Made in Taiwan. Lishan (梨山) to Taipei (台北)

I wake up to a sunny morning, with clear blue skies and a day full of promise. My plans for a scenic ride up Wuling may have been washed out by the rain yesterday but today, I’m going to make up for it. It’s almost all downhill to the plains. I won’t be chilled to the bone, and I’ll make quick work descending the dry road. But first, a bite of Lishan’s famous fruit.

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This being Pear Mountain, one doesn’t just breeze in and out without trying one of their luscious juicy pears.

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Pear lady very happy to serve her first customer of the day.

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Meeting a roadie on the way up to Lishan town.

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Before they turn into fruits, this is what pears look like

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Everywhere you turn … pear trees

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Pear farmers taking a break, as I am, outside a sundry shop.

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Video of the fast descent from Lishan. I overcooked a sharp corner at 2:15…phew… Good thing there were no cars driving up at the time …

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Beside the shack…it’s what I call the ‘Trans Valley Express’. A seemingly simple contraption to transport people and goods across the valley..

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How the ‘Trans Valley Express’ works…you get into the steel cage and away you fly across the chasm below. Beats walking down and then up the other side of the valley

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Flying downhill is hard work too… breakfast #2

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From here on, it’s nothing but cabbage farms, miles and miles of it

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Back on flatlands, with wide roads and 2-wheeler segregated lanes

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After 119 kms, mostly downhill, I reach the town of Yilan. Nope, the policeman is not giving me a ticket, he’s giving me directions to the Yilan bus station, from where I’ll take a bus to Taipei.

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For the rest of my trip, it looks like posh digs will be the rule, not the exception. Time to keep the tent and cooking stuff in Ying Chang’s place for a while…

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Made in Taiwan. Cing Jing (清境農場) to Lishan (梨山) via Wuling Pass (武嶺)

11ºC inside a house, in bed and under a thick blanket, is bearable.

11ºC inside a canvas-covered steel structure is not.

It’s cold. Stepping out, it’s worse. The chill of the cold mountain wind is biting. But I have to hit the road. Destination: Lishan, or Pear Mountain. It’s a long ride up the highest motorable road in Taiwan — the Hehuanshan road, over Wuling Pass and down the other side.

There’s no sun. Only cloudy overcast skies. Breakfast is another complimentary meal  — toast and coffee, prepared by the motherly Mrs Tan. The Tans are such lovely people. Kind and unassuming. People like them really do make my day.

I make my way up the steep access road … pushing the bike up, rather. On the road, visibility is limited to less than a hundred metres. The scenery is all but enveloped by heavy mist. I’m resigned to another cold, miserable, uninspiring ride; made worse going uphill. The only thing I’m looking forward to is the crossing of Wuling Pass at 3,275m.

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A little further down the road, I make another breakfast stop — at a 7Eleven. Of the almost 5,000 stores in Taiwan, this one boasts of being the highest on the island, at just over 2,000+ metres elevation. 7Eleven’s coffee is not too bad (as far as picky coffee drinkers are concerned…that would be me, of course). But then again, food and drink always taste better when you’re riding in such weather.

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Back on the road, the slow cold climb makes … slow cold progress. The only thing that piques my interest is the sight of a lone cyclist on a mountain bike. Like me, he’s making the same slow cold progress. He’s an elderly gentleman, heading towards Wuling Pass, as most cyclists making a day-trip are. The missus is manning the sag wagon, just in case. I ride together with him for a while and soon, we come upon his #1 fan, standing next to a car parked by the side of the road.

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Soon after this, as I stop to rest, I realise with horror that I’m missing my money-pouch, usually strapped and tucked half-hidden in the back of my pants. What makes me panic eve more is the realisation that my most valuable item, my passport, is inside the pouch. As it is, I’m already 12 kms from Cing Jing and the thought of riding down, and then up again, is not a very encouraging one. But, what else can I do? I call Mrs Tan and tell her of my predicament, and can she please check out the last place I was there with my pouch, the outhouse toilet?

She calls me back a few minutes later and tells me yes, it’s still there. It’s a good thing it’s off-season and practically empty of campers otherwise….. I don’t even want to think about it.

I tell her to please keep it for me and I will ride back down to pick it up. But in typical motherly fashion, Mrs Tan says no, asks me where I am, and tells me to stay put and says “I’ll bring it to you”. An angel in disguise, Mrs Tan is. She knows how hard the ride up is. Bless her kind heart…

I find a nice wide section of a corner and I wait. It’s cold so I jump, and walk around a bit. It’s a good thing I’d bought a face-mask yesterday, in anticipation of the long run downhill in the cold. This is even better than the Buff that I normally use.

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Pretty soon, my saviour Mrs Tan arrives in a car, driven by a man who turns out to be one of the owners of the campsite. She hands me my pouch and asks me to check the contents, saying she didn’t open it to see what’s inside.

I will always remember her as the silver lining in the dreary dark clouds of Cing Jing. If any reader of this blog intends to visit Cing Jing, I cannot recommend enough the Yang Chiow Choon campsite run by the Tans. They are real gems.

Yang Chiow Choon campsite’s tel #: 049-280 1001
(They don’t speak much English but their Filipino helper does.)

Back on the road again, pedalling with a sprightlier cadence in spite of the near-zero visibility, I can tell Wuling Pass is getting nearer. But as the elevation increases, the temperature is decreasing… its colder, with a brisk wind and slight drizzle — a potent combination to dampen any spirit.

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At the mist-covered pass, there are many people milling about. Everyone is dressed to the gills — fur-lined jackets, scarfs, balaclavas, hats, gloves, even rain-coats — but most of all, everyone is wearing long pants…duh!…except me. Who in his right mind would wear shorts on a frigid day like this, riding up Wuling?

Can’t do much about the dress code now, even if it’s 5ºC. Might as well do the Wuling Pass thing like everyone else — pose for a photo at the signboard proclaiming the spot’s elevation.

A roadie who passed me earlier is here as well, warm and snug in clean clothes. He asks to take a photo with me, which is always an honour for me with cyclists I meet on the road. The unifying power of the simple bicycle…

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A respite in the weather … the mists clear a little and I can see a bit of the famed Wuling scenery. In better spirits now that I’ve conquered the highest pass in Taiwan, I get ready to roll all the way down to Lishan but, the weather gods are not done torturing me today. It starts to rain again.

I descend anyway. Hanging around at this frigid place is not an option.

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Many times I have descended in the cold, and always, it’s very demoralising. Today is no different. My fingers are numb, my knees are numb, my face is numb in spite of a mask, and I’m shivering with cold while I negotiate the switchbacks at speed. I have to be very, very careful riding these wet roads. It helps that the traffic is light.

 

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After a long descend, I come to a junction. It’s a tiny town called Dayuling. I’m already beside myself with cold, and I see a nondescript shop ahead. I head straight for it and, stepping in, I see a few men sitting around a coal brazier. Without a word, I sit next to it, immediately feeling the comforting warmth of the heat. One of the man has an incredulous look on his face, and after finding out if I had come down from Wuling, scolds me …”Are you mad, riding down the mountain in shorts?’ Well, what can I say except give him a stupid smile.

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Putting my best (cold) foot forward…

 

I ask for a bowl of noodles but they only had the instant kind, which is fine by me. The steaming hot, salty delicious noodles at that particular moment defy description. As Browning puts it, all’s well with the world… again.

After that gratifying thawing session, I make my way towards Lishan, not very far away now. The road is narrower than the one that points down from Wuling. It’s almost deserted, save for a few cars. All around, it’s lush greenery.

Camping, even if I were to find a decent spot, is the last thing on my mind. I want a hot shower and a warm bed tonight. I check into the first decent hotel I see in Lishan, a quiet town famous for pears.

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Tomorrow will be an easy ride downhill all the way to the plains, and the last bit by bus to Taipei. I’m looking forward to joining my friends from Singapore for the next segment of my tour. Unlike my usual touring style, next week’s ride has been professionally planned by ride leader Ying Chang, the born-in-Taiwan Singaporean who considers this island his cycle-touring mecca.

 

 

Made in Taiwan. Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) to Cing Jing (清境農場)

After an unhurried breakfast and enjoying the last moments of solitary lakeside camping, I’m ready to hit the road again. I feel refreshed and rejuvenated as I ride up the steepish slope of the campsite entrance and onto the road. From the junction to Puli, it’s a sweet, long downhill ride of about 20kms.

The goal is Wuling pass but I doubt if I can reach it today; Cingjing is more like it.

Cingjing is about 40 kms from Puli, the town located at the base of Hehuanshan, and a popular launching pad for climbs up to Wuling, aka the top of Hehuanshan.

 

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Ching ming in full swing

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Puli town

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Breakfast #2 at Puli

 

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From Puli the climb is gentle, almost too easy. Actually, it’s more like easily fooled into thinking it’s an easy climb to Wuling. The pin that pricked the bubble started at the 20ish km mark uphill. To make it worse, it starts to rain; cold, morale-sapping, incessant rain that chills all my extremities.

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After a while, I concede temporary defeat and take shelter in a convenient gazebo by the roadside. A little later, I’m joined by a man on a scooter. Likely a native of the island, he flashes me a friendly betelnut-stained smile and laments the lousy weather. He works for the power company, and is on one of his rounds. He says the rain isn’t going to stop anytime soon, and I should be on my way. That really dampens the spirit. A little later, reluctantly, I get back on the road and trudged my weary way up. I’m not getting my money’s worth as far as the scenery is concerned. Cold and grumpy, I plod on, switchback after switchback.

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At one particularly steepish turn, I see a white Audi coupé parked by the side of the road. As I ride by, the front window slides down and out comes a hand … with a cup of coffee! It’s a young man. He smiles and says “For you”. My chilled fingers grab the cup automatically, and before I can say ‘thank you’, he says “Be careful, it’s hot” and drives off. I’m gobsmacked for words, stunned and, in my miserable state of mind, almost moved to tears by this little act of kindness. Mr Audi must have just bought the steaming hot cup of coffee for his slow, cold drive up to Wuling. But seeing my riding-uphill-in-the-rain countenance as he passed me earlier must have contributed greatly to his selfless act. Well, thank you Lord, yet again. 

I’m feeling fuzzy and warm again, and it’s not just from the coffee. It’s that feeling when humanity touches you in unexpected ways. No matter how many times it has happened before in my cycletouring career, it never fails to amaze me. And … little do I know that my cup of goodness has yet to be filled for the day….

The road is getting ever steeper now. Though a bit obscured by heavy mist, the mountain ranges are coming into view. It’s an impressive sight. Soon, I’m at the small town of Wushe. I see a steaming stack of dumpling steamers outside a shop and the Surly makes a beeline for it on its own accord.

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With the dumplings and pork balls digesting merrily in the stmach, I continue on towards Cingjing, my destination for the day, not that I intend to go any further than that. As I near the town, the town’s welcoming committee suddenly appear beside me — a little black mongrel. He runs alongside, and in front of me, and sometimes on the low parapet lining the road shoulder. I stop at a 7 Eleven to get some food and drink. When I come out, my canine friend is still there, waiting for me by my bike. I wonder if he’s decided to adopt me.

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With the help of a taxi driver, I’ve pinpointed the location of Yang Chiow Choon, the campsite among the many farms that this place is known for. It’s another 5kms of climbing to go. The dog has decided that it has had enough of me and turns around towards where he came from. The climbs from Wushe has been quite a workout so far, and these last few kms doesn’t seem to letting up either.

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Soon I see the signboard at for the campsite, or rather, the familiar telephone number of the campsite. It’s a small slip road that, happily, points downwards, for about 400m.

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Yang Chiow Choon is located on a slope, facing the magnificent mountain ranges spread across the horizon. As I roll in, it’s almost sundown, and I see a couple in front of what looks like the camp office. The friendly man greets me and I ask about camping for the night. To my surprise, Mr Tan, who’s the owner, tells me I can use the little bungalow on stilts instead – at the same price of a campsite.

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My little canvas covered bungalow

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Mr Tan, the friendly owner.

I am, of course, thrilled at my good fortune once again. It helps when one rides in looking bedraggled, wet, tired and hungry, which incidentally, prompted yet another act of generosity (or maybe it was pity), from Mr Tan, who in his smiling, fatherly manner, said “Come and join us for dinner. We’re just about to start”. Well, I’m not going to refuse for sure. As I go in with them, smiling with happiness, I still cannot believe I’ve been blessed with meeting with so many kind people along the way.

The home-cooked dinner is a feast by cyclo-camping standards. I enjoy every morsel of meat, vegetable and fish that accompany my 3 helpings of rice. I am rather famished, thanks to the many switchbacks that marked my ride today.

My little bungalow is a steel-framed structure covered with thick tarpaulin. Inside, a mattress covers the whole floor. The view, from the door/window is of 5-Star category. As the sun sets, so does the temperature. It promises to be a cosy night in my suite.

I’ve decided to chill here for another day and just enjoy hanging around this lovely place.

 

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Made in Taiwan. Sun Moon Lake (日月潭). Camping.

Sun Moon Lake is a little moody early in the morning. The sky is overcast and there is a light mist hovering over the lake. Clouds obscure the mountain tops in the distance. Lifeless boats and clumps of vegetation bobble on the surface of the lake near the land. It’s an artist-inspiring scene.

It’s quiet on the streets and not many folk are about. I’m up early so I decide to explore the town a little. I’m not at camp which also means I have to look for a hot breakfast somewhere.

 

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As I walk around the town after breakfast, I see a giant signage for … Giant. Obviously, this calls for a visit, even if it’s only to window-shop.

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The impressive store is manned by 2 young Taiwanese, both of whom are very friendly and helpful.

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The impressive hotel I stayed the night in.

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I’m staying another day in Sun Moon Lake; preferably camping by lake … my legs feel like they need a day of doing nothing. After checking out of the hotel, I head towards where I think is a campsite — Cosies.

I’m not in luck. The camp is closed. I call the number listed on the sign and the owner tells me that they’re closed for the low season. Summer, the most popular time for camping, is after all, just over. But the owner was nice enough to tell me to try the campsite just down the road next to the cable car station, although he’s not sure if it’s open.

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Camp Cosies. Closed for the season.

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This campsite is also closed. But, it’s not barricaded and there are no barking dogs around like Cosies. I ride into the empty campsite and see a couple of women at the edge of the grounds by the lake. It’s a refreshments stall, serving tourists walking along the boardwalk constructed over the water. I ride over to them and ask them about camping here and they said the campsite is closed but it should be ok.

I ask how much them how much and they said NT$300 since there won’t be any electricity (seeing as I’m the only camper). But…I’m beginning to suspect that they’re not with the campsite; just refreshments stall operators renting the space from the camp owner. On the other hand, I think to myself… well, I’ve paid for it so that’s that.

I also can’t help thinking that I have the whole place to myself.

Lovely…

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My solitary tent in what seems like the prime spot by the lake’s edge.

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The only downside to this prime spot is that I”m also subject to tourists gawking at me from the boardwalk, but the lovely campsite makes up for this small inconvenience.

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The advantage of this campsite is that the boardwalk, which is accessible from the campsite itself, connects to a small hamlet about 1km away.

 

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Nice toilets. Just bring your own lights

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At dusk, it’s all quiet and still.

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A cool evening in a quiet campsite calls for a warm fire. I’m certain the camp owners wouldn’t have allowed this but … no one’s around, and there are lots of firewood begging to be used.

Tomorrow I head to Puli, the town at the base of Hehuanshan, and where the 45km ride to 3,250m Wuling Pass begins, with an overnight stop at Cingjing, about 25 kilometres from the top.

It’s going to be a long, cold climb.

 

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.

 

Made in Taiwan. Fenqihu (奮起湖) to Alishan (阿里山)

Sleeping inside a tent, comfortably warm in a 5ºC sleeping bag on top of a Thermarest pad, with the temperature outside a nice 16ºC is very, very nice. I love days like these. A hot, freshly brewed Aeropress coffee completes the contentment.

Alishan National Park is on today’s agenda. It’s just under 40kms. No sweat.

By 9am, I’m on the road pedalling towards Shizao. The car-campers are just about to go off for their day’s hikes and on seeing me, they cheer me on as I ride past. I finally get a standing ovation. What  a hoot!

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Bye bye Fenqihu

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Back at Shizao, I stop at the 7Eleven for breakfast #2. Looks like it’s going to be a busy Sunday.

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Busy and uphill all the way…not always a good combination.

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A very obese pagan god along the road…

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Great views all the way.

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Finally, Alishan National Park. The last 10 kms has been quite a workout…I’m pretty sure it’s 8-10% at some places.

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The main entrance to the park. NTD200 entry fee. Notice the line of buses on the other side of the entrance

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The contents of the buses have to be disgorged somewhere….like here. I’m not getting a good buzz about this…

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Alishan National Park is not really a cycle-tourist friendly place. Bicycles are not allowed inside, which would have been great (and great for stealth-camping). The park office, however, lets me keep my panniers in a store room while I have a walkabout inside. I lock my bike on an abandoned motorcycle just in front of the 7Eleven.

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The contents of the buses are making their presence felt. They’re everywhere, and I do mean everywhere…

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People, people everywhere. No fun…so I decide to photograph the photographers instead.

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Take 1 for this auntie shooting herself with a SLR on self-timer

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Takes 2, and 3 and 4….she’s quite the perfectionist.

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Cameras at the ready, waiting for the choo-choo train to pass.

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As I’m walking out of the park, this hiker in full garb, catches my eye. He must have been exploring one of the many hiking trails inside the park. I’m walking behind him, admiring his getup, and it struck me that he’s as clean as a whistle.

The hotels here are very expensive. Not surprising. As I was riding up earlier, I had seen the bus parking lot that the car-campers at Fenqihu had been telling me about, and where they say I could camp for the night. It’s just about 1km from the park entrance and it looks like a great spot, especially the wooden building complete with toilets.

At around 6pm, I coast downhill to the bus park. It’s empty, and the entrance is barred with a chain across it. I ride in and see a man standing next to a white Peugeot coupe, looking intently at his phone. He’s obviously looking after the place. He’s startled to see me and I quickly introduce myself. At first, he’s not very sure about letting me stay here but relented and said ok, “You can stay here for the night, no problem”. The porch of the building is perfect for setting up camp, out of the rain, if the heavens should decide to pour out its contents tonight.

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Nice, free campsite with clean toilets. It did rain later in the night…non-stop until the next morning. I am so thankful for this shelter.

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My kind benefactor of the day.

Tomorrow I make my way to Sun Moon Lake, but not before a 25km climb to the top of the mountain, crossing Tatajia Pass and then all the way down to Dongpu town. It’s going to be a longish ride.

Made in Taiwan. Fenqihu (奮起湖)

I’m feeling cold and warm. Cold from the crisp morning air, and warm because I feel so at home here. It’s a beautiful morning outside. I decide to explore this quaint little town instead of making my way to Alishan. But first things first… Breakfast.

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Breakfast is served…in the courtyard. The air is nice and cold at 17ºC. While I’m brewing my morning cuppa, I hear strains of that old hymn, “Fairest Lord Jesus’ coming from the church, in Chinese. Sunday morning service in full swing. Too late for me to join in, and just as well, I’d be a bit lost anyway with the language barrier.

When I see Sister Ou later, I ask her about extending my stay for another night. Unfortunately, it’s not to be…the centre is all booked out for the day by a big group coming in later today. Well, I did tell her I was only staying for one night, and maybe that’s why they gave me a room. No matter, I’ll find an alternative. Apparently, there is a campsite down the road. So after breakfast, I decide to check it out.

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Yuesong, this only campsite in Fenqihu. No one was around when I went in to check.

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Campsite signboard. No idea what it’s trying to tell me.

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As I was walking around the campsite, I meet Mr Chuan, a hiker just emerging from the Cedar Trail behind the campsite. I asked him about the campsite and he told me it’s expensive. “Why not camp for free down the road? Come on, I’ll show you”. Well, lucky me…again.

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The campsite is actually a carpark in a cul de sac, just about 50 metres from the church. Secluded and quiet, with a public toilet just at the top of the hill behind the carpark. All the vehicles here belong to car-campers. They were very friendly and were all in agreement with Mr Chuan about camping here instead of the campsite. This was taken later in the evening when I set up my tent.

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Accommodation sorted out for the night, I’m now ready to explore Fenqihu. Sister Ou is very kind, and allows me to keep my bike and panniers at the hostel until later in the afternoon when I’m ready to set up my tent. In fact, I impose on their kindness again in the evening by taking a hot shower in the hostel. I’m blessed indeed.

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The start of the Cedar Trail is just beyond Yuesong campsite.

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The Cedar Trail, a beautiful trail with tall cedar trees and moss all around.

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Walking along the Cedar Trail, I came upon a couple I met earlier, and who are also car-camping in the carpark campsite. They tell me one of the things they enjoy doing here is to simply spend a few hours in the pavilion, drinking tea, eating sunflower seeds, and just chillin’.

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Serious tea for two…

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At the end of the Cedar Trail is the fringe of the town, so I decide to explore its streets.

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Charming back lanes

Street view of Fenqihu:

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Not surprisingly full of tourists.

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and more tourists…

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Almost every stall offers samples so… I sample all of them…from snacks to..

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to more snacks..

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to chicken feet …

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to what look like dried vegetables..

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to Taiwanese style mochi…

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…to century eggs, which are quite unlike the ones we have back home…these are tastier.

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to bean curd filled with vege and pork floss..

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well, actually, this is not free…NTD5. Quite tasty …

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The little bowl in front contain seeds from some kind of fruit that are boiled into a jelly-like drink which is very refreshing. Can’t remember what is called though…

 

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This is also what the Alishan area is known for — wasabi. Not the cheap horse-radish that’s passed off for the real thing which is this — wasabi root.

The walkabout around town done, it’s time to check out the other trails. The best part of it is, all the trails start from just outside the town. I’m particularly looking forward to exploring the bamboo forest. As I enter the trail leading into the forest, I’m surprised that it’s not full of tourists. I’m sure the steep trail has something to do with it.

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I sat here for almost an hour. It’s that absorbing. Like the couple I met, I could easily chillout for a whole day, drinking tea and eating sunflower seeds.

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Waiting expectantly to see Chow Yuen Fatt and Zhang Ziyi fly across the tops of the bamboo trees dancing lightly in the breeze…

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The railway line that used to run from Alishan through Fenqihu, all the way to Chiayi.

Tomorrow, it’s onwards to Alishan National Park.

 

 

Made in Taiwan. Lantan(藍潭) to Fenqihu(奮起湖)

5.30 am. It’s still dark but I can already hear cars and bikes driving in to the temple, and the chatter of early-morning Chiayi folk out for their daily exercise.

I guess there’s no waking up with the sun after all. Time to start packing up. Breakfast is some 7Eleven buns and coffee. The hot water dispenser saves me the trouble of boiling water.

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As I finish my simple breakfast, I see an old guy, a devotee of the temple, sweeping the porch with a broom made from bamboo branches. I see another spare broom and I decide to repay all the kindness that was shown to me yesterday by helping to sweep the grounds as well. It’s the first time I’m using a bamboo broom, and I must say it sweeps very well. It’s also making use of materials that are easily available around the temple.

After thanking the caretaker, I take my leave and roll down the path to the main road. It’s a beautiful morning and I’m heading for Alishan.

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After an easy 20 kms, I arrive at Chukou. It’s a busy place overrun with busses and tourists. But what catches my eye is the road switchbacking its way up and up from Chukou. Obviously, this is where granny will be called upon…a lot.

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Google street view of Chukou:

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The road that starts climbing can be seen snaking its way up just after the town

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A signboard advertising the famous bento box that used to be served on the old Alishan Mountain Railway between Alishan and Chiayi.

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Seeing the kind of pedalling before me, I decide to have an early lunch. I ride back a little on the road from where I came from, and I see a quiet shop … just the way I like it, no tourists. A friendly lady welcomes me and I order whatever she recommends — a bowl of noodles with some fish cutlets. She even gives me a plate of very sweet baby tomatoes, for free, just because I’m a visitor to her country.

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The friendly lady boss of the shop

I’m glad I stopped for lunch because the road continues to climb and climb, with 7% to 8% gradients that go on and on for (I don’t know it yet) the next 40 or so kms.

But what makes it worse is the fog that suddenly rolls in and envelops everything. One minute its bright and sunny, the next, I can barely see more than 50 metres, and the endless stream of busses that go up and down the winding road isn’t helping either.

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I have never seen so many betel-nut trees before, but then again, betel-nut chewing is a national pastime for many men in Taiwan

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Roadside BBQ stalls

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Non-halal menu

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Without warning… from sunny tropical to a cold fog

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Shizao. Google street view below.

By 3.30pm, I reach the town of Shizao. Time for food again, at 7Eleven, of course. As I sit outside slowly sipping a cup of freshly brewed coffee after my lunch, a guy from the next table approaches me and starts chatting. One can always sense the unspoken connection that all cyclists seem to share, and I can tell he is one. When he finds out that I’m heading for Alishan, he’s quick to discourage me from doing so.

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The cyclist, and his wife, who advised me to stay the night at Fenqihu.

He takes one look at my loaded bike and says that if I were to go now, it would be too far to make it before dark, too foggy and too risky. “Why don’t you stay the night at Fenqihu? It’s only about 5 kms from here and it’s just as nice.” I decide to heed a fellow cyclist’s well-meaning advice and head for Fenqihu instead. As it turns out, I’m really glad I did.

The road that branches off to Fenqihu from Shizao is only a few pedal strokes from the 7Eleven store. It’s a quiet road with the mountain rising up on my right, and the valley dropping away on my left. The road is also lined with impressive greenery, almost alpine-like, with tall and lush trees.

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Fenqihu

Fenqihu is a very small town and, from the looks of it, a bit touristy. I see many tourist busses parked in a designated lot, and tourists wandering about the town. I ride around a bit, wondering if there’s a campsite I can stay for the nite. I remember Ying Chang and Doreen telling me that schools are always a good place to camp if need to. In fact, so they say, schools are almost obliged to offer assistance to cyclists. That’s a comforting thought.

I ride towards a school that I passed a little earlier and proceed to the office. School’s out, it seems but the office is open. I confidently walk in and see 2 teachers in the teachers common room. I smile a warm hello at them and, in my limited Mandarin, I make my pitch about pitching up my tent on the school grounds.

Note to Ying Chang and Doreen: This school is obviously not on the list of schools that you were referring to 🙂

No, no, no….that’s not possible! The headmaster is not here and we cannot let you camp here.”

So that was that. They do, however, suggest an alternative. “Why don’t you try the church down the road?” Church? That’s interesting. Ok, I said. Well, actually I don’t really have a choice, do I?

I make my way down the road and see an old building with a cross on the top. The name outside strangely says ‘Arnold Janssen Activity Center’ instead. But anyhow, it looks like a catholic church. I push my bike in and I see a elderly Caucasian nun coming out of a side building. I go up to her and ask her in English if I can stay here for the night. It turns out the actvitivity center actually houses a hostel, and Sister Ou (the Swiss nun), tells me to wait while she goes in to check. She speaks to another Caucasian man who looks like the parish priest, walks back to me and says “Ok, you can stay here for the night in the hostel. NTD500, is that alright?” Sister Ou shows me to my room on the first floor. It’s small, very clean and comfortable but the view of the mountains is great. Well, hallelujah, what more can I ask for? This is even better than I expected.

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Sister Ou from Switzerland. Faithfully serving God for the last 40 years in this church. She visits home only once every 5 years.

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Small, very clean and cosy with a great view for only NTD500. Notice the thick blanket.

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The common room

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Outside the hostel is an open-air courtyard with picnic tables and benches. In the darkening dusk with the temperature creeping southwards, I cook a simple dinner. In the quiet of the cold, dark evening, the lights of the church and activity center warm my heart. As always, at the end of a touring day, I give thanks to God for leading me to safety and comfort.

As I turn in for the night, I decide to stay another day and explore this lovely hamlet instead of heading on towards Alishan.