Sunday, January 10, 2010

Follow the refreshing trail to Manyueyuan Waterfall before maple leaves disappear

By Nancy T. Lu

Manyueyuan, a name describing the full moon when the orb in the night sky is at its most round, is how a mountain and a national forest recreation area in Sanxia, Taipei County, is called.

Manyueyuan Mountain is located in the southeast side of the forest recreation area being administered by the Council of Agriculture’s Forestry Bureau.

Loggers during the Japanese colonial days in Taiwan ventured into the not very accessible hinterland for a long haul. They spent long days felling the big trees and bringing them out using the manually-pulled railcars. During many lonely nights away from loved ones, they looked at the full moon and dreamed about family reunion.

The pristine and lush timberland of the distant past no longer exists in Manyueyuan. Forests which once witnessed Atayal aboriginal hunters chasing wild animal prey and lumbermen chopping down the giant trees for transport to Sanxia Town have long disappeared. But the reforestation effort undertaken under Japanese supervision included the planting of Japanese cedar trees on a massive scale on the slopes and along the creek of Manyueyuan.

The hiking path from the entrance of the Manyueyuan National Forest Recreation Area follows the meandering Ruizai Creek. This boulder-strewn main waterway at Manyueyuan is an upstream branch of the Tamsui River. From time to time, lush vegetation and foliage hide it from view. Hikers hear only the bubbling water. In broad daylight, however, darting silver streaks in the running water indicate the presence of the “kuhua.” The fish usually appreciated at the dining table breeds and thrives only in unpolluted water.

Manyueyuan is nowadays seeing the last of its red maple leaves dropping to the ground. Flaming color splashes in some parts of this ecologically protected site are like the last hurrahs of the season.

Verdure in Manyueyuan is a refreshing sight to behold. Rainfall is adequate. So vegetation grows without problem. Giant and wild nest ferns spread out beautifully like fans. The “bitongshu” fern variety growing near the stream has a trunk tapped to build an improvised bridge over a gully in the past. Meanwhile the enormous green leaves of a tuber crop called “kupoyu” greet passersby from time to time. In the olden days, these green outgrowths conveniently became umbrellas when workers got caught in a sudden downpour. Early Hakka settlers in Hsinchu used them to wrap meat and fish. But secretion from the leaves is said to be poisonous. At the same time it is an effective antidote against a hornet’s sting.

The volunteer guide from a pool of about 123 is trained to identify the trees in Manyueyuan’s protected 90 hectares. Barks and leaves provide interesting points of reference.

Signs along the footpath point to the amphibian and bird species likely to be spotted in Manyueyuan. Frog species vary. Some are like chameleons capable of changing colors and blending with the natural surroundings..Tadpoles in the water may suddenly spread out in panic due to the approach of a hungry snake.

Hundred-pace snakes used to be very common in the wooded area. But the deadly reptile as a favorite catch due to its high price in the market did not breed fast enough to meet the market demand. In due time, this hunted species became very rare. Other crawling snakes, however, can nowadays still be encountered though.

In the olden days, too, those who went into the forests also ran into blood-sucking leeches in the wet grass. Camphor oil was applied as a deterrent against attacks by the worms normally attracted by human body heat.

Marker along the way also identifies the colorful birds lured to Manyueyuan during their annual migration period. Butterflies to fill a lepidopterist’s dream collection of winged insects also arrive in spring. Orange and tangerine orchards in Sanxia encourage their breeding. The butterflies love the fragrant leaves on these trees. Bamboo shoots are also abundant in Sanxia.

Regarding flowers in the forests, a begonia variety growing in Manyueyuan boasts a 4-petal male or staminate flower and a five-petal female or pistillate flower. The “dayenan” tree is covered with pink buds in spring.

The round peak sighted while hiking is not Manyueyian Mountain with an altitude of 872 meters. Another mountain similarly round at the top blocks the real Manyueyuan summit from view.

The invigorating fresh air makes the huffing and puffing while trying to trek to the Virgin Waterfall and the Manyueyuan Waterfall worthwhile. Failure to reach at least the Manyueyuan Waterfall’s viewing pavilion is bound to result in eternal regret.

Even those who are used to a sedentary lifestyle are not physically challenged very much by the stretch requiring negotiation on foot. The visitors in the waterfall zone can breathe in a high concentration of phytoncide to soothe both soul and mind. They can take in and appreciate anionized air.

Take a rest at a station along the way to rebuild strength and stamina. Recovery is fast for the terrain is not very steep. Sip ginger tea to ward off the cold.

After a morning of hiking in the Manyueyuan National Forest Recreation Area, enjoy a hearty lunch of trout and bamboo shoots nearby. Check out a sturgeon breeding center. Then proceed to a Sanxia dyeing workshop for a do-it-yourself dyeing art experience.

Entrance ticket to Manyueyuan National Forest Recreation Area (tel.02-26720004) costs NT$100. For more tour information, try tel (03-5224163). Visit website when seeking guiding service.

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