Day 14: Monday, July 2nd, Dongao to Nanao. 6.5hrs
This turned out to be one of the weirder days up till then. I set out fairly early, and first walked along the beach area in Dongao. It was the usual gray and gravelly Ilan beach. At the end of the beach, down the road a bit, was a small fish port, but no connection to the highway far above. So, back I went back and took the road, which climbed up through the green hills. The view was becoming more interesting and dramatic. I noticed a small waterfall on the hillside across from me, originating and disappearing in lush green forest. Soon there was a double tunnel for cars, but next to it, a small road with an open gate. I followed it, and soon surmised that it was an older version of the Suao-Hualien highway. It was still in use in some capacity, but weeds were encroaching on both sides. It went on and on, feeling a little odd to be in an isolated area that had car access. It felt vaguely dangerous. Well, as if to mock me for being paranoid, events conspired to make me even more so. A short time later, a Freeca SUV came down the road from further up the track. As it went by, I waved. About 100 meters past me, I heard the sound of a two-way radio squawking. Then, the van stopped, and started reversing towards me! About 30m away it stopped, and two guys got out, a short guy and a tall guy. There was also another guy inside the car who didn’t come out. The short guy was older and appeared to be in charge. They were dressed in casual clothes, but seemed very neat and well groomed. They approached me, and the shorter guy asked me if I could speak Chinese, and I said “only a little”. We conversed mainly in English. He asked the usual questions, “Where are you from?” etc. I asked him if they were police, but he said they were reporters. “We want to take a picture with you!” he said. They wanted to be in the picture too! It seemed strange, as then they obviously couldn’t print it. What was the use of it? Then the younger guy stood next to me for the picture. Then, they let me take a picture of them and their car. Then, thank you’s and bye-bye’s, and off they went. It all seemed very strange. I had seen a TV news crew in the area that morning, filming some harbour, but why would they stop and ask to be photographed with me on an isolated country road? It made me feel a bit vulnerable. Alice, you’re not in Tianmu any more! Anyway, I tromped on, along the road, and eventually came to a junction. To the right, the road became a proper mountain road leading up the hill, with mirrors at sharp turns, distance markers, and a yellow stripe in the middle. Ahead was a short, gated tunnel with a low gate that was easy to climb over. There was a path to the left of the tunnel. I tried the path, but it was overgrown with tall weeds, so I turned back. I went through the tunnel, and at the end of it found an older highway sign, apparently full of bullet holes! I had seen some kind of Aboriginal Police vehicle on the road earlier, so probably this was an Aboriginal area, and maybe some of the local bravos liked to take shots with their hunting rifles at the sign sometimes!
I walked along the old road, really hoping it would connect to the highway again. It was a pleasant environment, with lovely trees and ferns, and occasional peeks at the stunning coastline. Then, without warning, about 20 meters in front of me, the top of a tree on the cliff side of the road just exploded, and the pieces and what must have been a rock boomed down the side of the cliff. I had heard no noise, from what I assume was a falling rock, above the trail coming down. Hence, I assume that it was a rock that had bounced very high above me, come down at a steep angle silently and at high speed, and then smashed into the top of a tree. After this I was feeling a bit spooked, but I kept going on, until the track just ended in a mound of dirt. I marched back, and went a few clicks up the mountain road, but it just went up and up, and nowhere on my route, so I went all the way back to the starting point off the main highway, by the twin tunnels.
. I followed the road without adventure until I came to Nanao. It was a big area, a cultivated and inhabited area of about 40 sq km, obviously an alluvial fan created by mountain runoff carried by the small river that went through the town. It was a fertile and cheerful looking place. There was a turn-off for a fish port, so I took that small road, through green fields of pineapple and other crops. I went through the fishing village, and it seemed to be a very sleepy backwater indeed. I came to some kind of irrigation canal that had lovely clean cool water running in it, which I later learned was a cold spring. Some local teenagers were bathing in it. Then, there was a harbor, with a fine view. And, most importantly, a little shop that sold water and cold beer! Ahhh!