Friday, 23 October 2015

An Early Morning Through Taichung & Miaoli To Liyutan Reservoir (鯉魚潭水庫)

On Saturday 17th October, last weekend, I took the last HSR train that night out of Tainan up to Taichung, arriving at about midnight. The idea behind this was to drive through Taichung during the night, stop off at a 7-11 for a few hours and then push on to get myself a very early start on the water at Liyutan reservoir in Miaoli county. Had I taken the first morning HSR train out of Tainan on the Sunday, I'd have ended up reaching the reservoir at just before mid-morning, which is far too late for what I wanted to accomplish. My aim was to photograph the upstream face of the reservoir's dam and spillway which sits at the west end of the reservoir; by getting there so early I'd be able to shoot with the rising sun behind me, which is ideal.

When I arrived in Taichung city, the first thing I wanted to do was to find a "shao bei" (sort of a 24 hour general store selling various bits and pieces), which meant driving around the eastern edges of the city and stopping to ask people. Eventually, one local man overheard me asking someone else about this and offered to lead me to one which was slap bang in the middle of the city. I bought some new bungee cords for my bag, thanked him and wandered off through Taichung's nightmarkets. There were one or two seemingly 24 hour coffee shops near the convenience stores and the nightmarkets thronged with twenty-somethings wearing their best gear. I sat in a convenience store for an hour or so to get my bearings, send some messages and have some milk. There was a table behind me with four or five young deaf people talking in sign language and muffled laughter.

When driving through the city it didn't feel particularly cold (urban heat effect), but as soon as I reached the road out to Fengyuan I began to feel that my fleece jacket wasn't good enough. I had a sweater on underneath, but what I should have done was brought my heavy jacket and maybe another shirt to wear underneath. I shivered on the motorbike all the way out of Taichung through Fenguan and out east to Dongshih. When I arrived in Dongshih I took up residence at a 7-11, ordered hot coffee and half-slept my way through the next three hours awaking at 5am to order another coffee and get myself ready to leave. The drive out of Dongshih to Miaoli was still very cold, but relatively short and there was almost no traffic to speak of. At about 5.30am the pre-dawn light emerged and I stopped to photograph this on a hill overlooking Shigang district which lies just before Taichung's river border with Miaoli county...

Shigang just before dawn.
... and again when I rounded a corner eastward a little way before the river border with the light peaking up behind the mountains...

There is no better time to be driving about on Taiwan's countryside roads than just before dawn. 
Eventually I arrived at the southern hills overlooking the east end of Liyutan reservoir...

A little bit of pink and blue in the cloudy sky prior to sunrise over the back of Liyutan reservoir.
Low lying mist over the east end of the reservoir.
I arrived at my launch site at about 6am and met a local fisherman who was just leaving in his little car; he had been out all night to catch some sort of large, game fish which he claimed to have been around the 30kg mark. He asked me if I was going fishing too, and seemed to give a show of relief when I answered that I was only here for photography, though I'm not sure he believed me! He mentioned another vantage point from one of the nearby hills from which I could get good views over the reservoir if I wanted, and with the rising sun behind me too. I find that hard to believe however, as I have explored the area already and though I can imagine such a picture, I suspect he was just nervous about me intruding on his little fishing secret. If I could have reassured him that I really am not bothered at all about the fishing, I would have done.

Whilst getting the boat ready at the water's edge, the sky was gradually becoming lighter.
Another fisherman arrived just as I was getting my boat ready on the shoreline. Again he also asked if I was fishing, but I told him I was out to take pictures on the other side of the reservoir. I got onto the water at 6.30am and let him know I'd be back by about 8.30am (which proved to be roughly accurate). It was still cold so I kept my fleece jacket and sweater on as I started paddling out as fast as I could. The problem to be solved is that, although this reservoir is an almost linear, box-like shape which doesn't curve around bends like say Shihmen reservoir, it's middle section is interrupted by several hillside spurs on both the southern and northern shorelines. These spurs block the view from east to west, making it impossible to see the upstream face of the dam and spillway. The solution is to get out on the water and pass those spurs to reach the west end of the reservoir and obtain a clear view. That's what I was there to do.

Looking westwards along the main body of the reservoir; the gap in the distance is formed by the spurs of encroaching hills on either side.
Looking westwards from the boat just before passing the second of the southern spurs to the left. 
Looking back eastward at the rising sun having passed the second northern spur (on the left). 
Approaching the third and final spur on the northern shoreline; the control station is just visible in the background.
I arrived at my planned vantage point past the third northern spur at just after 7.30am. Taking pictures from a boat is as much difficult as the boat is moving: both bobbing up and down over small waves, and the lateral motion imparted by the use of the paddle. Unless you can find a spot to disembark, the only solution is to stop in one place with the smallest waves and allow the boat to spin until the inertia is spent and then twist your body to take pictures at right angles to the axis of the boat.

The upstream face of the dam and spillway at Liyutan reservoir; the spillway is in the center with the white fenced bridge in the background; the building to the left on the southern side is the water intake control station, through which water leaves the reservoir to be piped south to treatment plants before being fed to Taichung city.
Close up on the control station; this building is almost 25 years old. Most buildings for Taiwan's Water Corporation look like this, flat roofed boxes with narrow vertical columns interspersed with inset walls and slat windows on both floors.
Close-up on the spillway; whilst the bridge is relatively clear, the trapezoidal spillway structure is not. This is because with the reservoir now full, the water level is very high, leaving only the tips of the wall columns visible (along with their reflections). It would have been better to take this shot at a time when the water level was substantially lower.
A parting shot looking back west toward the dam and spillway with the third northern spur on the right. I like this picture.

Approaching the second northern spur on the return journey, fleece jacket and polyester sweater now long since removed and stashed at the front of the boat.
Approaching the second southern spur and about to leave the reservoir's middle section behind and return to the east end to disembark.
I returned to the east end of the reservoir and reached land at 8.40am, ten minutes late of my predicted time of 8.30am. I was packed up and back on the motorbike at 9am and reached Taichung HSR station at 10.20am with plenty of time to catch the 10.38am train back to Tainan. All in all I was quite pleased with this trip. The only thing I would have changed would have been to bring my heavy, padded waterproof coat instead of the little fleece jacket as it had been very cold during the night time drive. Other than that, nothing went wrong and I was back home with plenty of time to walk the dogs and address my sleep deficiency.

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