I’m not a city boy. Said it before and I’ll say it again, us humans simply weren’t meant to live in such huge numbers and in such close proximity to others. Ants manage it because they have teeny-tiny, cute little brains but we’re not likewise blessed. So, finding myself in the middle of an urban jungle populated by millions of wind-up worker bees, one of my few tenuous links to sanity is the plethora of hiking trails within a mere half-hour drive of the city centre.
Last weekend saw me exploring Trail 2 (of 8 or 10) in Dakeng Scenic Area, a marvellously unspoiled wilderness just a stone’s throw from the metropolis that is Taichung. The intention was to climb Trail 2, wander along Trail 5 to the top of Trail 1, descend and make my way back to the scooter. My forgetfulness in the sunscreen department coupled with my excessively pale Scottish skin and the searing midday sun (nice job in the timing…) put paid to that plan, necessitating a leisurely ascent then more or less a run straight back down 2 before my skin parted company with my body.
Thankfully I still had time to enjoy the crystal-clear air some stunning views and an unexpected diversity of wild (and tame) life. First, most unexpected and most rewarding were the monkeys. Fairly early into the climb, finding myself alone on the trail, I paused to investigate a rustle in the branches nearby. Primates! Deftly shimmying from tree to tree were a pair of nimble monkeys, regarding me with a little suspicion but no hint of fear and approaching the path ahead of me. I grabbed for the camera and wrestled with the lens, trying to squeeze off a few snaps before they retreated to the jungle. Most were unfortunately blurred but still…
As this fellow and his compatriot crept further and further towards and intersection with my own route I heard further sounds from the hillside to my right and glancing down it became clear what was happening. The tree-bound troop, now numbering five or six, were advance guards, scouting the path to keep it clear for the mothers with children proceeding along the ground. I sat and waited for them to cross the trail, keeping my distance enough to settle them but still close enough for pics. The whole affair was over in a regrettably short time but I loved every second of it. They paused on the trail itself just long enough for us to stare at each other a while before they dusted off, babes clinging on for dear life, back into the undergrowth.
Obviously after something like that the remainder of my encounters were bound to be somewhat less thrilling but hey, I’m a beastie kinda guy so anything with more legs than me is fun. On the way back, retreating from the solar torture I was enduring, I almost squished this flighty little fella. Despite my clumsiness he gracefully agreed to pose for a quick shot. I love lizards and miss the Thai geckos greatly so he slightly eased a pang of homesickness.
Keeping up with the more creepy-crawly theme, as I approached the end of the trail I felt an uneasy sense of dread come over me. Someone or something was watching me, I was sure of it. For a moment I paused, scanning the path and surrounding greenery for any sign of movement, perhaps the return of my simian cousins, but I was alone. Paranoia duly eased I turned to resume my descent to find this specimen dangling not two feet from my face.
Thankfully I’m no spiderphobe. I’ll admit they can give me the chills at times, especially the tiny scuttly variety, but something like this just leaves me awestruck. I mean seriously, look at it! The thing belongs in Starship Troopers, not spinning in the wind in some Taiwanese forest! I should add that it was at least forty inches from toe to toe (for exceptionally small values of forty).
After an eternity of snapping shots – most of which were unfortunately awful – and wishing I had a macro lens to let me get closer, it was time to complete my journey. Minutes later I was at the parking lot and ready to escape the sun’s rays for the day when my final encounter presented itself. Two adorable pups ambled up to me, curious yet keeping their distance and obviously a little afraid. Puppies (and kittens) are my Achilles heel as many people will testify so like a shot I was on my haunches, hand outstretched to allow them to investigate without fear. Instantly they started playing a game of lick and run – taking turns to dart in and lick my fingers before retreating to a safe distance. My heart melted. I wanted so much to take them home but rules and the smiling presence of their owner across the road intervened. Still, I got a couple of keepsakes…