Friday, February 26, 2016

Hualien, Taiwan

An occasional town or business on the Around Taiwan Bike Route adds cheer to the passing cyclists with some manner of bike art. It's not as prolific nor as prodigious as on The Tour de France route, but some is comparable. Taiwan is in its infancy as a celebrant of the bicycle, so what there is can be celebrated as a good start.  One small town placed orange-painted bikes decorated with baskets of flowers along the road for several blocks.

The intersection for a side trip was marked by a pair of porkers on bikes.  Since it was a climb, they were appropriately red-polka-dotted, though the red dots were not as pronounced as they would have been in France.

Another town advertised the two products it was known for--pineapples and snails.

I hadn't noticed any such art on the western industrial side of the island.  There could have been some, but I was too preoccupied with focusing on the road with the steady traffic that I couldn't gaze upon as the eastern side has allowed. As I've passed through towns on the eastern side, I can steal more than a glance at shops along the road and have a chance of determining what they are selling.  My Chinese isn't adequate to reading the names of shops.  Few augment their Chinese with writing I can decipher. I can't look ahead and spot grocery stores, other than the two most common convenience stores--Seven-11 and Family Mart.  

I was in the country four days before I found my first supermarket.  One of the reasons is that they've been choked out by the convenience stores, similar to Japan.  There are more than 15,000 of them saturating the country, about one per 1,500 people.  But as I've pedaled up the eastern side I see at least one genuine food store a day, thanks to my ability to look more closely at the stores.  Their prices are only marginally cheaper than the convenience stores, but they do sell a much wider array of goods.  I can buy mackerel or sardines to add to my noodles and have plenty of cookies to choose from.  It was a happy day when I found peanut butter and also a loaf of bread that wasn't white.  While I limited my peanut butter intake, I made up for it by drinking peanut milk.  It wasn't as tasty as chocolate milk, but it was cheaper and had more calories.

I had been rationing the peanut butter I brought so I'd have enough for my fifty-mile climb from sea level to 10,000 feet.  That could take more than a day and I wanted more than Ramon for my fuel.  I'll begin the climb on Day Ten of these travels after more than six hundred miles to the bottom of the island and then two-thirds of the way back to the top.  The question that weighs upon me is, will I have gained strength during those previous nine days, or will I have tired myself out.  I have decreased my mileage the last couple of days before the climb, but I have had to exert myself more than the longer days down the west side, as I've been pushing into a wind.

To diminish the wind I chose to ride the interior route through the Rift Valley rather than following the coast line.  The Valley route is the recommended route for cyclists as it entails less climbing as well, though one must first climb up to the valley floor at about six hundred feet.  There was still some wind, but mountain ridges to the left and right provided some shield.  I was surrounded by all manner of luscious vegetation--wild and domesticated. The mountainsides were thickly forested and the valley floor fully cultivated. Mother Earth was thriving in all its glory on this side of the island, providing sustenance to the ecosystem.  It had been choked and smothered on the west side.  It made for the most pleasurable of cycling.

Rice was the dominant crop.  The region is known as the rice-basket of Taiwan.

But the rice paddies were augmented with corn and sugar cane and bananas and pineapple and orchards of various fruits, including papaya.

The small plots of land made finding a place to camp more challenging than I anticipated.  One night I pitched my tent behind an abandoned house.  Another I burrowed into thick vegetation between a cemetery and a rice paddy.

Only one of the several police stations that served as rest stops on my eastern swing had WIFI, though the adjoining fire station at one could provided it.

I've been feasting on a variety off dumplings from small roadside cafes.  I can only guess what they might contain before biting into them, but not a one has disagreed with me.  More often than not I'm happy to take several to go after sampling them.  I do know that sticky rice is generally wrapped in a leaf of some sort.  That brings back fond memories of Thailand, where it would frequently be stuffed in a tube of bamboo.

I've been eating extra preparing for the big climb.  It will be a challenge, but not as severe as climbing the World's Most Dangerous Road in Bolivia.  That started at 5,000 feet and peaked out at over 15,000 and was unpaved.  The only way this could be worse is if there are extended grades of more than fifteen per cent.  At least I'll be in no hurry and the scenery promises to be spectacular, as it is considered Taiwan's premier tourist attraction.  It would be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, except Taiwan is not acknowledged by the UN.  The most peril may come from the tour buses.  The road is so narrow in spots that those coming in opposite directions can't always pass one another.  One has to retreat to a wide spot in the road.  It can cause massive traffic back-ups, that hopefully I'll be immune to.


Andrew said...

I'm enjoying your Taiwan trip from the comfort of home now that I've come back from Thailand - good luck with the climb.

dworker said...

I ate those sweet sticky rice bamboo tubes in Thailand too, and they soon became a favorite. Plus you could throw the bamboo container away and you were not littering.