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Friday, April 4, 2008

Road Trip Taiwan, Day Two

Day Two:
The next day found us rolling along the Suao-Hualien Highway and marveling at its scenic wonders.

Just 15 years ago, this aptly named "Death Highway" used to be the most dangerous stretch of road in Taiwan - barely wide enough for two sedans, one-lane, pitch-dark tunnels, and packed from end to end with gravel trucks driven by suicidal, betelnut-crazed madmen with an codex of ethics that didn't permit them to decelerate below sixty miles an hour even in hairpin turns. All that with a 1000-foot drop into the ocean always looming just beyond the flimsy guard rail...

Today, the road is nice and wide, the tunnels have been widened and illuminated, and the Gravel Trucks from Hell seem to have found Jesus or something, so now one can actually concentrate on the fantastic coastline instead of constantly trying to dodge certain fiery death. This is how our friends at asia-planet put it:

"In addition to the Central Cross-Island Highway, another road that offers considerable attractions for the tourist is the old Suao-Hualien Highway. First opened to traffic in 1932, this 118-kilometer-long road was the first government-built road in the area, but its origins go back to 1874, when a road was first cut between Suao and Hualien under order of the imperial Chinese government. North along the road from Hualien is the Chungde Control. In the early stages of its development, the road could carry traffic in only one direction at a time, and vehicles had to wait at the control station for convoys going the opposite direction to pass. It rapidly developed into a spot where travelers would stop to enjoy the scenery, have a snack, and buy souvenirs. At the northern mouth of Chungde Tunnel, 182.5 kilometers along the Suao-Hualien Highway, is the Shiahai Trail. This is a perfect spot to view the Pacific Ocean. A walk of 10 minutes down the trail brings visitors to a shingle beach featuring limestone formations and a variety of rock-growing plants. The 20-kilometer stretch of highway between Chungde and Heping is the most tortuous and spectacular section of the Suao-Hualien Highway. Cliffs of gneiss and marble from sheer drops of more than a thousand meters, and the road winds its way precariously between the cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other. After this stretch, the road runs through to Heping and Guanyin, finally reaching Nanau and Dungau. In the vicinity of Nanau, the Wushr Promontory protrudes majestically into the Pacific Ocean, dividing the Suao-Hualien coastline into the Nanau and Dungau bays. Dungau is a major producer of lilies; moreover, the Japan Current brings this coastal area a rich annual harvest of fish."

Now for the pix!

This mighty dragon saw us off in Suao.

Sights from the highway.

Closer to Hualien, the cliffs drop straight into the ocean, continuing their vertical line up to 800 meters below the surface, allowing whales, dolphins and other large ocean dwellers to get close to the coast. Consequently, Hualien boasts one of the two only dedicated whale watching piers in the world. If you're in the Hualien area between May and September, make sure to take part in a whale-watching trip.

A few shots from the other side of the road

Sunken Mitsubishi. Poor sailor...

Protect your forest! Call us at these easy-to-remember numbers! Read with a Taiwanese accent, the Chinese characters below the numbers sound like the digits above them and make sense at the same time, e.g. 930 reads like "save mountains and forest", and 057 sounds like "Bureau of Forestry".

Sign at a college campus in Hualien

Aboriginal art

Hualien is one of the world's largest marble producers, and the airport the only one on the planet made mostly from this mineral. This fine piece of marble architecture can be found downtown.

Look for Day Three tomorrow!

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