Fri, Sep 14, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: Guardians of the valley

A foothills ramble in Chiayi County passes an ancient temple and 18 ‘guardians of the Buddhist faith’

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

Rather than take the wooden steps down to Road 159A, I cut through abandoned farmland to Local Road 124 (嘉124) and began to march south. This is a very pretty backroad with hardly any traffic. The authorities have tried to promote it as a cycling route. I didn’t see a single bike, however, and the cyclists’ rest stop a couple of kilometers down the road looked utterly neglected.

The Bajhang River (八掌溪) soon came into view. This 81km-long waterway is one of south Taiwan’s principal rivers. A short stretch forms the border between Chiayi City and Chiayi County, while its lower third separates Chiayi County and Tainan City.

I’d never before looked down on Chukou’s familiar pedestrian footbridge or the village’s elementary school. And it turned out there was no need to go to that end of the village. After 3.7km hiking along Local Road 124, then another 2.3km walking downhill on Local Road 124-1 (嘉124-1), I reached Highway 18 and quickly found a bus stop.

I realized that getting aboard a public bus here mightn’t be easy. On Highway 18, at least nine out of every 10 buses carries a tour group heading to or returning from Alishan. (The situation is similar in the vicinity of Taroko Gorge and Sun Moon Lake.)

Among all the tour buses, spotting the rare public bus willing to pick up an individual like me would’ve been difficult indeed if I didn’t already know that Chiayi Bus Co vehicles are either harlequin green or light gray. I ignored those painted other colors, and braced myself to spring out into the road the moment my bus appeared.

Many drivers are in a hurry to reach their destination; looking to see if there’s anyone waiting at a stop doesn’t appear to be among their duties. Instead, the folks hoping to catch the bus are responsible for alerting the person behind the wheel. To his credit, the driver who took me back to Chiayi did apologize for not coming to a halt until he was well past the stop. For the sake of the less agile half of the population, should I hope that bus operators can train their employees better, or simply look forward to the era of self-driving buses?

Steven Crook has been writing about travel, culture, and business in Taiwan since 1996. Having recently co-authored A Culinary History of Taipei: Beyond Pork and Ponlai, he is now updating Taiwan: The Bradt Travel Guide.

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