I feel somewhat anxious in the days before a walking holiday; Do I have the right gear? Will I find agreeable food, scenery, and people? Will the weather be kind? Why have I let myself get so out of shape again?
Until I actually pack my bag and put on my boots, these questions repeatedly interrupt my thoughts, like bored kids in the back of the car. No amount of reasoning will stop the restless nagging. The only answer that puts “are we nearly there?” to bed is to be “there.” So it is with my latest adventure – the Taiwanese East Coast Camino.
People may tell you that there’s no such thing as the Taiwanese East Coast Camino. That’s because there isn’t yet. For the moment it’s an aspiration, a dream, the brainchild of Tyson Qiu, a veteran of several Caminos de Santiago and a fellow member of the Amis du Camino Mozarabe. After walking across Spain, he felt that there should be a similar through-hike to allow people to explore the culture and beauty of Taiwan, where he was born. Within 24 hours of launching a Facebook Page to recruit volunteers to support the idea, he had 200 people signed up. Now there are 600 Taiwanese volunteers who want to support the initiative in some way.
This evening we had dinner with five of them in Hualien. Sean, an opthamologist, his parents who have walked the Via de la Plata, Professor Chun-Yuan Fan, who directs the Department of Physical Education at National Taitung university, and his wife. (apologies for the lack of names – it was hard for me to keep up). The talk over dinner inevitably turned to the coronavirus epidemic. Taiwan was hit hard by SARS some years ago, so the country is handling this emergency with an abundance of caution. Sean’s hospital has set up temperature monitoring stations at the entrances – and sent some patients with high temperatures to the specialist facility, where they were diagnosed with ordinary influenza. So far there have been no patients with the new virus on this side of Taiwan. Nonetheless, all people wear masks in crowded places such as the main railway station, where I had lunch before catching the train to Hualien.
Another three volunteers have been scouting routes with Tyson over the last few days – They know the region well and they love it for hiking. Taiwan has high central mountains which are famous among climbers – but this walk will not go to the center of the island. It will take in the scenery between the central and coastal mountain ranges, as well as some picturesque coastal walking. For now, there are some stages that involve a lot of paved surfaces but in the future it may be possible to mark routes through farms to avoid roads.
It is all very exciting. I feel privileged that Tyson invited me to join him on this exploratory walk when I expressed an interest in the project. Definitely worth leaving home at 3:00 AM for … but now the tiredness has caught up with me. I must rest well. We have an early start tomorrow to take a shuttle bus to the trail head in the Taroko National Park. Taking the bus is a bit of a cheat but it means that we can put in a full day of walking to the north of Hualien and return here in the evening. The next day we will head south toward Taitung, our final destination for this week.