Monday, July 13, 2009

Day 41: April 18th, Joupeng to Jaleshui.

Good ol' Dawei

My friend Dawei and I had driven down the night before, and stayed at a small hotel in Hengchun. Then, bright and early the next day, we drove his car to Jaleshui, after first arranging for a driver to take us from there to Joupeng.

When we parked at Jaleshui, next to a surfer hotel called Winson House, I suddenly had to take a crap. This was full on la du zi, and waiting was not an option. I ran up to the hotels, and looked into one. It was empty. I called “Hello!” several times, but there was no answer. I found a toilet in the back and used it, leaving it as clean as when I came.

But when I exited the hotel, a surprise was waiting for me: the owner was there, looking totally pissed off that I had used the facilities without permission! He wasn’t a big guy, but had one damaged eye, which made him look a bit sinister. And he was absolutely furious! “What are you doing?? This is a private house! It’s private, you can’t just go in!” I looked around. It was a small hotel lobby of sorts, with a desk, bulletin board, and seating area. I said, “But it’s a hotel!” He responsed: “I don’t care!” I explained: “Look, I tried to find somebody but I couldn’t, and I had la du zi!” But he refused to believe me. He stayed angry and vaguely threatening. Eventually, we moved the car out of fear that he would vandalize it.

Our driver showed up and drove us to the drop off point, a pleasant 30-minute country drive. Soon, we were back in cow country!

A seaside lane on the route from Joupeng to the trailhead

We walked south along the small road, noticing signs of abandoned houses. We soon came to a small village, where we asked the local police officer for information on the trail. We got a strange answer: “You are not allowed on that trail,” he said. We protested, but he insisted: “I am sure! You are not allowed. So, I cannot explain the route to you.”

My Taiwanese friend caught the subtle hint, and said, “Let’s go!” to me. The cop turned his back and didn’t follow out movements.

This mean, it was explained to me, that we weren’t allowed, so he couldn’t tell us “OK,” but he wasn’t going to stop us!

The end of the road ...again!

We found the trailhead just past the fish port. What started as a track rapidly degenerated into basically a line well above the high-tide mark where beach rocks had been compacted by foot, bicycle and motorcycle.

Looking back at the fishport

We shlepped along for a while. For such a forbidden beach, it wasn’t actually a big deal. It was beautiful, but unfortunately covered in garbage. It looked like debris from fishing boats: floats, nets, and water bottles. The brands and Chinese characters on the bottles clearly indicated that they were Taiwanese ones, too, despite things I’d heard from my Taiwanese friends about the garbage coming from countries like the Philippines!

There were some very nice green hills to our right, covered in stubbly bushes and grass. An old fisher dude on a motorbike passed us. We came to a stream that had a small fishing camp at it. It clearly looked as if someone stayed over night there sometimes, under a tarp, with blankets and other stuff. The stream seemed pristine – except for the garbage in it!

After this point, the path disappeared. Basically, the jumble of larger rocks left no one obvious route to be smoothed down into a trail. We made our way at half speed. It was neither easy nor really hard. To our left there were some lovely rock formations sloping down in clear-cut lines into the bright blue surf. Later on, there was a point that was made of wind-shaped sandstone. There, the wind was really intense. It seemed that when we reached it, we were abandoning the protection that the southern peninsula offered from the open wind of the Bashi Strait. We stopped for lunch there, huddled out of the wind. It was a fascinating area: there were interesting rock formations, a view south to the radar station at Longpan, and large rusted ochre segments of a modern ship that had run aground there years ago. It might well have been what’s left of the Amorgos, a Greek freighter that had run aground off Kending in January 2001.

Wind-swept sandstone at a very windy point.

Rusted wreckage

After that, it was a pretty straightforward slog down the beach. We passed a pair of guys with bicycles. That seemed pretty strange, as it was pretty clear that this was not a great trail for bikes. It would be painfully slow and inconvenient over about half of the distance, as you’d have to carry the bikes while hopping on and off car-sized boulders!

As we got closer to Jaleshui, the car-sized boulders became truck-sized, and progress was often made by scrambling and low-grade climbing. But all told, no big deal. We passed by some sort of police outpost, no doubt designed to prevent access to the trail, and got stared suspiciously at. In the small beach near the post, which was serviced by a small road, there were families out harvesting shellfish, or clearing the scooter trail near the beach. And then, a long-awaited milestone for me and my little pocket-sized adventure, Jaleshui! Getting there represented the end of the difficult part and the beginning of the easier, although doubtless longer and less interesting one!

Dawei and I walked back past all the famous Jaleshui rocks, which quite honestly were nothing special compared to what we had seen that day on the “forbidden” section. We got to his car, drove into Kending, got a hotel room, pigged out at Amy’s Pizza, and then got drunk on the beach. Ahhhhhhh…burp!

Happy to finish the last tricky bit along the East Coast

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Day 40; April 12th: Gangzai to Joupeng + Road hike to Hsin Chuang in Pingdong

I was on the road just a whisper after dawn, and enjoyed the fine morning air and light. I crossed the beach in front of the large dunes, and on the other side came to the small road going south. But I was not to take that road further south today, as some friends had said they wanted to do that final section leading to Jaleshui with me.

Sand dunes on the beach

This was my last shot of the day as my camera battery died!

I couldn't continue south today, so instead I decided to test myself. I intended to hike as long and as far as I could and only stop when I started to feel really bad. I would follow Highway 200 to Hengchun, and from there could easily make my way home.

The first part of the journey was through Joupeng. This is a really small, farmy little community in a valley that mainly seems to subsist from cattle farming. There were cows and scatological evidence of their existence everywhere, with beasts meandering along the road and even grazing on the sports field at the elementary school! (Well, no sense wasting good grass now, is there?)

There was some tourism but it didn’t overwhelm the place. There was lots of local character, including groups of women chewing bin lang outside their homes and gossiping!

Then I was through it and following Highway 200 up gently sweeping hills. They were very lush, and there were dead snakes on the road and monkeys hooting in the trees. Below, I could see one huge rice farm that snaked up a green valley like a fat, emerald-coloured python.

After about 4 hours of walking, my feet started to hurt. This was after 30km with a medium pack the day before, and only light boots. I kept at it. Hours went by, and everything was great – the view, the temperature, my being on schedule, my overall energy level, my motivation – except my feet!

It wasn’t my arches, and blisters weren’t the main problem: it was just the whole front part of the foot felt sore to the bone! When I stopped to take a break, it felt much worse for a few minutes after I got started again.After 6 1/2 hours of walking and about 35km, mostly on hard pavement, I had had enough. My dogs were barkin’!

I stopped at a bus stop, in the town of Hsin Chuang, and thinking that it read “no afternoon bus except on Wednesday”, but being unsure, I asked a soldier carting boxes of water to read it for me. He confirmed what I thought. It turned out he was from Singapore, here on training. They don’t have a lot of mountains and jungle in Singapore for their soldiers to train in, so they often come to Taiwan. That explained the odd convoy of right-hand drive jeeps that had passed me earlier.

I got a drive back with an unlicensed cab, and the driver confirmed that it was quite common to see the Singaporeans in the area. We passed a few squads of the Singaporean soldiers out on a hike, mostly Chinese with a few Indian dudes thrown in. Then to Hengchun, and bus, TRA, HSR, MRT, home!

When I got home my feet ached and were slightly swollen for a few days.