.
The incline gets steadily steeper, so it's not excessively strenuous. We made it to the top with just one snack break (see below).
The trail was heavily shaded, so it was a comfortable hike up the trail. The peak of the mountain is 1,692m.
Near the peak, there's a rock you need to climb up using a rope. The cliff face had gorgeous rocks!
At the top, we enjoyed some vegetarian fantuan, or "rice rolls" (飯糰), which was heavenly!
My host dad (far left) hilariously lugged a bottle of wine up the mountain in his backpack, which he popped open at the top and shared with three strangers he met. The others were prepared with gas stoves, cups, and cooking-ware, but my host dad simply used his empty plastic water bottle as a container (love it).
Once we got to the very top, we took a group photo. It was such a great feeling to have finally made it!
Around 2:00PM, we started our descent. This was actually a bit late for us to begin the descent, as it took us about 3.5 hours to hike up. The sun sets just after 5:00PM around this time of the year (there's no DST).
I took some more pictures around the "golden hour" below.
We reached the temple next to to the parking lot just as it was starting to get dark, our stomachs growling and bladders nearly ready to burst! The temple conveniently has clean bathrooms, free water, and even a dining hall.
The view from the entrance of the temple.
Some beautiful bonsai trees lining the perimeter.
The temple provides free lunch and dinner 7 days/week, although it's understood that one should give donations if eating in the dining hall.
There was a delicious assortment of vegetarian food: potato and vegetable curry, steamed veggies, stir-fried tofu, bamboo shoots, egg, and a tomato vegetable soup.
I stuffed my bowl completely full -- I was ravenous!
We left the dining hall around 6:00PM and drove back to Dongshi. I was knocked out from exhaustion in the car, but woke up when we arrived in Dongshi to drive my scooter back to Fengyuan (just under 30 minutes). It took all the strength in me to refrain from falling asleep immediately after getting home.
All in all, it was a memorable hiking experience and I'm now looking forward to many more like it! Before I return to the U.S., I hope to hike the famous Jade Mountain (玉山), the highest mountain in Taiwan and the fourth tallest mountain on an island (at 3,952m, it even surpasses the height of Mt. Fuji!).