Maolin Purple Butterfly Valley

On January 31st, we met with Emily’s aunt to tour the Maolin Butterfly Trail and the nearby aboriginal villages. I was not expecting much out of that day, partly because I was not at all enthused about driving an hour just to see butterflies. I turned out to be absolutely wrong because the butterflies were amazing, the aboriginal town was beautiful, and breathing fresh air was a cleansing change from the smog of Kaohsiung.

Our drive to Maolin took us through fields of rice patties (pictured above), pineapples, bananas, tomatoes, mangos, papaya, and even fish/shrimp farms.

We started the trip at her aunt’s house where she made us both a pour over using locally grown coffee beans. The beans are cultivated in the mountains by the local Rukai aboriginals. Emily’s aunt has been studying how to grow, roast, and prepare coffee for over a decade, and now acts as a pro bono consultant to the locals who want to grow and sell coffee beans for a living.

She buys raw beans from her aboriginal friends, and does the fermenting, drying, roasting, and grinding for her small coffee business. On weekends, she operates a coffee brewing stall outside the Butterfly Restaurant/Bakery for the tourists that come through the area.

From the Butterfly Restaurant, we walked towards the self guided Butterfly Trail and started to hear a hum of chatter in the distance. When we made the corner, we came up to a large group of children flailing nets too large for them to handle. There were butterfly guides/instructors under umbrella nets handling the butterflies and teaching the children about the Maolin purple crow butterflies.

Elementary school students get a 3-4 week winter break from mid-January to early February. These kids are spending their time off on a field trip to learn about the purple crow butterflies.
The trail leads you on a brick lined path where you’ll catch a view of the nearby town.
This town is part of an aboriginal reserve where the Rukai are in control of the land rights. Taiwan is composed of 16 recognized ethnic groups that occupy most of the eastern side of the island.

We finished the short trail loop and continued onwards to explore the rest of the mountainous region. I never knew butterfly watching was something I would find enjoyable. Perhaps a sign of aging.

As we walked across the Duonagao suspension bridge, Emily’s aunt described the way of life of the local aboriginals who worshipped snakes. In Rukai folklore, there is a story of a girl who liked to eat snakes and as a result, was banished from the community. Hoping her husband would follow her, she left snake carvings in the rock so he could find her. We would later see decorative carvings around the area resembling the original petroglyph that tells the story (see photograph below).

Hunger began to set in so we drove to the next aboriginal village of Duona to have lunch. We ate aboriginal food and had a delicious serving of Aiyu jelly in a hibiscus lime syrup. We liked it so much we bought a bag of dried Aiyu seeds so we could try to make it ourselves at home.

The village of Duona is a reserved settlement for the Rukai aboriginals. Businesses are run to attract local tourism in order to draw income for the people. Locals sell fruits and vegetables gathered from the mountains as well as crops they cultivate on their property.

I noticed these red bushes growing in many family gardens and was surprised to learn that they were indigenous quinoa plants. Quinoa grows easily in the hot and humid climate of Taiwan.

After lunch, a friendly stray dog began to follow us as we strolled through the village. Emily’s aunt pointed out the edible herbs, leaves, and flowers (for tea) that she sometimes forages. I’m finally starting to catch on that she really used to work as a tour guide for the area because she seems to know everyone in the community.

The day continued with more sight seeing around snake head mountain and dragon head mountain. As the sun was beginning to set, we finished our guided tour with a meal at a traditional hakka noodle shop, 美濃美食家鄉味.

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