highway 11

In May this year, James and I went down to Hualian (Taiwan) for a few days. We did some river-tracing, which was exciting, fun and beautiful, as well as a couple of hikes (some more successful than others, including the Walami Trail). But my absolute favourite moment was when we were on the scooter coming back from the Walami Trail (down near Taizhong) and decided to abandon the main road and hit the tiny winding roads through Ruisui and onto the beautiful (if dangerous) Highway 11 back up North to Hualian.

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It was one of those decisions which makes very little sense, especially as we needed to return the scooter and get the last train back to Taipei. It was raining, night was about to fall, and we were not dressed for a bracing ride back along the ocean. But we are of the type that cannot resist the siren-call of adventure, so we did it anyway.

These “helmets” are simply accessories, held on with bits of string, as a nod to the law. Sunglasses are essential — they reduce visibility in the dusk, of course, but it’s that or driving rain in your eyes
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Oh it was so beautiful! none of these pictures can do it justice, and there wasn’t really time to stop, nor did our camera-phones really have the oomph to show all we could see, but I was in ecstasy at how untouched and incredible the views were. I really felt like it was Taiwan’s best hidden secret. The roads swooped up and down, and it felt so much like flying. I know that the scooter was pathetic in comparison to our BMW motorcycle last year, but the difference for me was that instead of being perched up high on the back, freaking out because of the sharp bends (very high centre of gravity makes it a terrifying experience as a passenger) and decked out in protective clothing, I was down low, wearing just a jacket and with the wind and rain whipping my face and hair, clutching onto James and able to feel him close to me… I spent the whole ride with my chin on his shoulder, delighting in the sights and the elements and how close we were together. In contrast, on the motorbike last year, I mostly sat either leaning back or with my head hidden behind James’ back, to avoid the loudness of the wind smashing into my helmet. I am the kind of person who gets over-emotional when I see beautiful things, and this whole experience was magical — I had a lump in my throat the entire time.

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After rolling up and down the winding roads through the Ruisui valley, we suddenly ended up on the ocean. The sands here are silvery-black and the waves are wild and come crashing up against craggy dark volcanic rocks, and with the rain and the wind and the ocean spray, things got even more beautiful and intense — I love the way the mountains rush straight down almost vertically into the sea, like they can’t wait to meet the waves.

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We pulled over so I could get high on the breeze, and then I had a little wussy moment when I broke down and cried because I wanted to stay there forever and for James not to go back to his stupid job and why is life not fair?
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But leave we must, especially as it was getting dark. This second part of the ride turned into a sort of hallucination, as the rain increased, the visibility decreased, and the road went on and on and on. What seemed like every hour, I would pull out my phone and check Google Maps, and it would tell us we had progressed by about 3km on our shitty little scooter. The roads were pretty much deserted fortunately, as anyone with an ounce of common sense uses the proper inland highway.

At one point we ended up in this tunnel, and were relieved to have some respite from the rain. Until we discovered that the tunnel was only half-built, and we would have to turn around and go back… sigh.

It was kind of creepy in there, to be honest.
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Finally we got back to Hualian, quickly got changed at the hostel, dropped off the scooter at the hire place and dashed to the station to discover there was still one train back to Taipei and enough time to bolt some dinner. We quickly threw back a lot of Taiwan Beer to celebrate not dying, and then jumped on the train, looking somewhat the worse for wear but happy in an exhausted fashion.
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Of course, when we arrived at Taipei Songshan a couple of hours later, we still had to walk home in the rain. I can’t say I miss the constant damp of Taipei…
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One thought on “highway 11

  1. Pingback: Walami Trail « today I did this for me

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