At night, we stay at a small B&B owned by a Seediq couple. The wife, Lisa, prepares a huge assortment of snacks as her husband, Bilin, brews endless pots of local oolong tea. A retired cop, he claims his name translates as “hero”; Lisa lovingly jokes that it actually means “booze-hound”. She laughs when the group’s tea-drinking predictably becomes whisky sipping. Soon, the men are all playing with bows and arrows, carved by Bilin, who competes at traditional archery. Never mind that the mountain sky is full of stars and that tomorrow’s long hike demands an early start.
Not long past dawn, we find ourselves perched on an outcrop above a deep valley. The trailhead is a 25-minute drive from the tribal hot spring town of Lushan, up Provincial Highway 14. “The mountain spirits can see you in this open space,” Kong-Ba says as he hands me a glass of millet wine. Our fellowship faces east, and our guide begins to speak in Seediq, asking the ancestors for permission to enter their land. I stare out at a glorious panorama of natural mountains shaped like pyramids. The morning sky paints their silhouettes in shades of purple. A low mist flows between them. Kong-Ba’s incantation ends. And I drink.