[Hike Taiwan] Smangus_Village in the Clouds 司馬庫斯

[village in the clouds]

[on our way to Yaya Q-Parung]

For the past two days, we visited the Atayal village of 司馬庫斯 - or in 泰雅族語 - Smangus. Despite the torturous drive up and down the mountains, it was a trip full of awe and grace. every few seconds, my heart felt recharged full of gratitude and love for the natural beauty of this island. 

It's been quite a while since I've given thought to the spiritual, at all, but being in what they call "上帝的部落", (or "Village in the Clouds"), I could feel the presence of a different kind of energy that draws visitors from far away, as well as the energy that their people is bound together by. 

[Yulao 景觀台]

[the many rivers that cut through these valleys]

On our first day, we headed into Hsinchu, passed Nei-wan and 宇老景觀台 where we stopped to recover from the dizziness from the winding roads. On our way, we passed so many bikers making their way to this very spot, it seems almost as challenging as going up Wu-ling, which should definitely be on a Taiwan Bucket List. It was misty that day up on the viewing deck, but as soon as the mist parted, we could see the valley and the river down below. 

Because we were traveling with a group of nature lovers and even ecology specialists, we kept stopping to look at the plants and being explained to about this very natural environment we are entering. There was this 楓香林 we hiked into especially, the ground covered with their seeds, and their delicate leaves a collage against the clear blue sky. 

[stopping to check out all the nature]

[sweet gum forest]

We finally made it into the village around 4pm, just in time to catch one of their daily tours that would give us more insight to their village. M and I were in a real dilemma whether to join the tour or enjoy a cup of coffee in their only coffee shop. It's crazy thinking how we would come all this way just for a cup of coffee, but once we stepped out of the car into the village, the aroma was all that had our heads turning, searching for the source of its scent. In the end, it turned out that the tour was only 45 minutes since the village wasn't very big anyways, and we ended up still getting a cup of coffee with a twist of aboriginal spice while enjoying the magical hour before the sun sets over the magnificent mountains that we are now completely encompassed by.

[the striking tree that greets us at the entrance]

[coffee at sunset]

Seeing the village was quite a surprise to me. I kept thinking of how remote and distant we were going to be, that I sent a message to my family to tell them that I would be out of touch for the weekend. I thought it was all going to be dirt road, and maybe no shower, and we would have to find our way with a torch light when the sun goes down. But I was surprised to see that they had Wi-fi in most of the major "buildings" and there was oh so many cars! And motorcycles!! They kept telling us how much the village has expanded over the past few years, bringing us to the dilemma and the ongoing question that I kept thinking about throughout this trip, of how developed a village should be in order to grow and how this would impact their authentic cultural and natural assets. 

[one of the most stunning schools I've ever seen]

[how many parents can tell their own children that "I built your school"]

After the tour and after dinner, all tourists were invited to their church for the wonderful night event. We were all invited to sing and dance along with them in worship. Their children gave adorable and energetic performances, and we were told stories of how their village was managed and more about their way of life. Still ... more dilemma, because you'd start wondering if whether this was a way to advertise their village as a tourist attraction. But then again, there must be a certain energy that is keeping their people together, a common goal to sustain their village, a mutual hope for their future. 

Would it be hypocritical to say that I didn't think of myself as a "tourist", but just as a "visitor" passing by? That I came to be amazed and experience an "authentic" tribal village, but other than the buildings and being in the mountains, the way they talked and the food we ate was almost just like any other "tourist attraction" in Taiwan. However, I feel that we must respect whatever way of life they're seeking for themselves. And that we must care for our land as much as they care for theirs, because if we destroy what we have in the lowlands, it would be a disgrace to turn to them for the next best thing. 

[night event performance, the children are adorable!]

[mystic bamboo trail]

The next day, I almost gave up making it to Yaya Q-parang (I can never pronounce this right ... ) because my stomach was hurting so bad. I was already drunk with awe by the bamboo forest anyways, I thought that this was already enough. It's like being part of a Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon movie. Our friend was also amazed, he said "can you imagine how all this bamboo grew out of just one bamboo sprout?" Because that was the way it was in the past, when a village grew too large to sustain itself, they would draw to see who had to leave, and the group to leave would carry with them a bamboo sprout for their next settlement. 

Our entire hike was about 5 hours or so, back and forth, and we were accompanied by the wonderful symphony from within the woods all the way. I later learnt that they came from a kind of bird called 白耳畫眉, have a peek at part of our walk:

[I had this mistaken for the ultimate tree]

[Yaya Q-Parung, the mother tree]

Finally, I still made it to where all the great trees were. At first I thought that it's just going to be another big tree, but really there wasn't just one tree, but a whole group of them. We were already warned that we shouldn't turn back upon seeing the second biggest tree, but when I came upon what I thought was Yaya Q-parang, I already propped myself up against a spot and started to sketch. It wasn't until later when we saw the actual King of the Trees (actually, Yaya Q-parang means "the mother tree") I had to just give in and draw a second one.I was just so awed at all the life and energy that's been created here. And how it must have mean so much for the people of Smangus.

[attempt to create a memory]

And all this time, I had John Ruskin's word painting of the alpine trees in mind ...
"... its pines ... in quiet multitudes, each like the shadow of the one beside it - upright, fixed, not knowing each other. You cannot reach them, cannot cry to them; - those trees never heard human voice; theya re far above the sound but of the winds. No foot ever stirred fallen leaf of theirs. All comfortless they stand, yet with such iron will that the rock itself looks bent and shattered beside them ... compared to their dark energy of delicate life and monotony of enchanted pride." 

And I had to keep challenging myself, that in the presence of all this beauty, how "to notice rather than to look." Hence the appalling sketches, but the sketches mean so much more to me than they would be to anyone else. 

"In the process of re-creating with our own hand what lies before our eyes, we seem naturally to move form a position of observing beauty in a loose way to one where we acquire a deep understanding of its constituent parts and hence more secure memories of it." 

[story of the people's history]

Just because I like to document things, here's a general view of our itinerary:


09:00 Depart from Miaoli (the other guys left Taichung around 8 or something)
12:00 Reach 宇老景觀台 (because we got a little lost and drove ever so slowly ...)
13:00 Took a walk around 軍艦岩, 楓樹林
14:30 Filled in our permits and had to wait until around 3 until cars stopped coming from the other way
16:00 Arrived at the village
16:30 Tour around Smangus
17:15 Tour ended and we got to enjoy our coffee
18:00 Dinner at their dining area
19:30 Night event at the church
and then we hung around eating instant noodles and watching the stars after dark


06:00 Breakfast at their dining area
07:20 Started our hike towards Yaya Q-Parung
10:00 Arrived at the great trees area
13:00 Returned back to our room, packed and started heading home, getting back to Miaoli before dark

And to sum up with my FB post that day:

感謝 Ke-Chien Chao 這次又帶領我們旅行到雲海種的部落,司馬庫斯。
還有感謝 李雅君 跟雅君老公讓我們一起共同累積遙遠山路的里程數 :P





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