Friday, May 9, 2008

Day 21 images

Starting out at Hualian fish port

Hualian Port: Rocks and ships

More Day 21 images

Even more Day 21 images

Yet more Day 21 images

Tai ke shiao gie hao ke ai!


You lookin' at me?

Day 21

Day 21. Saturday, May 3rd, 2008. Along the Hualien City seashore, 5 hours.

I got the very fast Taroko Express train to Hualien: Only 2 hrs 7 mins from Taipei Station. Arriving at Hualien Railway Station, I first ate, bought some water and sun block, then got a ride with a friendly female cabbie to Hualien fish port. It was a pretty nice day, and not too hot. A few dark rain-clouds hugged the mountains and threatened to come over, but they never did.
I walked first through Hualien’s northern industrial area, which is by the port, and seems heavily based on marble, aggregate, and concrete. The port and the objects in it were on a large scale, and interesting.
Then, from the port road onto a pleasant bicycle and walking path that at first offered great views of the port, then crossed a wooden bridge into the more residential areas of the city.
Because it was Saturday, there were many people out enjoying the fine weather. In a park near the river, a big bunch of high-school students were having a boisterous barbecue. On the gray gravelly beach, picnickers, kids, fishers, and others were out having fun. I walked along on a path atop a wall separating the beach from the road. Soon the beach disappeared, and there were massive rows of concrete jacks, looking like huge molecules.
On my right there was a seaside park, and then mixed-use land, with houses, fields, and few factories. Eventually I came to the large river that flows to the sea at the southern end of Hualien. There, as always, the fishers were out, exploiting the estuarine conditions. Across the channel I could see a headland, and a highway, which would be my route south on another day.
I followed the river shore, past a wary Brahmin cow, until the path petered out. I snuck through the snaggly scrub and a hole in the fence on the backside of an industrial park, and came out after a while to the highway: noisy, big, irritating, but well provided with gas stations, convenience stores and bin lang huts.
I walked a bit further until I found the bridge that had been my goal while I was following the riverbed. I took a good look south, along Highway 11. That was my future path. It was a lonely road for a lone walker, with no trains, and probably very little in the way of public transport. The main connection between Hualien and Taidong was in the rift valley, the Highway 9 route. I would be going on the exposed outside edge. Hualien would be the last big town I would see until Taidong. Logistics would be harder, security less. The easy part of my trip was over.
But that would be for another day! I turned around and trudged into Hualien proper, past km’s of factories or warehouses, then scruffy outskirts, and finally into the thriving center. The train back was the slow one, but, whatever!

Day 20 images

Don on train

Friendly future bien dang ju pai's

Didn't get my b***s wet

More Day 20 images

Goat milk latte sir? ....Nope!

Hualien fishport and east breakwater

Day 20: Saturday, March 1, Sincheng to Hualien fish port. / 6 hrs

Accompanied by my good friend Texas Don, it was time to finish the first major segment of my round the island walk – arrival in Hualien! We took the train down, a mellow and sleepy journey, arriving in Sincheng about 10.45. The weather was fairly warm compared to Taipei, although a cold front was expected. We had a few km to the beach, and near the train station we passed some very congenial pigs! To bad pork tastes so good. When we got to the beach, I had to backtrack to the river mouth, for continuity’s sake, which took about 30 minutes. Then it was time for some more forward progress.
It was an overcast day with fairly poor visibility, but we could see the point at the far edge of the bay, a good 15km away of hard slogging along the beach’s gravel and sand. This kind of surface really sucks the energy out of your legs, as there is absolutely no bounce back. We got down to it, experimenting with different parts of the beach to see which gave better support. In general, areas closer to the water were harder-packed, but there was some heavy surf so you couldn’t get too close. Some of the waves really came pounding in to the at times steeply sloped beach, occasionally surging unexpectedly over a lip or high point in the sand with marvelously white foam. This was a great show, and helped us keep our minds off the tedium of the trudge. Several times, small rivers crossed the beach, but in every case there was an easy way across, although in bare feet. Every case, that is, but one! The biggest river (---) was broken into many small streams with one main channel. The streams were so close together that it was impractical to put our shoes back on after each crossing, so we were barefoot between each one, on sharp, uneven rocks. It was really painful, and we felt totally helpless as we ahh!ed and ouch!ed our way along. Then we came to the main channel, which was about a meter deep, and easy enough to cross.
It was about this time that we noticed the cold front catching up with us. We felt cooler shafts of air in the wind, and looking north we saw dark yellow-gray clouds, coloured by Gobi desert sandstorms, pouring over the mountains like a load of dirty snow from the roadside being pushed over the curb by a snowplow.
After more trudging, we eventually came to a tourist spot just outside Hualien, Qishincheng Beach, right next to the Hualien airbase. It was an enormous relief to walk on a solid surface again. When we got onto the sidewalk, it felt like we had on some kind of space-age power boots, as we skipped and bounced along with little effort.
Then, we followed an easy trail over the hill at the edge of the beach, through some military training land. The same as the last time I was there, I saw some lad soldiers doing training, capture the flag or ambush type stuff. There was a tough-looking trainer, some training weapons that might have been replicas, and some boot camp boys. We pushed on, passed some marble lots, with huge chunks ready to be shipped out, a lighthouse and park, and then we cut through next to a garbage dump. Just past that, there were a bunch of surfers, some of whom looked like the waves were just a bit too much for them. Then, just after that, Hualien fish port. It felt good to arrive there, as I had long been looking forward to Hualien as an important landmark in my journey. The port was interesting enough, with a huge breakwater. Judging from what I’d seen on the nig beach and with the surfers, this was a rough area for waves. Although our plan was to push on a bit farther, we ended up having sashimi and beer at the port, and then taking a taxi to the train station. Hualien at last!

Day 19 images

Southern section of Suhua Highway, in Taroko Park

More Day 19 images

The old Suhua highway and Chingshui cliffs

Yet more Day 19 images

Chingshui cliffs

Down to the sea again

Day 19 walk

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.

Day 18 images

Forgot to bring the sunblock, eh what?

More Day 18 images

Looking up ..

Old highway tunnel

Even more Day 18 images

Old Suhua highway, and its at-times precarious left overs, and weird tunnels