It was not easy to find the right place to buy a train ticket, but once we were on the train south, the journey turned out to be straightforward. We just had enough time to buy something to eat, and after that, fatigue hit us. After all, we had just arrived from Europe. After the night in a cosy hostel in Hualien, we woke uo on a brilliantly sunny day. We rented a car, and drove out of the city, heading south for Highway 11. As a visitor to the region, you have a choice when heading south: either follow the coastal road, or the one in the East Rift Valley. We opted for the coastal one. I had to get used a little bit to the Taiwanese style of driving, with people sticking to the left lane and overtaking on the right. Quite soon, we reached the beginning of Highway 11, and were following the coastline. We stopped at several places, with views of the beach below, and the green mountains under a spotlessly blue sky. At one point, close to Baci, we had sweeping views of the coastline further south. A cape, wide beaches, rocky shores, and mountains rising straight out of the ocean provided for spectacular views. Even better: what we were looking at, was precisely where we were heading.
We continued our way south, where the road was squeezed in between the mountains and the coast. Our next stop was at the small fishing village of Shihtiping. A woman was doing a barbecue with fresh fish, several others were fishing. We walked the quay with a surprisingly large number of fishing and whale watching boats. There were sculptures of fish around the quay, and the seawall at the other side of the port was decorated with sculpted fish. At the far side, a white Buddha statue was overlooking the port. It was lunchtime, and we found a place full of people eating - always a good sign. A group of whale volunteers was eager to talk to us; a local couple invited us to have lunch with them. The leader of the volunteers came back after a while, carrying a plastic bag with two mangoes inside - a sweet gesture. Just south of Shihtiping, we almost missed what turned out to be one of the highlights of the east coast. The shoreline here has curiously shaped rock formations, small pools, and views towards the north. While at the first area, you are not allowed to walk to the sea, in the second, you can. We walked on the rough rocks, saw the cloudy sky reflected in still pools of sea water, looked up at a big rock formation on which people were walking and enjoying the views. A little further on, an opening in the rocks sometimes provides an outlet for forceful waves coming in, causing a white spray of sea water to be hurled high into the sky. Behind it, I found more pools of sea water; inside, to my big surprise, I saw various types of coral with tropical fish swimming around it.
When we were done enjoying the spectacle of the natural fountain of Shihtiping and its setting, we continued south. We stopped briefly at the Tropic of Cancer marker, which was overcrowded by tourists. The next interesting place was Sanxiantai, the Platform of the Three Immortals island. Walking past a pebble beach and some small inlets from where we had grand views of the cloud-covered mountains and the rocky coast further south, we reached the bridge with eight arches, representing a dragon back. At the other side, we walked the wooden boardwalk on the coral island, past the three rock formations that look like the three immortals of Chinese mythology, cutting through breadfruit trees and volcanic rocks, looping back to the bridge. The sky looked threateningly dark now. On our way south, we briefly stopped at the spot where water supposedly seems to be running up. But no matter how we looked, we saw what seemed natural: water running down a small stream; I guess it is a question of trickery of the eye where gently sloping paths may make some believe the water does not run down. We quickly continued further south, until we reached Little Yeliu, named after the more famous geopark on the northern shores of Taiwan. The sun was setting on the other side of the island, and we saw a full moon rise through the clouds. Before our eyes, we saw oddly shaped rock formations. The sun and wind had conspired with the force of the waves from the ocean to form turrets, softly shaped rocks, and small pools. Spotlights actually lit the scene for us when there was little daylight left, so we could still see the shapes of Little Yeliu. After a short night, we were up early the next day to head north again. The clouds had disappeared, and we stopped to see the sun come back to the sky, a majestic orange glow announced its arrival before it actually appeared above the horizon. We came back to the rock formations of Shihtiping. It was completely different now: we were the only ones around, and it was high tide. The small pools were still there, and the high tide meant that there was an almost continuous spray of water from the opening in the rocks. We sat there, watching the coming and going of the natural fountain, enjoying the views of the coastline, the rocky formations, and the solitude. We could have stayed for hours, but had a train to catch. We left the coastal road, and took a quiet road meandering its way up and down a mountain pass to reach the East Rift Valley.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
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