Monday, September 29, 2008

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!!!!!

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