Friday, May 9, 2008

Day 18 walk

Day 18: Saturday December 15, Heping (Aohua) to Heren / 6 hrs.

This turned out to be a really sunny day, which took me a bit by surprise, as the weather in Taipei had been rather gray and damp. I guess I had gone south of that magic line which often divides Taiwan weather into good and bad. I hadn’t brought any sun block, so I had to wrap a shirt around my head to keep from getting burned. It was quite a fashion statement. Last time I had gone up the road a bit past the train station, but hadn’t found a safe crossing point for the train tracks, hence missing out on the lovely beach I had seen on Google Earth. This time, I cautiously ran across the tracks and hit the beach. It was all the more pristine for being hard to access, although I did spy one car route in that connected to an underpass. At the end of the beach was a fairly impressive cliff. The brilliantly blue sea and sky, the bright sun, the imposing cliff; it all looked great. As I approached the cliff, I suddenly noticed a man-made feature: it was a tunnel mouth, halfway up the cliff. Getting closer, I saw also the roadbed. I had to cut through a small farm to get to where the road should start. Coming through the farm, I saw the graded slope where it did, now overgrown On it, there was a simple dirt track, next to which a very non-urban character was hacking up some bamboo with a machete. He seemed like a Formosan aborigine, and had a bit of an afro. I asked him if there was a road, and he said that yes but it didn’t go far. He said I could go on in. I followed it for a short distance; it was overgrown with vegetation. Soon, I came to the tunnel. It was just a short one, and the road only continued for a short distance after that. I wasn’t surprised, as Google Earth had shown a huge bite out of the cliff-side where doubtless there had been a massive rockslide some years before.

I found my way back to the road, and soon came to the modern highway tunnel that had replaced the precarious cliff-side route. But I soon found that the tunnel was precarious enough for pedestrians! There was no sidewalk. I went in about 20 meters, and heard loud truck noises approaching from around a bend, magnified by the enclosed space of the tunnel. Looking down, I saw tire treads only 10cm from the tunnel wall. No thanks! I got out of there fast, and started to hitchhike. It took me all of five minutes before someone picked me up, a country Christian couple, it seemed. Five minutes of tunnel was easy enough to bear in their company, then we came out the other end, to a brief section of cliff-hugging road. I got out, and walked along it for a bit, then came to the next bit of tunnel, and another bit of hitching. This time it was a young couple from Hualien. They took me through the next bit, and let me off at the end, where there was a clear access point to the old road.
I backtracked, enjoying the lovely views, but mindful of the risk of rocks falling on my head. The whole road was peppered, covered or at times almost blocked by fallen rocks. Some were small and some were very big. Most of them looked quite capable of killing me if they landed on my head. On the cliff-side there were also chunks of rock that seemed to be in the process of splitting off from the face. Who knows how many summer days, winter nights, and earthquakes would happen before they did? But in geological time, they were like dogs yanking at their chains to be let go. There were also occasional holes in the pavement, or places where guard walls had been smashed, leaving gaps with bits of twisted rebar sticking out. The whole area was a testament to the natural violence of the Suao – Hualien area, where sheer cliffs meet a pounding sea, regularly blasted by typhoons, and shaken by earthquakes on an almost weekly basis. Not an easy place to build a road.

As I followed the old road, much of which looked like people had been keeping it clear enough of debris to let scooters through, I came to a tall cliff, even more vertical than most around there. At the top, a sunburned, pot-bellied, betel-stained man was fishing, his line dropping down at least 40 meters to the sea below.
Later, I went back to the main road, and followed it down to the Heren. I got my reward beer at a small store by the road. The young woman cashier was quite attractive, but obviously not used to dealing with lao wei. She was shy and excited, which I found amusing. I found the train station, and had a few more beers on the platform. And so another day was done.

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