– 27 December - Taipei, Taiwan
It was a short flight and we arrived in
Taipei at around 2h00. Everything went smoothly and my entire
luggage came out the shoot!! I decided to sleep at the
airport and take the taxi into town in the morning. The hostel
where I booked was not open at night and the reception desk only
opened at 9h00. I also had to drop my bike at the bike shop (so
they could put it all together again), and fortunately the bike
shop was right next door to the hostel. As the bike shop only
opened at 10h00 I did not want to arrive before that time.
I slept soundly on the soft airport couches
and by morning I was ready to go into town. It is always easy to
find a taxi at an airport, albeit a bit expensive.
Taipei is a totally different cup of tea!!
It is a large, busy, and modern city with highways, freeways,
flyovers, fast moving cars, and even faster moving trains, all
situated in the folds of lush green hills. Capitalism and
consumerism is alive and well and I cannot understand, read or
speak a single word. It rained steadily from the time I arrived
and I’m wondering if I made a mistake in coming so far north.
The following day I took to the streets and
found myself a much needed Ortlieb handlebar bag and I’m now
convinced that if one cannot find it in Taipei then it does not
exist! I also bought some warmer clothing as I was
freezing my backside off.
I explored the alleys and wondered around the
markets, sometimes getting myself completely lost and strangely
landing up exactly where I started!! What an amazing
place Taipei is with its busy alleys, shopping malls, markets
and crowded streets. In-between the madness one can still find a
temple dating back to the Qing dynasty, a peaceful place where
the smell of incense mixes with the chanting of devotees and
where the Koi is king.
I cycled to Ximending, another part of the
city, and the ultra-consumerist heart of Taipei. It is young and
trendy, and if it can be inked or pieced it can be done in
After finding a hostel I set off to the night
market and, as usual, it was rather interesting. I tried a few
things and whatever it was, it was very tasty!! I visited a few
temples and finished off my spiritual tour with a visit to the
remarkable Longshan Temple.
28 December - Taipei – Shimen - 50km
Although it was not raining it was still
bitterly cold outside. I dressed as warm as I could and left the
city via the very scenic bicycle way along the river. It was a
fascinating ride past beautiful temples and with the city slowly
disappearing behind me. The cycle path is very popular and I met
a few very friendly cyclists, all interested in where I’m from
and where I’m going. I cycled with William for a while after
which he bought me coffee before I continued on my way again.
It became bitterly cold with a slight drizzle
and I was cycling straight into an icy wind. Once I reached
Shimen I found a room and food and settled in under a thick
29 December - Shimen – Keelung - 40 km
I once again set off in rather miserable
weather. It was drizzling and a cold wind was coming off the
ocean. I continued on, past more temples, one being the rather
interesting 18 Lords Temple or “Dog Temple”. The legend goes
that 17 fishermen went on a mission. A loyal dog pined for days
for the return of his master until, unable to bear the suffering
any longer, he leaped into the foaming sea and drowned himself.
Local people were so impressed by this act of loyalty that they
build a temple in honour of the dog.
I arrived in Keelung to be greeted by a very
large version of a giant yellow rubber duck. I found this
quite bizarre but it seemed that thousands braved the cold, all
bundled up in scarves and jackets, to see the rubber duck
floating in the bay. Besides the duck there were thousands of
duck items being sold - from T-shirts, hats, umbrellas, even
Keelung is famous for its night market and
the food is well-known throughout Taiwan. The streets were
crowded and one could hardly walk, but I joined in the madness
and pushed my way around the delicious looking and smelling
stalls. Steam was rising from large pots of soup – just the
thing for a cold night.
30 December - Keelung – Jiaoshi - 85 km
Again it was wet and cold as I left and
followed the coast past the small old mining towns of Jiufen and
Jingush; they say there’s still gold in them hills! I found
Taiwan a fascinating (and sometimes contradictory) country. It’s
both modern and traditional, it’s hectic and yet organized. It
is easily the country with the best street food and snacks, and
the scenery is out of this world. I passed Bitou Cape with
sea-eroded cliffs and found myself on a bike path running all
along the coast. In my mind the bike path has rocketed Taiwan
into the No 1 cycle touring destination.
I stopped in the small town of Jiaoshi,
well-known for its hot springs. Most hotels have natural hot
water in the room and I was keen to try it out. I found a hotel
in the main road and was soon soaking in a tub of hot water. The
town is also known for its cuisine (it is said that they grow
the vegetables in hot spring water) and I thought it extremely
tasty – to such an extent that I had supper twice!!
31 December - Jiaoshi – Suao - 40km
I left at leisure and stopped at the National
Centre of Traditional Arts. The centre occupies 24 hectares and
is well-known for its folk art. I was a bit disappointed and
thought my mother’s garden more interesting than the centre!!
It was New Year’s Eve and I did not feel like
camping next to the road all by my lonesome self! I cycled
into Suao and found the little village quite attractive and
decided to stay for the night. Not much happened as here people
celebrate Chinese New Year instead of “our” New Year. There
were, however, a few fireworks just to mark the start of 2014.
1 January 2014 - Suao – Taroko National Park
From Suao the road lead straight up the
mountain and in no time at all I was high up on the mountain
side, overlooking the coastline with Suao way down below. It was
a rather mountainous stretch and the going rather slow. It was,
however, not that difficult as this is the home of the master
road builders and the gradient therefore not that steep. It was
a stunning stretch of coast as the road climbed high up along
the side of the mountain, cut through tunnels, and crossed large
valleys, all while the coast stretched for miles to both the
north and the south.
It gets dark quite soon and by the time I
reached Taroko there was no time to cycle up the gorge, so I
took a room, found some food and watched a bit of TV.
2 January 2014 - Taroko Gorge - 40km
I left my hotel and cycled to the hostel I
saw the previous night. It was much cheaper and once I
off-loaded my stuff I cycled up the gorge - what a pleasure it
was. Although it is said to be uphill I did not notice the
gradient as I was not carrying any luggage. It was an
unbelievably stunning ride and it took me nearly half the day to
cycle the 20 kilometres to the next village. All along the way
one can stop and walk up the mountain! It has now become
my No 1 favourite ride!
It is a stunning gorge with sheer marble
cliffs, reaching 1000 metres into the air. The narrow road runs
through winding tunnels, always with the Liwu River way below. I
cycled passed what is known as the “Swallows Grotto”, where the
road runs through tunnels carved into the marble vertical sides
of the gorge. I believe there are 38 tunnels, including the
Tunnel of Nine Turns with its endless series of turns - this is
a stunning part of the gorge and where numerous hiking trails
begin. I stopped and walked up to the Eternal Spring Shrine.
These little temples were built to commit to memory those that
have lost their lives in the construction of the central
3 January - Taroko – Shimen - 92km
I could not make up my mind whether to stay
one more day or not. In the end it was after 10h00 that I
finally got on the road. I followed the coast south and it was
another stunning day. From time to time the road ran close to
the ocean and other times it climbed up the mountain side for
As it was winter it got dark fairly early. I
reached Shimen at around 4h30, and although it was still quite
early I was not sure if I would reach the campsite I saw on the
map before dark. I found a roadside room and it conveniently had
a restaurant downstairs. I ordered the Sailfish and was
surprised to get a large plate of raw fish!!! What the
heck!!! I suppose it was Japanese owners as the bed was a
box-bed on the floor.
4/5 January - Shimen – Dulan - 80km
It was another varied and interesting ride,
the road was hemmed in by the mountains and the coast and I
cycled past many small fishing villages. The rich Kuroshio
Current runs close to the coast here and the main income is from
fishing. I also passed the Tropic of Cancer Monument and was
officially back in the tropics. There were many interesting
places to stop along the way and I took my time and stopped for
a multitude of photos. I was surprised at the amount of tour
busses along the way; I did not realize that Taiwan was such a
popular tourist destination.
I falsely believed that it was going to be a
flat ride (don’t know where I got that from). The road climbed
steadily up to the Baci Observation Tower and then sped down to
lower ground. I stopped at the Caves of the Eight Immortals.
Although this is the site of the earliest human inhabitation of
Taiwan, the caves have sadly now been turned into shrines which
distracts a bit from the archaeological importance.
Dulan looked an interesting place and I found
a good room above the Dulan Café with its Mexican theme and
famous English breakfast and Quesadillas. The old Sugar Factory
(now turned into a bar / music studio / art gallery) is what put
Dulan on the Taiwanese travel radar and I found it a good place
to spend the day, do some laundry and update my travel log.
6 January -
Dulan – Dawu - 95km
Again it was a
surprisingly varied day. My first stop was at “Water Running
Uphill”, where the water was clearly running uphill! I continued
on past small fishing villages, eventually turning off to the
hot springs. I cycled up the valley but was disappointed as the
entire area was very touristy. I therefore did not stay but
carried on past indigenous villages with interesting art. The
road was still hilly as the mountains came right down to the
coast and not an easy way for a road. At Dawu I found a roadside
room, and had a bite to eat next door, which was interesting, as
7 January -
Dawu – Linyan - 105km
Shortly after I
left, the road turned inland and headed over the mountains to
the West Coast. It climbed steeply away from the coast and after
10 kilometres I could see the coast way below me. Eventually,
the road started heading downhill and once I reached the coast I
turned north, heading back in the direction of Taipei. That was
the mountains done and dusted, and I could see the mountains
slowly disappearing in my rearview mirror.
In Dapeng I cycled
to the Scenic Area and along the famous bicycle path that (I
understand) is the most expensive bicycle path in the world??
8 January -
Linyan – Tainan City - 74km
I don’t know if I
took the wrong road or if I was actually on the right one, but
it took forever to cycle through Kaohsiung City. I cycled and I
cycled, and eventually cleared the city limits and was on my way
to Tainan City.
This part of
Taiwan is fairly flat and therefore also into the wind. It is
not as interesting as the East Coast and I just had my head down
and got on with it. Tainan is the first capital of Taiwan and
also the oldest city in the country, with the result that it is
steeped in history and tradition.
9 January -
I did not intend
to stay another day in Tainan but it was such an interesting
city with plenty of fascinating temples and shrines that it
warranted another day. I set off on foot and first up was the
Confucius Temple which oozed calm, grace and beauty, like any
good Confucius Temple should.
I passed narrow
alleys with traditional street food, and the old city gate, on
to more interesting temples, some with quite terrifying deities
and others where they still cast moon blocks to determine the
best course of action. Every now and again I sat down for a cup
of Taiwanese tea, and then headed off again. There appears to be
different temples for different things. At some you go to ask
for good luck with impending exams and at others people pray for
the protection of their children.
In the process I
handed in my laundry and collected it again before returning to
my hotel room dead tired (I’m just not used to walking). It was
a good day.
It was interesting
to see so many swastika symbols. Hitler, unfortunately, gave the
Swastika symbol a bad name. It is a symbol that remains widely
used in Indian religions, specifically in Hinduism and Buddhism,
as a symbol that invokes Lakshmi - the Hindu goddess of wealth
and prosperity. I understand that the word "swastika" comes from
the Sanskrit swastika - "su" meaning "good" or "auspicious",
combined with "asti”, meaning "it is", along with the diminutive
suffix "ka." The swastika literally means "it is good." I also
believe that during World War I, the swastika could even be
found on the shoulder patches of the American 45th Division, but
don’t quote me on that one.
10 January -
Tainan City – Beigang - 100km
The wind picked up
as I headed north. It was slow going and there was not much I
could do but get it over and done with. There is nothing good I
can say about cycling into a headwind, it is slow going,
frustrating and energy sapping!!! Although the road passed
various wetland reserves it was not a good day to explore and I
carried on without stopping.
At around 16h00 I
started looking out for a place to camp or stay but did not see
anything that looked the part. Eventually, I asked and was
pointed in an easterly direction. Again I cycled and I cycled
and it was easily 20 kilometres before I cycled into Beigang,
leaving me way off my route and not quite in the direction I was
heading. It did not matter as I’m not set on any route, so I
will make another plan in the morning.
The town is known
for the Chaotian Temple, a place where people go to cast moon
blocks. Although it was late I set off in search of the Temple.
Once inside the Temple I could hear the clackety-clack, clackety-clack
of devotees throwing moon blocks. Both men and women of all ages
clasped identical blocks, whispered something to themselves,
paused, and let the blocks fall to the ground. One side of the
block is curved and called the yin, while the other is flat and
called the yang.
I understand that
the Gods’ fate is revealed in the way these blocks fall to the
floor. One yin and one yang is a yes; two yins facing up with
the flat surfaces against the ground means the gods are mad and
it's a no; two yangs with the curved surfaces swaying on the
ground shows the gods are laughing, which means either the
question was unclear or the inquirer already knew the answer.
The Gods told me to stay on route 19!!
11 January -
Beigang (Beikang) – Lukang - 70km
As the Gods told
me to stay on route 19, I did. It was a good idea as it was not
as windy closer to the coast. It was an agricultural area and it
was a pleasant ride past vast areas of farming activities. It
was a short ride and soon I cycled into Lukang.
The small town of
Lukang came as a pleasant surprise. Once a thriving harbour
town, Lukang became a backwater after the harbour silted up and
closed altogether in around 1895. Forgotten, the town continued
on in its own way and was rediscovered when people realized that
not much has changed since 1895. Today it comprises of the
oldest and most beautiful temples, narrow curvy streets,
excellent traditional food, and old lantern and fan shops.
12 January -
Lukang –Miaoli City - 100km
It was an
unpleasant day on the road. The wind was howling and I was
straight into it. The best part of the day was meeting two guys
walking around the island, one dressed as one of the Chinese
Gods. In Taiwan, Nezha, the Third Prince (san tai tse), has
become a Taiwanese icon.
figure of a child, Nezha is considered intelligent, clever and
playful. He has a strong rebellious streak, leading him to
frequent fights with his father. As the story goes, one day
Nezha fought and killed the son of the Dragon King of the East
China Sea. The Jade Emperor of the Heaven scolded the North
King. Nezha, fearing that his parents would suffer for his
actions, committed suicide to prevent his parents from being
punished. In Taiwan, there are over 300 temples that worship
Nezha. With his boy-like appearance, he is considered a god
especially good for protecting children.
I battled along,
feeling surprisingly strong and did not even lose my sense of
humour along the way. Once again, it was the people of Taiwan
that impressed me most. Twice people stopped and offered me
water – how nice of them!!
I was surprised
that I actually made 100 kilometres; some days I can and other
days I can’t. I found myself a hotel, and what a fancy place it
was - sometimes I live in utter luxury!!
13 January -
Miaoli City – Xinfeng - 55km
I was sad to
notice that the wind did not ease off at all, but was in fact
even stronger than the previous day. I battled on. At times I
felt that it could even be dangerous to be out on the road. The
wind gusted sideways, nearly blowing me off the bike. Again, a
friendly lady stopped and offered me a cup of coffee - wow, how
nice was that!!
As always, I knew
that all I had to do was keep going forward, and I will
eventually get there!! Nothing stays constant and this wind
will have to change some or other time. It may, however, only be
when I have already left Taiwan, but change it will change, that
is about the only thing in the world I am sure of.
I persevered until
I reached Xinfeng and realized that with 65 kilometres to go I
was not going to make Taipei this day. It started drizzling and
that was enough encouragement to make me find a room.
14 January -
Xingeng – Taipei - 65 km
windows told me that it was going to be another unpleasant day
on the road. It, fortunately, was not very far. I was extremely
happy to find a room at Taipei Hostel for NT$600. Although
small, it was all I needed and I stood under the hot shower
forever!! It was a very convenient location close to the Main
Train Station and therefore a short hop to just about anywhere.
15 – 23 January
The day turned out
to be a total waste as I got absolutely zero done. I could not
find the place that organises the Chinese visas and could not
find Giant Bicycles that was supposed to be behind the train
station. The friendly staff at the hostel helped me locate the
address of the visa place on the map and also suggested I try
another bicycle shop just down the road.
Chinese Visa in Taiwan involves the services of a travel
service, as there is no Chinese Embassy in Taiwan. The following
day I was surprised to see the visa service office was close by
and within easy walking distance from the hostel. St.
International Travel Service (www.sttvisa.com)
made it extremely easy and virtually did everything for me. They
know their business well and had been doing this for 20 years!
The only problem being that it takes 5 days as they have to
actually send the passport to Hong Kong to get the visa. It was
not a big deal as there were lots to do in Taipei and plenty to
keep me busy for a few days.
I also found the
bicycle shop just 4 blocks down from the hostel and asked the
friendly owners to give my bike a good overall!
It was, however, a
bummer that the ferry boat running between Taiwan and Mainland
China (Xiamen) only departed from Taichung on a Wednesday and
from Keelung on a Sunday, meaning I will have to take a bus to
Taichung or wait another 5 days for the Keelung ferry.
I collected my
bicycle from the bike shop and it looked and felt like a new
bike. I also had my camera cleaned but my broken tripod could
unfortunately not be fixed and now I am minus a tripod.
Once again, I
liked the hostel and the people who stayed there - they were
from all over the world, most of them looking for teaching jobs
in Taiwan. I even met a South African girl!! It is quite amazing
that I very seldom meet South Africans and I can count on the
fingers of my one hand the ones I have. The other consisted of
one Dutch guy (Martin), who did not look or sound Dutch at all,
a British guy, who looked and sounded British but has been
working teaching English for more than 10 years, a New
Zealander, who has just spent 8 months working and traveling in
China etc., etc……. Always a fascinating world in a hostel.
I also met Borut
Kocar, a cyclist from Holland (Yugoslavian by birth), who spent
7 weeks cycling Taiwan. He was an extremely interesting man who
worked as a dance/movement therapist in a small psychiatric
hospital in Holland. Borut left on the 20th and on my return to
the hostel I found a small box in front of my door. It contained
a lovely message from Borut and a small porcelain clog, how
sweet and thoughtful was that!!
There was plenty
to do in the city and I kept myself busy by visiting some of the
tourist attractions. One being the famous Taipei 101, the
tallest building in the world from 2004 to 2009. It apparently
was (or is) also the tallest and largest “green building” in the
world. It is said that Taipei 101 is one of the most stable
buildings ever constructed, and besides various piles and
reinforced foundations, it is fitted with a 660-ton steel
pendulum that serves as a turned mass damper. Suspended from the
92nd to the 87th floor, the pendulum sways to offset movements
in the building caused by typhoons and earthquakes.
I also went to
visit the Martyrs’ Shrine; not so much for the aesthetic
grandeur or to pay respect to the fallen service men, but more
to watch the straight-faced military guards and as they change
shifts every hour, followed by an elaborate marching ceremony.
Exactly on the hour, the changing of the guards ceremony begins
- the expressionless faces, the synchronized arms and legs
movements, and the composure is truly amazing to witness.
Yay, got my
Chinese visa and now just have to wait for the ferry boat which
is only due on Sunday. My poor old tattered and torn passport is
filling up quickly and I will have to replace it fairly soon.
Industry is brewing, something I’m not opposed to. Starbucks
seems to have targeted the upper income levels and coffee
drinking seems to have become a fashion. Nowadays, you see the
young and the hip sipping their brew (which I’m not even sure
they like) in trendy cafes. There are plenty of tiny and
intimate coffee shops and even a few “hole –in –the-wall” type
places that roast their coffee right on the pavement, making it
quite impossible to walk past.
thing is that there is a strong Japanese influence when it comes
to brewing coffee. Japan has a long-established coffee culture.
The key is the specially designed kettles and filter cones,
which allows water to drip through one or two drips at a time.
This results in brewing coffee, one cup at a time - it isn’t
exactly a ceremony but it is ceremonious. The beans are weighed,
grounded, emptied into a filter, and cups and saucers are
warmed. A small swan-neck kettle is used, the narrow spout
produces a thin, precise stream, instead of flooding the filter
and letting it drip, they deliver a measured amount of water
over a period of several minutes. I sat watching in fascination
and once my cup was placed in front of me I felt like I should
savour the moment.
24 -26 January
- Taipei – Keelung - 90km
I finally left
Taipei for the 90 kilometre ride to Keelung. The ferry boat to
China is only on 26 January but I had itchy feet and wanted to
move on. It was a beautiful day, the sun was out and I picked up
a bit of a tailwind, so it was a good day on the road. Along the
way I passed rather odd rock formations, created by aeons of
wind and sea erosion. I arrived in busy Keelung in good time and
there was more than enough time to explore the night market,
famous for its wide variety of food.
I had no problem
passing the time until the 26th. Around 16h00 I cycled to the
harbour, bought the ticket, and waited for the boat. Although
the boat has been in the harbour since I arrived, we all sat
waiting for hours before we were finally let on board.