【Treasure hunters】A Journey into the Woods/by Flavio Alexander Noriega Pacaya

My Days Immersed in Taiwan’s Hidden Treasures
My Days Immersed in Taiwan’s Hidden Treasures
Stuck indoors? Since I was a child I have enjoyed being in nature, playing in the river, going to the rainforest, understanding that this is part of my daily life, part of my human spirit. When we grow up, sometimes we forget this important side. We just mind our own business living among crowds of other people, while there are many treasures out there in nature that should be appreciated by us, that could make us feel better.

When I read about a tour organized by the Forestry Bureau to discover the Alishan and Kenting national forest recreation areas free of cost, I didn’t think twice and applied. It came at a perfect time and I thought it was suitable for me. It turned out I was selected as one of the participants to go on this tour with nine other amazing adventurers for a deep learning experience. I don’t usually have many expectations about the places that I plan to go to, people that I will meet, and food that I will eat. It does not bother me much when something bad happens and I won't feel incredibly great when something good happens. That's my state of mind. But this trip was an exception. Since Taiwan has many wonderful places to visit and I firmly believe that all those forests are possibly hiding treasures, how could I not be excited to go on this trip?
We went to a very cozy small restaurant located just next to the railway’s terminal stop, Shizilu  a great hiking experience inside the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area

October 28

The adventure began. I woke up very early to catch the bus for Chiayi and started thinking about what I was going to do. I was leaving my university campus for a week to start a great journey; I didn’t tell anybody where I was going; I wanted this trip to be a relaxing one, one about having new experiences, making new friends, and focusing on nature, receiving positive energy.

I knew that my fellow travelers were coming from different backgrounds, lifestyles, age groups, and ways of traveling, but I soon discovered that we had something in common, a passion for nature and a willingness to enjoy life. In our group were bloggers, YouTubers, writers, people pursuing their second careers, students with a passion for learning, all great human beings who were united in making this trip an amazing one. I’m a curious student who truly enjoys traveling and tries to jump at every opportunity to do what I like in life.

After arriving at Chiayi Railway Station, I met my first new friend, Auda from Indonesia, who has incredibly good vibes. I felt that I knew her from the first minute that we were talking. It was a great beginning of the trip. Our journey started with a ride on the Alishan Forest Railway, experiencing the highest narrow-gauge railway line in Asia. The views during this first part of our journey were spectacular! Our guide, Moon Liu, was very kind and provided us with a lot of information; on the train we also received beautiful welcome gifts. At that moment I didn’t know that much about my fellow travelers, but there was soon the first opportunity to talk to them, at lunchtime. We went to a very cozy small restaurant located just next to the railway’s terminal stop, Shizilu. The food was good and the talk was great!

In the afternoon, we had a great hiking experience inside the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area. It was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen; a large nature reserve full of mystical-looking trees and a ton of attractions for us to explore. This is a hidden gem that everyone should appreciate. Our forest tour guide, Mr. Huang Lian-hai, a retired engineer who is now doing what he enjoys most, told us that the best season to visit Alishan is springtime when the cherry trees are blooming. However, I believe that every time is the right time to visit Alishan. The scenery in the forest is amazing; it felt like we were in a fairy tale. The calmness, the purity of the air, the connection with nature… It all left a deep impression in my mind.

We visited the Sister Ponds, where the foggy landscape captivated my senses. I felt regaining my physical and mental health amidst well-preserved nature, observing the things that are important for our understanding of the world. The Alishan National Forest Recreation Area is an important natural heritage site worth cherishing and protecting. After this, we headed to Alishan House, one of the highest-altitude hotels in Taiwan. It's located right in the middle of the forest recreation area and offers all kinds of comfort. We had a delicious buffet-dinner with international-food selections and after that we good an early rest to be ready for the next day of our adventure.
 We headed to the Mt. Ogasawara lookout platform, at 2,488m above sea level the best place to enjoy the sunrise at Alishan

October 29

The alarm sounded at 3:30am. It was time to get up and start a trip that would take us close to the clouds. We headed to the Mt. Ogasawara lookout platform, at 2,488m above sea level the best place to enjoy the sunrise at Alishan. There you are presented with a phenomenal panorama, including the Central Mountain Range and Jade Mountain, the highest peak of Taiwan. To get there, we took the train at 4:40am from Alishan Station to Duigaoyue Station. At 5:30am the first rays of the sun were appearing; there were beautiful pastel colors in the sky with a soft white blanket of clouds covering the mountains. It was truly spectacular! These are the kind of views you can only appreciate when leaving your comfort zone. Everybody was excited about the sunrise; people were hurrying to get to the lookout spot in time. Those were precious life moments close to nature. I can say that I am really blessed to have had this experience. It was comfortable, breathtaking, and pure. While enjoying the view I was wondering why I hadn’t come here before? The efforts that we make in life will be compensated in many ways, and for me this was a gift of life. This is a treasure and a source of inspiration. For me, trees are symbols of strength and every day I am inspired by nature.

Soon it was time to leave the natural beauty of Alishan and head down to Chiayi City where we visited the Chiayi Lumber Factory. Our local tour guide there, Mr. He Sheng-jie, shared with us interesting facts about why the Japanese built railway lines in the mountains and explained the importance of the lumber industry in the past. The Alishan Forest Railway was built to transport wood from the Alishan area down to Chiayi City. The trees were giants and transporting the timber was not easy. Today the railway is a tourist attraction and the Alishan forests are protected. The railway line helps to promote Chiayi as a tourist destination to the world. Close to the lumber factory we also visited the Hinoki Village, which consists of Japanese-style buildings constructed of cypress wood. At these sites I got a good idea of the early days of forestry in the Alishan area.
We went to practice sea kayaking, a teamwork activity, in the sea waves and we had a lot of fun.

October 30

Time for different weather – warmer, more tropical. On this day we headed down to Pingtung County to experience eye-opening traditions in the Houwan Community. We were welcomed by some cute puppies! I remember some words from the owner, “A happy place will always have dogs,” and I knew I was in the right place. I really liked to learn from them how their lifestyle is helping to protect the environment. The abundant sunshine was very relaxing, the breeze entering the open house, the dogs, the great people, the food. This was cultural immersion, I enjoy learning things like this and later teach it to others to live better with nature.

They take advantage of the natural coral reef rock terrain to harvest sea salt and then use the bittern to produce tofu with nigari (sea salt extract). I got to experience it first hand by helping in the production process. This is an essential food for the community, created with zero waste and by using only environment-friendly practices. Our planet is threatened by the irresponsibility of society. Even at the Houwan Community you can see trash in the coral reef rock, which means that there is the chance that micro plastic could find its way in the sea salt they produce. We need to give a lot of thought to what we are doing to nature and take action to avoid pollution and environmental destruction. We must stand against this and take action like the people of the Houwan community who clean the beaches every time they can in order to ensure the production of healthy food. This is a treasure; green practices allow us to live in harmony with nature.

In the afternoon, we went for a water adventure! This activity was completely amazing because I love the sea, I love water, I am a swimmer, water is meaningful to me. We went to practice sea kayaking, a teamwork activity, in the sea waves and we had a lot of fun. Some of the group didn’t know how to swim, but they did the kayaking anyway, a sign of braveness and courage. Lunch afterwards was delicious! I enjoyed a great burger and fresh milk. This experience was all about relaxing, reducing stress, and making my soul happier.

Then we headed to the Chateau Beach Resort hotel, located right beside a beautiful beach in Kenting. We arrived at sunset, my favorite time of the day, when nature puts on a spectacular heavenly show. I went swimming for a while in beautiful and calm water; it was amazing, a great feeling that only these kinds of places can give me. I felt grateful to be alive; I felt that I found my treasure in the water, a treasure that I will always keep close.

In the evening we had a delicious dinner at the Blue Sea Restaurant in Hengchun Town. We had fresh seafood that captivated my senses. Then we went on a night-time forest expedition in Sheding Nature Park. This experience in the wild was full of mystery. Our kind tour guide, Mr. Wu, was very energetic. I could tell that he really loves being a nature guide from the way he explained everything we saw in a very genuine and funny way. We discovered a great number of snakes, insects, and plants. After returning to the hotel we gathered on the beach enjoying the breeze of the calm night. Some pleasures in life are great to experience with good friends.
Kenting National Forest Recreation Area to do an activity not for those with a fear of heights, tree climbing

October 31

On the final day, we headed to the Kenting National Forest Recreation Area to do an activity not for those with a fear of heights, tree climbing. I used to climb trees in the Amazon of Peru when I was a child, so this reminded me of the happy moments with nature, feeling close to it, feeling that it is alive, and that it can carry and protect you. We did manage to get to the top of a tall tree! Finally, we went to visit a tropical forest with coral reef rocks, a geology exploration that was a great ending to our trip. I felt like Indiana Jones in this amazing forest with thousands of years of history. While walking through a deep cave a felt the energy of the rocks.

Then it was time to say goodbye and end this remarkable trip that brought us to the incredible Taiwan forests. It was time to say goodbye until next time to the amazing people who became my great friends in just a short period of time and to the wonderful staff who made this journey possible. I could feel the good vibes of the great people around me. After this experience, I am grateful and more committed to saving nature, my source of inspiration and my home.

I went into the forest and I found my treasure, I found my soul.