Last weekend was the second of our annual survival weekend trips. The idea came a few years ago as the boys sat around chatting about their manliness. The question was posed: Could we survive a night in the mountains with nothing more than the clothes on our backs? Could we find food, make fire and create some sort of shelter to keep us not only warm but away from the snakes, wild pigs and insects that inhabit the backwoods of Taiwan. A few of us decided to give it a go.
The challenge was clear. We could bring nothing but the clothes on our backs and what we normally carried around in the boots of our scooters to help us survive. (I ran out the next day, bought a hatchet and slipped it into my trunk. It has been in there ever since.) We brought some food and water but could only eat an amount equal to that of which we caught and drink once we had boiled water. (Drink water that is. Beer was perfectly acceptable on our excursion. No need to completely deprive ourselves. After all, we were/are manly men!)
We managed to build a hut using bamboo and vines, succeeded in creating fire using the spark plug from a friend’s car (We tried the Castaway method but achieved nothing more than blisters and cuts on our hands.) and boiled water in homemade bamboo cups.
Unfortunately, we didn’t do as well at catching our food. Let’s just say that lunch, dinner and breakfast would have consisted of nothing more than two shrimp split between the eight of us. For someone who is used to eating about six times a day, that was not good. And by not good I mean excruciating. By five o’clock, I was starving. By seven o’clock my buddies were starting to look appealing and by eight o’clock I was ready to devour my own arm. Worse yet was the fact that another friend, a Taiwanese aboriginal whose life had been a survival weekend, didn’t feel the need to participate in on our little game and had boiled up a pot of wild boar noodle soup. I lasted about two seconds before I caved in and began scalding the roof of my mouth with his delicacy. It was heavenly. So much for being a manly man.
The night ended with him telling us a tale of how his ancestors had fought to the death with Japanese invaders in the valley below us. He captivated us with a traditional aboriginal chant and proceeded to make us men of his tribe. He later told us that the ceremony was necessary to keep us safe from the spirits which continued to wander on the riverbanks below. It was a powerfully moving experience.
The next morning as we began to leave our camp I felt as though I had really survived the wilds of Taiwan. I learned a little bit more about myself and how I was able to cope with the elements unaided by the amenities that I so often took for granted.
I am proud to say that I used the insight and knowledge gained from last year’s trials and tribulations as I prepared myself for yet another weekend with the boys. And did I feel better equipped as I hunted the Costco meat section for a kilo and a half of pork and beef? Yes. Was I confident of my highly tuned instincts for survival as I made a couple of chicken sandwiches for the road? Hell yea! And was I sure that I would endure the chilled mountain air as I packed a couple extra shirts? Indeed I was. Evolution is a grand thing!
Our adventure this year started off a little late because one of our buddies wanted to take his daughters to soccer practice. The other seven of us suffered the hour delay by bathing in the chilled waters of the Ju-DongRiver. There simply is no better way to spend a morning. It was glorious!
Unfortunately, on trying to catch up to the rest of us, our friend didn’t see our vehicles parked on the side of the road leading into the mountains and proceeded much further up into the peaks. About an hour later, we caught up to him at a small aboriginal village where I feasted on my first snack of the day – barbequed squab. I was pleased to have another hungry traveler who also enjoyed some of the culinary treats that the villagers had to offer — barbequed boar. With our stomachs warmly satisfied, we continued on our trek.At first, we decided to venture into new territory away from last year’s camp. Our journey took us to a nearby mountain peak onto the land of a local farmer. We were greeted by an amazingly warm and generous family who took us for a stroll through the woods behind their house where we were welcomed to spend the night. The area was gorgeous; however, there was no river within walking distance and we were sure that as the night rolled on and we began to get rowdy we might very well overstay our welcome. The handmade gun and razor sharp bush knife that the father kept with him gave a strong argument for not pissing him off. In the end we decided that it might be a better idea to find another place to set up camp.
The hour was fast approaching three and we hadn’t even found a spot to start building our shelter so we all voted to head back to last year’s survival weekend venue. The ride was just as amazing as I had remembered it. The mountains seemed to open up my soul and I found myself consumed by the nature which surrounded me.
As we journeyed down the ruined roads and trails, memories rolled through my mind like an old movie. At one point, we stopped at the crest of a steep, rather slippery decline. We all remembered it as the spot where my brother took a spill last year. I turned around to laugh with him about his ‘connection’ with this stretch of roadway and when I glanced back I caught the last second of another friend bonding with the pavement. Slick Hill – 2; Supreme Survivalists – 0.
The final few hundred meters of our trip was nothing like it had been last year. The roads and mountain side had been literally decimated by recent typhoons. I had to stop and gaze in awe at the devastation that had occurred. My spirit tingled with life and energy as I stood in the wake of Mother Nature’s raw power. I was invigorated!As soon as we hit the camp we split off into groups. It was now three thirty and the sun was going to set fast. We needed food (Actually, I didn’t. I was satisfied from the chicken sandwich I had recently devoured.), fire and shelter. One manly man went fishing, two manly men took on the fire and the rest of us began the task of setting up camp.
We decided on a spot deep in the bamboo forest and began to make a series of simple cots made of vine and bamboo. The idea was to have two circles of beds surrounding two small campfires. It was a wonderful design, except for the fact that we only managed to make seven beds. The most manly of us (And probably the most comfortable. Oh no, that would have been the punks who snuck off in the middle of the night to sleep in the van. Manly men!) made a bed of banana leaves and slept on the ground.Our fire was started with little trouble as someone had miraculously found some spare matches lying on the side of the road. (Actually, I don’t know from where they came. Don’t ask, don’t lie, right?) As for food, let’s just say that dinner this time would have been a scrumptious meal of beetle and grass soup. Luckily, our coolers were still full from the spoils of my hunting expedition to Costco. Pork and beef it would be.
As we were retrieving dinner from the van, we were again greeted with true Taiwanese hospitality. The men from a family of aboriginals who had come to hunt wild pig and flying squirrel (one of which they felled) offered us some of their fish and noodle soup, a dram or two of whisky and most importantly their company. It is truly is a blessing to be welcomed so open-heartedly by strangers. If we have learned anything from this trip I hope it is to do the same to people we meet.About a half hour later, after being assured that they wouldn’t be hunting anywhere in our vicinity we headed back to our camp for our own feast. As we took the pork out of the packaging, we all showed signs of regret over having told our friend to return the meat grill that he had bought from a discount store that morning. The chances of cooking our pork and beef on a stick seemed slim to none. However, our rock solid instincts for survival kicked in and someone suggested that we cut open beer cans, (of which there were a few) pack some meat inside and throw them into the fire like foil wrapped potatoes. Ingenious. The only thing that could have made the meal more appetizing was the foie gras that one of us brought to complement the meat. As I said, manly men!
After dinner we stood around with a dram of single malt and enjoyed the solace of nature and each others’ company. Slowly our crew started to succumb to the exhaustion caused by a day of surviving.
The night ended with a few of us lying on the bridge near our camp chatting about family, life, music and the freedom of Taiwan. Breathing in the brisk mountain air and basking in the splendor of a starry night, I felt very much at peace. It was soul soothing way to end an amazing day.
Life in a Northern Town, by Dream Academy, was one of the songs that we discussed in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday morning. It is a song that resonates deeply within me as it has been a part of my life since my early teens. Each chorus brings me back to a different chapter of my life. It is nice to have a new memory and experience to attach to the music.
In the end, this trip had very little to do with surviving. Let’s face it; we were slightly manly men doing modified manly things in an enlightened way. And you know what? I am ok with that. To me, life is something to be savored not survived. And given the choice I will do it the same way next year — with a little extra seasoning salt on my meat of course.
Life in a Northern Town youtube link