A three-day trip south this weekend probably wasn’t the best idea, considering I should be resting my hand after straining it while practicing for my piano recital, but with vast amounts of nervous energy built up during the long build-up to the event, plus the frustration and disappointment at having to postpone the recital four days before the big day meant staying in Taipei wasn’t an option this last couple of days….
Instead I jumped on the High Speed Rail to Kaohsiung Friday lunchtime (and if it weren’t for a pesky dentist appointment I’d have left earlier), took the Kaohsiung MRT to the city’s main station, and after quick train ride ended up Pingtung, to spend a relaxing weekend scoping out an area of Taiwan so-far little-known to me. Wow! I’ll now need several more weekends to go back and explore some of the areas I touched or heard about during this trip, including the amazing abandoned Rukai aboriginal village of Jiu Haocha (舊好茶), a two-day trek.
I’ll also be back (hopefully with friends) to explore a bit further up the amazing river tracing opportunities of the place curiously known as Poseidon’s Palace (海神宮). Lying on the equally curiously named Shamo (沙漠; ‘desert’) Stream above the village of Qingshan (青山) at the northern tip of Pingtung County, Poseidon’s Palace is pretty famous among local residents as a swimming spot. Ironically though, many of them only seem to know the large swimming holes in the open valley downstream from the slot canyon that houses the main event, and when I told the host of my homestay that I couldn’t get into the gorge because the only way up was to swim he looked quite surprised.
The riverbank below Poseidon’s Palace has been laid out as a park and picnic area, and it’s a really unpromising start to the trip. This is a very old-school Taiwan scenic area – shabby, ugly, and designed with little or no thought for environmental friendliness or aesthetic niceties. Things are made ten times worse by the still blazingly obvious signs of the devastation wrought everywhere in this part of Taiwan by Typhoon Morakot over three years ago. Much of the once tree-lined gorge has been scoured clean of vegetation, and now all that’s left are ugly scars of crumbling rock and earth. Even worse, when I was there it hadn’t rained for ages and the riverbed was bone dry – not a trickle.
Escaping the eyesore of the park area and walking upstream though, after ten minutes or so the first of several very nice pools in the riverbed appear. They’re pretty deep – even when the rest of the river is completely dry – and the emerald-colored water looked very tempting. Leaving several groups there, a couple of minutes’ walk further up there’s a second beautiful pool left in a long slot carved into the rock by the river.
Beyond that the gorge suddenly narrows, bends left, and the whole character of the valley changes. The wide, open gorge abruptly narrows into a slot canyon, carving a beautiful ravine through the rock with a series of very deep, sheer-sided pools of water connected by little water slides. This chain of beautiful ponds is Poseidon’s Palace itself, and the only way upstream is to dive in and swim across the deep first very deep pool to a ledge where it looks possible to clamber up the gorge to the next chain of pools above, winding off out of sight. Since this southern Taiwan trip had been a very spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment kind of thing I hadn’t bought swimming/river tracing gear from Taipei (I’d even forgot my toothbrush), so there would be no exploring today, but this place looks like an extremely promising river tracing destination. The chain of pools continues past a waterfall (Poseidon’s Fall; 海神瀑布) dropping off the side of the canyon into the river, and up to final accessible pool (which is a sacred spot for local aborigines) called Diana’s Pool at the top. It looks fantastic from the few photos on the Web, and now sits at the top of my list of future explorations.
Better go soon though, from the look of it this place and the narrowness of the gorge it would likely be dangerous or even downright inaccessible during the summer rainy season, and is probably best tackled only when the water level is low, in winter.
Looking forward to going back!