Category Archives: Uncategorized

11/5 Closing in on that Asian Rush(-hour)

11/5 Closing in on that Asian Rush(-hour)

The motel in Sandimen acted as the perfect launch pad on Tuesday morning, the 5th. We gathered early for a photo op

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and rode to a local eatery for breakfast L1290471

and then on to a 7-11 for coffee.

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Afterwards we set off briskly for Tainan, over sixty miles north. Along the way lay some interesting stops.

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A mid-morning flat tire caused some delay. The temperature had soared to well into the 90s so we stopped to wait for stragglers at a famous ice cream store nearby. It was owned by a family from the Hakka tribe, a Taiwanese aboriginal tribe with original roots in China. The owners were the third generation of the family that had started the store; the site, house and grounds were beautiful, and the town, also Hakka, was clean and tidy.

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We pressed on to see some examples of Hakka homes.

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We had hoped to reach Tainan, our destination for the day, by 4:00, but the approach was via a busy main road, and by now we were in the thick of rush hour traffic. We stopped to view a noble temple, then made our way into Tainan proper.

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Along the roadside we came upon a truck with a stage outfitted onto its side, blaring loud music and what sounded like speeches. We thought that perhaps it was something political, but when we stopped to investigate it turned out to be a puppet show, with a fight going on between warrior gods. There was thrashing about, lots of waving of swords, and heavy-handed declamations. On a nearby table was a great feast laid out, paid for, we learned, by the patron of the puppet show.

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Perhaps, then, it was about politics.

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In any case, we traveled on for miles into Tainan — the original capital of Taiwan — negotiating frantic rush hour traffic as the light faded and the streets filled, finally reaching our resting spot in the center of the city. It was a fine, fancy hotel that buffered us from the teeming street life, and we settled in. We recovered in time to head back out into the busy streets and find a delightful place that offered hot pot cooking at its best, with Taiwan beer offering true hydration. A record was set.

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We finally returned to our rooms and sank into deeply-hydrated slumber for tomorrow’s business.

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11/3-11/4 Northwards Ho!

11/3-11/4 Northwards Ho!

The rain continued to attack us through the day on Saturday the 2nd on into the night. Heavy, unrelenting Tropical rain, no mistake about it. We began to fear that our riding days were numbered. Our trip might die along with Kroosa the Typhoon, which the media promised was petering out. Riding was impossible, so we did what we could on Saturday to mitigate the weather. First we went out to eat, and then, following tradition, went out to eat. For dinner we ended up at a restaurant a couple towns away, and then we repaired to a tiny place off the main busy street, one that specialized in real shaved ice: a six-inch cube spun at incredible speed while a blade below directed ice shavings into a bowl. Your choice of toppings, including beans:

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Back outside we stumbled into some kind of a loud folk-arts festival/contest that dominated the town square and we enjoyed that, counting our blessings that it wasn’t karaoke.

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Then it was back to Kenting to see what Sunday morning would bring. The town is actually quite a small place, a double-lane highway along the beach, lined with lots of businesses catering to the beach crowd — bars, t-shirt shops, souvenir places, cafes and guest houses. Lots of crowds, but move along folks, nothing to see here.

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But Sunday morning, the 3rd, actually brought a reprieve from weather gods — and the promise of a break from storms for several days. Immediately a plan was hatched to go for a short scenic ride out and up over the blade of land that constitutes the southernmost tip of Taiwan. On this ride we got to see the Pacific Ocean, the Straights of Taiwan, and the South China Sea.

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We stopped for a moment to admire a piece of rock that the locals have named after a U.S. president. Look and see if you could guess which one:

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Yes, you are right: it’s Nixon’s head!

After a tough climb inland we returned and congratulated ourselves at Howards Beach Resort, eating Buddha fruit and beer on the deck.

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A group favorite before dinner.

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The following day, Monday the 4th, we bid farewell to Kenting, pedaling North now under mixed clouds and high cross winds.

L1290300 L1290319 L1290310 L1290306 L1290302 L1290326 L1290329 L1290365Thirty miles or so into the ride we began to run into more and more traffic, and we stopped for lunch at a dandy artist community about halfway to Sandimen, our destination for the evening.

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Here we enjoyed the strange nuts that Stephen and David had bought from a roadside stand along the way. We called them “mustache nuts” because of their shape; their taste and texture are kind of a cross between chestnuts and water chestnuts. The rest of the meal was a set menu, superb and strange.

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Afterwards, we pressed on to Sandimen, washed the grit off our bikes and went out to dinner at an aboriginal site belonging to the Paiwan tribe up in the hills, sitting on a promontory at about 1500 feet and looking West at the most fantastic views out to the ocean. We sat at tables outside under cloudy skies with the moon glowing through, gazing off as the evening cooled and our dinners arrived.

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Everyone remarked on the sign with directions to the washrooms at the bottom of the stairs.

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And so it was that the day ended. We were on the downhill run of the ride, and sightseeing was taking over the biking exercises.

11/1-11/2 Over the Mountains and through the Fog

11/1-11/2 Over the Mountains and through the Fog

When we arrived at the Formosan Naruwan Hotel in Taitung the evening before, the sky was active — high clouds moving quickly across the striking landscape. Indeed, the town itself is charming, cradled between the end of the coast range and the sea.

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But further south across the China Sea, the Typhoon named Krossa was brewing, its progress charted on local weather stations and satellite maps. It was moving westward towards Vietnam, and its long spinning tendrils stretched out North and South, and they were touching the southern part of Taiwan where we were heading.

In Taitung the morning dawned cloudy with occasional spitting rain, but we gathered outside the hotel in our motley riding outfits and decided to go for it despite the weather. It was to be another long day, out of the Rift Valley now and down south along the coast for about forty-five miles on route 9, then turning inland, west up over the central mountains to a pass, and finally descending southwest on a small one-and-a-half lane road, route 99, for about twenty miles to the town of Sichongxi. There we had reservations at a quiet little inn at the edge of town called the South Wind Resort. We were there when the storm caught up with us.

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Partway down the coast we stopped at one of the ubiquitous 7-11 stores in Dafu, where our guide David produced and entire bag of sugar canes.

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Full of fruit and coffee we wandered up the street to a curious Catholic church originally established by the Spanish for the local aboriginals and dedicated to St. Joseph. All the decorations, art and carving, and the architecture of the building itself was based upon local religious figures and habits.

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On we traveled to another seaside town, Daren, where we stopped at a local eatery for lunch. It included the usual avalanche of food, mainly seafood. Afterwards the owner brought out a beautiful tea set and served us some delicious Oolong tea.

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We pressed on, up and over the headlands before turning inland.

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Then came the steep climb up to the pass.

L1290135 L1290164 When we reached the top of the pass the weather was changing. Dense fog engulfed the little station there, so we put on our jackets and headed downhill carefully.

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About halfway down we came across a whimsical roadside shelter, right across from the entrance to a national park, where we posed with some tourists. L1290182  L1290186

It was nearly dark, and it had already been raining when we arrived at Sichongxi. The inn was comfortable, and we celebrated the end of this long day before going out to dinner.

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We retired to rest up for the next day’s adventure, but sometime after midnight we all awoke to the sound of rain pouring down outside our doors and windows. The typhoon further south had spun off some very serious rain; it didn’t simply pelt down, in came down in sheets, pounding on the buildings, trees, and an impossibly sodden lawn.

The rain had not let up by morning, but we had breakfast and packed up as though we were going to ride. It was supposed to be a short day, with a simple ten or fifteen mile ride down into Kenting, at the very southern tip of Taiwan. But this was not a day for riding.

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Michael provided us another tasty tea tea service; then we packed our bags, put them into the van, and, except for Rich and some of the crew, simply drove the short distance into Kenting.

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By days end we had moved ourselves and our bikes down to our new hotel, where we would be for two nights. We were certain that things would get better, that the Typhoon would blow itself out and that we could again pick up our adventure where we had left off.

10/31 From Tofu to Taitung

10/31  From Tofu to Taitung

From where the Papago Resort Hotel is located in Cheshang, on route 9 that runs through the Rift Valley, it’s a straight shot south down the highway to Taitung, which was our next destination. Dawn at the Papago was gorgeous.

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We thought we’d be heading South, so it seemed odd that when our group left the hotel the next morning we headed north, traveling into the wind and between rice paddies that seemed to stretch to infinity.

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We noodled through some side roads, impressed by the endless rice fields — some ready for harvest, and a few of them actually being harvested.

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We studied the basic system of irrigation that uses tiny dams and water channels, a system developed over centuries, and we stopped to find out more, and to watch the harvesting take place.

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Nowadays, rice paddies are harvested by a machine that resembles a combination of motorized hedge shear and miniature combine; the threshed rice is blown into a waiting truck to take to the rice factory. A local farmer explained the operation.

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After some time we rode off, still heading mysteriously north, into the wind.

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Soon we arrived at a curious place, a local history museum that explained the story of rice and the history of the Rift Valley we were passing through.

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Here our crew posed for pictures, near strange aboriginal carvings:

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Nearby were tours for tourists that ranged through the paddies and the town. New bikes anyone?

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We now discovered that our first real destination was actually a farm that manufactured tofu up in the mountains. So now we ascended a steep thousand or fifteen hundred feet up a deserted road to reach the farm where we might learn more.

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Already we could see that this place was special, run by delightful people, and we hurried inside to find out what we could. Stephen had bought a couple farmers hats for us, and we had a cheerful moment with the owners.

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Then we proceeded inside, where the tofu was actually made, and we learned about its production by actually making it. First we took soybeans and ground them up by hand in a stone mill — very old school. Then we stirred it and helped press it. P1000616L1280941It took awhile.

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Then we ate it. L1280982

Afterwards the old farmer who owned the property took us on a tour of the fields above, with terraced rice paddies and room for other plantings. L1280999 L1290003 L1290008
But it was time to press on, so we thanked the owners and headed down the mountainside to make our way down to the end of the Rift Valley at Taitung.

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We were running a little late, but the wind was pushing at our backs. We stopped momentarily at a local bicycle trail park, where Rich tried to ride a bigger bike than he was used to.

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Leaving there, we proceeded at speed and could really make good time. arriving in Taitung before 5:00pm. We checked into our rooms, cleaned up, and headed out to dinner, lead by Stephen.

But for now we could rest on our small glory. We had covered another 68 miles, right out of the Rift Valley  to Taitung which was on the coast. We welcomed the scent of the sea and the quite luxurious accommodations. One more day and we’d be done with the East Coast altogether. There was a sense of accomplishment in the air. There was also a Typhoon stirring far to the south and east, approaching Taiwan even as we slept soundly in our comfortable beds.

10/30 Up the Secret Highway

10/30 Up the Secret Highway

And now, before traveling any further down this blog highway, our readers should meet the team that is shepherding us around Taiwan. You’ve seen Stephen Chen, but here are the rest, in at least one characteristic pose:

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The crew, from left to right in the picture are:  Michael Chen, David Chen, Tai Ming Chen, FeFe, and Jimmy Huang. Our thanks to them all.

For our day’s ride this time, we followed a route that our guides had ridden in the past:  the old cross-mountain highway that once connected the East and the West sides of Taiwan through the middle of the island. What with earthquakes and washouts, this road became impassable years ago, but it is still paved and now leads only upwards towards a dead end at the ridge of the mountain range separating the Rift Valley from the West side (where Taipei lies). At the end of the day, after riding, we were booked into a quite luxurious hotel, the Papago International Resort in Chishang.

In the morning we tuned our bikes for a short while, bade a fond farewell to the New Life Hot Springs, and headed down the hill to the central plain below.

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Along the roads we passed rice paddies everywhere. This is the rice basket of Taiwan, and extensive fields surround rural communities for whom rice is the main business.

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The road we wanted lead across the valley, crossed a substantial bridge, and began to climb the West side.

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At first the gradient was gradual.

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But the road soon became a relentless grade. We continued to spin our way upwardsL1280807.

High up here in the hills live aboriginal communities with curious statuary and murals.

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DSCN2063Still the road lead on, and eventually a breakaway group reached the high point of the ride, marked by a great aboriginal statue overlooking lush and wonderful views.

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Now came the delightful descent, fast and furious, down the mountain and across the bridge, ending at the luxury Papago hotel, where our rooms looked out onto a landscape of mountains we had just biked up and down, and, down below, to a series of swimming pools waiting for those who still had energy left.

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DSCN2077DSCN2078We had covered close to 48 miles and gained about 3200 feet of elevation, and we celebrated happily with toasts and cheer. Tomorrow would lead us far from here and we wanted to remember the Rift Valley and the mountains that define it.

10/29 Hot Springs Tonite!!

10/29  Hot Springs Tonite!!

It started innocently enough, with the group heading out of Hualien in the same direction as our ride the day before, but then veering off on Coastal Highway 30 going South. We knew we were in for a treat at our next night’s rest, the New Life Hot Springs, just over the coastal range at the end of the central Rift Valley. Soon we were rolling swiftly past the spectacular blue of the Pacific Ocean on our left and sheer mountains and dry river beds on our right. We passed mile after mile of winding road along high headlands, wheeling through long tunnels, gaping at the glorious scenery

The road south

The road south

The road south

The road south

We climbed a big hill to arrive at the “Best Overlook” and stop for a little rest.

At the "Best Look Out"

At the “Best Look Out”

And gathered for a photo op

At the "Best Look Out"

At the “Best Look Out”

Was the view really better with us in the way?

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We descended that snaky road quickly and continued South to reach the Tropic of Cancer, where a tall white monument split down the middle of the meridian.

Tropic of Cancer marker

Tropic of Cancer marker

We of course fell for the temptation of dividing ourselves between the two sections of the earth. Well, in pictures at least.

Between tropical worlds

Between tropical worlds

Rivers on the way

We pressed forward with a purpose now, heading towards a small fishing cove where our lunch spot awaited. From its windows we could see the margins of the sea the sandy shore.

Lunch

Lunch

Fresh fish dish

Fresh fish dish

View from lunch site

View from lunch site

More lunch views

More lunch views

Down the coast

Down the coast

We had covered well over fifty miles now and were ready to turn inland, climbing up steep and winding route 30 over the coastal range. The views were tremendous, though most of us had our heads down, pedaling for all we were worth to get up over the pass. One  tunnel we churned through was 1.8 miles long and continued the uphill grade.

Up route 30

Up route 30

Passing coastal headlands

Passing coastal headlands

At last we reached the pass and began a long sweeping descent through a forest towards the Rift Valley. We turned off just at the bottom of a stream bed, and then a final groaning climb led to the Taiwanese version of Valhalla:  the rustic, beautifully situated New Life Hot Springs resort. It was spartan and calm, and they served cold beer at a wooden table on the veranda.

New Life Hot Springs

New Life Hot Springs

New Life Hot Springs sign

New Life Hot Springs sign

At the hot springs

At the hot springs

We took it easy until dinner, then had a really fine soak in the pungent springs (separated into male and female pools — no suits — and public, for families, with suits) before making our way to our beds. It was our longest day so far: almost 72 miles and 4400 feet of elevation gain. We were cooked, and whether we deserved it or not slept the sleep of the just.

Hot springs dinner

Hot springs dinner

Simple comforts

Simple comforts

10/28 Let the Circle Be Unbroken

10/28 Let the Circle Be Unbroken

Today brought a simple, satisfying circle route, a meander through beautiful back roads and secret bike paths as we made our way up to and around a large lake.

Richard and his Bike Friday

Richard and his Bike Friday

Rich's rocket

Rich’s rocket

We stopped at a remote temple mid-morning to share some packed snacks, then sped on to our lunch, a traditional Taiwanese meal at a small restaurant near the water. The scenery was breathtaking, with misty mountains delicately shrouded in soft clouds.

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After about 45 miles of riding or so, we returned to our comfortable hotel and rested for dinner in “downtown Hualien.”

The food just keeps coming

The food just keeps coming

Table two was no slouch either

Table two was no slouch either

Later in the evening one of our hosts, Michael, gave the first demonstration on how to make and drink the lovely local Oolong tea.

Michael serves up Oolong t

Michael serves up Oolong tea

With that the day came to a close and we headed for bed — to be truthful, still a little jet-lagged. And it was a good thing we did, for the next day promised to be long and gorgeous with a sting in its tail.

 

I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls

10/27 I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls

The wishes from our day at the temples of Taipei seemed to have paid off in the morning, which dawned gray with clouds but not rainy. At 6:30 we gathered outside the hotel and prepared to ride to the train station, a short Sunday morning jaunt through a very quiet Taipei. L1280184

We grabbed some coffee at the Songshan train station 7 – 11 store and boarded the train, which had several cars specifically set up for bikes and riders.

On the train

On the train

We drank our coffees and dozed on and off, keen to get onto our bikes and to see parts of Taiwan that few have a chance to experience. The train snaked its way out of the city, passing northeast through industrial sectors and high rises, fields and increasingly steep wooded hills. Then tunnels galore, a descent onto the coastal plain and South along the coast itself, with the blue Pacific rolling onto empty shores. In contrast to the crowded western side of the island, relatively few live on the East, After two and a half hours we jumped train at the north end of Hualien, a relatively small town (about the size of Seattle), situated on the coast.

Outside Hualien Station

Outside Hualien Station

The sun was out, the air was soft and warm, and we sped off in the direction of the famed Taroko Gorge — westward, back inland and up a narrow throat of road.

Heading to Taroko Gorge

Heading to Taroko Gorge

On the way to Taroko Gorge

On the way to Taroko Gorge

Soon we were to learn why this gorge is world famous. Rounding a corner we glimpsed towering gray cliffs; as we approached closer we realized that they formed a tremendous sheer wall opposite the ascending road, with a suspension bridge hanging perilously across. The wall itself is marble, sometimes pocked and pitted, reaching upward on a vast scale with light blue waters rushing and roaring over rapids below.

Lower Taroko Gorge with suspension bridge

Lower Taroko Gorge with suspension bridge

We continued our ascent and the road we followed literally disappeared into the face on our side of the gorge. It had bed hand hewn out of the marble, with columns and lookout windows that peered into the winding abyss.

Gorge and bridge

Gorge and bridge

Falling waters

Falling waters

The pictures tell the story. We followed the rock-hewn road for miles through the gorge, eventually emerging and continuing up to a pass, and then finding the place where we had lunch reservations, a charming inn a mile or two off the road. Feasting ensued…

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Then the descent, fast and furious. Clouds had formed during lunch, and those who dawdled were soaked in a sudden and violent rainstorm.

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Most had made it down back to the coastal highway by then, however, and after the rain stopped we found our hotel.

We managed dinner in the busy flashing world of Hualien markets, and again found exquisite food. You will have noticed that food surfaces in this blog frequently, and for good reason. First of all, the meals are often long, with a seemingly endless procession of dishes brought in some secret sequence to the table. And it helps to understand that food plays a huge part in Taiwanese culture as expressions of graciousness and generosity. Indeed, the ordinary greeting in Cantonese can be translated as “Eaten yet?”

Oh yes, we have seen the Marble Halls of Taroko Gorge and eaten…

10/26  Make Me One With Everything

Before proceeding further, I should send a picture of Stephen Chen, who has been our chief guide and organizer of the ride; he looks far more formidable in his cycle gear:

Photo of Stephen Chen

Stephen Chen

To pick up our thread, the exhausted troops slept in and rose late to savor a succulent breakfast, 5-star Taiwan hotel style buffet. Afterwards came the opening of bike boxes and a bike assembly bonding experience. Stephen Chen arrived at 10:30 to take us around to some Taipei City touristic attractions, starting with an open-air market two or three blocks long and wide, featuring every imaginable — and some unimaginable — varieties of meat and fish and vegetables in the most splendid displays.

Market produce 1

Market stand produce 1

 

Market stand produce 2

Market stand produce 2

strange market fruit

Strange market fruit

We tarried for an couple hours, tasting and gawking, and completed our tour with glasses of fresh squeezed juice from sugar cane. Excellent.

sugar cane dandies

Sugar cane dandies

And now it was time to cross the street and enter one of the literally hundreds of temples found all over Taipei. This one is Taoist, and like all other temples of this kind, it is decorated with fancy tiled roof lines and elaborate ceramic creatures like these resplendent dragons:

taoist temple

Taoist temple

temple roof detail

Temple roof detail

There is much to learn about Taoist beliefs, and we all moved through the stages of honoring one or another of the gods, bowing and lighting incense to help get our wishes in good position for fulfillment. The first things to do is to identify yourself, your age and where you are from, and then get your wish out front. This will help the god know who’s asking and where to make the gift. It’s all done silently, mercifully. Still, I gave a false name, just to be on the safe side.

Just down the street, also by the market, was a Confucian temple, much more reserved by way of decoration, but unmistakably a place to pray for wishes — often wishes connected with academic success of one kind or another. Wisdom wishes…perhaps too familiar!:

Confucian Temple

Confucian Temple

After such sights and sounds and smells we were running out of gas, so Stephen dropped us off at an indoor food court serving all manner of traditional Taiwanese cuisine.

Having fed ourselves fat on delicious local food, we headed towards one of the famous tourist meccas of Taipei — the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial, a gigantic architectural structure that appears to be a cross between a religious temple and the Lincoln Monument, complete with a thirty five foot statue of a seated Chiang Kai-Shek.

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial

Below the steps (89 in all, like the number of years he lived) is a vast paved square, with an elaborate theater building on one side and a Music Auditorium on the other.

 

Theater building

Theater building

Our public day was now over and we returned to our hotel, resting up for dinner, which Stephen Chen had arranged at a small restaurant nearby which happened to belong to a friend of his. There we would meet his team of five assistants and were told to expect some live entertainment from a talented pair of musicians. The restaurant owner had cleared his whole lower floor for us and began to serve the meal, which I can only describe as an Asian fondue, with vegetables and meat and fish and tofu on platters to put into pots of boiling water.

A meal for all

A meal for all

Little did we know that the talented musicians Stephen had referred to were his own daughters, age 14 and 17, who gave the most charming and guileless performances of singing with guitar accompaniment, and guitar and violin pieces.

The entertainers

The entertainers

The evening, then, ended quite literally on a happy note, and we headed back to the hotel for another good night’s rest. Tomorrow we would get on the bikes at last and see something of Taiwan’s blandishments outside of its main city.

 

 

 

So the five of us met at the airport late Wednesday night to box up our bikes and check in for our 2:10am flight from Seattle to Taipei. Richard, already asleep in his hotel room in Taiwan, would meet us when we arrived at our hotel the morning after the day after we left. The was time for a final beer at the Alaska Cafe, the last bar open at SeaTac Airport, and then it we made for our 747 along with 400 other passengers. Well yes, thank you, it was special. Four fuzzily at the airport

We had been up all day and now we faced 12 and a half hours hurtling across the Pacific, sleeping intermittently if at all, but gaining 15 hours of time on the clock.

Landing in Taiwan at 5:45 on Friday morning was like waking into a parallel universe, a rabbit hole where people talk in familiar ways but are completely unintelligible, where signs that might provide help and instruction turn out to be simply opaque — even the figures on the signs refuse to offer a scrap of meaning. On the freeways and highways and streets, cars, buses, and teeming swarms of motor scooters negotiate around each other madly, swerving side to side, passing on the right and left at breathtaking speeds. And in this universe, most curiously, no one honks. So, Jetlagged and exhausted and wheyfaced, we took it all in with stunned wits.

Our guide, Stephen Chen, appeared at the airport to greet us, and he and his brother David took us in two vans to the Capital Hotel, where we dropped off our bikes and luggage. To our wonderment — and and fuzzy bewilderment — we were now all herded into Stephen’s van for a day stuffed with adventures. A two hour drive took us out of Taipei through an eight-mile(!) tunnel to the aboriginal Hanxi village of the Attayal tribe — one of 14 tribes remaining on the island of Taiwan. The population of Taiwan is around 22 million people, and the tribes together number only about 80,000, but this tribe, the Bulau Bulau, work particularly hard to retrieve their culture and keep it intact. To reach the village we had to cross the longest suspension footbridge on Taiwan and travel in 4X4 Land Cruisers along steep and rutted roads into mountainous, thickly wooded foothills. Then we hiked further up narrower trails to discover the village itself and a cheery welcome by people of the tribe. Only 30 visitors a day are allowed to come to this tribal center, which feels like a cross between a collection of log cabins and an organic gardening center.

Suspension bridge

approaching the village

After touring around for an hour or so we were treated to lunch, a spectacular display of fresh fruits and vegetables and wild boar strips cooked over an open fire, plus millet wine. Millet wine — who knew? More touring followed, and then an early six-course dinner, including more millet wine, chicken and pork, plus entertaining singing and dancing. The entire experience as wonderfully spirited, and when we left, around sunset, we were filled with wonder at the determination and the inventiveness of these people.John at fireside

Charlie at fireside

Needless to say, the two-hour return leg of the trip had all of us nodding and dozing as we drove back towards Taipei. But the parade of events had not yet ended. Winding our way into the small town of Jingtong, Stephen led us on foot to a dark quaint old street, which we followed to a little restored wooded railway station. Nearby we found a little store where we bought some flying lanterns. Once a coal mining town, Jingtong has restored some of its buildings and has developed an appeal as a quaint tourist town. More than, Jingtong has become a center for the “flying lanterns.” These are colored rice paper cylinders about three to four feet high, closed at the top and kept open by means of a bamboo hoop on the lower rim. Wires running across the hoop allows for thick paper, saturated with oil and gasoline, to be held in its center. When that is lit, the cylinder fills with hot air and rises into the sky like a rocket in slow motion. The six of us got three of these flying lanterns and prepared them by inscribing wishes on their sides; then we set them free and watched each one disappear into the night clouds. After that, our most ardent wish was for a short drive back to our hotel rooms, for a hot shower and our welcoming beds, where we at last toppled like felled soldiers around 10:00pm.

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Tomorrow would bring another day of sights and sounds in Taipei, but for now the simple pleasure of sleep — Shakespeare’s “balm of Kings” — promised relief after this long and lovely first day of adventures.