Day 19: Monday, December 25, Heren to Sincheng / 6 hrs
This time I was really hoping to finish the whole Suhua area. It had been very interesting, but the cliffs were a bit dodgy and it was time for a change. Besides, dealing with both the old highway and the new made progress too slow.
I set off on the most imposing part of the hike to date, the Chingshui cliffs. These are the highest sea-cliffs in Taiwan, and tower almost a 1000 meters above the sea. They are actually part of the Taroko Gorge area that touches the sea. They are beautiful not only for their grandeur, but also for how the dust from falling rocks being pulverized turns the water an enchanting and wonderful light blue color near the cliff base.
I started off from Heren, and the road (the coast was impassable) soon led up up up. I passed the Taroko Park entrance, and again played the game of trying to access bits of the old highway, and really hoping they wouldn’t dead-end and cause me to backtrack. This worked out OK, and luckily there were sidewalks in all tunnels, so when I couldn’t follow the old road I could safely continue on foot. After a few hours of trudging, in somewhat gray and cheerless weather, I came to a rest area that was equipped with many informative placards about the Suhua highway. I continued again, with the old road finding. As I have described it all before, there isn’t too much more to add, except that the Chingshui cliffs are almost breathtakingly beautiful at times, and the best way to see them is on the old road on foot. It’s an exciting if dangerous walk, and on this day there were many tunnels and cliff-roads. Later, about lunchtime, I came to another rest area, near which there was a restored section of the old road, obviously deemed safe enough for tourism, which was swept clean. At the end was an easily crossed barrier. I continued along the road past the tourist area. Soon, I entered a long tunnel. It was a wide, flat tunnel, in good repair, with occasional side tunnels connecting to the cliff. But it was really long, and totally dark except for the main and side tunnel mouths. I had the odd experience of walking through the dark, and navigating by lights ahead, behind and to the side, which were bright enough to guide me for me to see my destination, but didn’t illuminate the road or me. It was like traveling towards a light on the sea at night. At the end, there was another section of old road, along the sheerest bit of cliff, one that many people never get to see, as they are in the newer, safer road tunnel.
I could see that I was approaching the end of the cliffs area: ahead, I could see the beach reasserting itself, curving away from the mountains, and reclaiming its role as ocean’s margin. The mountains receded away on the other side, leading off to Taroko. In the middle area, abandoned by both beach and mountain, lay some bumpy land, with farms, some industry, etc: I was almost in Hualien City.
I made my way down from the cliff-walk to the beach by a staircase at a tourist rest stop, and started trudging along. I passed some pull-up fishing boats, and a friendly group of aboriginals. I started to feel nagged by the wind. There was a small road running parallel to the beach, just inland, so I took that, happy for a change of pace. Soon, I came to some sort of sand excavation site, probably for making aggregate. I started to think, “Hmmm…looks like the kind of place where there might be dogs.” Yup! I was about halfway through the site when I was spotted by a pack of seven or eight similar-looking yellow dogs, clearly a family. One came first, and then the others showed up. They all came tearing at me, frantically snarling, barking, trying to outflank me, and getting too close for comfort. I knew not to run, so I chose fight instead of flight: I charged them, shouting very loudly, throwing rocks at the leader. They all backed off a lot, but when I started walking quickly out of the area, they came after me. I had to stand them down several times in this way. Eventually, I made it out of the sand site and onto a rocky beach. They kept following me, but I gave them a bombardment of beach rocks, so they left. Later, as I passed adjacent to the other side of the same area, I could hear them barking as, I imagined, they caught my scent in the wind. FUCKING DOGS!! Anyway, it was good for an adrenaline rush!
I then soon came to the mouth of the river that flows out of Taroko. There was a wide river mouth, mostly dry. I followed my way up the watercourse to the bridges: as usual, there were two rail bridges close to the ocean, one old and out of use, one modern one, and a highway bridge much farther up. Again as usual, it was easier to find a way up to the railway bridges. I climbed up the slope, and found where the bridges started, and found that the modern bridge had a kind of walkway along the side. It was a long trip across, at least 1km. I did it, without any trains passing. In the middle of the bridge a bunch of crows started flying around. They seemed to have a colony on an island in the middle of the river. I though it was interesting, as I hadn’t seen any crows in Taiwan up till then.
I got to the other side, and found my way down to a farm road. Just as I got there, a police car pulled up, and a cop got out. He was looking at me intently, but looked a bit embarrassed. Maybe someone had reported me on the tracks, and the cop had been sent to investigate. But, unable to speak English, he just stood there! I followed the farm road, which led to a larger road, which led to the road next to the train station, past the store with the Murphy’s – an increasingly rare commodity at 711, alas. I was in Sincheng, only one more day from reaching Hualien.