Saturday, December 27, 2008

Day 31: October 25th: Longchang to Fugang

When I started out from Lonchang on yet another fine morning, the lovely weather and beauty of the Taidong countryside was yet again a tonic for the soul. But the journey there had been a bit arduous. I had taken a late night train to Hualien, arriving at about 3 AM, then waited at the bus stop for two hours, in the company of some interesting characters: a man of the countryside sitting nearby, rather surprised to see me; a gaggle of bin lang chewing youths sprawled over their scooters in the parking lot chatting loudly, saying gan and ji bai with every breath; and an old man in a singlet and boxer shorts wandering around in the rain. In the fullness of time, the bus came and we set off, once again along the Highway 11 coastline that had become so familiar.

The bus only went as far as Chen Gong, but that was no problem, as an opportunistic cabbie waited for those heading further along the coast. He named a price, and I haggled with him a bit. He caved in at once, beaming and chuckling, seemingly delighted to come across a foreigner with the gall to haggle like a local! But he was an old softie: When we had almost arrived at Longchang, he made a pit stop: where a rough track left the highway, he stopped, took a bag of dog food out of the trunk, and called out. Within seconds, a pack of skinny and diseased strays materialized, and mobbed the kind guy with almost heartbreaking affection. He came back soon, and within minutes he had let me off and it was time to walk.

I found my way to the coast by farm roads. The beach was rocky and slow going, my discomfort made worse by my new hiking boots, only partly broken in. After several sweaty hours, I found some farm roads following the coast, again enjoying the rustic tracks through farms and coconut palms.

After a while, I returned to the highway, which now followed the coast closely. There was beach after beautiful beach, lovely sand, sparking blue ocean, rocky points, small fishing communities, temples, a fine breeze. It was fantastic…except for my feet! Those tough new European boots were starting to do a number on my pods. As they say in Texas, “My dogs were barkin’!” After four hours I had to take them off. My feel almost had an orgasm when I did. The only problem was that my only other shoes were Tefa sandals.
I trudged on, being sufficiently uncomfortable to skip “Water Running Uphill”, a kind of optical illusion tourist spot. On I went, overall having a good time as that area is really beautiful.

North of Taidong city, there is no shortage of stunning coastline.

I came to Shuishan beach, not far north of Taidong, where I had camped with my wife-to-be many years ago. ACK! That lovely beach had been blemished with the Mother of all Garishly Inappropriate Hotels – an utterly tasteless monster.

The "wart" on Shuisan beach.

Looking north up the coast and deliberately not seeing the wart!

Past that there was an odd touristy art-park rest-stop. That was OK, as the art was inspired by Formosan aboriginal themes and used natural materials.

I trudged on, my arches being encouraged to flatten in the unsupported sandals. I was tired from virtually no sleep and a long day hiking in the sun with a backpack. Never mind!
The next point of interest was Siao Yaliou, another collection of rather interesting rocks by the sea. I gave it only a brief inspection, as I’m no “looking at rocks by the sea” neophyte! It was cool though, despite the obnoxiously friendly bicycle group roughly insisting I sit with them.


What I did like however was finding a sneaky back way into Fu Gang harbour. I love fishing harbours, maybe a holdover form living in Nova Scotia as a child. There’s something about the old boats being repaired, the industrial and mechanical activities and equipment, the smells and feeling: oil, fish, nets, boats, purpose. Fu Gang was a fish port and a tourist harbour, as the marine transport hub to Green and Orchid islands. There were seafood restaurants a plenty. And, as it turned out, a nice little guesthouse.
Flop on the bed in the air con, take a long shower, pop, clean, sterilize and bandage my blood-infused blisters; do my yoga stretches, drink a shit load of water, dress in clean clothing, and set out again on shaky pins in search of COLD BEER!!

I deserved this!! Ahhhh!

Fugang Harbour

Then, I went to the sea wall with a few pops to enjoy the view of the ocean in the evening light, and watch the locals fishing from high up on the wall. It was 15 meters straight down to the dark ocean.
Then, a solo seafood feast, and a burpy journey off to bed. No trouble getting to sleep!

Day 30: September 20th, Duli to Longchang.

The next day I started off along the road. I ended up walking for a couple of hours along the highway, uncertain how to get to the coastline, which was about 1km away. I kept thinking the road would rejoin the coast, but it never did. Hence, there’s a section of about 4km that I missed, and will have to go back and do at some point. Or do I? It’s become a point of internal debate to me how necessary it is to always follow the coast. In one sense, that’s the point of my exercise, the thing that defines the walk. But on the other hand, if there’s a cool aboriginal village along the road, 400 meters inland from the sea, am I by duty compelled to walk the beach instead? In the end, I think that in certain areas, such as coastal Taidong, that it is justifiable for me to stay inland for short stretched to capture the real feeling of the place, and then to return to the true seashore walk. But I will and make up most of these sections before I call the walk over.

Lovely, pastoral Taidong County

On this day, I eventually came to a beautiful red bridge over a river valley. On the other side was a path to the sea. Ahh! I went down to the beach, and followed it around the bend. Shit! Tetra-block molecule land! I mean, the shoreline was composed of the big tetrahedral concrete anti-wave-erosion blocks. They present a highly varied surface profile for walking, as they are designed to interlock and counter-lever each other for stability. It’s a good workout, anyway.

Quiet harbour
That ended a bit later, and I came to some farm roads near the beach. It was about 35C and the sun was really strong. I eventually came to a medium-sized but almost deserted fish port. I guess all the boats were out or something. The water was the most amazing, luminous blue-green. Beyond that, there were a series of really beautiful beaches, clean and open, undulating past small rocky outcrops, the gentle surf sparkling gleefully. I trudged sweatily along through the beauty, until eventually I came to some wooden stairs leading back to the road. As it was almost time for me to think about going home, I went back to the road. A few clicks later, I came to Longchang. I found a bus stop – this time headed for Taidong, not Hualien – and got a few cold ones into me before the bus arrived.

Love that colour

The beginning of a long series of beaches

Day 29: September 18th: Sansiantai to Duli

I arrived in Sansiantai after the usual long journey: train to Hualien, sleep in a cheapie hotel, early morning bus down the coast. The “Platform of the Three Immortals” is something of a tourist attraction, so there were lots of little restaurants. After eating some salty, oily fish and deep-fried sweet potato (Why?) I walked over the 8-arched bridge and out to the island with the three big funny looking rocks – the so-called immortals. Yep, nice rocks. Onwards! I backtracked a bit to the small village next to the island. With my pack, my stomach full of weird food, and the intense heat of mid-day, I didn’t feel too great humping along the slidy gravel beach.

Sansiantai: "Platform of the Three Immortals"

Later I skipped back through Sansiantai and found a little track near the sea, where the tourist trail connected to some farm roads. It was lovely, quaint countryside: coconut palms, farm shacks and houses, rocks next to the see. In time, the small road joined the bigger roads, and I ended up on the smaller of two main roads into Chengong City, which is the largest settlement on the coast between Hualien and Taidong. I walked through the fish port, too late to see the catch coming in, but in time to see them chopping up tuna, and sweeping up fish guts. I carried on through Chengong and out on the road beyond. It was about 5 pm and I was starting to think about where I would spend the night.

Chengong fish port, after the big rush

At the top of a hill, there was a road that went down to the see, with a sign saying “Bawangwang” or something like that. It sounded like a sinicized aboriginal name. It seemed like a through road, so I followed it, and was soon walking through what was certainly a very poor and simple aboriginal village. It was spread out, and there seemed to be no center, no stores, nothing but poor-looking houses and coconut trees. It felt more like Thailand than Taiwan. The road was right by the sea, so I guessed these guys got walloped by typhoons regularly. A few people passed by, on extremely old and noisy scooters. There were three police patrols in the 50 minutes that I spent walking through. Not a postcard village.

Eventually, this road rejoined Highway 11, in a cluster of upscale but fairly tasteful looking hotels. One looked nice, with wooden cabins, but NT2700 per night was too much for my trip budget (all these trips add up). The lady did tell me of a guesthouse down the road. So, at about 7pm in the dark, in the very humble town of Duli, I arrived. Downstairs they were playing mahjong. Amusingly, the female proprietor got a call, and when she saw who it was asked all us to shhhhh! After a while, the call was over, and the other players laughed! It turned out to be another player who hadn’t been invited to the game!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Day 28: Changbin town center to Sansiantai.

Strange wicker boatman near the roadside

I started off very early, eager to make progress before the day got too hot. It was very beautiful, calm and fresh in the post-dawn, as always. The coast continued as before, but fish ports became more noticeable. They were very charming and although obviously they were trying to make money from tourism, they had a very authentic feeling to them. One noticeable one was Shihyusan. There were many interesting rock formations in or next to the sea, some of them creating natural harbours.

A proud eagle

The main factor for me that day was the heat. It slowly crept up on me, and into me. I was concerned with the dual factors of heat stroke and sunburn. I was hydrating madly and sweating like a squeezed sponge, so it was hard to get the sun block to really stick. I also found myself getting that impatient, uncomfortable feeling that I always get right before heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is one stage before heat stroke. Heat stroke can kill you. Heat exhaustion is the warning that you better get into the shade and take it easy. By the time I got to Sansiantai, I was boiling hot. Although I felt safe from heat exhaustion, that was only because I had been very careful in my level of exertion. I got the bus from Sansiantai to Jingpu – one of those buses where you actually sit over the driver head. I was right in front, with the aircon blasting. Ahhh!

Shihyusan Fish Port

Natural harbour

Warrior and faithful friend

There was a stopover in Jingpu, and I sat outside in the shade in the tiny little bus station. I drank three ice-cold Taiwan beers in 45 minutes, waiting for the next bus. It was bliss! The ride back was a sleepy dream of staring out the window at endless blue bays and rocky coastline.

Day 27: August 2nd, Changbin Township to Changbin town center.

An Amis hero?

In my obligatory stopover in Hualien City before going south, I ended up at a bar called the Surfer Lounge. Needless to say, it was a late start the next day. The earliest bus I could get was 11.30am, so I only actually started walking at around 1pm. It was the full heat of the summer day, and I didn’t move to fast, but I still very much enjoyed checking out my surroundings. It was classic northern Taidong County scenery: farms by the sea, and a string of little villages with a strong aboriginal flavor. In this part, there were many statues of chiefs, princesses, warriors and animals, which I guessed were legendary characters from the myths of the aboriginals who lived in the area.

Tearing a banana tree into strips for plaiting

Cool blue Guanyins near the Basian Caves

One point of interest on this walk included the Basian Caves. These caves have some archeological remnants from the Chun-Pin Culture, which is the oldest known Paleolithic culture in Taiwan – as much as 15,000 years old. The caves themselves are fairly interesting. They are not deep but they’re impressive. One of them has been turned into a temple and is full of Buddhas, Guanyins and other gods.

Friendly locals. Apparently, the woman seated at front center needs a boyfriend!

I got into Changbin Township about five and decided to call it a day, as there was a nice cheap hotel with beach access winking at me and luring me in. I did the usual beer on the beach thing, enjoying the peacefulness, and then had some food in the little town center.

Incongruous but interesting.

The east coast is studded with architectural dream homes, probably country retreats for wealth urbanites.

Day 26: Friday, July 4th, Shitiping Fish Port to Changbin Township, Taidong County

The Tropic of Cancer Marker in Hualien County: Looks like a chess pawn


Beep-beep-beep! Beep-beep-beep! Beep-beep-beep! Beep-beep-beep!” went my cell-phone alarm. It was almost four, and I wanted to get up in time for the sunrise, which was to be my first on the East Coast. Crapped, washed, dressed, packed = sorted! Out I went. It was only 4.30. The predawn glow was yellow, orange and purple, and it silhouetted two marching lines of cumulus clouds at the horizon. I ate my breakfast at one viewpoint, and then moved closer to the sea for the real show. It was a slow buildup, delayed but enhanced by the clouds. The main glow filled half the sky, slowly building up. One either side of the main glow was redness, which made the flanking clouds into a delicate frame for the main event. Ground zero was behind the marching lines of cumulus. The sun’s furnace first turned the edges of those clouds into burning filigree of incandescent tangerine. Around them, the colour was a cherry copper. (The birds finally got the message and started their melodic ruckus.) The transcendent brilliance of the sun finally burst above the horizon and through the low clouds like a glowing orange knife. After only a few seconds, it was too bright to look at. But soon, it went behind the second column of clouds. A few minutes later, it reemerged, a second sunrise. It bathed the eastward looking hills in a warm reddish glow for a few minutes. Then, it was full day.

The sun dazzled and the sky shone a newborn blue. The green had been refreshed, and tufts of mist clung here and there to mountain peaks or deep patches of forest. Everything was perfect. I walked on, checking out the beauty of it all with a feeling of deep satisfaction. Later I cane to Da Gang Kou, a sleepy village. You know you’re up early when you see farmers on the way to work! There were lots of old men out cutting stuff down, and old ladies all covered up with clothes, hats and gloves. They smoked as they walked. Later I came to the Changhong Bridge, a big red metal bridge over the Shiouguluan River.

This river penetrated all the way from the Rift Valley, and in the distance, through the river valley, I could see the Central Range catching the morning light. The river was beautiful, as it came to the sea at Jinpu. There was a small island at the river mouth, and interesting play between the current and river waves. I walked through Jinpu to the beach, and then along until it got too rocky again and I cut back to the road. I followed it until I came to the odd looking Tropic of Cancer marker. Then onwards still until I got to Changbin Township in Taidong County. There I stopped, so I caught a bus back.

Beautiful morning series

The following three posts are photo based, and are of the dawn and early morning of 7.4.2008. I didn't want to interrupt the visual continuity with text. Enjoy!

Beautiful morning series No.1: Powerful dawn in Shihtiping A

Beautiful morning series No. 2: Powerful dawn in Shihtiping B

Beautiful morning series No. 3: Early morning at the Shiouguluan River mouth

Single arched bride over the Shiouguluan River

All of these photos were taken on Day 26, on Friday July 4th, in the area of the Shiouguluan River mouth. This is the most popular white-water rafting river in Taiwan, and the mouth is the rafting terminus. There are two villages at the mouth of this river, Dagangkou and Jinpu.

The morning breeze ruffles a wave crest on Jinpu Beach

Central Mountain Range peaks visible in the distance

On the Changhong Bridge

Brilliant morning sun