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Forests

Golden Birds Paradise 金鳥海族樂園

Ersatz forest at Golden Birds Paradise
The gutted remains of the aquarium at Golden Birds Paradise obscured by an obviously fake forest.

Not long after returning to Taiwan 台灣 last year I received an invitation from the ubiquitous Mr. LoveGod to go road tripping down to Hsinchu 新竹 to check out an abandoned theme park. Along the way we stopped off to check out a derelict cablecar station and the restored Héxìng Station 合興車站 before arriving at the gateway to Golden Birds Paradise 金鳥海族樂園. Located in the rolling hills of Hsinchu 新竹 not far from the border Taoyuan, it was among the most extensive and well-known theme parks of northern Taiwan 台灣 at its peak in the 1990s. Business faltered with the rise of new forms of entertainment in the 2000s and from what I can tell it was completely abandoned nearly a decade ago. Most of the amusement park rides were torn out and probably sold for scrap metal long ago—but many of the original buildings remain, neglected and overgrown.

Nantou’s Misty Lotus Forest 忘憂森林

Into the misty mountains
Into the misty mountains we go…

Collected here are a series of dreamlike photos from a road trip into the misty mountains of Lugu 鹿谷 in Nantou, central Taiwan 台灣. I undertook this trip with a friend in July 2014. Our goal was the Lotus Forest 忘憂森林 (pinyin: Wàngyōu Sēnlín), also known as the Misty Forest 迷霧森林, a high mountain bog formed in the aftermath of the catastrophic 921 earthquake when a landslide altered drainage patterns, forming a small lake and drowning part of the existing forest. At an elevation somewhere close to 2,000 meters, the Lotus Forest is often shrouded in thick fog, imbuing it with an eerie mystique that attracts Taiwanese people from all over the island.

Into The Misty Mountains of Lugu

The misty mountains of Lugu
Into the misty mountains of central Nantou County.

Today I went out for a brief motorbike excursion along highway 151 in Lugu 鹿谷, a mountain township on the south side of the Zhoushui River 濁水溪 in Nantou, the geographic center of Taiwan 台灣. It was bright and sunny down by the wide gravelly river but cool and misty up in the bamboo and red cedar forest. I should have packed an umbrella for the mist eventually turned to rain—but for I didn’t mind getting a little wet, the scenery was worth it. Coming down out of the clouds was particularly unreal with visibility of only a few meters and 15 kilometers of winding mountain switchbacks to navigate before returning to civilization. That’s one of the beautiful things about Taiwan: as long as you have the mountains nearby it isn’t long before you can truly lose yourself in nature.

Road to Nowhere

Here the road ends
A real cliffhanger. There is nothing beyond this point.

Sometimes when you set out to explore the edge of the map you don’t find much of anything at all. Such was the result when I set out for Wulai 烏來 one day in March. I had hoped to cycle up to the half-abandoned theme park above the falls by way of the service roads on the back of the mountain. Along the way I took a wrong turn and soon found myself on a road to nowhere. When it ended I staggered off my bicycle in disbelief—I hadn’t expected the road to simply end. I peered over the edge and saw nothing but a vast expanse of wilderness. What was this road even doing here? Had it ever gone somewhere?

Doubling back I found the turn-off I had missed. It was a hard gravel road, too rough for me to handle with the equipment I had on hand. With my light running out I decided to call it quits. Not every adventure ends in success. Times like this you have to take what pleasure you can from simply trying something out.

No one shall be alone in the afterlife

Nobody’s ancestors
Grave markers in Okonuin for those who died without friends or family.

One of the more haunting sights in the cemetery outside Okunoin 奥の院 in Koyasan 高野山 are piles of unmarked gravestones, purportedly belonging to those who died without friends or family. It is strange to think that in death they may find more closeness than they did in life. You may notice several of the markers are wrapped in cloth, knitted caps, and bibs, a custom meant to draw the attention of the bodhisattva Jizo, guardian of children.

Maokong sunset

Maokong mountain sunset
Sunset over Taipei from the Maokong mountain cable cars.

I captured this photo from a glass-bottomed cable car soaring high above the treetops on the way to Maokong 貓空 in Wenshan District 文山區. When I first came to Taiwan 台灣 in early 2013 I was amazed to see a cable car route integrated into the Taipei 台北 public transit system. I have a boyish fascination with different modes of transportation so I just had to go take a ride. Due to circumstances beyond my control I arrived a little late in the afternoon—but this view of a buttercream sunset over Taipei made it all worthwhile.