Singapore – Taipei – Puli: 6 months in the works and we are finally off

Posted: April 9, 2015 in MTB Touring Taiwan 2012
Tags: , , , ,
Saturday March 3, 2012

Taiwan had been off my travel radar for decades. It would take a lot of nudging even to even consider landing there, say when crossing the Pacific, which was an even rarer occurence. But my how times and things have changed. In a pinch, how does one resist a meticulously planned 5 day ride up and across the island’s highest road topping out at 3275 m? Followed by an almost 90 kms of downhilling right to sea level, the next day? Resistance was futile. Even my better half succumbed.A proposal one night by a cycling friend who frequents the island many times each year, sealed the deal. Before we knew it, and it was just in a matter of days, a handful of those who expressed interest in the trip soon snowballed into a group of 20 adults and 2 toddlers and 17 bikes of all shapes, sizes and persuasion. Air tickets were snapped up on JetStar, 20 kgs into Taiwan and 30 kgs and more on the return leg.

Sounds like fun ? It was. Waiting for the D date, that was excruciating, so much so that, even I had to be ‘sedated’ of sorts and orgainsed a short trip intoThailand as a precursor to this trip.

This much delayed write up can also be blamed on time, or a lack of it, being spent elsewhere, like rediscovering my road bike, and researching our next trip to Formosa in the coming months, but it’s going to be worth it.

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From the little I know, a none too hilly 1000 km circumnavigation of the island can be done in 10 – 14 days. Inter city buses and trains are quite bike friendly, if time is a constraint. If you like the mountains there are quite a few challenging ones in the very mountainous interior, and us Taiwan virgins are going up across it’s highest road, for starters.

As our group numbers swelled, we were also thinking ‘less panniers and trailers’ but more ‘tour bus, sightseeing and cosy Bavarian style lodges’ This invariably led to more devils in the details and totally at cross purposes compared to our usually fuss free, just stuff the panniers and hit the road style of touring.

A big hats off goes to our fearless leaders, on and off the road, constantly keeping an eye out for the ever hungry, oxygen depleted straggling sheep in lycra. Behind the scenes, were endless hours spent in communicado with hotel reservations, restaurant managers, bus drivers, etc.

3 wives and 2 toddlers would not be cycling, commandeering the bus, to chocolate factories and petting zoos and such. Hopefully the rest of the entourage would not be led like lambs to the slaughter on a cold, desolate wind swept mountain road with nary a 7-11 in sight.

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We land in Taipei nice and early at 11.30 hrs. I got some more segmented sleep on the 4 hr flight and I’m sure some more on the 3 hr drive to the town of Puli, not yet quite in the highlands but about 400 m asl.

My initial view of Taipei or rather Taoyuan airport is best described as foggy. Remnants of trapped air and a cold front from big brother China white-ed out everything. It was just as well that we could land as a couple of friends on the same flight 2 days prior had to divert to Hong Kong. More like dumped there by a certain budget airline, to await the generosity of other airlines to pick up the slack. In his very words, my friend said, a riot is about to start, 2 check in staff up against 100 disgruntled passengers. We and they, were lucky. You don’t want to mess with 17 sleep deprived bike tourists, delaying their bike trip or worse, being disconnected with their precious cargo.

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I even have time to read trolley handles and visit the gents twice as the queue for sim cards was loooong. These days people rush to get a local number even before getting their luggage. 60 whole minutes eaten into today, as the sole high school girl working there, dissects your phone, installs your card, gets you registered, checks your passport, collects payment, reads out instructions x 100.

I don’t have that dilemma as I don’t have a phone and the person I talk to the most is on this bike trip. What could be better ?

Maybe it’s the need to tell the world, on Facebook, what you’re having for breakfast, and with whom, with blurry photos, surpasses the need for actually appreciating your present surroundings, that you woke up at 3 am for and flew 4.5 hours with the fear of being dropped off in Hong Kong. I dunno.

At this point 90 minutes after landing even our genial looking bus driver and a travel agency contact, were wondering about the delay. I should have known better and got out of the terminal on my own time, to get my first fill of a late winter’s chilled air.

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The next few hours were just a blur of buildings, some in dire need of paint, massive power lines, interspersed with very wet rice fields as the bus hurtled south along a highway. Layer upon layer of mostly elevated roads and railway, the highest and fanciest being the one on which the HSR (High Speed Railway) Bullet trains run. Heavy eyelids did not help, not until we got off the north south and onto a more scenic Route 14 the main road that cuts across the island via Puli town and the Taroko Gorge further east. It’s about 35 kms from sea level at Taichung, where the big bicycle factories are located, to Puli.

The driver kept dropping his gears as most vehicles seemed to be struggling up the winding road into the hills. ‘General George’ assured us that cycling would be much easier the next day. Somehow not everyone believed him.

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As a Taiwan virgin, or first time visitor, let’s get that cleared up, I can safely say that the island’s biggest lake is like Lake Tahoe, only with much more buildings like cramped hotels and pagodas along it’s shores and hillsides. Having surveyed Tahoe in 2001 with a Dodge Ram, in a rush to Yosemite, I much prefer Sun Moon Lake (hereafter SML) as my memory of it is much clearer.

By the time we reached SML in the late afternoon, the skies were grey and dreary, with a short cursory look at a fascinating Giant (as in Giant Bicycles) Concept Store with it’s own bicycle friendly Giant hotel above it. Bike paths abound along the shores of SML and if you don’t have your custom machine with you, there are many rentals to take along the 45 kms of manicured paths here. A repeat visit to SML in the brighter summer months will not hurt.

Reassembling 2 mountain bikes late into the night with segmented sleep hours before, will.

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Doing it by the road side, in semi darkness, outside a bank and ATMs was a novelty, as such activity, just attracts the local crowds. Even more so when Facebook (hereafter FB) is involved. FB-ing just slows down the whole process, as you really need two hands to build a bike.

Our General’s orders were to set up the bikes, and return our boxes to our boxed truck, which will store them, in Taipei, for our return trip home. Friends with Samsonites and non carton boxes had more to worry about, compared to my free, thrice flown cardboard boxes.

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Being a non virgin in bike assembly, I disgorged our bikes in the faded 70’s luxury of our hotel room/cubicle, as I love air conditioning when confronted with sweaty work. This also works up an appetite for dinner, but since we had a huge dinner and dessert already, bike assembly thereafter helps to digest everything.

If you like close quarters, jerky elevators and locked fire escapes, here it is. http://jinshan.okgo.tw/

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Did we sleep really well. We must have. Out like a light. Seven blissful hours. As this is my virgin trip to Taiwan, I would like to be 110% fully charged for the mountains.

Photos marked with * are not from my camera, they are from about a dozen other cameras/phones that were near me. Oh my, FB has it’s uses.

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