Monday, July 13, 2009

Day 41: April 18th, Joupeng to Jaleshui.

Good ol' Dawei

My friend Dawei and I had driven down the night before, and stayed at a small hotel in Hengchun. Then, bright and early the next day, we drove his car to Jaleshui, after first arranging for a driver to take us from there to Joupeng.

When we parked at Jaleshui, next to a surfer hotel called Winson House, I suddenly had to take a crap. This was full on la du zi, and waiting was not an option. I ran up to the hotels, and looked into one. It was empty. I called “Hello!” several times, but there was no answer. I found a toilet in the back and used it, leaving it as clean as when I came.

But when I exited the hotel, a surprise was waiting for me: the owner was there, looking totally pissed off that I had used the facilities without permission! He wasn’t a big guy, but had one damaged eye, which made him look a bit sinister. And he was absolutely furious! “What are you doing?? This is a private house! It’s private, you can’t just go in!” I looked around. It was a small hotel lobby of sorts, with a desk, bulletin board, and seating area. I said, “But it’s a hotel!” He responsed: “I don’t care!” I explained: “Look, I tried to find somebody but I couldn’t, and I had la du zi!” But he refused to believe me. He stayed angry and vaguely threatening. Eventually, we moved the car out of fear that he would vandalize it.

Our driver showed up and drove us to the drop off point, a pleasant 30-minute country drive. Soon, we were back in cow country!

A seaside lane on the route from Joupeng to the trailhead

We walked south along the small road, noticing signs of abandoned houses. We soon came to a small village, where we asked the local police officer for information on the trail. We got a strange answer: “You are not allowed on that trail,” he said. We protested, but he insisted: “I am sure! You are not allowed. So, I cannot explain the route to you.”

My Taiwanese friend caught the subtle hint, and said, “Let’s go!” to me. The cop turned his back and didn’t follow out movements.

This mean, it was explained to me, that we weren’t allowed, so he couldn’t tell us “OK,” but he wasn’t going to stop us!

The end of the road ...again!

We found the trailhead just past the fish port. What started as a track rapidly degenerated into basically a line well above the high-tide mark where beach rocks had been compacted by foot, bicycle and motorcycle.

Looking back at the fishport

We shlepped along for a while. For such a forbidden beach, it wasn’t actually a big deal. It was beautiful, but unfortunately covered in garbage. It looked like debris from fishing boats: floats, nets, and water bottles. The brands and Chinese characters on the bottles clearly indicated that they were Taiwanese ones, too, despite things I’d heard from my Taiwanese friends about the garbage coming from countries like the Philippines!

There were some very nice green hills to our right, covered in stubbly bushes and grass. An old fisher dude on a motorbike passed us. We came to a stream that had a small fishing camp at it. It clearly looked as if someone stayed over night there sometimes, under a tarp, with blankets and other stuff. The stream seemed pristine – except for the garbage in it!

After this point, the path disappeared. Basically, the jumble of larger rocks left no one obvious route to be smoothed down into a trail. We made our way at half speed. It was neither easy nor really hard. To our left there were some lovely rock formations sloping down in clear-cut lines into the bright blue surf. Later on, there was a point that was made of wind-shaped sandstone. There, the wind was really intense. It seemed that when we reached it, we were abandoning the protection that the southern peninsula offered from the open wind of the Bashi Strait. We stopped for lunch there, huddled out of the wind. It was a fascinating area: there were interesting rock formations, a view south to the radar station at Longpan, and large rusted ochre segments of a modern ship that had run aground there years ago. It might well have been what’s left of the Amorgos, a Greek freighter that had run aground off Kending in January 2001.

Wind-swept sandstone at a very windy point.

Rusted wreckage

After that, it was a pretty straightforward slog down the beach. We passed a pair of guys with bicycles. That seemed pretty strange, as it was pretty clear that this was not a great trail for bikes. It would be painfully slow and inconvenient over about half of the distance, as you’d have to carry the bikes while hopping on and off car-sized boulders!

As we got closer to Jaleshui, the car-sized boulders became truck-sized, and progress was often made by scrambling and low-grade climbing. But all told, no big deal. We passed by some sort of police outpost, no doubt designed to prevent access to the trail, and got stared suspiciously at. In the small beach near the post, which was serviced by a small road, there were families out harvesting shellfish, or clearing the scooter trail near the beach. And then, a long-awaited milestone for me and my little pocket-sized adventure, Jaleshui! Getting there represented the end of the difficult part and the beginning of the easier, although doubtless longer and less interesting one!

Dawei and I walked back past all the famous Jaleshui rocks, which quite honestly were nothing special compared to what we had seen that day on the “forbidden” section. We got to his car, drove into Kending, got a hotel room, pigged out at Amy’s Pizza, and then got drunk on the beach. Ahhhhhhh…burp!

Happy to finish the last tricky bit along the East Coast

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Day 40; April 12th: Gangzai to Joupeng + Road hike to Hsin Chuang in Pingdong

I was on the road just a whisper after dawn, and enjoyed the fine morning air and light. I crossed the beach in front of the large dunes, and on the other side came to the small road going south. But I was not to take that road further south today, as some friends had said they wanted to do that final section leading to Jaleshui with me.

Sand dunes on the beach

This was my last shot of the day as my camera battery died!

I couldn't continue south today, so instead I decided to test myself. I intended to hike as long and as far as I could and only stop when I started to feel really bad. I would follow Highway 200 to Hengchun, and from there could easily make my way home.

The first part of the journey was through Joupeng. This is a really small, farmy little community in a valley that mainly seems to subsist from cattle farming. There were cows and scatological evidence of their existence everywhere, with beasts meandering along the road and even grazing on the sports field at the elementary school! (Well, no sense wasting good grass now, is there?)

There was some tourism but it didn’t overwhelm the place. There was lots of local character, including groups of women chewing bin lang outside their homes and gossiping!

Then I was through it and following Highway 200 up gently sweeping hills. They were very lush, and there were dead snakes on the road and monkeys hooting in the trees. Below, I could see one huge rice farm that snaked up a green valley like a fat, emerald-coloured python.

After about 4 hours of walking, my feet started to hurt. This was after 30km with a medium pack the day before, and only light boots. I kept at it. Hours went by, and everything was great – the view, the temperature, my being on schedule, my overall energy level, my motivation – except my feet!

It wasn’t my arches, and blisters weren’t the main problem: it was just the whole front part of the foot felt sore to the bone! When I stopped to take a break, it felt much worse for a few minutes after I got started again.After 6 1/2 hours of walking and about 35km, mostly on hard pavement, I had had enough. My dogs were barkin’!

I stopped at a bus stop, in the town of Hsin Chuang, and thinking that it read “no afternoon bus except on Wednesday”, but being unsure, I asked a soldier carting boxes of water to read it for me. He confirmed what I thought. It turned out he was from Singapore, here on training. They don’t have a lot of mountains and jungle in Singapore for their soldiers to train in, so they often come to Taiwan. That explained the odd convoy of right-hand drive jeeps that had passed me earlier.

I got a drive back with an unlicensed cab, and the driver confirmed that it was quite common to see the Singaporeans in the area. We passed a few squads of the Singaporean soldiers out on a hike, mostly Chinese with a few Indian dudes thrown in. Then to Hengchun, and bus, TRA, HSR, MRT, home!

When I got home my feet ached and were slightly swollen for a few days.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Day 39: Daren to Gangzai; April 11th 2009

The beach at Daren

This was definitely one of my more interesting walks, from a scenic and logistical point of view, as it meant passing through the first of two sections along the SE coastline that lack roads near the coast for some of their length.

It started with another hyper-active morning of traveling from Taipei to the opposite side of Taiwan well before lunch: MRT, HSR, TRA, bus. Total time, 6 hours. I literally had to sprint through Kaohsiung Train Station to make my connection, with only seconds to spare! But I made it!

Now, in Daren, I was ready to start down the odd roads on this part of the island.
I hiked along the beach for a while, until the road came to flank it. The road was a smallish lane, ambling through pleasant countryside. The village was called Nantian, and it was clearly aboriginal. That is, it was poor, quaint, laid-back, and bedecked with local art. Dogs barked at me out of habit, but with no real malice. One guy saw me walking by and told me that there was no through road, and I’d have to hike a bit. No problem! (I hoped.)

Groovy houses, sleepy country roads in Nantian

After about 6 more km, the pavement turned into a dirt road. Then, it terminated in a small cluster of farm buildings. There were also some abandoned military buildings, (something I’d be seeing a lot more of in the days ahead) and then, literally, the end of the road – but not of the way forward.

Getting close to the end of the road.

Asphalt turns to dirt

And then, hikers only!

I followed the beach path to the trail: there it was, well tagged, going up a steep hill, with ropes for support. It was a bit tough going up, but good fun at the same time. The path first climbed steeply, then traversed laterally along a very steep slope facing the ocean. It was well marked but narrow, and was slippery in places as the soil was made of many loose pebbles. It wandered in and out of patches of forest. Somewhere in one patch of woods I left Taidong and entered Pingdong. Coming down the final slope was a bit tricky, what with the slippy conditions, but I made it all right, using the tried and true (if destructive to clothing) method of going down on one’s butt.

The trail onwards

After a steep climb, a lovely view

And then a step descent

The path led down to a fairly nice wild and natural beach. There were some nice rocks and views of green forest-clad hills, and then ahead I could see a bit of road, which was a spur of Highway 199, which came to the beach, turning into Highway 26 going south. I followed that road, and it gradually got busier, with some local tourists, blue-collar types fishing and barbecuing, not the obvious city types I’d meet later on. In the distance, on a hill overlooking the ocean, there was a huge, impressive-looking military complex. I believe this is Taiwan’s main missile base. It is hard to see from up close because it is set back from the edge of the hill it is on, and thus obscured from the base of that hill. Then, I arrived in the small village of Syuhai. It was a pretty little town, tarted up for the tourists a bit with guesthouses and restaurants. There were loads of city tourists here: nice (if a bit boring) families in minivans, groups out bicycling on silly small-wheeled bikes, and teens yeehawing around in rented jeeps.

Poopoo cairn?

Back to the road

Distant view of missile base

When the turns from dirt to asphalt, you know you're heading towards civilization.

Which, of course, means tourists!


Despite a longish day, I decided to press onwards to Gangzai, another 8km. The road passed through a military area that was full of disused structures. I believe this an area that was formerly off limits to civilians. There were several checkpoints on the road, all but one – which was on a side-road up to the missile base – unmanned.

About 5km of abandoned military facilities along Highway 26

The day grew to a close, and I finally arrived in Gangzai, which is a nice little fishing village next to some fairly impressive sand dunes. I got a room in a guesthouse, (whose owner was humorously forgetful, like Barliman Butterbur in the Prancing Pony) and crashed out.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Days 37 and 38. February 28 and March 1 2009. From Jinluen to Dawu town centre, and from Dawu town centre to Daren.

Day 37:
The first coastal hike of 2009! Chinese New Year would have been a good time to get some km under my belt, but I had gone to Mexico for a family wedding instead. In any case, now here I was, on the road again! …But only after the usual elaborate transportation arrangements: MRT from Danshui to Taipei Main Station, HSR to Zuoying, TRA to Jinluen. I finally started to walk at around 11.45, after changing into exercise clothes in the train station.

Right outside Jinluen train station, the road was flanked by walls covered in bas-relief painted sculptures with aboriginal themes: snakes, warriors, etc. There were also some cute kids riding around on bikes, very pleased to spot and talk with a foreigner!

Onto the road proper: winding up a cliff, then back down to flat coast-hugging. It was a gray day and although the scenery was OK, it wasn’t anything spectacular or new to me.

However, I did come across something that I found interesting: A crew was installing a new wave-barrier wall of concrete tetra-blocks. I had never seen this actually being done before. Flatbed trucks brought in the huge blocks, and a couple of guys helped put the cable around the top of the block. Then, a crane lifted them off the truck and swung them into position, with the guys guiding the swinging block precisely into place. They were seemingly oblivious of the risk of being between a massive moving block and a stationary block, as they kept squirming carelessly between the two large masses!

Next to the new wall I could see how eroded and covered in sand the last series of blocks had become.

Risky yes. But well worth 200 NT per hour.

I moved on: The fading light found me in Dawu. It had a lot of restaurants and shops, so I figured it would be a good place to spend the night. I found a really cheap hotel – 600NT – and was shown my room. Aaagh! There were fresh wet spots in the middle of the bed, nice shiny ones too! Gross! It seemed like the traveling salesman had had a quickie with the farmer’s daughter. I asked for another room and was shown one a bit better, which I accepted. But it turned out not to be so great either. One thing I hadn’t noticed before taking the room was that there was no light switch for the interior light inside the room. The switch was outside, so I had to reach outside my door to turn the light on and off! Another bad point was that the bed cover was a shiny artificial fabric that kept slipping along the bed. But the worst thing was the stinky pillow! It must have been about 50% mite feces, and had been well sweated into over the years.

I woke frequently throughout the night, each time feeling a wave of mild horror. Little did I know that this uncomfortable night’s sleep would lead to an interesting epiphany the following day….

(Day 38:)
The next day dawned in groaning, stinky-pillowed weariness. I felt like crap. A look in the mirror confirmed the sensation. I got dressed and packed, and went down to have some breakfast. Then, I started trudging dutifully out of town.

A km or so out, I felt the call of nature. Just ahead was a full-service CPC gas station, with toilets. Fortunately in Taiwan it’s rare for these to be enforced as “customer only”.

I found the men’s, located the door to the Western-style crapper stall and opened it up.

Hallelujah! Heavenly trumpets blared! I was instantly transported to a better world, a higher state of being. Inside the spacious, highly private stall, all was white, clean, new and gleaming. A window near the high ceiling let in air and sunshine, and the odor was of the great outdoors with a tiny bit of detergent. Compared to my hotel room, it was heaven! After making my deposit, I actually stayed on a bit longer, drank another small bottle of coffee and read the paper. When I emerged, it seemed as if the stain on my soul of the long dark night had been erased. I started laughing at how the toilet had cheered me up so much, and with that gentle self-mockery, the bad feelings of the previous night were swept away. Thank you CPC, for that wonderful experience!

As loyal as a dog, the East Coast never disappoints when it comes to beauty.

On down the road: In a few hours I came to Daren, where Highway 9 diverged from the coast to cross over the mountains into Pingdong. A small road, Highway 26, continued down the coastline. That would be my next route, for another day, as I guessed there was no bus service along this route. I was getting closer to the last bit of coastline in Taiwan with no road. In fact, the last two bits!

Sorry guys, but I think you got the swatikas the wrong way round!

Beautiful Daren township. The end of the main road for me.

A quiet sort of place.