Sunday, January 4, 2009

Day 36: December 14th, From Taimali town center to Jinluen.

After a good sleep, I set off again. I followed the road out of town, looking for my way down to the ocean. I spotted a promising route, and followed it past a military base. Oh my God! I thought, as I saw the base. That’s strange! Wow! That’s really intriguing! But, unfortunately, I cannot say why, as it might constitute a legal offence to some boneheaded prosecutor. Sorry! If you want to know, go check it out yourself!

Past the base was the beach. There was nobody on the beach, and it felt strange and lonely. A river joined the sea here, and it joined at an angle, as it first cut right and followed a channel parallel to the coastline for a few tens of meters before joining it. The sea and river were separated by a band of gravel. Waves were crashing really hard on the band, making a terrific roar, and then sometimes spilling over the gravel and running into the river for a short ride back to the sea.

The Jones's from down the road, Austronesian style

It was an overcast day, and somehow the grayness of the sky and rocks, the fierce crashing of the waves, and the loneliness of the beach gave me a strange otherworldly feeling, like I had stumbled back to another time. It was of course merely a subjective experience. But it reminded me of how our sense of normality is so well maintained. We reinforce it as much as possible, to give us security. But how different our ideas, impressions and feelings can be if we are taken away from all that is familiar. Or, in this case, shaken into a slightly more sensitive state by a night in a shitty hotel in a slightly odd town, plus seeing the odd thing I can’t talk about, and then experiencing a raw and powerful beach alone. I think that it’s that novelty of inner experience that brought me to Taiwan in the first place; and that led me to take my long walk around the island when my day-to-day life had become too familiar.

The lonely beach in the distance
But familiarity breeds security, as well as boredom.
Security on this project to me was all about route planning. Where could I get a train to where I wanted to go to transfer back to Taipei, at what time and were seats available?

After the beach I kept on, and found myself taking the highway because the beach route looked tricky: lots of rocky points and cliffs, with no guarantee that I’d be able to pass all the way to the next access out. There were also rising tides and rogue waves to consider. Maybe it was doable but I couldn’t be sure. It goes into the “make up bin” of odd little bits of coast I’ll have to make up before I officially finish, if I discover that they were doable.
Teeming with life

Roadkill reptile

I walked along the road, dodging massive trucks, as the route climbed up on the cliffs again, as the terrain became reminiscent of the Su-Hua highway. In time, it rounded a corner to the small aboriginal town of Jinluen. It was a quaint little place, with a train station and a 7-Eleven.
My plan was to get back to Taipei by taking the Southern Link railway from Taidong to Kaohsiung and then transferring to the High Speed Rail. Because of this, I stopped at mid-day so I could get back no problem and figure out the timing for future trips. After I got my ticket, I had some food and beer at the 7-Eleven. It was amazing how much more confident I felt in the 7-Eleven than in a small place with a red mouthed local guy saying “Hi man, check it out!” and then laughing at his own intense wittiness. I was back on the grid: I had a train ticket, was at 7-Eleven, and had figured out the next few hikes on the map. I was back in my route security happy place!


Day 35: December 13th, From Taimali Township to Taimali town center.

This was the first time I actually flew down to go on my trip; a bit pricey but much faster than the lumpy old train. Taidong Airport is a bit challenged in terms of bus options, so I walked from there to the highway, through a rural neighborhood where they either had been or were in the process of burning the dried remnants of the rice crop. They were also seeding it with grass to restore the soil.

After the harvest, let the stalks dry out and then burn them.

Then, seed with grass to protect and improve the soil for the next crop.
At the highway, I found myself on ground I had covered on my last trip. The bus stop information sign promised an hour’s wait, so I stuck out my thumb and got a lift within 5 minutes with a nice young couple from Taidong. They were off to Kaohsiung to find out the sex of their unborn child.

They let me off where I had finished last time, and I was once more on the move! I found a road that led to the sea, though an old graveyard where many of the headstones had been damaged and not repaired. This was no doubt a sign of some problems in the family, and to the superstitious, a good reason to expect an unhappy ghost to visit relatives in their dreams.

Lovely, calm seascape
By the sea, all was again sunny, breezy and fresh. I carried on along the beach for several hours until I decided to cut inland for lunch. Soon thereafter, dark clouds threatened serious rain. I found myself in the town of Taimali, so I thought I’d just hang out here for the rest of the day.

Tying on a rice bag

I checked into a rundown hotel, and wandered around the town, hiding under bridges or awnings when the rain pelted down, exploring the small, mixed aboriginal and Han village when the going was good. It was a bit decrepit: not destitute, but not prosperous either. It was untouched by tourism, as far as I could see, so it was authentic. There were lots of repair shops for farm equipment and motorbikes, simple shops for clothes and groceries, and many simple restaurants. An old woman scolded her husband on the street; another old man dozed in a doorway. Some kids hung out in a tiny Internet café, playing computer games. Along the highway just east of the town, there were dealerships for farm equipment, and other types of businesses that suggested this town was a hub of sorts for the local area.

I walked up the hill west of town a bit, and saw lots of signs of aboriginal culture in the paintings outside the local high school. But other towns I had been to were much more quaint than this one.

I went back to my hotel, only to realize how shitty it was: it had a dull background stink of years of cigarettes; there was no hot water and the toilet leaked at floor level when flushed! But the bed worked.

Between cloudbursts

Yo man, check it out!

Day 34. November 1st: Around Zhiben

This day I decided to do something different. Instead of continuing along the coast, I decided to hike around Zhiben a bit, to get some relief from the unrelenting sunshine of the beach, and to see some mountains and forests for a change.
For those unfamiliar with Zhiben, it is a small, lush valley with steep hills and a clean river that comes from the high mountains. It’s about 10km south of Taidong city center, and about 5km from the shore. High mountain areas are just inland from Zhiben. It has natural hot springs, and it’s a famous resort area that was started by the Japanese.
The Zhiben River

A beautiful, almost unspoiled area

I got a bus to Zhiben no problem, and set out from the last stop, which was quite close to the Chipen [sic] Forest Recreation Area. But as I shlepped along towards it, I saw a sign indicating other trails. I followed it, and made my through various tracks and shortcuts until there was a clear mountain road going up to the hills (850 meters?) on the side of the valley. I saw some little hot spring facilities –blocks of concrete with pipes coming out of them, all shrouded in steam - loads of bin lang trees, and some jungley-looking woods, and a waterfall. At the top of this road there were some magnificent views.

Small road leading up to the high hills

Electrical wire up to the top, just dangling there

A trickle of a waterfall

I came down and entered the Forest Recreation area. This is actually fairly good, and has some nice short trails through old forest. There are some magnificent banyan trees, with buttresses and roots, and lots of other interesting plants. The shady fecundity of the forest was welcome after so many days of beach walking. I saw a bunch of monkeys, but got the impression that I was happier to see them than they were to see me! Then, as I slogged along, a short round deer suddenly plopped out onto the path from the bushes about 3 meters in front of me. It gave me a nervous glance, and then shot into the bushes on the other side! Time elapsed, two seconds, but long enough for a good look. Later on informative signboards along the path told me that these native deer (Formosan Reeves's Muntjac, also known as barking deer; Muntiacus reevesi; Chinese: 山羌) are fairly common in the area.

Green beauty: inside the Chiben Forest Recreation Park

Finishing my 90 minute hike in the park, I went to the “Don Tar” ( [sic] should be Dong Tai, as in Tai Dong) hotel’s outdoor spa, which was just great: 43C water, AAHH! Then the 17C cooling pool. OOOH! Nice views of the river too.

It was drizzling in Zhiben, but when I got to the train station nearer the coast it was hot and sunny.

Day 33: October 31st, 2008. Taidong to Taimali township.

This day started out with a late night journey to Taidong on a train that left Taipei Train Station at 11pm and arrived in Taidong at 6am. I’m OK at sleeping on trains, planes etc but needless to say it wasn’t a terribly restful night. It was a lovely morning that awaited me in Taidong city though. I took a cab and found a nice cheap traditional small hotel – which may have also functioned as a Love Hotel. At least, their blanket wrap concept seemed a bit erotic. Or was I missing my wife already?
I walked through the town to get to the Taidong Forest Park on the northern edge of town, right on the south bank of the Beinan river. It was pleasant enough, and had a long, shallow lake enjoyed by several swimmers despite the signs saying that it was of course INCREDIBLY DANGEROUS!!

Beinan River flowing under the Zhonghua Bridge

IDF training maneuvres

I went to where the Beinan river enters the ocean. At such places there is always a sandbar, and it’s interesting to watch the complex interaction between the river current and the waves: the current accentuating the surf, as it slips along its ever-changing path of least resistance.

Complex interaction of river and surf
After that, for most of the next four hours, it was a straight beach walk. Taidong has a great beach. It’s a bit rough and gravely for a swim in many places, but there were calmer spots. Loads of driftwood. There is also a lot of nice parkland right on the beach, some of it tarted up a bit for tourists.
The sun burned through thin clouds and I started to become very aware of its strength, but I had on enough 50SPF sun block to keep a vampire alive. It was sweaty work, and I drank about 4-500 mL of water per hour.

Framing the sky?

Past the town proper, the beach became wilder, but still easy to hike. I loved the visual effect of the bands of colour: dark cerulean sky, sparkling blue sea and silver-gray beach, brightly and warmly alive in the noonday sun.
I cut inland a bit on a farmers’ road that ran parallel to the beach. Although I’ve seen my fair share of farmland in Taiwan, there’s an intense vibrancy and fertility in the appearance of the rice and other plants in Taidong that I haven’t seen elsewhere. There were also loads of birds, reptiles and insects. Non-human life in general seemed more “full-of-beans” than anywhere else in Taiwan, whereas the human life seemed to move more slowly. I guess that’s a hallmark of the real tropics.

Traditional dwelling

Today is a good day to fish

Vibrant farmland

After alternating between beach and farm road, I finally cut back to the highway to get some food and liquids. I trundled along for an hour or so, and got to the end of Highway 11, where it intersects with and becomes Highway 9, in Taimali Township, just south east of Zhiben. Then, I waited at bin lang place with a wide room and tables where, the boss said, the bus would stop if I flagged it down. They sat me inside in the shade (I was in OK shape, but definitely a bit tired and sweaty) and I drank a couple of very cold bottles of Taiwan Beer. AHHHHH! As much as I love a pint of Guinness in a cozy pub with good company on a Saturday night, cold Taiwan Biru after a hot hike in a rural locale is still better.
Inside the large shack, flies buzzed around. Some old guys with badly bin lang-ed teeth shot the shit, while the younger owner and his wife rolled bin lang. A skinny, starey-eyed cat wandered around. Then, one of the guys suddenly offered me a ride to Taidong! Great!

Bands of colour

Day 32: October 26th: Fugang Harbour to Taidong City Centre

The next morning’s walk was just a stub, as I had only a few klicks left to Taidong City Center. It was a nice morning, and the coastline was beautiful as always, with good trails and seaside roads. But, one little section was not so nice: a small road between a collection of dilapidated shacks that people still lived in, and the sea. It was about 100 meters of dog shit covered road that actually made me puke. Good thing I hadn’t spent much money on breakfast!

The coastline between Fugang Harbour and Taidong City

The Zhonghua Bridge: Above, in the distance; Below, from on it.

Past that nasty bit, I continued onwards, very much enjoying watching the IDF (Indigenous Defense Fighter, Taiwanese-made) fighter-planes doing training runs from the nearby airbase. The powerful roar of their engines as they took off was thrilling, and it was cool to see them zoom through the gap between the observation tower on the hill next to Fu Gang, and the mountains on the other side, right after takeoff. They would go through the gap, head out to sea, and then circle round and do maneuvers: one chasing two; two preparing to land at the same time with one suddenly breaking high; or one landing, then immediately taking off again without slowing down. As I walked across the Zhonghua bridge over the Beinan river, which leads right into the main Taidong city area, they flew by no more than 100 meters away. Cool!

Indigenous Defence Fighters (IDF) training near Fugang.

Taidong Forest Park lake
A bit further on, past the Forest Park, I was in the residential outskirts. I caught a cab to the train station, and – replete with bien dang and cappuccino – was on a train home a few hours later, with supplies from the 7-Eleven. 11:30 AM too early for beer? Not on your Nellie!

"Come back to Taidong soon, cutie!" this alluring creature seemed to say to me.