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.
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.
Carefully handling the butterflies from inside the holding net, the instructor holds the wings of the insect delicately by the tips of his fingers.
We are learning about the details used to identify the sex and type of the butterflies. Unfortunately for me, everything was explained in Mandarin, so be sure to bring a translator with you if you’re not familiar with the language. 😑
The instructor is showing one of the students how to carefully pass the butterfly to your fellow enthusiast in a safe manner.
After catching the butterflies, the kids mark down their observations of their catch and tag them for tracking.
Male purple crow butterflies have a feathery tip sprouting from it’s abdomen. It is said to release pheremones to attract females and to ward off enemies.
The instructor is showing the iridescent wings changing from brown to purple. This particular catch has a pair of distinctive lines on each wing, and is unique to the double-branded crow butterfly.
Thousands of these butterflies migrate to this part of the island during the winter months where it is generally warmer. You can see them perched on branches in this photo during moments of overcast.
During moments of shade, the butterflies hide under the branches of the tree. Once the cloud cover breaks, they swarm out from the valley to show their colours.
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).
Petroglyphs resembling heads, clouds and circles have been discovered in the Moalin area since the late 1970s. The photo you see above isn’t the real McCoy, but resembles the real carving that tells of a girl who ate snakes and was kicked out of the tribe. The aboriginals worshipped snakes, so eating them absolutely prohibited.
Maolin is located to the west of where the central mountain range begins. You can see endless mountains like this spreading towards the east.
This colourful suspension bridge decorated with the local Aboriginal motifs spans 232 meters over the Zhuokou river. The river used to be full even during the dry winter months and fed into a large waterfall. Unfortunately, a typhoon rolled through the area 4 years ago and caused a landslide that blocked the river to a trickle. Natural hot springs in the area were destroyed and we’re never recovered.
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.
These bowls of aiyu jelly and fresh pineapple is a delightful treat on a warm day. This particular vendor flavours the jelly with hibiscus tea, lime juice, and rock sugar. Yum.
Slate is abundant in the area and they use it to build homes and kitchens like this one pictured above. The wood fired stone surface is used to grill meat at this small family run restaurant.
These are bamboo cooked rice (竹筒飯). It’s a blend of local quinoa and sticky rice surrounding a pork meat, wrapped with bamboo leaves and steamed until cooked.
Aboriginals hunt wild boar in the mountains which they cook on stone surfaces. We had a simple dish of pork belly and onions, 石板烤肉.
This is black rice, millet, taro and pork wrapped in edible leaves foraged from the mountain and steamed.
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.
The plants pictured above are a type of quinoa that is native to Taiwan. We saw many locals with quinoa plants in their backyard.
These taiwanese quinoa grains are smaller than the Andean quinoa which is what you normally find in North America.
This lady is preparing to dry some freshly harvested quinoa from her nearby farm. This will be sorted to remove leaves and branches, tumbled to remove the hull and then packaged for sale outside her home.
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.
Here is a vendor selling mountain vegetables and herbs.
The warm climate of southern Taiwan allow plenty of tropical plants to flourish. Here is a small field of coffee bean plants grown by aboriginals.
Coffee beans waiting to ripen.
The leaves of this plant are similar to grape leaves and they are picked to make pork and rice wraps as seen above during our lunch.
Another mountain vegetable that is added to soups and rice porridge.
We discovered that bananas in Taiwan taste quite different to what we are used to in North America. They are starchier, more fragrant, with a rounded flavour.
Look closely and you’ll see some papayas hanging.
Emily’s aunt picks these little flowers to make tea or flavour her coffee. They smell like a sweet jasmine flower.
Grasshopper chilling on a post.
More than half of Taiwan is covered in mountains that run along the east side of the island. Only the west side along the coast is heavily developed. This makes for many great hiking and camping areas. You can visit this blog for more info: http://www.taiwanoffthebeatentrack.com/
The winding river moulded the mountain to the shape of a snake’s head. There’s another viewpoint nearby called the Dragon’s head mountain that resemble it’s name.
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.
Very similar to vietnamese pho, they make rice noodles in a large sheet that is then steamed and cut into thick strips. The difference is that they are a little thicker with more of a bite, like al dente pasta.
We had rice noodles in soup form and dry form, with braised winter melon. This shop is also famous for their caramelized shallot jam (cooked with lard) which they sell by the jar and use in all their dishes.