(6/9) Dragons and the Walami Trail

The Dragon Boat Festival

Although the Dragon Boat Festival is a joyous occasion and is celebrated with Zongzi, boat races, and satchels, the history behind the holiday is actually quite sad. The holiday commemorates a man who drowned himself in the river after being accused of crimes he didn’t commit and although his body was never found, the races remind people of the search to find this man. Zongzi, or rice wrapped in leaves, is a traditional food eaten on this holiday. People started eating this because after the man died, people threw rice wrapped in leaves into the river in hopes to occupy the fish and keep them from eating his body. You can read more about it here.


Vegetarian Zongzi given to me at a restaurant in Hualien

However, the mood that I observed on this holiday (Friday 6/7) was anything but somber. In each county in Taiwan, dragon boat races are held. Two teams of 12 or more people compete in a race and the first team to capture the flag wins. In Hualien the races were held at Liyu Lake. A few of my students and friends from Tongmen were competing too so I gathered together a crew of people from Hualien and we headed there to cheer them on. It was a huge celebration! Vendors were selling food and drinks, and tents were set up for each team while they were waiting for their competition time. I wasn’t sure what time my students were competing but I was able to meet up with a friend Taku. He told me he was racing in the early afternoon so we waited for his time.


My friend Taku from Tongmen!

According to Taku, each team raced twice and if they won one of the races they continued on to round 2 on Saturday. He had already lost one race but he still had one more to go. We went down to the lakeside to watch the races. In the boat racers sat two by two facing backwards. In the front of the boat was someone who was leaning over the dragon head to snatch the flag and one person who was drumming to keep a consistent beat that the rowers could follow. We saw several boats capsize! I cheered for one of the teams that I though was one of my students, but it turned out to be my coworker instead. It was an incredibly hot day so we got some frozen drinks and continued to cheer on the teams. When it was time for Taku to race we cheered loudly, but unfortunately he was overtaken by another team. Some teams clearly had practiced may times and were very well organized and took the racing seriously. Others were much more disorganized, but nonetheless looked like they were having a great time.

We ran into one of my students from Fengbin English camp and it was the first time I had ever seen my students outside of school. It was exciting to see her again because we had already had our last Fengbin day and we hadn’t expected to run into her again. We got the opportunity to share with her mother all the hard work that she had done too!

Around noon, we headed home because an ETA from Changhua was coming to hike the Walami Trail with me. It was a really cool experience to see the races and I am grateful to have had to chance to witness this important Taiwanese holiday!

The Walami Trail

Back in December, an ETA told me that one of the most beautiful trails in Taiwan is the Walami Trail in southern Hualien. Unlike the hikes I did in Toroko, this hike was not up in the mountains. It was a trail along a gorge that passed over several suspension bridges and by many impressive waterfalls. So when another ETA from Changhua messaged me and asked if I wanted to go hiking or biking with her in Hualien, I immediately began planning a trip to the Walami Trail.

Like several other famous trails in Hualien, it is quite difficult to acquire a permit if you plan to spend the night on the Walami Trail. We had to make a reservation about a month in advance, especially because we were also planning to use the long weekend of dragon boat festival to hike. Luckily, I was able to secure two of the last camping permits so we were good to go. My friend Rachel would bring her own tent because mine was quite small. I would do my best to find and borrow a camping stove in Hualien so we could have plenty of food to eat.

When the time came for our trip, I admitted to Rachel that I had been unable to find a stove. In turn she told me that the only tent she could find was for 6 people so we both had failed at our missions. Nevertheless, we were still determined to hike and found some food that didn’t need to be cooked. We decided to share my tent and I borrowed a pack from my roommate. Because Rachel didn’t have a backpacking bag, we shared mine and decided to switch off throughout the hike between the larger and smaller bag.


Pre-hiking shopping adventures… finding Bates in Taiwan!

We made our way to Yuli early Saturday morning, and from there took a taxi to the trailhead. Our driver was extremely amused by the size comparison between our bags and even when I insisted that both of our things were in the bigger pack, he still couldn’t stop laughing. It was a beautiful but hot day and before we had even started hiking we were already beginning to sweat. Within the first mile, we crossed a suspension bridge that overlooked a large gorge between the mountains. It was stunning! Clouds speckled the sky but for the most part it was clear and bright blue. We stopped several times to appreciate the views and take pictures. Before too long, we passed a large group on their way up to the midway point of the trail. We began talking to them and when they found out Rachel was from Changhua like them, they suddenly became out new best friends. They gave us 饅頭 (mantou) bread and insisted on taking a group picture. Then, they cheered us on as we continued up the trail.

Before too long we reached the first large stop, a cabin about halfway between the trailhead and the final cabin. There we stopped to refill water and eat a quick lunch. There were many people there and I discovered that this was the turn-around point for people that were just hiking for half a day. While we were there, we saw a weasel running through the woods! When we began hiking again we were in the restricted area of the trail that you could only hike with a permit. From here it was less crowded and we didn’t encounter any other groups until we were close to the cabin. In the last mile or so, we passed a large group of hikers following a guide with an absolutely massive backpack. He started taking photos of us as we passed by but we quickly walked on.

62247794_853323145023566_4443343701518843904_nWhen we arrived to the top, we chose our tent platform and set up the tent. It was sooooo much smaller than I remembered. It was practically a coffin! We both brainstormed ways to fit in the tent and finally determined that the best option was to sleep head to feet and spoon because it was quite tiny. While we were setting up other groups arrived. There was only one other tent group that set up on the platform beside us and everyone else was sleeping in the cabin. We soon discovered that this was not so much camping as it was glamping. There were FLUSHING toilets and a SHOWER (even if it was a hose secured to the edge of the bathroom). We showered and washed off our clothes that were soaked through with sweat, and headed back out to the picnic tables for a relaxing evening.

While we were hanging out at the cabins, the group leader of the large group began preparing their food. Giant bowls and food were emerging from his pack, it was no wonder that the pack was absolutely enormous. Suddenly, the entire group came over to the table. They began asking us a million questions and I struggled to keep up, but my main takeaway was that they were demanding that we eat dinner with them. We assured them that we had our own dinner (some very smushed PB&J sandwiches) but they insisted and so finally we accepted their invitation (because fresh veggies, tofu, fruit, pork, and chicken sure beats the PB&J sandwiches we had planned on eating). The food was delicious and the group graciously encouraged us to eat more. We definitely had not expected to eat this well and we were quite grateful.


While we were eating, the topic of our tent came up in conversation. I overheard snippets of conversation including “It is way too small for two people” and “No way they will be able to sleep!” and finally “They will have to hug all night!” The group was not satisfied with this situation and when they came upon an agreement the group leader turned to us and insisted, “You will sleep in the cabin.” I told him that I knew the cabin was full and it was no problem, we would make it work. My answer seemed to dissatisfy him greatly and he frowned and said, “no, I will sleep outside.” I fervently tried to explain our sleeping plans to him but he was not having it and instead informed me that regardless, he would sleep outside and if one of us didn’t sleep in the cabin there would be an empty spot. When I realized there was no budging this guy, I told Rachel what he had said. She moved her things to the cabin and we thanked our new friend profusely.

We stayed up until 9 watching the stars before heading to sleep. The evening was cool and I slept extremely well in the tent all cuddled in my sleeping bag. I awoke at 3 am to the sound of voices. Confused for a second, I realized it was the guide starting to make breakfast. At 3 am!!! Shocked, I rolled over an fell asleep, only to be woken up a few hours later by the entire cabin noisily eating their breakfast. I overheard our friend talking to Rachel. “Where’s your foreign friend?” he asked. “She’s still sleeping.” “Well go wake her up!” Then, a slight tapping on my tent. I sleepily poked my head out and Rachel told me that it was time for breakfast. I groggily rolled out of bed and made my way to the table. Breakfast was congee and some sweet pickles and it was too early to contemplate eating. It was only 5:30 but already most of the groups were ready to go. We waited another half hour until the last group left the camp. Then, we headed back to bed. A few seconds after I had settled back in the tent, I heard a knock. Rachel told me that the cabin had already been shut down for the morning! She asked if she could sneak into my tent so we got to cuddle for a few hours (for the record, it really wasn’t so bad and we didn’t even have to spoon! Everyone was just overreacting).

We got up around 8:30 and made some cereal with powdered milk for breakfast. Then we were on our way. The hike down went by much more quickly than the hike up. We hadn’t realized how much we had been going up on the way! We reached the halfway point just before noon and waited for some Hualien ETAs where were planning to meet us there. The timing was near perfect and they showed up just a few minutes later with an incredible spread of cheese, bread, cookies, and fruit. After lunch, we headed back down across the bridges and back to the trailhead. It was once again a beautiful day and we spent the rest of the hike sharing stories of our separate hiking adventures and snapping photos. When we got back I called us a cab and we headed to the train station. Since it was dragon boat festival weekend the tickets were sold out and we only had standing room, which is usually fine, But this time the train was absolutely packed and we barely squished into the cabin with many other seatless travelers. Although the ride was only about an hour it felt much longer and it didn’t help that we were next to the bathrooms that reeked.img_4059

Despite the uncomfortable ride, we made it back in one piece. I had to say goodby to Rachel knowing  probably wouldn’t see her again in Taiwan, but made plans to meet up in Japan because we would both be in Tokyo at the same time. Dragon Boat Festival Weekend did not disappoint and once again I enjoyed an adventurous weekend in Taiwan with great friends, beautiful views, and friendly strangers, several of the things I will miss most about Taiwan when I leave in the next few weeks.

1 thought on “(6/9) Dragons and the Walami Trail

  1. Pingback: Saying Goodbye: Part 1 | Becca's ETA adventures in Taiwan

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