Hehuan Mountain, sometimes called “The Switzerland of Taiwan,” is located on the boundaries on Nantou and Hualien counties (two of the top most beautiful counties to explore in Taiwan). Hehuan Mountain was quite popular with many of my students, who said they would drive up to the top of the mountain during the winter with their parents, as it is one of the only places to find snow in the country.
One weekend when I was bored and feeling adventurous, I decided I would hop on my trusty red Yamaha and drive to Wuling, the highest point in Taiwan accessible by public roads.
Yes, I would head up Hehuan Mountain and let the wind carry me where it may.
Though one of my Taiwanese friends later called me crazy and said the trip was very dangerous, I found the journey soul-inspiring and not nearly as eventful as the time I drove from Hsinchu to Puli at 4 a.m. and ended up with a bag lady at a police station (this is a story for another time).
Sure, maneuvering along the perilous mountain roads was at times frightening, but the drive was ultimately more exhilarating than anything else. I’m just disappointed I never ended up driving over the mountain and into Hualien, something I’d wanted to do.
But that day I left my little town of Puli behind and followed Hehuanshan Road — the only paved road currently leading across the Taiwan Central Mountain range from Taichung City to Hualien — through Wushe and past Chingjing Farm. Along the way, I stopped at many interesting places and took in splendid sights such as this:
As I approached Wuling, the highest automobile pass in Taiwan, the roads became somewhat treacherous and dizzying and, for a moment, I felt a slight surge of panic as I realized I was not only far from the U.S. but also far away from my second home in Puli, and alone at that. But as I gazed out on the horizon and reflected on the beauty that fell before my eyes and this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I whispered a prayer to Heaven and found renewed strength and confidence. It was experiences like this that I’d always wanted, experiences like this that I’d left the United States to find. Instead of listening to the fear, for once I chose to believe in myself and my capabilities.
The temperature continued to drop and like an idiot, I hadn’t brought anything more than a pullover. I pressed on to Wuling, the road seemingly never-ending and winding before me. When I finally arrived, I pulled my scooter over to the side of the road and looked out at the sprawling scenery before my eyes with a deep sense of accomplishment. That only lasted a few minutes however, because a group of very friendly and excited locals came over wanting to practice their English.
I remember they seemed astounded that I’d made the journey alone from Puli, though I honestly didn’t think nearly as much of it as they did. I was just a human being, a mere explorer wanting to discover this new land I’d been blessed to find.
It’s interesting how often people have called me brave, here in the states and while living overseas. Most of the time I just felt like I was trying to prove something to myself and figure out my purpose. I didn’t think that made me braver than anyone else.
In the end, I probably only stayed at Wuling for about 20 minutes.
But looking back, it was one of the most symbolic moments of my life.