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.

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