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

Day 25: Thursday, July 3rd, Fongbin to Shihtiping Fish Port, Hualien County

A day of amazing light, only hinted at in these photos.

Got the bus to Fongbin late on a bright and sunny morning and I was back on the move. The day was already hot – stupid idea for me to start at noon! The coastal scenery was nice, but not remarkably different than what I had seen before. The most significant thing about the day – other than the fact that walking under the hot sun with a backpack is a hell of a lot harder than walking on a cool day without one – was the light. It was not too humid and the sun was ablaze with light. The air itself seemed almost to glow with sunlight, as if it was resonating, saturated with it. The blue of the sky was a truly passionate colour. The ocean blue was such a deep, mysterious one. The green all around was really bright and joyful. The colours actually inspired feelings so strong they felt like physical sensations.

Time's Radiography

As the afternoon slowly drew on, the light became gentler and slightly more yellow. Whiter rocks were stained yellowish orange by the relaxing sun. Shadows were etched out of the mountains, first becoming definition, later shade. The ocean colour darkened as the light gently receded. Because we were on the east coast, with a high mountain ridge to the west, there was a false sunset, with the sun disappearing from view about 5pm, but only setting after 6.30. So, there was a lingering twilight, quite rare in my experience in Taiwan. That day’s route was mainly along a straight patch of coastline about 12km long. At the end was Shitiping fish port. There was a low headland, with white rock formations in the ocean. There was also an excellent camping area, but I ended up paying for a guesthouse before I found it. Good thing I lugged my tent all day! After showering, eating, re-hydrating and changing my clothes, I ventured out. It was still only 5pm.

Shihtiping Fish Port

Rocks in the ocean near Shihtiping

A long and gentle twilight

I wandered around on the rocks, where there were many campers and tourists checking out the tidal pools, and the sloshing and gurgling water of the surge channels. The water flow around some of the half or barely submerged rocks was extremely complex. I went inside to read my book for a while. Later, after a few beers, it had gotten truly dark. I went out and noticed that the stars were amazingly bright. The dry air, cloudlessness and lack of light pollution allowed me to see what is always hidden in Taipei. There were tens of thousands of stars. Every quarter of the sky was filled with bright constellations. Best of all, the Milky Way was visible, the first time I had seen it in Taiwan: two diaphanous veils of starlight arcing across the sky. I stared, gaga, at the sky for an hour. Then I went to bed.

Day 24: Sunday, June 1st, Jici beach to Fongbin, Hualien County.

Sketchy route down to fishing spot

The next day I woke up around 8, ate my little breakie of tea eggs, a snickers bar and a can of X2 caffeine coffee [Hopefully, without too much melamine in it!] and set off. First, I climbed the big rock hill across from the guesthouse. It had a nice trail and good views, and wasn’t too tough. Then, along the road I continued south. The view was pleasant. At first there wasn’t much in the way of settlement, but there were nice looking mountains, some of which had lovely streams coming down from them. There was also a tunnel, an aquaculture facility, and a fish port.

Gilligan's retirement home

Later, the coast straightened out, and started a section whose pattern became very familiar: A 50-200 meter strip of coast to the east of the highway, sloping gradually down to beach level, often planted with rice, corn or coconut palms. The beach was just out of sight, but the deep, lazy blue of the Pacific always visible. Every 1 or 2 km, there was another little village, often with some kind of aboriginal influence. There were circular stone meeting or dancing areas, buildings made with canes and reeds, churches, crosses on graves, and other indications that I wasn’t in HANsas any more. (Sorry!) In one town, I saw a squad of old ladies, on the kind of scooter-style motorized wheelchairs the disabled often have, buzzing around town like a motorbike gang! Reminded me a bit of Monty Python.

Small town feeling

Pit stop!

Rice near the ocean: Typical Highway 11 scene

Onwards I went, until my schedule forced me to stop. I found a bus stop and parked myself in front of it, much to the interest of the old couple sitting outside across the street. A few minutes later a taxi came by, and offered me an amazingly cheap rate of 200NT to Hualien Railway Station, which was at least 50 km away. So off we zoomed.

Day 23: Saturday, May 31st, Shuilien to Jici Beach Resort.

The life-affirming green of a rice field, in Shuilien

I took the down the coast to get to where I had left off last time. The other passengers on the bus were fairly simple folk: elderly women on their way back from the big markets in Hualien with plastic bags of produce or bog wipe; families; older guys drinking beer. There was a lot of aboriginal influence in the features, like dark skin, and a strong-boned facial structure. The bus was, like many in poorer areas, no longer in deluxe condition. But soon enough we arrived in Shuilien.

Today would be my first day with a full pack, including tent, sleeping bag, air mattress etc. As well, I would need to carry all my food and water. (As it would turn out, these precautions were unnecessary, as there were many guesthouses and small stores along the way.) Shuilien was a nice little town, built on a few hills 100 meters or so above beach level. The ocean wasn’t visible from the main streets. The town definitely had a sleepy feeling to it, and quite friendly as well. I walked down to the beach, a fine gray sand one, bounded by rocky headlands in the distance. Then, I went back to the road. I felt a bit crappy that day, and there was a bit of rain. But let’s not dwell on the negative! This was my road-kill day, and I started off by seeing a nasty looking live millipede and an even nastier looking dead centipede crossing the road. Later, I saw dead snakes, frogs, and bats, all spattered and dried. Jolly good fun.

The gorge at Fanshuliao

Soon I was on the road leading out of town, as the coastline was impassable for a while. Most of the day was spent climbing up and down over the hills, which although tiring, offered beautiful vistas of more green hills. One recreational area on the coast presented a challenge to me. It was a beach and farm type deal, accessed by a side road that went down a good 800m of altitude over about 3 km. Getting down there and back would have been a small hike in itself. I just couldn’t be bothered, as it would have sucked up at least 2 hours, and to see what? Just one beach – which I could see from the road anyway. I decided to give it a miss, but couldn’t shake the feeling that I had wimped out! I’ll have to go and do it one day, before I officially finish. A bit further on, there was a fantastic gorge at Fanshuliao.

It was really "gorge"-eous!

Hazy day view from Baci Lookout

On and on, and then I came to a lovely spot, the Baci lookout. The view from here was really wonderful. There was a long curving beach, capped by a lovely big rocky lump of hill at the end, which was to be tonight’s destination. I trudged down the road, which eventually rejoined the coast proper. I got onto the beach, but had the usual problem of running into a stream that was difficult to cross. I followed the road again, and came to the Jici Beach resort, right at the end. It was a nice place, lively but not too tacky. They had camping, a restaurant, swimming, and beach activities like Jet Ski and canoeing. Unfortunately, they had a big group in the camping area, so I didn’t want to stay there. The guy at the ticket window was a nice guy and he drove me (drunk as he was) up to a little guest house about 200 meters up the road. I changed and went back to the beach for a swim, shower and dinner. Then back to my huge room for a good sleep.

The unpretentious Jici Beach Resort

Day 22: Sunday, May 25th, Hualien Bridge to Shuilien, Hualien County.

Road leading to peninsula at mouth of Hualien River

I got a taxi near Hualien train station, and got off at the Hualien Bridge. I get out, and am soon across the bridge, where the road splits. I take the left road. Highway 11, heading south. There’s a rocky peninsula on the south side of the river, which tapers to a sandy spit. I followed that first. It was not very developed; in fact they seemed to be selling land parcels on it. I got to the end, and there was a nice view of Hualien, the river, fishers at the estuary, etc. Then, off I go “Due South” again.

Family picnic at the mouth of Hualien River

This was Highway 11, which follows the coastline and not the rift valley - which is where most of the towns in southern Hualien are located. It was a nice enough road. It’s always lovely to have the sea on one side, and mountains on the other. A few km down the road I passed the Hualien Ocean Park, which looked a bit garish and touristy. Then later, I came to an apparently famous temple with a gold statue of Buddha on it, in Yanliao Township. After Yanliao, settlements became fewer and farther between.

Takin a load off, eh?

The mountains on the coast were interesting too. The Coastal Range is not nearly as high and rugged as the Central Range. The mountains were less intimidating and looked more inviting to the casual hiker. There were many side-streams that had cut through them and joined the sea along the coastal highway, and these streambeds led up into the hills through intriguing routes that looked like they could be followed fairly easily. [One day I must go back and check them out.] One interesting port in Yanliao township way had a biggish breakwater and an older ship “the Colkuandah” by the road, put up as some kind of monument.

Later on, I saw some higher cliffs and mountains closing in on the coast. The weather was also starting to close in: the storm clouds that had been hovering over the mountains in the distance starting to slide down towards the coast. Then, I unexpectedly came across another place where the old, cliff-hugging highway had been abandoned, while a new tunneled highway (Shuilien Tunnel) – assumedly a safer one – had been created.

River-cut gorge in the Coastal Mountains

I took the old way, and found it completely deserted. There was not a single scooter or fisherman along the entire 3km section. It was a bit eerie, like something from an “after the plague” movie. No zombies though, although I heard some aggressive monkeys hooting from the forest. It was a very scenic area, and had obviously had been a tourist route, as there were informative signboards at points of interest. The funniest one was about how the aborigines in the Shuilien area had had to, on a constant, daily basis, run from safe spot to safe spot along the bottom of the cliffs to avoid incoming waves when they visited people or went looking for food! (“Mom, can I go to Makwak’s house?” “Sure honey, but be back before high tide.”)

Gray-blue sea near Shuilien

Eventually, as the day cooled off in the late afternoon, the rain set in - a heavy downpour. Fortunately I had an umbrella. I walked the last few clicks to the town of Shuilien, and stuck out my thumb for a ride back. As usual, within 5 minutes I had a lift, this one right to Hualien Railway Station. It was a young Taiwanese couple. She had just got her license and they were out for a practice drive. The man’s English was pretty good. He was amazed I would be hitchhiking and convinced that he had saved me from a desperate situation. Well, he had saved me a 30-minute wait in the rain for an 80 NT bus ride! Still, much appreciated! His girlfriend’s driving was a bit dubious, though. She failed to notice a maniac coming out of the tunnel at 100 km/h on the wrong side of the road, doing an illegal passing maneuver. Eventually, her boyfriend and I made her aware of the situation and we narrowly avoided a head-on collision at a combined speed of 170km/h. This was just a reminder to me about how you never know where and when death is going to get you. That day, it brushed by me so close I felt the wind on my face. Not a nice feeling. LEARN TO DRIVE YOU F***ERS!!!!!