My fifth day of riding the Huadong Valley in 2018 began in Guanshan and ended in Taitung City, approximately 45 kilometers further south. Although there were several uphill segments this was one of the least demanding rides of the entire trip, partly because I had a good night’s rest, but also due to some cloud cover moderating the influence of the tropical sun. After rising I cycled over to Little Star Breakfast shop (小星星早餐店) to try their fluffy handmade danbing 蛋餅 (a crepe-like egg roll with various fillings). Feeling recharged, I set out to catalog more of eastern Taiwan’s historical relics and natural wonders.
Taiwanese Indigenous people (Chinese: yuánzhùmín 原住民) are a diverse group of Austronesian people numbering more than half a million in Taiwan, approximately 2.5% of the overall population. Indigenous settlements are found primarily on the east coast and in the mountainous central part of the country, particularly in Taitung, Hualien, and Nantou. Due to centuries of intermarriage many Taiwanese have at least some Indigenous ancestry.
Huadong Valley Ride 2018: Yuli to Guanshan
Day four of riding through the Huadong Valley of eastern Taiwan in 2018 began in Yuli, the midpoint of this bicycle trip from Hualien City to Taitung City. From the weather report I knew I’d have another challenging ride ahead—yet again the mercury was due to exceed 35 degrees. Luckily I was in no great rush, as I had allocated an entire week for a trip that experienced riders could easily manage in two days. I made good use of that extra time, making numerous stops and detours to document some of the many historic and cultural sites along the way, many of them quite obscure. I ended the day in Guanshan, slightly more than 40 kilometers down the valley.
Huadong Valley Ride 2018: Fenglin to Yuli
Day three of cycling down the Huadong Valley 花東縱谷 began with a hearty Taiwanese breakfast not far from the train station in Fenglin, Hualien. I was still recovering from a brush with heatstroke (a story documented in the previous entry in this series) so a traditional breakfast of danbing 蛋餅 (pan-fried egg rolls) and sweet black tea really hit the spot. A glance at the weather forecast indicated another full day of sunny skies and 35°C temperatures on the road—and even fewer opportunities for air-conditioned rest stops. I wasn’t too worried though; my loosely-planned itinerary of former Shinto shrines, industrial ruins, and other historic sites didn’t look all that challenging. Ultimately I ended up putting 60 kilometers of valley behind me, ending the day in Yuli.
Nantou Road Trip 2015: Sun Moon Lake to Taichung
This post is the final entry in a series documenting several days of riding around Nantou in October 2015. On the last morning of this trip I woke in Puli, close to the geographic center of Taiwan. I only had to return the scooter to the rental shop in Taichung sometime after nightfall so I decided to take a more circuitous route and check out many sights along the way. After a quick breakfast I headed south, briefly stopping by the shores of the majestic Sun Moon Lake (日月潭, covered in the previous entry in this series), and ascended a winding mountain access road leading into Xinyi, one of several majority Taiwanese Indigenous districts in this landlocked county.
Huadong Valley Ride 2018: Hualien City to Fenglin
My second day of riding Huadong Valley (花東縱谷) in 2018 was not everything I hoped it would be. I didn’t manage a proper night’s rest due to a malfunctioning air condition and woke up feeling weak and dehydrated. With temperatures hitting 35°C on the road, and with fewer convenience store stops along the way, it turned out to be the most difficult day of riding on this particular trip back in May 2018. I originally planned to detour into the mountains to visit the village of Tongmen (銅門) and cruise around Carp Lake (鯉魚潭) on my way south. Instead I elected to head straight down Provincial Highway 9 through Ji’an and Shoufeng into Fenglin to make up for lost time. Although I didn’t see nearly as much as planned I am glad to have an excuse to return to this part of Taiwan.
Postcards From Zhushan 竹山明信片
Zhushan (literally “Bamboo Mountain”) is a historic yet obscure township in southwestern Nantou mainly known for cultivating tea and bamboo. The town itself is one of the oldest in central Taiwan but it hardly feels that way. Many of Zhushan’s most historic structures were destroyed or damaged beyond repair in the devastating 921 Earthquake that struck in 1999, which is why its “old street” is lined with modern buildings. Most travellers pass through Zhushan on the way to attractions deeper into the rugged interior of Taiwan without sparing it a second glance—but I stopped for a closer look in the summer of 2017 while on an impromptu road trip. After staying the night in a sleazy love motel never meant for sleep (there was no way to switch off the lights) I wandered around in the morning haze, capturing traces of Zhushan’s history as it disappears into memory.
Huadong Valley Ride 2018: Hualien City
In May 2018 I embarked on a multi-day bicycle trip along the majestic Huadong Valley 花東縱谷 of Taiwan from Hualien City to Taitung City. Although I had previously cycled parts of this valley during my full tour of the island in 2013 I did so without really knowing what was there—and after five years I amassed quite a collection of notes about places I was interested in seeing up close. Several themes emerged while preparing for this trip: old standalone movie theaters, of which I had located more than a dozen; derelict railway infrastructure including stations, military checkpoints, and abandoned lines; and relics of the Japanese colonial era, particularly former Shinto shrines. This post documents my first day of riding, which only began in the late afternoon after arriving by rail at Hualien Station. I had shipped my bike ahead so all I had to do was pick it up from the baggage room, throw the panniers on, and start riding.
Suhua Highway Road Trip 2018 蘇花公路機車之旅
In May 2018 I seized an opportunity to ride the beautiful and dangerous Suhua Highway (蘇花公路) from Hualien City to Su’ao in Yilan. I had previously taken this same route on bicycle back in 2013—a harrowing trip I’ll never forget—so I was eager to drive a scooter and experience it at a different pace. I also visited a number of historic sites along the way, including several former Shinto shrines, as part of an ongoing project documenting various elements of the Japanese colonial legacy in Taiwan. Much of the highway itself also owes something to Japanese engineering, having opened to vehicular traffic in 1931, but it has been continuously repaired and expanded since then.
Nantou Road Trip 2015: Puli to Sun Moon Lake
This post gathers photos taken on two scooter rides from Puli to the shores of Sun Moon Lake 日月潭 in Yuchi, part of a multi-day road trip undertaken in late 2015. I didn’t have a chance to explore as deeply as I would have liked, nor did I really know what was so special about this part of the country while I was there, so this post will be somewhat less extensive than most others in this series. I hope to someday return to the Sun Moon Lake area and gather material to make a fully informed post about this fascinating part of Taiwan.
Puli Tuberculosis Sanatorium 埔里肺結核療養所
Tuberculosis remains the deadliest communicable disease in Taiwan, claiming approximately 600 lives per year, but great strides have been made in reducing its toll throughout the 20th century. Nearly 5% of the population were afflicted by the disease in the late 1940s—and with an annual mortality rate of 3 in 1,000, it was also among the leading causes of death of any kind in post-war Taiwan. The disease was especially prevalent among the Taiwanese Indigenous people of the remote mountainous interior, who simply couldn’t afford to see a doctor or purchase medicine (even if there were a clinic anywhere nearby).
Christian missionary organizations went to great lengths to expand access to medical services in the late 1950s, founding numerous clinics and sanatoriums in Indigenous territory all across Taiwan. In 1957 this particular tuberculosis sanatorium was constructed next to a secluded lake on the outskirts of Puli, Nantou, to provide free treatment and relief for people of the mountains. The next several decades saw great advances in healthcare in Taiwan and the sanatorium closed in 1980, its purpose fulfilled. It reopened as a Presbyterian retreat center and campground in the late 1980s and was ultimately abandoned to the elements sometime in recent years.