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!

P1130140

Bye bye Fenqihu

P1130141

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

P1130169

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

P1130147

A very obese pagan god along the road…

P1130152

Great views all the way.

P1130158

P1130163 P1130164 P1130168

P1130144

P1130173

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

P1130174

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

P1130217

IMG_2806

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

P1130178

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.

IMG_2821

IMG_2812

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

P1130179

IMG_2809

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

IMG_2810

IMG_2814

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

P1130191

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

IMG_2808

IMG_2817 IMG_2818 IMG_2819

P1130181

P1130183

P1130182

IMG_2813

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

P1130189  P1130200 P1130202 P1130204

P1130205

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.

P1130211

 

P1130207

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.

P1130206

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.

IMG_2791
IMG_2790

P1130048

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.

P1130055

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

P1130128

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

IMG_2794

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.

IMG_2802

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.

IMG_2805

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.

P1130054

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

P1130067

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

P1130065

P1130064

 

 

P1130072

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’.

P1130073

Serious tea for two…

P1130082

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

P1130081

Charming back lanes

Street view of Fenqihu:

P1130091

Not surprisingly full of tourists.

P1130087

and more tourists…

P1130088

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

P1130085

to more snacks..

P1130083

to chicken feet …

P1130086-001

to what look like dried vegetables..

P1130090

to Taiwanese style mochi…

P1130084

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

P1130096

to bean curd filled with vege and pork floss..

P1130097

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

P1130094-001

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…

 

P1130101

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.

P1130109

P1130106

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.

P1130115

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

P1130110 P1130113 P1130116

P1130119

P1130103

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.

P1120952-001
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.

IMG_2750-003

P1120956

P1120959

P1120965

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.

P1120978

 

Google street view of Chukou:

P1120979

P1120981

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

P1120990

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

P1120984

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.

P1120988

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.

P1130003

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

P1120995

P1120993 P1130004 P1130007

P1130015

Roadside BBQ stalls

IMG_2758

Non-halal menu

IMG_2757

Without warning… from sunny tropical to a cold fog

P1130024

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.

P1130023

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.

P1130027

P1130123

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.

IMG_2780

P1130040

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

IMG_2766

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

P1130038

The common room

P1130042 P1130043

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.