May 12, 2006 - Friday
Alishan to Dayigwong

Alishan Forest Railway from Alishan to Chiayi (2+ hours)
Motorbike from Chiayi to Kaohsiung (about 2 hours)
Ferry from Kaohsiung to Makung (11:38 pm - 6:28 am)
Motorbike from Makung to Dayigwong (25 min)
Nap from 7a to 11a


Today should be a bit of a push - but it will start out very easy and casual - much like it ended yesterday.

I'll take the 1:18 pm train from Alishan down the mountain to Chiayi. Since it's early I have no rush to get to the train station. Over to a restaurant I went and ordered up a Chinese Omelet and a steamed roll for breakfast. The omelet was mainly scrambled egg but it had been wrapped up in what would be like a soft tortilla wrapper then cut into bite sized pieces. Leaving the restaurant about 9:45 am I walked over to the station and got there at about 9:48 am - such a long walk - but in the fog yesterday you couldn't see between the two. The station crew thought I was a bit odd showing up WELL in advance of the 1:18 pm train but they didn't mind that I take a seat and wait.

The platform for the train is spacious, covered with a few tents, and had some seating available. While it didn't rain while I was there it would spit a drop or two every so often. A nearby steam locomotive was warming up and my train was where it stopped yesterday. The steam loco is a Shay side tri-cylinder design (Wikipedia info) with the cylinders being vertical dropping down to an external (on the right side of the locomotive) drive train. The drive train connected to the axles via exposed bevel gears. From this prior write-up I had traveled the Freeport Steam Society's "Silver Creek & Stephenson Railroad" steam locomotive on their excursion line. It is a side cylinder design too - but they are not vertical but rather slanted to the drive shaft that runs underneath the locomotive along the center - between the wheels.

Occasionally someone would want to take a photo near the loco and a train crew member would go and blow the whistle - making a nice cloud of white steam above the engine.

While I waited I worked on the trip reports - the same as what I did last evening - good time available. While I was seated people started to arrive - perhaps an hour beforehand. Not knowing how full the train might be, and finding out that it had "assigned seating", I asked if I could have my ticket changed from car 1 to car 4. The attendant simply took a pen and "converted" the 1 into a 4 - no looking up in a roster to see if the seat had been assigned. Assigned seating is a very loose term on this train.

To me the train would be a scenic line - where assigned seating really isn't an issue - and while it is perhaps mainly for scenic purposes it is still a working commuter line. There are perhaps ten stations along the 77 kilometer (48 mile) route. On the way up people would get on at some intermediate station and get off a few stations later.

With the seat arrangement "taken care of" I set back to working with the laptop. A family came in - father, mother, two kids, grandmother tending the baby, another adult lady. Their little boy was getting a kick out of the train. I took a few photos of him and one with their camera for them. In the end we each had photos of each other so I pulled out the camera's memory card and asked if theirs was the same - it was. I took the risk of hosing their photos (minimal, but possible) and used their card in my computer - transferring photos from my card to theirs and theirs to mine. They were happy to have them - and you can see the one they took of me.

With the train getting ready to leave I packed my stuff and boarded. Four cars and one engine. Each car, fortunately, is air conditioned. Air-con is not really needed at the higher altitude so I shut the vents near me and put on a coat. Later, descending to the warmer areas, I would be removing the coat and eventually opening all air vents.

For the trip up I was in the car closest to the engine - at the back of the pack with visibility only out the side windows. Wanting to get some photos I chose the car farthest from the engine as it had a doorway in the end that had a window. There was no standing between cars while in motion and there was no 'open roof' car on this train (that would be nice) - so any photo would have to be through some window.

If you enjoy railroads this one is an oddity. It was built to haul lumber from the mountains some years back. There are numerous bridge crossings, something like 50 tunnels, and perhaps unique to this line - a zig-zag pattern at one mountain area. I'll take a picture of the rail ticket as there is a "map" of sorts on the back of it - the line on the map appears unusual but is a fair representation of the actual rail line.

The start of the line is through the low, flat lands near Chiayi - and then it starts to twist up the mountain. With the amount of trees, tied with the hazy conditions, I doubt any photo of the "view out" from the train - looking down a valley to get an idea of the hight or location - will be usable. Part way up we spiraled on what seemed like one peak - seeing the same valley views time and again - but from a different elevation.

After the circling came the zig's - and this is where the train needed two engineers. One engineer and brakeman were in the engine. There was one conductor on the train (who did the normal ticket thing, checking on people in the cars, making sure the air-con was working, tending to passengers at the stations [though several of the busy stations were also staffed]). The "second" engineer was in the car with me. He would be in control of the train - if only monitoring the conditions - when it was running in the "reverse" mode.

So let's see, yesterday on the trip up, the engine started out "pushing" the train but ended "pulling" the train into the station. It pushed up to zig-zag (for lack of a better term) switch #1 where it then stopped, the switch was thrown, and we backed up. We backed up for several minutes, engine pulling the train to switch #2 where we stopped again, switch thrown, and we proceeded uphill with the engine pushing again. One more switch, #3, and the engine would be pulling the train the rest of the way to the station. Where the engine is at the "back end" of the train the second engineer would sit in the seat next to where I was standing.

When he was "done" with his duties he showed me that I could sit in his seat showing me what to NOT touch (emergency brake) and what I could touch (lights for getting photos in a tunnel). I sat in the seat for a bit then moved to standing so I could move about. Nice of him to allow me to sit there though.

The camera went click-click-click for 3+ hours. And by the time I was down at the station I had space for 10 pictures on the card. Timed nicely.

Out of the train station the goal is to get down to Kaohsiung for the ferry trip. I stopped by a shop for some more water, over to the big-M "restaurant of fine food" for some fish then over to the hotel for the bike. It was still there - tripod laying on the seat and sandals, wrapped in a bag, on the foot rest. I asked if the hotel would like any reimbursement for the parking spot and they said no - it was fine. Many thanks to them and I loaded up, tooted the horn and waved as I drove off.

Stopping a couple blocks later to figure out where I needed to head I pulled out the maps. South, yes, on Route 1 but where _is_ Route 1? It looks to be on the other side of the tracks - so in that direction I head. Up, over the tracks, down to the road on the other side - Yep - there are the signs. I can take Route 1 all the way to Kaohsiung or if I see the jump to Route 17 I could finish the trek on that too. Route 1 is mainly populated with stop lights - more frequent in local areas but there would be no long stretch of rural area (which is why Felipe told me to skip the whole western side of Taiwan - it's just populated cities).

The route ended up taking about 1.5 hours for the distance of something like 80 kilometers (49 miles). I commented before about the bikes weaving and bobbing through city traffic - this would be slightly different - faster. The open areas would be almost a race to the next light while the higher speed populated areas would be a "pick a hole and go for it". Friday at 6:30 pm in Tainan perhaps takes the cake for the most craziness so far. Cars, trucks, taxi's, buses, and more bikes - scooters and manual shifts than I cared to count. The "pack" of bikes would jump into the intersection at their "scooter green" - which is also equivalent to a "2 second rule" as some intersections have count down clocks - the bikes take off with 2 seconds of red light left. The pack would then need to squeeze together at the other side of the intersection. Higher speeds when navigating (40 to 80 kph) made it for an interesting evening.

After going through three larger cities (Chiayi, Tainan, Kaohsiung) the exposed skin on my face and neck was noticeably blackened from the pollution. I wonder what my lungs look like.... I now understand why people wear face masks and wear coats backwards.

In Kaohsiung I found the hotel easy enough as it was waypointed on the gps so I just followed the pointer to right where I wanted to go. I didn't check in as I wanted to pre-drive the route to the ferry for the 9:15 am ferry trip to Makung (Penghu Islands), Felipe's house. I didn't waypoint the ferry landing but from the tracklog (that is used to make the "lines" on the maps) I converted a data point into a waypoint for the ferry. This gave me a reasonable location for the ferry, and it was able to get me within 2 blocks, but I still had to ask for directions. The gas station attendant pointed in the general area and off I headed - then finding the ferry easy enough.

I found the ticket office for "people" tickets and asked for a ticket - oye - they gave me one for the next ferry out - 11 pm. Not what I expected but then I didn't specify - I just thought the next one would be the 9:15 am. No sleeping at a hotel this evening and I'm glad I didn't check into the hotel when I drove by it. Personal ticket in hand I drove over closer to the ferry to see about the ticket for the bike. An attendant was gracious to show me where I could purchase it but to come back at 22:00 to do so.

Again with a little bit of time I headed back into the city and found a place to get a snack. I also found some batteries and DVD-R's to backup photos. The place I found was an honest-to-goodness MALL!! I couldn't believe it. Something "like home". Tasks completed and ferry time hearing I headed back to purchase a ticket for the bike. In hand I drove on, parked it - and started to work on the laptop. I hope this ferry goes to Makung.... (the thought crossed my mind a few times).

Day's activity - Start at Alishan up in the mountains. Take the train down to Chiayi and hop onto the bike. Ride down to Kaohsiung to get onto the ferry. Overnight ferry ride to Makung and then back onto the bike to get to Felipe's house. Looking at the map I wonder if there was a ferry from Tainan or Tung-shih - would have been a shorter ferry trip.

Yesterday I came down this road, from the bottom of the pic, turned right and stopped at the fuel station to the right then exited to the left and traveled downhill to Chiayi

Train ticket - round trip - 630? NTD.
Click for a large size

What looks to be a working, small scale, replica of the Shay steam locomotives.

Here's the real deal....

Steam in use
MPG, 2.5 MB, 11 sec

Three cylinders and the drive shaft

My black motorcycle saddle bags sit over to the right of the photo. I sat there for a couple+ hours tapping away.

I thought that these "cross poles" for the orange cones were a neat thing - never seen something like that before.

This diesel electric must not have a motor on each axle (two trucks with two axles on each). One of the axles on each truck is probably propelled by a motor while the other is propelled by the connecting rod - reminiscent of a steam locomotive

Tools at the ready.

Not such a good photo with the glare - looking into the cab of the locomotive.

The morning "sunrise" train arriving back at the station.

Auxiliary engineer's seat

My view for the ride down

Toilet on each car.

Drinking water

Air conditioning unit

He'd get on a car, walk up and down the isle....

The Uh-Oh Game
MPG, 0.8 MG, 11 sec

....then walk off again.

The kids, their father, and me.

We're moving. The clock looks to be right at 1:18 pm

The Ride Down the Mountain
MPG, 7.1 MB, 1 min 42 sec

Approaching the first of the zig-zag switches - a second track is nearing

I think this is the second zig-zag switch. Coming in now

Exiting out on the low side, heading down

Brake line pressure? It would move between 4 and 5.

One of the station stops

Coming down the hill - nearing another zig-zag switch.

Switch thrown, the conductor rushes back to the train.

And down we head.

Timbers pressing against trees to keep the rail in place.

Processing the last of the zig-zag switches - dead end ahead.

One of many

An occasional view across the valley

This is perhaps the scariest section on the railroad. It wasn't long - about 20 feet - but it seemed to be un-reinforced soil below the railway - and it was eroding away. It wasn't the rainy season but I should think this spot could be the next washout area.

That same section as above - looking down the edge.

Tunnel / slide shed for the railway on the left.

Some of the tunnels had 'holes' made into their sides.

A new bridge under construction.

A larger water / erosion control project

Side track for maintenance vehicles to jump off to

Rolling through one of the hillside towns

It took me a bit to notice what the seat was fastened to - looks to be a fridge.

One of the smaller stations. Many of these we didn't stop at.

Water supply tank. Water flows down the mountain, into a pipe, and then into a holding tank. The "individual" water lines, running alongside the rail bed, run to homes and each home/building has its own "residential" water tank on the roof. (those are the shiny tanks seen in some of the photos)

The lady at the left was selling fruit

One disembarking

A corn field - quite a bit smaller than what I'm used to in the "corn belt" of the U.S.A.

The halfway point - a passing point for the train on its way down and the other on the way up. It seemed there was something wrong with our train and the power was turned off or a minute or so and the train crew was abuzz with goings on.

The uphill train pulled out and we're getting ready to do the same.

Getting a good "curves" shot takes a bit of luck. Optimum conditions require a tight first curve, a short straight section, then a second curve that isn't too tight. Setting the camera to zoom out to the far curve helps. Then wait until the last moment until the foliage at the right almost blocks the track.

Remnants from the steam days - watering pipe

Another large project. Powerline towers were also being constructed up this valley.

We're in the lowlands now - Chiayi isn't too far away - 25 minutes perhaps.

A long maintenance pit on the next track to the right.

The yellow painted fence is constructed of old rail line - lots of cutting, welding, painting - but durable

I should ask - is this a funeral vehicle?

An ox pulling a one-row plow - it still goes on.

The yards have closed in on the tracks.

I noticed these crossing gates on the way up - talk about not being able to enter (or exit) the intersection - heavy cables come down across the intersection. Everyone MUST stop or else risk harm that might be worse than getting hit by the train.

Back at the station - electric train heading north.

Route 1 heading south. I just passed under this highway bridge under construction.

Nice sun - poor location.

Making the best of it

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