Sunday, September 24, 2017

Mud, water and sweat: A cyclist's perspective on Luoshan

On a blistering hot morning at the beginning of what is technically autumn, we arrived in Luoshan (羅山), a corner of Hualien County's Fuli Township (富里鄉) famous for its waterfall, a mud volcano, and organically-grown rice. It's an exceptionally beautiful part of the East Rift Valley National Scenic Area.
I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again in the future: Anyone planning to ride a bicycle in Taiwan should make themselves sun-proof, even if the sky looks cloudy. This day was one of the sunniest in a long time, and I could well believe the UV levels were dangerously high, as is sometimes the case in east Taiwan. A hat and long sleeves, as well as protection for your neck and hands, are essential. Bring a large bottle of water.
Much of the cycle route is flat, and motorized traffic is never heavy. Throughout Taiwan, road surfaces are almost always well maintained.
If you can make it up the hill to the car park nearest the waterfall, you'll enjoy some excellent views. The distance from the visitor centre is a little under 4km but the gradient is not to be underestimated. Unfortunately, both of the short hiking trails which approach the actual waterfall are currently out of commission; the authorities hope to rebuild them using eco-friendly materials rather than concrete. 
If the hill looks too daunting, do at least push on to what's called Luoshan Mud Volcano. 'Muddy spring' would be a more accurate name - there's no cone - but the pool here is very pretty. From it, you can look up to the waterfall.
Luoshan Mud Volcano lacks the visual impact of the mud-spewing domes at Wushanding in Kaohsiung. It's beguiling, nonetheless. At the time of our visit, three vents were visible, the oldest of which had been active for five years. Typhoons and earthquakes sometimes shut off a vent, leaving the gas and slurry to emerge somewhere else. Looking closely at the nearer of the two circular pits in the photo below, it was just about possible to make out bubbling caused by methane rising to the surface.
Because the mud volcano has altered local soil chemistry, some unusual plants thrive nearby. One is wild ginger lily:
Another is elephant ear, a poisonous relative of the humble taro:
Every township in Taiwan has a government-backed farmers' association which helps local agro-businesses by marketing their products, advising on how to add value, and investing in equipment (such as industrial fruit-drying machines) which are too expensive for individual farmers. Some associations are far more savvy than others, and Fuli's seems to be among the more enterprising and innovative. 

The association's showroom on Highway 9, about 500m north of the Luoshan turnoff, is an impressive size. Ice cream and hot coffee are sold here, as well as big bags of local ponlai rice. It's no wonder the showroom is a popular rest stop for cyclists on long-distance rides, such as this gentlemen. He told us he was part of a large group nearing the end of a seven-day west-to-east adventure. 
The fields next to the showroom are given over to flowers and public art. This Easter Island-like sculpture gained its colour from a coating of rice husks:
For some photos of this area in less summery conditions, see my 2014 blog post.

This visit and blog post were sponsored by the East Rift Valley National Scenic Area Administration.

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