Saturday, December 27, 2008

Day 31: October 25th: Longchang to Fugang

When I started out from Lonchang on yet another fine morning, the lovely weather and beauty of the Taidong countryside was yet again a tonic for the soul. But the journey there had been a bit arduous. I had taken a late night train to Hualien, arriving at about 3 AM, then waited at the bus stop for two hours, in the company of some interesting characters: a man of the countryside sitting nearby, rather surprised to see me; a gaggle of bin lang chewing youths sprawled over their scooters in the parking lot chatting loudly, saying gan and ji bai with every breath; and an old man in a singlet and boxer shorts wandering around in the rain. In the fullness of time, the bus came and we set off, once again along the Highway 11 coastline that had become so familiar.

The bus only went as far as Chen Gong, but that was no problem, as an opportunistic cabbie waited for those heading further along the coast. He named a price, and I haggled with him a bit. He caved in at once, beaming and chuckling, seemingly delighted to come across a foreigner with the gall to haggle like a local! But he was an old softie: When we had almost arrived at Longchang, he made a pit stop: where a rough track left the highway, he stopped, took a bag of dog food out of the trunk, and called out. Within seconds, a pack of skinny and diseased strays materialized, and mobbed the kind guy with almost heartbreaking affection. He came back soon, and within minutes he had let me off and it was time to walk.

I found my way to the coast by farm roads. The beach was rocky and slow going, my discomfort made worse by my new hiking boots, only partly broken in. After several sweaty hours, I found some farm roads following the coast, again enjoying the rustic tracks through farms and coconut palms.

After a while, I returned to the highway, which now followed the coast closely. There was beach after beautiful beach, lovely sand, sparking blue ocean, rocky points, small fishing communities, temples, a fine breeze. It was fantastic…except for my feet! Those tough new European boots were starting to do a number on my pods. As they say in Texas, “My dogs were barkin’!” After four hours I had to take them off. My feel almost had an orgasm when I did. The only problem was that my only other shoes were Tefa sandals.
I trudged on, being sufficiently uncomfortable to skip “Water Running Uphill”, a kind of optical illusion tourist spot. On I went, overall having a good time as that area is really beautiful.

North of Taidong city, there is no shortage of stunning coastline.

I came to Shuishan beach, not far north of Taidong, where I had camped with my wife-to-be many years ago. ACK! That lovely beach had been blemished with the Mother of all Garishly Inappropriate Hotels – an utterly tasteless monster.

The "wart" on Shuisan beach.

Looking north up the coast and deliberately not seeing the wart!

Past that there was an odd touristy art-park rest-stop. That was OK, as the art was inspired by Formosan aboriginal themes and used natural materials.

I trudged on, my arches being encouraged to flatten in the unsupported sandals. I was tired from virtually no sleep and a long day hiking in the sun with a backpack. Never mind!
The next point of interest was Siao Yaliou, another collection of rather interesting rocks by the sea. I gave it only a brief inspection, as I’m no “looking at rocks by the sea” neophyte! It was cool though, despite the obnoxiously friendly bicycle group roughly insisting I sit with them.


What I did like however was finding a sneaky back way into Fu Gang harbour. I love fishing harbours, maybe a holdover form living in Nova Scotia as a child. There’s something about the old boats being repaired, the industrial and mechanical activities and equipment, the smells and feeling: oil, fish, nets, boats, purpose. Fu Gang was a fish port and a tourist harbour, as the marine transport hub to Green and Orchid islands. There were seafood restaurants a plenty. And, as it turned out, a nice little guesthouse.
Flop on the bed in the air con, take a long shower, pop, clean, sterilize and bandage my blood-infused blisters; do my yoga stretches, drink a shit load of water, dress in clean clothing, and set out again on shaky pins in search of COLD BEER!!

I deserved this!! Ahhhh!

Fugang Harbour

Then, I went to the sea wall with a few pops to enjoy the view of the ocean in the evening light, and watch the locals fishing from high up on the wall. It was 15 meters straight down to the dark ocean.
Then, a solo seafood feast, and a burpy journey off to bed. No trouble getting to sleep!

Day 30: September 20th, Duli to Longchang.

The next day I started off along the road. I ended up walking for a couple of hours along the highway, uncertain how to get to the coastline, which was about 1km away. I kept thinking the road would rejoin the coast, but it never did. Hence, there’s a section of about 4km that I missed, and will have to go back and do at some point. Or do I? It’s become a point of internal debate to me how necessary it is to always follow the coast. In one sense, that’s the point of my exercise, the thing that defines the walk. But on the other hand, if there’s a cool aboriginal village along the road, 400 meters inland from the sea, am I by duty compelled to walk the beach instead? In the end, I think that in certain areas, such as coastal Taidong, that it is justifiable for me to stay inland for short stretched to capture the real feeling of the place, and then to return to the true seashore walk. But I will and make up most of these sections before I call the walk over.

Lovely, pastoral Taidong County

On this day, I eventually came to a beautiful red bridge over a river valley. On the other side was a path to the sea. Ahh! I went down to the beach, and followed it around the bend. Shit! Tetra-block molecule land! I mean, the shoreline was composed of the big tetrahedral concrete anti-wave-erosion blocks. They present a highly varied surface profile for walking, as they are designed to interlock and counter-lever each other for stability. It’s a good workout, anyway.

Quiet harbour
That ended a bit later, and I came to some farm roads near the beach. It was about 35C and the sun was really strong. I eventually came to a medium-sized but almost deserted fish port. I guess all the boats were out or something. The water was the most amazing, luminous blue-green. Beyond that, there were a series of really beautiful beaches, clean and open, undulating past small rocky outcrops, the gentle surf sparkling gleefully. I trudged sweatily along through the beauty, until eventually I came to some wooden stairs leading back to the road. As it was almost time for me to think about going home, I went back to the road. A few clicks later, I came to Longchang. I found a bus stop – this time headed for Taidong, not Hualien – and got a few cold ones into me before the bus arrived.

Love that colour

The beginning of a long series of beaches

Day 29: September 18th: Sansiantai to Duli

I arrived in Sansiantai after the usual long journey: train to Hualien, sleep in a cheapie hotel, early morning bus down the coast. The “Platform of the Three Immortals” is something of a tourist attraction, so there were lots of little restaurants. After eating some salty, oily fish and deep-fried sweet potato (Why?) I walked over the 8-arched bridge and out to the island with the three big funny looking rocks – the so-called immortals. Yep, nice rocks. Onwards! I backtracked a bit to the small village next to the island. With my pack, my stomach full of weird food, and the intense heat of mid-day, I didn’t feel too great humping along the slidy gravel beach.

Sansiantai: "Platform of the Three Immortals"

Later I skipped back through Sansiantai and found a little track near the sea, where the tourist trail connected to some farm roads. It was lovely, quaint countryside: coconut palms, farm shacks and houses, rocks next to the see. In time, the small road joined the bigger roads, and I ended up on the smaller of two main roads into Chengong City, which is the largest settlement on the coast between Hualien and Taidong. I walked through the fish port, too late to see the catch coming in, but in time to see them chopping up tuna, and sweeping up fish guts. I carried on through Chengong and out on the road beyond. It was about 5 pm and I was starting to think about where I would spend the night.

Chengong fish port, after the big rush

At the top of a hill, there was a road that went down to the see, with a sign saying “Bawangwang” or something like that. It sounded like a sinicized aboriginal name. It seemed like a through road, so I followed it, and was soon walking through what was certainly a very poor and simple aboriginal village. It was spread out, and there seemed to be no center, no stores, nothing but poor-looking houses and coconut trees. It felt more like Thailand than Taiwan. The road was right by the sea, so I guessed these guys got walloped by typhoons regularly. A few people passed by, on extremely old and noisy scooters. There were three police patrols in the 50 minutes that I spent walking through. Not a postcard village.

Eventually, this road rejoined Highway 11, in a cluster of upscale but fairly tasteful looking hotels. One looked nice, with wooden cabins, but NT2700 per night was too much for my trip budget (all these trips add up). The lady did tell me of a guesthouse down the road. So, at about 7pm in the dark, in the very humble town of Duli, I arrived. Downstairs they were playing mahjong. Amusingly, the female proprietor got a call, and when she saw who it was asked all us to shhhhh! After a while, the call was over, and the other players laughed! It turned out to be another player who hadn’t been invited to the game!