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September 22, 2017

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The disappearing hot springs of Xiao Jin Ping

It seems the only way is up, up and up as the interminable road—a rough, single track affair lacking a single helpful signpost or trail ribbon to prove we're on the right route—climbs ever higher, leaving the stream far below. The rushing mountain torrent, supposedly our goal on this hike, is soon left out of both sight and hearing as the road we're stuck on mounts still higher up the mountainside towering above the waters.

Finally, when after rounding yet another sharp bend the ugly strip of gray concrete heads off uphill as ever, into the distance, I throw my backside down on the hard concrete surface in sheer frustration. I'm ready to call the hike off as a bad job, and it's only through the reasoning of my companion, David, and another good look at our map, that I'm persuaded to continue the trudge. A few minutes later, the road finally levels out, the view opens up, and my mood lifts.

As we plod along, admiring the view, we flag down a solitary scooter (the first living soul we've seen in nearly an hour since leaving the car) and he confirms this is indeed the way we want to go. In another 10 minutes, we're on our way steeply downhill, and the river is once more visible, though still hundreds of meters below. I can finally make out our position on the map once more.

We're en route to the site of one of northern Taiwan's few completely natural, undeveloped hot spring sources, Xiao Jin Ping Hot Spring (小錦屏溫泉), hidden deep in the backwoods of Hsinchu (新竹) County. Hsinchu holds most of northern Taiwan's few remaining "au natural" hot spring sources, although the number is ever dwindling.

A kilometer or two before leaving the car to continue on foot, we passed a second hot spring marked on our map, only to find several large, ill-planned and very ugly new hot spring bath houses have sprung up on the riverbank at the previously untouched site. Xiao Jin Ping Hot Springs has probably escaped the developers' kiss of death simply because of its sheer remoteness. It is, as we're now finding out, not the easiest of places to get to.

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