I stand just meters from the fall looking up at it. It is tall and narrow, the stream of water tumbling down a near vertical cliff, hitting little protrusions in the cliff face on the way down, sending a fine mist into the air. The mist catches the rays of the sun, forming a permanent rainbow that hovers in the air just above the the shallow little pool at the fall's base. The little gully where I stand lies in the shadow of the cliffs above and the air is filled with the rushing of the water. Outside, the landscape is bathed in sunlight, all green and bright and swelteringly hot, but here it's cool and calm with the soothing sounds of the water drowning out all other noise. As I stand there admiring the view, the excitement of successfully scrambling my way up the lower falls to this place slowly dissipates and I feel a calm settle over me. It's as if my mind has been emptied of all worries and negative feelings and I simply feel happy.
The trail is close to vertical, a narrow trench of bare gray rock leading up towards the summit, the sides of the cliff forming a sharp V-shape against the sky. The bottom of the trench is uneven, forming footholds here and there, and two thick, knotted ropes run down the sides for you to hold on to. I'm standing halfway up, waiting for the person in front of me to get around a particularly difficult section, thinking to take a photo but I realize this is not the time. My position is too precarious, swinging the pack off my back to retrieve the camera might throw me off balance, and besides I have people waiting below me. Instead I spend a few moments just taking in the strange feeling of standing here: the urge to continue moving upward, to keep pushing towards the end of the trail, mixed with the very real sense of danger in standing at this very spot, and the thrill that it brings. Normally I would wax poetic about the beauty of the surrounding landscape, but right here and now, that's it, nothing more.
I thought I could go swimming but it's too dangerous. The beach slopes steeply down towards the water, and when a big wave comes sweeping in it's like a giant trough of water that empties then fills back up in matter of seconds. Though swimming is out of the question I still enjoy the feeling of waves washing over my feet, so I walk a few meters down the slope, let my feet get swallowed up by the pleasantly cool water while the afternoon sun warms my back. I hesitate for a moment, thinking about taking a few steps more, then another big wave comes rolling in and crashing onto the beach with tremendous force; white foam rushing forwards, the water rising from my knees to my chest in an instant, the force pushing me back at least a meter. Just as I recover my balance the water rushes out again, pulling at my legs, threatening to drag me with it. Behind it, a million little rocks come rolling down the beach, filling the air with a rattling, rushing noise against the background booming of the waves.
The water is a nearly perfect navy blue topped by a faint streak of orange from the warm glowing ball of the setting sun. I lie in the water after my run over the soggy grey sand, letting it cool me down. A wave comes rolling lazily along, slowly lifting me up then gently dropping me down as it passes. I take in the beauty of the sunset and just drift, total relaxation.
The sun is shining merrily, heating me up despite the early April chill. Across the river a marching band is playing Highway to the Danger Zone, the brass section really putting in some extra oomph. All around the cherry trees are in bloom, their flowers white with just a hint of pink; a sea of blossoms against the pale blue sky. A light breeze caresses the branches, sending some delicate petals raining down on me. It is simply a perfect moment.
It's the last big fireworks of the night and this rack is the biggest, with three tiers of firecrackers ready to be shot out over the audience. The announcer starts the count down and we in the crowd count along with her, three, two, one. The rockets start spewing out from the rack, streaks of orange passing over us, and the sound of explosions somewhere behind us like we're in the middle of an oven full of popcorn. Where I'm standing the rockets seem to be firing right at me, the orange trails just passing over my head; it feels like I'm a soldier under fire. Every once in while a firecracker will actually fall into the crowd, exploding close by, sending sparks flying. I can feel one hit my leg, another hits my left arm, and a one even pings off my visor in a disconcerting way. Despite this I'm not scared, I feel secure in my protective gear. It is a visceral experience.
I'm dripping with sweat, the mask makes it uncomfortable to breath and my visor is fogging up but trying to do anything about that now would be far too dangerous. A cloud of thick smoke is enveloping the crowd, the rack of firecrackers, which I know to be just a few meters in front of me, is all but invisible and people further off in the crowd have disappeared completely. The incessant sounds of explosions fill the air and from the smoke comes burst of orange and flashes of lightning as the firecrackers detonate. All I can do is weather the storm and take it all in.
Despite the south Taiwan heat I'm fully covered: thick jacket, gloves, full face motorcycle helmet and two towels wrapped around my neck to cover all the gaps. I'm sweating like a pig but I can't take any of it off, the protection is necessary for what is about to happen. I stand in a crowd of people and in front of me is the rack absolutely full of fireworks, ready to be set off any minute now. My sense of anticipation is palpable as I watch intently while the final preparations are made...