Made in Taiwan. Alishan (阿里山) to Sun Moon Lake (日月潭)

3am.

The rain starts pouring down. Heavy, incessant rain. I’m glad I’m under a roof; and warm and dry in my tent. The temperature is creeping downwards as the night draws on. Outside, the parking lot is dark and empty, fringed by the tall black outline of the trees around the perimeter. The sound of the rain is very comforting. I tighten the sleeping bag noose around my neck a little tighter, trapping the warm air inside. Woolen socks help keep the toes extra toasty and warm.

When morning breaks, I’m dismayed to see the rain still falling, and grey clouds still puffy and bloated in the sky. The warm dry feeling is gone just thinking about riding out today in foul weather.

It’s a dreary 11º C. The kettle goes on the stove — one hot, freshly brewed cup of coffee coming up…just the thing to warm up body and soul.

10am. The rain finally eases up. There’s still a light rain falling softly. I can’t wait anymore. I’ve done nothing but sit around the whole morning, and it wasn’t even in my tent which I had to pack up quickly, as the first buses started rolling in before 9am. This was politely requested of me by the man who seemed to be doing the first shift manning the bus park.

He had ridden in around 8am on his motorbike. With nothing else to do, he chatted with me…and smoked. But now, it’s time to get on the road. Today’s destination is Sun Moon Lake, about 110 kms away. But first, there’s still some 22kms of climbing to Tatajia 塔塔加 before it points downwards, hopefully all the way…

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It starts filling up quickly by 9am. The tourists are back in full force.

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Seeing as it’s already late in the morning, I stop at the 7Eleven at Alishan park centre on my way up to Tatajia and enjoy a bento box, and fresh milk to shore up the calories.

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21kms to Tatajia.

 

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A few kms after Alishan, I’m awe-strucked by this impressive specimen of a tree, standing tall and majestic by the road shoulder.

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It turns out to be a 1,600 yr-old ‘gaint crypress’ or, if the sign had been copy-checked properly– giant cypress. It’s a very impressive 36 metres in height and 10.2 metres in circumference. I hope it sticks around for another 1,000 years.

 

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This is now very much alpine country…and cold too.

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The rain isn’t quite going away just yet.

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An unimpressive little dot on the map — Tatajia. Earlier in Fenqihu, I had already been advised against camping here as the macaques that roam the area are quite aggressive and are known to attack tourists, including those on bicycles, I suspect. It’s also very cold at night here, which is more discouraging to me than the monkeys.

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A Formosan Rock Monkey. These macaques are prolific in these mountains. They’re a little hairier than their lowland counterparts. (Photo shamelessly stolen from National Geographic website)

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The mountain ranges are quite impressive and seem to stretch endlessly into the horizon.

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The road points down from here onwards. The gate is open, which can only mean a clear road ahead.

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As I coast down, the scenery changes. I’m now riding down into a valley. I see a road hugging the sides of the valley floor and wonder where it leads to..

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Question answered. It seems I’m to cross the bridge and continue on the other side of the dry river bed towards Dongpu.

Not too far from the red bridge crossing, I arrive at Dongpu, a very small, insignificant looking town.  Dongpu is known for its hotsprings although one can be forgiven for thinking otherwise just driving through the main street. After a quick lunch at 7Eleven, I decide to make today’s stop at Sun Moon Lake instead (hereafter abbreviated to SML).

Here’s a tip for those planning to ride to SML  from this direction — there’s a longish climb that will bring you down to earth very quickly if your pre-conceived notion of a lake is that it’s located somewhere on a lower elevation. It’s made worse if there’s rain … and it’s cold … and it’s getting dark … and you’re hungry.

I’m experiencing all of these, and it’s not fun at all. When I finally roll into the first sign of civilisation of SML, I check into the first decent hotel I see. There’s no way I’m looking for the campsite at this hour, and in my sorry condition. Tonight, I’m sleeping in comfort; after a long hot shower, and a hot meal.

 

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There’s only fading light at the end of this tunnel. Not tool long after I emerge from it, I reach Sun Moon Lake.