Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hualien, Taroko, and the International Marathon Part 1

Andrea had been training for months for the international marathon that was to be held in Taroko National Park. The date of the marathon had been set for November 1st, a Saturday. Andrea and I both asked for the Friday off work so that we could travel up to the north of the island the day before the race. Our friend John also took the day off work and came with us. He and Andrea had been running together on many a morning in preparation for the 21km run they had committed to. Andrea had been following a training regimen that involved them running five days a week for progressively longer distances. They had started running about 5km and by the final two weeks were running 19km. They were ready. I was also ready... for my 5km run. I had entered into the fun run in order to be a part of the big event but wasn't harboring any grand ambitions. We took the high-speed rail (HSR) train up to Taipei and caught another train eastwards to Hualien county. On this map (taken from this website) you can see Tainan county on the south-west coast and Taroko National Park on the north-east coast, about as far as you could have to travel to get somewhere in Taiwan. After debarking from the train at Hualien we walked out of the station and straight to the Hualien visitor centre where we collected our marathon run bibs (the numbers you pin to your front and back), samples of sport/health-care merchandise (for example, abrasion-reducing patches), and other paraphernalia. After signing in and confirming that we had arrived and collected our marathon packs, we headed outside to wait for our pickup. Luckily for us, Andrea's co-teacher Gina had an aunt and uncle living very close to Taroko National Park and they were very generous in letting us stay with them for the two days we were going to be in the area. Gina's uncle was a taxi-driver and soon rolled up to the station looking for us. As it turned out, Gina's uncle and aunt were aboriginal Taiwanese and lived in a small village close to the mountains (but then everything is close to the mountains once you get into Hualien). After arriving and setting up in a small room on top of their house, Mister (we just called him Mister) showed us around the village and explained a few things to us. Here he is next to the river that runs by the village. The water in the river is apparently clean enough to drink as is. In fact, it is probably cleaner than our filtered water in Tainan. The whole place was beautiful; clean air; clean water; people close to the landscape around them; mountains looming up around us. Wonderful. A far cry from Tainan where the natural landscape has been severely shaped and manipulated, often beyond any semblance of resemblance (nice turn of phrase if I do say so myself, and I do) to what came before. And the mountains! The further peaks are obscured by the drifting clouds. That night we ate dinner with the family and then tried to get some sleep knowing that the big day, anticipated for so long, would already be underway by the time we awoke in the morning.

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