Day 16: Tuesday, July 24th, Nanao to Henben. 7 hrs
This was another day of heat, in fact the hottest, sweatiest day yet. I had found on the previous trip that the beach route was blocked by periodic rocky outcroppings into the sea. So my route would begin along the road, heading south. It led inland for a bit, through more alluvial farm areas, a big touristy shop for local products. I saw lots of bicyclists on this stretch of road, many of whom would yell “Jia yo!” or “Yeehaw!” as they passed. Two of them stopped, and, slightly annoyingly, wanted to take pictures with me. After five minutes I got rid of them, but noticed a country road leading towards the ocean that had a proper sign. It was worth checking out, as a possible route to the sea or to see the sea, a necessary action for my “continuity quest”. I started up the road, which led up into the hills separating me from the ocean. It was a dirt road but in good shape, and it was obviously a farm access road, as their was a lot of cultivation and irrigation. But no one seemed to live there. It also seemed like an access route for maintenance of electrical towers. As I climbed higher in the blazing noonday sun (I’m half-mad dog and half-English) I slowly started to feel baked. When I got to the top, I was feeling the first effects of mild heat exhaustion. The land on top was drier and dustier, and there were masses of flies swarming about. I had hoping that there would be a nice sea view at the end of it, but in the end I just came to the end of the last field, then a wooded cliff with almost no view whatsoever – just a tiny bit of blue through the trees. Damn! Back I went, definitely feeling worse for wear. I took it easy, and drank loads of water. I even used my umbrella to create some shadow, which worked well, of course. I followed the main road, feeling a bit like shit. A friendly passerby in a car stopped and offered me a lift, which I declined, and some water, which I gladly accepted as my supplies were a bit low. I kept trudging along feeling a bit weak, nauseous and headachey, until, suddenly, I came around a corner and saw the ocean. Oh azure ribbon of cool comfort for the mind! I drank in its blue freshness in quiet ecstasy. Not only did it look good, but also it produced a nice cool breeze. I followed the road in joyous sight of the ocean, looking down on the shoreline below, seeing into the clear water, where huge boulders lay submerged just offshore. I noticed how some of the obstacles that blocked the beach were actually quite narrow, and could be swum around, possibly. There was also a road that wound down to the sea, which I guessed was another old section of highway. I was too tired and hot to take it. [A few weeks later, I went back with some friends and we “beach traced” our way along that coast, swimming or climbing past the outcroppings. We also explored that old road, which leads down the cliff in switchbacks, and then terminates in what must have been a truly god-awful landslide. South of the landslide about 60meters, there is a small path that leads down to the beach.] I was descending towards the next “Ao” and I saw a small temple by the roadside. It was a massive, smooth boulder, painted with Kuanyin. Over and around, but not touching it, there was a concave concrete shell, obviously designed to protect the “holy rock” from falling debris. In the shade behind this, where the locals had some chairs, tables and kettles, I slumped on a sofa. An old caretaker and someone else came around, told me to sleep if I wanted, and offered me some “Ching chao cha” literally, Ching dynasty tea, which was super cold. It is made from a wild plant, not tea, and had a strong, dark flavor, the more intense for being unsweetened. However, it was very refreshing. After a break, I moved on. I was within a few km of my destination, the train station at Aohua, and had come down to a much lower height. I found another small road to the seaside. I took it, and it led to what was obviously a small abandoned military building. From there, I saw a big tunnel leading into the mountain. The gate was open. The tunnel seemed modern, tidy and well used, with some kind of electrical control boxes on one wall. There was a dusty oily wind blowing out of it. I walked into the tunnel, which disappeared into darkness. As I got farther and farther away, I heard a muted mechanical roar that slowly got louder and louder. It seemed to be coming straight for me! Louder and louder and louder! I freaked, and ran out. When I got to the gate, I turned and looked. About 200 meters away, I saw the lights of a train going by! My tunnel was an access tunnel perpendicular to the railway tunnel. Amused, I started walking into town. I was tempted to stay the night on the beach, but as they say in Texas “my dogs were barking” that is, my feet hurt, and so I decided to call it a day. On the way home, when my train was in the tunnel, I looked for the tunnel mouth I had walked into. I saw it as a flash of bright daylight for about two blinks of time.