Couch surfing is a website that connects travelers who need a bed with people who have a spare bedroom (or couch as the case might be) all without the exchange of a single penny. This was the second time we had couch surfers to stay, and we met two exceptionally lovely students from Taichung called Liang and Hannah.
They were, like most Taiwanese people, perfectly polite and handled conversation with an almost instinctive ease. They were attempting to hitchhike around the island, exploring beautiful and isolated places as they went. In Yilan the destination was the the little-known Song Luo park, and our adventure began when the morning downpour started to lessen.
As soon as the rain slowed and glimmers of blue could be seen, we set out down the road with our thumbs held high, and our umbrellas held higher. I was certain we would get nowhere as the four of us trudged soddenly down the road, but thankfully the kindness of (Taiwanese) strangers is not to be underestimated, and to my appreciative astonishment we were quickly picked up!
Our saviours were two middle-aged lovebirds named Jimmy and Penny, who were so taken by Hannah’s description of Song Luo that they decided to abandon their own plan to visit Meihua lake, and instead join us for the trip – even offering to return us to Luodong after the hike! The rain gods were smiling on us too, and as we approached the mountain range, a smattering of golden rays broke through the clouds. Urban dwellings slowly dwindled in number and were replaced with the odd rural settlement. Petrol fumes gave way to the distinctive fragrance of Yilan’s famed green onions, and then the unique smell of aboriginal-syle pork, cooking on open grills. Even the air felt different, liberated perhaps, by distant anguine mountain peaks.
The park itself, like much of Taiwan’s east coast, had a distinctive Jurassic feel, a mood enhanced by the rolling mists, ancient looking ferns, and rope bridges over thunderous rivers. We were, in the end, defeated by encroaching darkness, and had to return before completing the hike. But the adventure wasn’t quite at an end. As we neared the trailhead, we were met by a group of aboriginal Taiwanese, who warned us that the morning rain had disturbed dangerous snakes! It was judged unsafe to proceed in the darkness by foot, so this time it was Jimmy and Penny who had to hitch a lift with the aboriginals to get safely to their car. In no time, they returned with their vehicle, and we waved goodbye to our acquaintances and bundled in.
The final trundle down the country road was exciting – an army of frogs were caught in the headlights, and hopped with some urgency off into the jungle as we rumbled towards them. We were keen to see the snakes from safety, and sure enough, I spotted one just as we were within sight of the entrance! It was as long as my arm, but unfortunately as flat as a pancake, and the tread-marks on its back suggested it wasn’t much threat to anyone at all, frog or human!
Update: We returned to the same area twice over the next two weekends, but were unable to complete the hike on both occasions. The first time we got lost en route, but lucked out on finding a brilliant hike that I’ll mark on the Google map. The second time we were rudely interrupted by super-monster typhoon Usagi, and a few minor rock slides and fallen trees were enough to convince us that home was better than hiking for that weekend!