01-Dec-2001 -- There are only 4 confluence points that fall within the shores of Taiwan. The two north points are actually in the sea just off the coast. The lone south point is far from any road or habitation. But we decided to set off for the one point in central Taiwan because it seemed like it just might be do-able -- and it was. So on a pleasantly warm, December-in-Taiwan Saturday, myself, along with Frank and Anny, two of my English students, were the first to find a confluence point in Taiwan!
The most remarkable thing about the point is that it is next to the most disastrous damage from the massive, magnitude 7.3, 1999 Taiwan earthquake (see my Taipei Times article about the earthquake). The city of Puli, which is only 4 kilometers from the confluence point, was burdened with a large share of the 2291 deaths that resulted from the earthquake. When we drove around after lunch at streetside restaurant in Puli we noticed there were many buildings that were still heaps of twisted rubble.
Heading the few kilometers east on the cross-island highway from Puli we were shocked to find the mountains looked much bigger and steeper than we imagined from our topo map. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find that a small road, which had not been indicated on the map, led up the drainage-valley where we needed to go.
From the highway we crossed a river plain to a small Taoist shrine, vacant but adorned with offerings and smoky wafts from burning joss sticks. Then, the half paved/half dirt road wound up the drainage to treacherous cliffs hundreds of meters in height.
Parts of the road had been repaired after they were taken out by landslides from the earthquake or the horrific typhoons of the last two years. Cracks and slumping made the road appear that it would fall away at any moment.
Frank’s old Peugeot steamed on, although a foul engine smell was coming out of it and we had to stop a few times to check things out. On one part of the road we saw a bird with a bright yellow belly and a black tail dart away from the road. A few huge spiders about 15-20 cm long clung to thick webs along the road.
Amazingly, one of the road’s switchbacks came within 60 or 70 meters of the confluence point. Even more surprising, there was a small trail, possibly made by animals, heading in the direction of the point. It was a dark, heavily wooded area.
As we walked down the trail we saw butterflies with the genetic adaptation to look like leaves. Further in, we saw the dark figure of an animal jumping around tree limbs. We assumed it to be a squirrel. We also saw an animal hole several tens of centimeters in diameter burrowed off the side of the trail.
The trees in the forest were primarily skinny pines with a name that translates into English as "two-needle pines" because the two deep-green, flimsy needles grow together. The trail took us to within 40 or 50 meters of the point.
The GPS was beginning to have some accuracy problems because of the thick forest canopy. We had machetes and went bush-whacking through trees and spider webs downhill from the trail. "Nope", I said "turn around". Frank and Anny got frustrated because I kept running back and forth and far ahead of them.
This time we macheted our way uphill and got to a spot within 10 or 20 meters of the point with a 7-10 meter error. It was a small thicket clearing with a fallen tree, a brilliant bamboo tree to the west, and thick woods on all other sides. We have documented this spot as the location of ‘the 24N 121E confluence’.