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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

taiwan's highway 122

I have a favorite road. That's normal, right? It's Highway 94 in New Zealand. It's the only road that leads in and out of Milford Sound. What makes it so spectacular is the landscape it twists, rises, and falls through-- mountains, rivers, lakes, sounds.

While Taiwan is not New Zealand, it has its own version of Highway 94, and that would be Highway 122. As Lonely Planet says: Highway 122 runs up a deep river valley in a rugged, chillingly beautiful part of Taiwan that is often completely cut off because of landslides. While Highway 122 may not be as spectacular as New Zealand's Highway 94, I certainly enjoy the long scoot from Taiwan's west coast to the top of the Guanwu Recreation Area of Sheipa National Park in the central mountain range of Taiwan.

For the full experience of Highway 122, one must first visit the small fishing village of Nanliao on Taiwan's northwestern coast. In Nanliao, there is a small town, some wind turbines, a popular bike path, a few sandy beaches (and a lot of people flying kites & wind surfing in the ocean breeze), and the start of Highway 122.
Highway 122 heads east, away from the ocean, through Hsinchu City and continues through Jhudong Township. For most of this stretch of roadway, Highway 122 is a four to six lane road congested with cars, buses, and so many scooters (and the occasional elderly person driving his or her personal mobility scooter in the middle of the road like it is a road vehicle). Locally, this stretch of road is known as Guangfu Road (but I have also noticed that every Taiwanese city has a Guangfu Road, and someone told me it just means "the main road" or something like that).

I have always found it interesting that every city in Taiwan looks exactly the same; the roads are spiderwebs flanked with tall, ugly, cement buildings covered in loud billboards and flashing lights. Temples, food stalls, and bubble tea stands are on every street corner. Hsinchu City and Jhudong Township may not be anything special to look at (well, except for the temples), but neither is any Taiwanese town or city.

That's just the way it is here-- the beauty is found in nature, not in manmade things.
In Jhudong Township, there is a three way fork. Highway 122 turns right at that fork and starts its ascent into the central mountain range of Taiwan. Here, the road becomes two lanes and passes through many small Taiwanese aboriginal villages covered in colorful, playful murals. There are many groups of Taiwanese aboriginals that live high in the mountains of Taiwan like the Atayal people, who live in the largest mountain village along Highway 122, Wufeng Township.

My overall impression of the Taiwanese aboriginals is that they live rough, agriculture-based lives (many harvesting tea or rice) in secluded, high mountain villages that lack many creature comforts. However, every single time I drive through one of their villages, I am always waved at by locals with big smiles on their faces, and occasionally someone who wants to use what English they know will strike up a conversation.
Eventually, as Highway 122 climbs higher and higher, it becomes uninhabited with sheer cliff faces and the looming threat of landslides from up above. After the ranger station for Sheipa National Park, the road is called Dula Forest Road, a true single lane road.

Every time I drive this stretch of 122, it looks completely different because of all the ongoing road work that occurs to fix the road after landslides caused by heavy rainfall, typhoons, and earthquakes, which all happen quite often.

Dula Forest Road culminates high in the mountains above the clouds at the Guanwu Recreation Area. There, one can hike, camp, or stay in the resort. In total, scooting from the start of Highway 122 in Nanliao to the Guanwu Recreation Area takes 3.5 hours (that is without stopping to take thousands of pictures of the beautiful scenery).

One of my favorite things about Taiwan is that I can literally scoot from the beach after dipping my toes in the ocean to the top of Taiwan and sit in a cloud all in the span of just a few hours. 

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