Friday, May 9, 2008

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!

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