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. 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.