Having had three weeks of relaxation and bike preparation at our apartment in the Philippines, it was time to get back on the road. While we had been visiting friends and family in the UK, our bikes were resprayed by 'Timmy' at his workshop in Dumaguete. He did a great job,sourcing a green mat paint which was identical to the original finish. The ' Thorn' branding writing was reproduced in adhesive transfers and, as we would find out later, they would not be up to the job. So resprayed, re-fitted and lubricated, with us clad in new cycling kit, it was time to get going.
The big question was, where? The first thought was north Thailand, Laos and north Vietnam. But June is the beginning of the rainy season and we hate getting muddy. Then we thought about Indonesia but it is high season there, and difficult to extend the 30 day visa. Taiwan had never really featured on our 'to do' list until we met a group of Taiwanese living on a campsite in Tasmania. They were very enthusiastic about their beautiful homeland and encouraged us to visit. We also fancied seeing Korea and Japan so a plan began to form.
Flights to Taiwan with Cebu Pacific from Manila to Taipei were the cheapest, and it was cheaper to return to Manila and fly on to Korea than fly there direct from Taipei. From Busan in Korea there is a ferry to Fukuoka on Kyushu island (Japan). Cebu Pacific also fly from Osaka to Manila for the return.
The flight from Dumaguete boarded on time. There was a scramble to find enough space for the cabin luggage as everyone seemed to be taking big boxes of cakes home with them from the little French bakery in the Dumaguete mall. Once we were all seated the pilot informed us that there would be an hour delay in take-off due to a backlog of flights into Manila.
Luckily there was plenty of time between our two flights and no need to change terminals in Manila. Then the flight out of Manila was delayed for almost an hour waiting for a late connecting flight. We were glad we had booked a van to pick us up at Taipei airport which was a lonely place at 2am. The bikes arrived safely, packed in their new soft bags, although a little bashed around.
|The Red House|
|Feeding the birds|
The buses are well labelled and all destinations are in two languages. There is a constantly expanding cycle path network. Most of the rivers have paths on both banks and it is easy to go from the suburbs into the city along these.
We wandered round the Peace Park, watching the children feeding the birds, did a couple of museums and temples and spent an hour watching, but not comprehending, the puppet theatre.
Taipei to Bajia Bay - 47km
|The Suangxi Cycle Path|
|Too stuffed to move|
|Ballroom under the bridge|
The sky was blue and the temperature was already in the high 20's but there was a cooling breeze and it was good to be avoiding the busy rush-hour traffic which we could see crossing the bridges above our heads. In the shade of a river bridge was a group of dancers practising their ballroom steps and along the path people were using the exercise machines and jogging,
|Fisherman's Wharf Bridge|
|Oyster shells set in lava|
Bajia Bay to Taipei - 72km
|Fuguei Cape Lighthouse|
|The Green Reef|
There was a pleasant, narrow, cemented road from the car park to the lighthouse, giving good views over the sheltered sandy bay. On the beach here is the 'Green Reef' . Looked more like a few rocks covered in algae.
As we continued along the coast it seemed like this area was formally very popular with plenty of cafes and restaurants to cater for tourists. But now a lot of them were falling to pieces and mostly closed. So there was no morning coffee today and it all looked rather ugly.
The road turned inland and there was a slow hot climb over the eastern headland before a cooling descent into Keelung. At the bottom of the hill was a MacDonald's which was irresistible. A Big Mac Meal later we set off again to find the NR5 back to Taipei. There is a cycle route along the banks of the river to avoid the traffic but the long meanders add a lot of extra kilometres and we wanted to get back in time to have a rest before heading to the show.
The heat was intense and Karen was badly affected climbing a long slow hill and then having to wait at traffic lights at the top in the full sun. Luckily there was a high rise building at the hill summit with some welcome shade and a 7-11 for cold water. The 7-11 stores are a cycle tourers dream. Cool, cool air conditioned shops with ATMs, clean toilets,cold and hot drinks, snacks, meals and tables and chairs to eat at.
Taipei to Fulong - 66km
The good thing about last night was we hadn't been able to find a drop of beer anywhere so our heads were clear when we woke even though the legs were stiff.
|Wave sculpted rock|
|Divers climbing the cliff with full kit, 36C heat|
At the top of one cliff were a group of divers just returning to their car. They had all climbed from the sea, up about 75m of cliff in full wetsuits, jackets and tanks in 36C heat. That's dedication to diving!
|Longman Suspension Bridge|
There is footbridge over the river towards Fulong and we thought we may be able to get across there but it meant crossing the long wide beach and the sand was just too soft and deep to push the loaded bikes across.
It was small, just big enough for a wide single bed with the hardest mattress, no windows, tiny doorway and the bulb in the bathroom didn't work. As soon as the shower went on, little crabs started to climb up the drainage hole and invaded the bedroom. Not big enough to do any harm but not the best bedroom companions. We stuffed tissue into all the holes but a few kept appearing from under the bed.
After showering and changing we set off to walk to the beach and see the sandcastles. The only access is over the footbridge, which is accessed through a big resort hotel. It was still light and only 5pm but everyone was leaving and the guard would not let us through. So we didn't get to see them.
Fulong to Yilan - 54km
|Ang Oa Fisherman's house|
|Yellow suited temple dancers|
|Dali Temple Money Burner|
Yilan is one of those towns that has been divided by both a railway running north to south, and a raised highway running east to west. We sat in a 7-11 next to the raised highway, enjoying the cool air conditioning and watching the spectacle of a minor RTA being dealt with by the local emergency services. Despite the only injury being a slightly grazed shin, it required three police vehicles,seven police, an ambulance and several statements.
In the town centre we found a little newly opened hotel with very nice rooms and had an exceptionally tasty meal of spicy crab at a tiny eatery.
Yilan to Xincheng - 33km + train
|Call this breakfast?|
|Train carriage leaving Yilan|
|Train carriage + 19 more bikes|
|Meaning lost in translation?|
When we got off at Xincheng we had to take the bikes down the steps and back up the other side to reach the station exit. After lunch we checked into a hotel and as it was still early afternoon we decided to ride a little way up the Taroko Gorge.
This is the most famous gorge in Taiwan so we were quite surprised by the lack of traffic. The road rises steadily and the gorge gradually deepens and narrows. After about ten kilometres we came to the tail end of a queue of traffic. As nothing was coming towards us we continued past the line of vehicles to the front where there was a big board informing of the times each day when the road would be open.
The road continues to wind its way through the towering gorge, through tunnels and over bridges. With so little traffic, it was a really enjoyable ride with stunning views.
We timed our return so that we wouldn't have too long to wait for the road to open and there was again a huge line of traffic waiting. The cyclists and motorbikes were allowed through first and the whole group set off downhill fast, but suddenly Karen's wheel was skidding as she had a flat. With the narrow road and no hard shoulder we had to wait until all the traffic had gone down before there was space to take the wheel off and repair the puncture.
Xincheng to Cliff House - 74km
|What a cycle path should look like|
|Cycle path with steps????|
At the end of the beach it turned inland again and started to climb up a zig-zag path. After a couple of turns we came to a short flight of steps with a sloping ramp to push the bikes up. This was quite difficult with a loaded bike. Round the next corner were five more flights of steps. Seemed a strange way to design a bike path.
We reached the penultimate flight, sweating profusely and were confronted by four soldiers dressed in jungle camouflage and none of them old enough, surely, to have left school. They signalled to us to go back as the track was closed. Steve was sent to negotiate as there was no way we were going back down those steps and about 2km round the bay to get back to the road.
Eventually the most senior one rescinded and let us through. The youngest recruit had been stationed further down the road and had fastened a rope across the road, between two trees. He had tied it so securely it took several minutes for him to undo the knots so we could go through.
By now we were at the port, on the south side of Hualien and continued along Highway 11. Lunch was another delicious fresh seafood feast with lobster and clams. After the food the road seemed longer and hotter than ever, with a strong head wind. There were several sections of cycle track on the coast side, but there was not much traffic and more shade from the roadside trees on the hard shoulder.
|Roadside sculpture, made from driftwood|
The Google map showed a bed and breakfast place called 'Cliff House', near the 46km marker and we pinned all our hopes on this. It was a lovely house built right on the sea edge.The building style could be described as eclectic, somewhat Greek style but the interiors had unusual shaped alcoves and angled fittings. Our bedroom had a little balcony overlooking the sea and a huge bathroom with a sunken shower area.
Being a long way from anywhere, they included an evening meal in the price. It was pleasant enough, made mostly from ingredients grown in the garden, but unimaginative, just steamed rice and dishes of fried vegetables.
Cliff House to Yiwan - 56km
After getting up to watch the sunrise at 5.10am, we went back to bed for two hours until breakfast time. As we set off our host gave us a bunch of bananas from the garden.
The whole day's ride was on Highway 11, rolling slightly as it follows the coast south. Up until 11am the traffic was light but then the coaches became a bit tedious. For a large percentage of the day there was a separate cycle path.
Our coffee stop was at a cafe at Shihtiping where we watched a big group of butterflies feeding on tree sap while we sipped our ice coffee.
Further south is the Tropic of Cancer monument, a huge white tower with a split in the centre, built at the point where the tropic crosses the Taiwan coast. Of course it was busy with tourists and we had to wait a while to get a decent photo. But at least there were plenty of budding David Baileys to take one of the two of us.
|Who's The Lonely Guy In The Corner|
Lunch over we gave the caves a miss and pushed on. All around the coast of Taiwan, the town police stations provide support for touring cyclists with free air and water. Some also have space for camping and bivouacking. If really pushed we wondered if they would offer us a bed in an empty cell. We made good use of the free water today.
At Yiwan we found a bed and breakfast place run by a young couple with very nice, clean, big rooms overlooking the sea. It was a long way back into the town for an evening meal so the owner gave us a lift in his car and returned to pick us up when we had eaten.
Yiwan to Fushan - 61km
The day dawned bright and hot as ever. The breakfast was pretty good and we set off in good spirits. Highway 11 continued south and we turned off after a few kilometres to ride along the sea wall at Sansiantai where there was this rather stylish deer, made out of wood debris from the beach.
|Sansiantai Eight Arch Bridge|
|No takers for the Sin Bin Hotel|
Chengong was the next sizable town and we considered stopping there for the night. But the budget hotels were all old and crumbly, this one being the worst example and the most aptly named, except for a slight spelling error, as The Sin Bin. So we carried on after a (very expensive) cup of coffee.
|Crossing the Donghe bridge|
Just down the street we found a busy place selling the best steamed dumplings we have ever tasted. It was crowded with tourists and several groups of touring cyclists who we chatted to. It seemed like the must-do tourist food stop, a bit like Harry Ramsden's in Yorkshire.
But that was before we realised that we had left our plug adaptor in the bedroom in Yiwan. All of our electrical gadgets need it for charging so next thing we're in a taxi heading back to pick it up. It's amazing how far you can travel on a bike in 7 hours. The taxi driver took it easy on the way there. But coming back he got a bit bored and started driving like a madman, too fast, overtaking and undertaking. It was a relief to get back in one piece.
For dinner we went to the 'Italian' . Any hopes of pizza or decent pasta were soon dashed. The 'pasta' was in fact cold noodles served with yogurt, fresh fruit and chicken.
Fushan to Taitung - 12km
|Crossing into Taitung|
It was Friday and high season in Taiwan. Going away for the weekend is very popular so we decided to book into somewhere for three nights. The best value place, called the 'Travelers Hostel' was fully booked but a last minute cancellation meant we could stay, moving to a different room each day.
Taitung had a lively night market and lots of good shopping. and eating places. It was the weekend of the Wimbledon finals so we spent the evenings watching Fox sport on the flat screen TV in the bedroom. During the day we explored the city and it's parks.
|Taitung Forest Park|
While we were wandering round the busy night market a lady on a bicycle stopped Karen and started speaking to her in Mandarin. She kept pointing to her thighs and grabbing her arm, trying to take her somewhere. Steve got a bit cross and thought she was touting for some business but Karen wanted to understand what she was trying to say so went with her.
|Taitung Pet Shop with 'designer pets'|
She took us to a chemist, chatted with the pharmacist and then presented Karen with a pack of NSAID pain relief patches and left quickly. The pharmacist, who spoke some English, explained that she had been upset to see Karen limping so badly and though she must be in terrible pain.
Taitung to Shangw - 58km
|What breakfast should look like|
The route continued south, first on Highway 11 following the coast. Leaving Taitung the road is a dual carriageway with a hard shoulder. The wind had dropped and the Pacific looked flat and blue. About 8km south the road joins Highway 9. The morning traffic was light and mainly cars so we made good progress on the undulating road. There were a few sections of newly constructed road with the old road running parallel which was much quieter. On other sections there were on-going roadworks, reducing the road width to 1.5 lanes.
We climbed up to about 150m a couple of times, giving us wonderful views of the rocky coast.
There were lots of cyclists coming north, mostly groups of young men. They are all fanatical about covering themselves to keep the sun off and wear long trousers, long sleeved tops and cover their heads and faces as well as wearing a helmet.
Of course dinner had to be seafood, a lovely freshly caught, unrecognisable fish and some prawns at a place near the harbour, on the table next to the temple dancers, all dressed in their yellow suits and shoes.
Shangw to Henchung - 66km
|Massive moth at temple on the ascent|
Clouds of butterflies fluttered around the road sides and the lily's flowering in the small valleys overwhelmed us with their scent. One of Steve's spokes on the back wheel broke and so we had a quick pit stop to replace it.
Henchung to Kenting National Park - 38km
|Huncheng South Gatehouse|
After that we rode down to the South East point of Taiwan at Cape Eluanbui. This coast is the 'Costa Del Sol' of Taiwan with many hotels and up-market resorts charging ridiculous prices. All along the road are businesses set up to entertain the visitors: Go-karts, electric cars, scooters, dodgems, horse riding.
|National Park Beach|
South of the main resort town of Kenting is the National Park which protects this scenic area from further development. Even the beautiful pale sand beaches here are protected and no-one is allowed to go onto them.
As you would expect, it was heaving with bus-loads of tourists. But they confined themselves mostly to walking up and photographing the lighthouse. All the way along the path were street vendors selling 'lighthouse' memorabilia. It was identical to all those trinkets people buy on the streets of Whitby and Robin Hood's Bay.
|Elanubi Narrow Gorge|
Along the jagged rocked sea edge was a high boardwalk, with no side barriers, illegal in most Western countries, but no-one was falling off. The currents along this exposed headland looked treacherously strong so we made sure we didn't either.