This is the second leg of my trip from Taipei to Japan's Yaeyama archipelago.
GE0011 TSA - HUN ISG in French here, in English there GE6812 HUN - ISG You are here GE6811 ISG - HUN in French here, in English there GE0016 HUN - TSA in French here, in English there
This routing had the secondary interest of giving me an opportunity to discover HUN, an airport that I would have little chance to use, since Hualien is only three hours by train or car : flying is not really justified, unless your time is really limited, which was the case when I made a last minute day trip to Hualien before leaving Taiwan for good.
In Taiwan, Hualien means the Taroko Gorges, the Taiwanese natural site. Imagine a road in a gorge which starts a few kilometers from the Pacific Ocean, just beyond this last bend:
… and rises up to 2374 meters above sea level, at this service station where it was urgent to fill it up in this deep fog, for it closed at 6pm, as you can see, and we were not sure to have enough gas for the 75 km back to Hualien.
In between, the cliffs were as impressive as the civil engineering.
This is a place where engineering is an art.
Civil engineering is a misnomer though, because the road of the Taroko Gorges was originally built by the Japanese military engineers to crush the resistance of the Taiwanese Aborigines who only used vertiginous trails to move around. This was (and still is) an engineering feat, because like in nearly everywhere in Taiwan, the geology is dramatically unfavorable. Rocks keep falling, so much so that wearing a hard hat is highly recommended to visitors, and provided for free. That was an environment for me.
Let's go back to the topic after this inevitable pitch of the Taiwanese tourist office. HUN is one of the four mixed civilian – military airports in Taiwan, together with Magon (MZG), Taichung (RMQ) and Tainan (TNN). I posted reports on MZG and RMQ, but never had a chance to use TNN: there is no TSA-TNN flight due to the high speed train line, and the TNN-MZG and TNN-KNH flights were inconveniently in the middle of the day, which excluded using them for a day trip.
Hualien AFB's configuration is somewhat unusual: the original base, now used by civilian flights, but also by the military, has been caught by the urbanization, and a second parallel runway has been built 2.5 km away, alongside the mountain. The two half bases are linked by an elevated taxiway protected by ditches, similar to the ones which surround TPE for drainage (thanks to Google Earth).
The first time I went to Taroko was with a driver (it was marginally more expensive than renting a car only) : he made a detour, and suddenly made a U-turn like he had taken a wrong direction, exactly in the axis of Runway 21R, where there is a break in the surrounding wall, top left in the picture above. It was not pure chance, of course, and I could take these pictures on the fly.
These bunkers hide the entrances of the tunnels that the Taiwanese dug in the mountain to protect their sensitive facilities. The Taiwanese are unconditional supporters of military tunnels, from their experience of twenty years of Chinese bombings of Kinmen island.
21R Runway threshold (the two runways are actually both marked 21 – I assume that the pilots are supposed to know where they should land).
This place seemed to be well known locally, for another car made exactly the same U-turn just before us. Of course, you cannot stop there, and you must be lucky to capture an F16 taking off. My original picture was not sharp enough to read this sign, but I could guess the message. There is a Carrefour supermarket at the corner of the inter-bases taxiway with Runway 03R, and there seems to be a fairly good viewpoint on Runway 21L's threshold from escalators behind the windows. There was too much to visit elsewhere in Hualien and I did not try going there. There is not much civilian traffic in HUN anyway.
I did what I could for this FR, but air bases are not very spotter friendly. I thank my readers for their understanding.
Arrival in HUN, and an escalator (or optional stairs) to reach the Departures level to check in again, since I had not received in TSA the BPs for both flights.
Small wonder that the flight to ISG was displayed as being late, without a mention that it would be due to the late arrival of the aircraft.
The boarding cards were already printed, but I had an aisle seat. It was late, but I am a window addict and asked for a change. It took them some time to find another passenger travelling alone (a rare species) and with a window seat: it had been a good idea not to waste time before going to the check in counter. A bonus point to the check in staff for the service.
Clockwise : the BP, the Japanese customs form and immigration form.
The immigration form is trilingual (Japanese – English – Chinese), but the customs form is in Chinese only. No wonder: how could there be a foreigner going to Japan from HUN? I asked if they had one in English, but all they found in a cupboard was the Japanese version.
Since I had some time, I went around, in this atrium which overlooks the Arrivals area. The traffic in HUN was limited, but they built with high hopes for future developments.
An inevitable visit to the toilets, not luxurious, but clean.
I did not visit the female version, but had a chance to visit for the first time the nursing room, whose door was opened. There was a crib in front of the sofa.
Going through the immigration control, which gave me a very rare Hualien Taiwanese exit stamp. The boarding room was strictly empty. You can see the entire duty free offering, i.e. zero.
Since I was the first passenger there, hoping that the video surveillance would not be too severe, I took a quick picture of the ATR72 with the airbase in the background. No, the plane was not next to the jetbridge, but I could not take time to improve the framing.
The aborigine design of the boarding gate (I did not take much risk taking that picture).
And going down to the tarmac on that jetbridge with drawn down shades, until stairs to reach the tarmac.
We were on air base, but that did not cancel GE's customer service, and there were three dozen umbrellas for the passengers, with GE's design like in TSA.
The rain had abated, which gave me a free hand for this picture on the way to the aircraft.
A view of the cabin which of course did not change.
You know the seat pitch too (but maybe not my shoes, which did not make it back to Europe).
Another view of the seat pitch, with top models filling immigration forms for decoration purposes.
Everybody was doing his homework…
… and I too. I found the customs forms easier to understand in Japanese than in Chinese, which was reassured me on what would happen next.
With the setting sun, the pilots who keep flying just below the top of the clouds, the high wing which masks the location of the winglet, and the absence of any winglet, it was difficult to include the traditional winglet shot.
An announcement of a light meal was made (in Mandarin, English and Taiwanese). It did not come as a surprise that GE had not invested in teaching Japanese to its FA. The distribution of the meal took a lot of time, because the FAs were removing the plastic cover of each tray. I theorized that the point was to avoid having these covers dumped in the seat pocket where they would stain the seat or the in flight magazine. I did not take again a picture of the safety card – see the report of the previous flight.
This was the meal – very Japanese-like. On the left, it was a single sandwich – some kind of a Japanese-Taiwanese version of the Big Mac.
The same, with one bite fewer, but coffee added. The coffee was barely acceptable.
There was too much mayo, and quite stuffy, but it did provide a meal, welcome since it was getting late. Kohama Island on the left.
Landing is near.
In Ishigaki too, the weather was poor.
U-turn to taxi up the runway
And parking away from the terminal, at the far end away from the international terminal.
The cleaning crew was waiting sheltered under the wing. Two buses were waiting for us, with seats for each passenger despite the flight being full – a rare privilege in economy!
A rather blurry view of the control tower, on the way.
And an even blurrier view of the international terminal, even though I was off the bus. You see her both the Departures on the left and the Arrivals on the right. It really looked like temporary buildings added recently, and there was a good reason for that: this airport had less than one year to live. At midnight on March 6th, 2013, all operations were transferred to a new and large airport five kilometers north-east of this one, which had been caught by the urban expansion, and whose 1,500 m runway could not be extended.
A bonus point for the Japanese immigration officers, who checked in the line that all forms were correctly completed, so that no time is wasted because of an incomplete form at the passport control. Immigration was therefore quick; my luggage was searched by a customs officer who did not find anything wrong about its contents (they are typically looking for vegetal and meat products).
Now, I needed to rent a car, and there was no rental agency in sight, neither here nor in the Domestic arrivals area in the background. Over three years of deep immersion in a Chinese language bath had had a seriously corrosive effect on my underlying layers of Japanese, but this kind of situation had a radical stripping effect: you immediately remember how to swim when you are thrown in cold water. I asked for help to a friendly taxi driver, who made a quick internet search and called a rental agency (the agencies were 500 meters away on the road, but it was hard to find by night without any signage), who came to pick me up. I expected that he would speak Japanese only, but would you believe that a car rental agency in an international airport would take cash only? And would you believe that a car rental agent would tell me No problem, you can pay me when you return the car (having withdrawn cash in an ATM during the week-end), and let me drive away like that? Renting a car in Nowhere Taiwan was fun (story here), but Nowhere Japan was not bad either.
It was pitch dark by then, good thing that Mrs. GPS was there to guide me to the 民宿 minshuku (a traditional housing halfway between the B&B and the family inn);
Mrs. GPS spoke Japanese only, of course, but she displayed a map too, and eventually announced: 間もなく、目的です。mamonaku, mokuteki desu ([you are] soon at your destination).
My destination was this six tatami mat room (a hotel bonus is acceptable in a FR).
And the next day, there was a bright blue sky on the minshuku and all of Ishigaki.
What can you do in Ishigaki during three days with a car? The signage is very tidy, often bilingual, but I of course targeted places which are signed in Japanese only, like Mt Mt Nosoko-māpē 野底マーペー .
Yes, this is the cone on the right; there is trail leading to the top.
You have a quasi panoramic view on the whole island from the top.
Including the bay of Kabira, which has been awarded three stars by the Michelin guide according to my Japanese neighbor on my flight, where these glass bottomed boats (グラス.ボトム gurasu botomu : Japanese is not a difficult language!) provide small tours in the shallow waters.
… where there is no dearth of Tridacna giant clams and multicolored tropical fish.
I wonder why so many visitors go to the Caribbean, when it is so much simpler to go to Ishigaki via Taiwan, as long as you are reasonably flexible on your travel dates and reasonably fluent in Mandarin and Japanese.
Hualien - HUN
Ishigaki - ISG
An hour and twenty minutes late, due to a long additional wait in HUN. I am more severe than for the previous leg, because I wish I had had more light for taking pictures. A bonus for the staff both in flight and in the airport, and decent catering for an eighth minute actual flying time. No IFE and press on board.
I gave a maximum grade for HUN's immigration (zero wait and friendly), and check in staff who took time to find me a window seat.
Immigration and customs were faster than expected in ISG - a small airport which seldom received international flights. The old ISG was close to the city, but the car rental agencies were hard to find.
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