the underrated beauty of taiwan

Formosa: It’s a name I previously often associated with termites after hearing about problems with wood frame homes in Southeast Louisiana. NOT GOOD. But in old American encyclopedias, you can see what is now called “Taiwan” listed as “Formosa.”

These are words used to describe the same place, in effect, with “Formosa” described in-country as its “popular name.” Formosa meant “beautiful island” and was given by Portuguese sailors who passed near the beginning of Taroko Gorge, near the city of Hualien on Taiwan’s east coast. There, they saw two mountain ranges meeting near the Philippine Sea, with tall mountain peaks stretching to the horizon.

Our Fulbright-Hays faculty group did not get as good of a view as the Portuguese sailors on the day we toured and hiked at Toroko National Park. Even so, we saw plenty to evoke awe and wonder in us there, and throughout the island. Then I saw even more beauty in Taiwan when visiting Green Island, a small island off the east coast.

But I had already seen enough stunning natural wonders to make a banner trip by the trip’s halfway point, starting with Yangmingshan National Park near Taipei. I went with a group of seven other faculty to this park, known for its geothermal activity, lush green hills, water buffalo, agricultural tourism spots nearby, hiking trails, and much else. I lucked out on my first day in a national park in Taiwan by getting a shot of the water buffalo, who were busy wallowing in mud, as they are wont to do.

Yangmingshan National Park

Taiwan is unusual, however, in that most of its landmass is dominated by mountains, including some of the highest peaks in the Pacific Asia region, the highest outside of the Himalayas, and other far interior ranges of the Asian continent. Then, the main island is still crossed by the Tropic of Cancer, making for high natural drama.

Among the places we saw near the tropical line were vastly cooler places, temperature-wise, than Taipei. These included the sparklingly gorgeous Sun Moon Lake and Alishan National Scenic Area, located after a high point where tropical greenery on winding, steep roads fully gives way to increasing conifers.

Photos of both places are shown below, along with shots from Taroko Gorge, Hualien, and Green Island. The map at right shows all photo locations.

One interesting fact I learned in lectures: Japanese government people thought that, in taking over the island as a colony in the late 19th Century, they would claim a tropical island. They found mountains with snowy peaks in winter instead. It was not a sugar or pineapple plantation-intensive kind of place (although pineapples are still grown in Taiwan and exported to Japan), particularly.

However, if I start writing about that sort of history again, I would have to include some shots of cities and cultural life. That will come in one final post. Or maybe final? Probably final.