I've not been doing very well in terms of travelling while in Taiwan, I'm sorry to report. A combination of shortage of funds and time, fatigue and lack of confidence in my language abilities have impeded my ability to get around this island as much as I'd like. However, I managed to go some way towards rectifying this last weekend by travelling to Yumen Gate.
Beats the shit out of concrete and fireworks, don't you think?
Yumen Gate is a section of valley in Nantou County, one of the biggest and least densely populated counties in Taiwan. Nestled right in the centre of the country, it's known for its intensely scenic and mountainous terrain. Following a hot tip from a friend of a friend, a group of us teachers and other assorted ex-pats trekked up the winding Taiwanese roads, passing some truly astonishing mountain ranges that looked like they'd been plucked straight from the computer-generated fantasy world depicted in Avatar. The weather was being kind to us: instead of the kind of humid, smoggy haze that hangs over all Taiwanese towns 95% of the time, there was wide blue sky above, slight brushstrokes of cirrus hanging as an afterthought of sorts and the sun beat down with a relentless but pleasantly dry heat soothed by gentle breezes that wafted idly about our faces and necks.
The trip itself was a little over an hour and a half, and without hyperbole was worth the effort in itself. Sadly I wasn't able to take pictures as the greater necessity was making our rendezvous with the other ex-pats. Despite some hiccups we were successful in this, actually beating them there and being able to explore the area at our leisure.
Despite the name, there was no actual gate that we were able to find. What we did find was a beautiful gorge complete with a winding, lazy brook that cut a fantastic course through the rocky terrain, with sparse scrubby greenery we could pick our way through when not hopping over the stepping stones or climbing down damp ropes to get to the waterfall.
Also found this giant-ass spider. Look at that ass. SO BIG. Q_Q
Oh yes, there was a waterfall. A proper twenty-foot jobbie, cascading and churning into a surprisingly narrow bowl below, which was nevertheless rather deep. A secondary waterfall wrapped around a particularly large overhanging rock formation which, conveniently, was positioned in such a way that you could easily jump into its bowl from a height of about sixteen feet. Which people proceeded to do with relish. Personally, I struggled terribly with my fear of heights and wasn't able to do much other than jump off the kiddie rock, a mere eight feet over the bowl, and this after an inordinate, exhaustive and exhausting amount of psyching up by just about everyone else that I'd come with. But let's not dwell on my cowardice.
Let's dwell on this instead. Oooooooooohh...
The serene isolation and staggering spectacle of the gorge, arranged in charmingly stepped bundles and looking more like an excellent imitation by a water park than anything that could exist so perfectly in nature was more than enough to keep me occupied. The water was surprisingly clear and blue, and teeming with tiny freshwater fish that nipped at your toes while you swam in the large pools that extended out from the bowls.
The main waterfall. Only one person actually jumped this. Kid had cojones, got to admit.
The waterfalls themselves were not quite so ferocious as to entirely dissuade one from approaching them. I found that it was possible to get right up and under the main fall, with a suitably concave ledge to balance on. Attempts at carrying the fall on my back proved more taxing than it is depicted in the movies: for one thing, the ledge was a little too far back to be comfortable and my head was under the main cascade rather than my shoulders, meaning I got both a nose and a mouthful of froth any time I attempted to breathe. Oops. But still, it's not every day you get to sit underneath a waterfall.
The brook cut round this large promontory that we spent most of our time on, or jumping off.
All in all, it looked, and felt, exactly like how I imagined things to be when I was reading 'The Beach' by Alex Garland. There was beer, music, carefree company, gorgeous scenery, amazing weather, and aside from the two Taiwanese guys who came down to investigate and do some cliff diving, we were entirely alone. (You should definitely read if you haven't, by the way. I'm avoiding the film because it can't possibly measure up to how awesome the book was. The book was AWESOME.) I will definitely be going back sometime before I leave. Looking at the pictures I did manage to take when I wasn't in the midst of panic attacks from trying to force myself off rocks or completely agog at the sheer splendour of it all, I didn't take nearly enough. And you people deserve better! Also I want to just enjoy the scenery without spending the majority of my time flipping out.
This bowl, upstream, was very popular with families. I imagine because it didn't involve climbing down a cliff face.
While we were travelling to the Gate, we saw signs for several interesting sites. An aboriginal village preserve, and Sun Moon Lake being the two stand-out ones for me. Where should I go next, do you think?