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Photo by Ching Hsieh

New Year’s Hike in the Ancient Juniper Forest

Swerving through windy roads, cabbage fields, and scenic mountainous landscape, we arrived at the base of the sacred forest hike. Before starting up the mountain, we offered a blessing in Atayal, expressing thankfulness for the forest. We began our hike, walking through streams, rocky hills, and dense trees that shrouded the forest in darkness on an otherwise sunny day. We painstakingly walked at a slow pace, examining the “beat cat” plant (similar to stinging nettle), local acorns, and edible ferns. We saw our first juniper tree that appeared massive, though we were later informed it was minuscule in comparison to the older juniper trees. At the base of another tree, we ate what initially appeared to be a burrito but was a rice “fantuan.” To our delight, it was full of pork rinds, pickles, and some other unknown meat substance. Following the sacred juniper forest hike, we played basketball at a local school. Initially planning to just play amongst ourselves, a group of four local Zhen Xi Bao teenagers joined in. While we had a definitive height advantage, they managed to defeat us due to their incredible speed and passing abilities. Finally, we returned to our homestay where we had a closing ceremony sharing memories and what we had learned from our time living in Zhen Xi Bao. The local kids prepared a cute dance routine and the SCH students danced to Cottoneye Joe for locals.