Out of Taichung, we drove into the looming escarpment of mountains that runs through Taiwan, lush and wild and filled with cedar forests, subtropical ferns and palm plantations, plunging waterfalls and craggy valleys. We whizzed past on a new freeway, where Buddhas and Beggar Gods sat outsized on the hilltops, and into an enveloping mist. Vapour spread up in great plumes from the forested slopes, mingling with the clouds already swirling at the mountain tops. The road wound up the hillsides, through valleys of oddly sheer cliffs, like a geological cross section, across swiftly flowing rivers on bright red painted bridges and through covered passageways clinging to the cliff edges, protected from falling rocks from above.
The first stop was a kind of local sheep farm theme park, apparently much loved by visiting Hong Kong tourists, where you can see shearing and equestrian shows and pat flocks of novel (for many Asian people) sheep. When we were there though the mist and the rain lent the whole enterprise a pleasantly melancholy air, with sheep appearing and vanishing again into a whiteness that covered everything like a woolen cloak.
Continuing along increasingly jaw-dropping roads, below which lakes glimmered in the valleys and waterfalls thundered down distant slopes, we reached Lushan, a little hot spring town. We got out to swim in a 1970s hot spring hotel (where the owner immediately assumed we were there to have sex and enthusiastically ushered us in), and crossed the town’s swinging suspension bridge for lunch of delicious locally-caught fish at a restaurant beside the raging mountain river.
By the time we got to our intended destination, Sun Moon Lake, the rain that had been threatening all day was coming down in buckets, the famously beautiful lake was barely visible and we gave up all hope of the cycling trip we had been hoping for.
Still, I had been satisfied with my wonderful day in the mountains.