Sunday, March 01, 2015

Biking to Laochijia Slate Village

Deep into the mountain heart of Pingtung we rode on Friday, to visit the Paiwan village of Laochijia (老七佳), a slate house village which, our guide told us, Taiwan was trying to get listed as a world heritage site. Click on READ MORE....

ROUTE TIPS: Here is the Google Maps link. Laochijia is in the center, the gray buildings, in Chunerh ("spring sun") Township. PROTIP: If you just bash 老七佳 into Google it takes you to the wrong place. To get to Laochiajia, you have to follow the Pingtung 132 east from either the 1 or the 185. We assembled at Lili Elementary on the 132 here. There is a 7-11 for snacks and stuff nearby. Follow the 132 out of town. As it curves along the river, it will descend into the riverbed and become a couple of kilometers of gravel, criss-crossing the river, quite fun. When you reach the red suspension bridge, go up on the left (east) side of the bridge, up the very steep slope. This begins 3 kms or so of brutal switchbacks, few dipping below 10% and several about 20. This is a concreted surface. The concrete stops about 1.5 kms before Laochiajia, and then you are on rutted dirt/rock surface. That will end in the parking lot, which seems to be the only place in Laochijia where you can get 3G service. There is no electricity in Laochijia, and no food, so you have to bring your own. You'll need a bike with tires for all the different surfaces, and good gearing for the tough climb to Laochijia. Allow about two hours with rests and photos.

For me the trip started in Fangliao, where I overnighted. I snapped this heron looking a bit disconcerted by the slim pickings in the canal. Everywhere in the south, waterways are dry. The drought has really gripped Taiwan.

I met them at the corner of the 1 and 132. The 132 is not signed coming up from the south. It is easy to find, however, being in the middle of the wide area of the 1 designated as an emergency runway. For a bike, as you can see, I brought my daughter's old Giant hybrid. I threw on some Continental Travel Contact tires, 1.75 inches wide, which turned out to be perfect tires for this ride, wide and reassuringly stable and tough. Unfortunately the rear gear setup wasn't appropriate for the hill climb.

Pingtung is a center of pineapple production.

We left the vehicles by Lili elementary school in Chunerh Township. There were 13 of us on this ride. I felt it was too large a group for on-time starts and easy decision-making. They were all far more powerful and experienced riders than myself, and great fun to hang out with.

I imaged this mayfly larva mystery bug. Spring is here, bugs everywhere now.

From the school, follow the main road out to the right.

Assembling in front of the gate by the bridge for a group photo.

The 132 rolls along the Lili River until just past this bridge in the photo...

Iris organized someone to lead the expedition, and he brought this fellow, Oliver Chu, to assist. Boisterous and a passionate photographer, he was lots of fun.

Trucks sourcing gravel, the lifeblood of Taiwan's construction-industrial state-based domestic political economy.

We finally descended down to the riverbed. The 132 was washed away by Morakot when the river rose over six meters and so the riverbed must be used as the road. It is sobering to see the damage along the river. A reminder that the region has not normalized, but simply receded to a lower, less developed normal in the wake of the massive 2009 typhoon.

The riverbed gravel road crosses the river several times. I had never ridden a ride like this before, so I attacked everything in the best you're-doing-it-wrong style.

On the right a pylon from a suspension bridge destroyed by Morakot still stands.

Following the gray gravel road.

Another river crossing.

Heading off. The group was all people a little older than I was, who were experienced, powerful riders.

Our guide points the way.

Iris, our leader, crosses the river. She's from nearby. Half-Paiwan, she seemed to know everyone.

I got out in front to enjoy some alone time. Here I am resting just before the red bridge.

The red bridge from below. The remaining section of the 132 there is usable and you can ride up to the bridge on it.

The group arrives.

Below the bridge and to the left you can see the road heading up at a steep angle. Here the switchbacks begin.

Surmounting a switchback.

Iris stands with Haoyu, our guide (blue) and the professional guide to Laochijia (center).

Oliver gets an image.

Too tough for me, I walked much of this section. My hips and feet were already in severe pain.

Taking a break in a flat area.

The switchbacks were vegetated and views were few and far between, but nice when you had them.

Iris grabs a picture. The road surface is covered with sticks, dirt, and rocks. Not fun on the descent. At this point in the ride, one of us had a tire explode, something I had never seen happen before. The tire? The hilariously-named Maxxis Detonator.

Laochijia is at 1100 meters or so, surrounded by mountains. Lovely.

About 100 meters from Laochijia you'll hit this sign telling you about the village. Note the road surface.

We left our bikes in the parking lot. The guide warned us that we should take our valuables. I left my cheap farmers gloves on the bike, only to find they had disappeared when I got back. Finally I found them. Someone had borrowed them, and left them somewhere else...

Then we entered Laochiajia.

Walking into the village.

Setting up lunch. Which included fatty pork, a delicious food that is clear evidence that there is a god.

Everybody photographed everything.

The village rises up the hillside, very defensible.

A local shaman gave us her blessing.

Oliver gets a shot.

Lunch. Was great.

We hung out in the village until 3, which i felt was too late, but we got back much faster than I thought we would.

Lots of pretty bugs out...

I wandered all over, getting some alone time.

A large house.

A large slab used as a support.

Each house had large stones placed at the apex of the roof.

This lizard figured I couldn't see him if he froze.

A gorgeous backdrop.

The road out of the village.

The Lili River gorge.

The guide was really good, dramatic and knowledgeable. And yet, I finally figured out why I hate tour guides. Listening to him, I realized I wanted to have my experience of the village, with all its mysteries and misunderstandings, all to myself, but he kept trying to substitute his experience of the village for mine. Knowledge did not increase enjoyment for me.


Posing in the village.


Observing the giant slabs.

Pieces of bone plus a bag were tied to many supports.

Bees are easy to photograph, but still beautiful.

Finally we headed back to Lili elementary. The descent back down the switchbacks took about 15 nerve wracking minutes.

Crossing the suspension bridge.

Iris heads home.

Rolling down the gravel.

Iris, always ready to pose. She's one of the sweetest, funniest people I know.

A group of local boys turned this temporary weir into a swimming pool.

Taking the dog for a run.

We went back to Iris' house in Lungchuan where her mother stuffed us with good home cooking. Culinary experience: 3 Cups Flying Squirrel was served. I crashed at Iris' house, everyone else slept in this great bed and breakfast in Linali village. It was $800 a night, and the breakfast was seriously huge.

We drove up to Sandimen right away and parked at the township office by the police station, where you can park for free. Get there early, it fills up fast. Our goal: to ride to the end of the 24 to Ali.

The 24 is a great road, all new pavement now in the wake of Morakot repairs.
Great views. If you are in this area, don't miss this road.

The group climbs. Unfortunately just past this point, I had to bag it. Too much pain to go on. The hip flexor I hurt last year has returned, and I will likely need another month's rest. So frustrating with the good spring weather coming.

I went back to Sandimen town, limped down to the new 7-11 for second breakfast, which consisted of fatty pork and coffee. Was delicious. Once everyone found I could speak Chinese, they all asked if I was married or had a girlfriend. Had I been so inclined, I could have come down off that mountain with several large wives strongly in need of an orthodontist.

As I waited hours for the group to return, I enjoyed a third breakfast of fatty pork and onions, washed down with a Taiwan beer.

There was a wedding nearby, and the relatives were dressed to the nines. I had lunch, which happened to be fatty pork and onions, washed down with tea. Probably lucky for the local pig population I wasn't sticking around for the afternoon.

Finally we stopped at a famous local restaurant for a late lunch. Culinary highlight: ostrich and betel nut flowers were served.

Finally, we headed back to Taichung, stopping briefly at a nearby waterfall for a hike. It had been a great trip, and I deeply thank Iris for organizing it.
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les said...

Small world. I've known Oliver for years. Good guy, very helpful and enthusiastic.

Anonymous said...

A few comparison photos can be found here and here.

Thanks MT. Nice work.