A challenging hike up and down hills; searching for an elusive earth god; and temples, temples everywhere.

Day 260: Taipei, Taiwan. Today we went for a very long walk – and one which turned out to be a little more challenging than we’d originally envisaged.

A 13km hike is usually a decent but not overly taxing distance. But throw in countless ascents and descents, rickety stone steps and muddy slopes, and suddenly ‘easy enough’ becomes pretty arduous. But it was fun, and a good challenge.

The hike was a circular loop walk, starting and finishing at Nanshijiao MRT station. And of course it started – as much hikes here seem to – by climbing lots and lots of steps.

The trail rises to a ridge on Nanshijiao mountain and rounds the head of the valley before returning down the other side. There are panoramic views of the whole city from the south looking north over Yangmingshan mountains beyond.

Cherry blossoms were out in force, as were dozens of squirrels.

The route description we were following mentioned there were lots of temples along the way, and they weren’t joking. From small shrines built into open fronted sheds with corrugated roofs, to opulent large temples with ornate gold interiors. We tried – and failed – to visit a huge Earth God, Fude Jhengshen, which is also Taiwan’s largest. It was tucked on a hillside underneath a large temple, and we couldn’t work out how to get there from our trail.

Outside one temple was a basket full of water with a note saying ‘Have some water, please’ and a sketch of a hiker. So we did – very thoughtful of whoever put them there.

Further along there was a small stand with a teapot and cups – again for hikers (though the teapot was empty today).

We stopped in a clearing with huge rocks, to eat our packed lunch. After wolfing sandwiches and bananas, Jim tucked into a packet of cream corn soup flavor crackers. Weirder than weird.

After lunch, Jim made a quick call to his insurance company (we’re still working on getting our insurance cover extended for Europe). Thankfully mobile reception has been excellent through the island, even in forests and on hill tops.

A little later we passed a huge rock with a table and chair, including a plastic tablecloth. A lovely place to sit (even if it’s just for one person).

We finished the walk late afternoon, just as it was starting to rain. We had a quick coffee in Xingnan, then sprinted to the MRT station as the heavens opened.

Tomorrow we’re having an easier day – probably a trip to Decathlon sports store, followed by a visit to a park to see lots more cherry blossoms in bloom. And wherever we go, hopefully we won’t have to traipse up and down more steps.

More then.