Hualien, on the eastern side of Taiwan, is separated from the rest of the country by a steep mountain chain. After World War II when Chiang Kai Chek retreated to Taiwan after being defeated by Mao, he decided that a highway needed to be built to the east coast so it could be more easily defended. The Central Cross Island Highway took the military veterans who built the road four years since they worked primarily with hand tools and dynamite. The land was totally wild and undeveloped. Over 200 of them lost their lives in the process and they are honored at the Eternal Springs Shrine.
Once the highway was twelve miles from the coast the road builders came upon Taroko Gorge, carved by the Liwu River. This gorge is especially steep with almost vertical walls, because the mountains the river carved through were mostly made of very hard marble. On our tour we got out of the bus and walked the most dramatic part of the gorge. We could see various shaded of pink, white and gray marble that the river cut as it deepened the canyon.
Nearby we visited a marble factory where this unique natural resource was turned into beautiful objects. Giant slabs were being cut into thin sheets, which could be used as veneer for concrete buildings. The noise of the sawing was deafening. Also on the property was a display of marble statues that had been carved in artist competitions on the grounds. And of course, there was a huge gift shop. There was much to admire, but I didn’t see anyone buy anything. Nothing like a chunk of marble to weigh down a suitcase.
The original inhabitants of Taiwan were aboriginals, related to the Polynesians who populated island all across the Pacific. Usually when Europeans come to an island - and the Dutch did - local people quickly die off from diseases they have no immunity to. But here there are about 300,000 people who can trace their lineage back to the aboriginals and they performed native dances for us in a slightly Disney way.
The drive back to the port took us through a bucolic agricultural area, but since flat land is at a premium here, the guide said that what’s grown here gets eaten here. He assured us that we will get a totally different impression of Taiwan when we move on to the western side tomorrow.