Thursday, April 6th, 2006

Mountain High Valley Low

I spent a couple of days earlier this week in and around the city of Hualien, down on the east coast of Taiwan. It’s a resort town of sorts, not terribly interesting unto itself, but notable for its proximity to the beaches along the Pacific Ocean and the Taroko National Park, which occupies a not inconsiderable portion of the entire island.

It was about a three hour train ride from Taipei down to Hualien along the coast, and from there straight into a van for a driving tour of Taroko. The park is defined by its verdant, rolling mountains of stone and marble and dizzying gorges within, some of the which reach up to 3700m above sea level – pretty massive. The main road through is actually the Central Cross-Island Highway, which traverses the entire island, but since it has to follow the terrain through through the park it often narrows down to a single lane along the mountainside. The Liwu River which ran through the park has certainly seen better days, at this point it was rather wimpy and dirty, but apparently during typhoon season it’s a fearsome body of water. The book I’ve been reading lately, Bill Bryson’s A Short History Of Nearly Everything, is a fascinating tome on the history of the world from a scientific POV, from cosmology to geology to zoology, so seeing such natural wonders up close was quite the experience.

The hotel we stayed at was waaaaay up on a mountaintop overlooking Hualien and was pretty fancy pants. I couldn’t help notice that it was located on the mountain just above a fairly large cemetary and just below a military base. In other words, a zombie movie waiting to happen. (Un)fortunately, the undead did not rise to feast on our flesh the one evening we were there, so we were able to head down to the Pacific coast the next morning. This portion of the trip was a little more free-form, just driving along the water, taking in the scenery. The southernmost point on our sojourn was pretty cool, though – the Tropic of Cancer. There’s a giant obelisk dealie right on that line of latitude that marks the spot 20-degrees north of the Equator. It was pretty hot out, I wasn’t going to debate the point. Besides that, there was some frolicking with water buffalos (okay, not so much frolicking as photographing at the side of the road) and hanging out on the beach contemplating the Pacific. Not a warm sandy beach, really more of a cold, rocky beach, but hey – the Pacific. It’s big, blue and probably quite deep.

What can I say? Nature is cool. I’m still working on the photos, they’re worth far more than a thousand words in this case. Unfortunately, I discovered how annoying it is to get dust on a DSLR sensor during the trip so I’ve got some Photoshop touch-ups to do before anything gets posted. Patience.

But to backtrack a bit – A Short History Of Nearly Everything? Great stuff. Even if at points it feels uncomfortably like being back in high school chemistry, it’s very readable and entertaining, even with the heavy stuff. Hey, anyone who can make the history of taxonomy a page-turner deserves some props.

By : Frank Yang at 9:22 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. don says:

    You missed out on a fantastic Centro-matic show last night! It was definitely worth the wait for their first time stop through Toronto. They played a mix of old and new material. Unfortunately, people who were their for the Great Lake Swimmers (the openers) didn’t stick around for Centro – shame on them! Here are some pics from the show:
    Put on ‘Fort Recovery’ before viewing!

  2. Chris says:

    Bill Bryson is an entertaining writer. His travel writing is pretty good, not sure if he has a book about Japan and/or Thaiwan, but I read "In A Sunburnt Country" before moving to Australia for a few months and it got me really excited to go.

    His history of language book (title escapes me now?) is quite good as well.

  3. kathryn says:

    I really enjoyed hiking around Taroko National Park when I was there last May. I’m assuming from your description you stayed at the four-star hotel within the park itself. They are the only hotel that’s allowed to operated inside the boundaries.

    While you were in Hualien, I hope you were able to pick up some fresh mochi. They’re known for the purple-rice variety in particular. Delicious!

    My photos:

  4. Dave says:

    Bryson’s book on the Appalachian Trail is really fantastic too.