Thursday, March 3, 2016

Yangmingshan National Park

The mountains of Yangmingshan National Park look down upon Taipei, the capital of Taiwan and its largest city with over three million inhabitants. The park is less than ten miles from the city center.  One is never far from the mountains here, as they comprise 75 per cent of the country.

I briefly dipped into Taipei, in effect completing my circuit of the country, long enough to somewhat orient myself to the city and locate a hostel for the weekend, then climbed two thousand feet into the park for another night in my tent before three nights in a cell.  The kindly older couple who administer the hostel could fully understand my desire to take advantage of the balmy early spring weather to head off to the park.

My two day ride around the northern tip of the island was blessed by unseasonably warm and sunny conditions and little wind, the exact opposite of what I battled at the bottom of the island.  It made for the best cycling of the trip. It was enhanced by long stretches of fully separated bike lanes.

Signs regularly marked the way and looked out for those on bicycles.

The temples on the mountainsides looked grander and brighter in the clear, sunny conditions.

The only thing lacking was other cyclists.  I didn't encounter another in two days, partially because the official trail booklet lops off this part of the route so cyclists can complete their circuit in ten days, returning to Taipei from Yilan, where I resumed the coastal route after going inland.  The weather can be a detriment to the cycling as well, frequently wet and windy on the northern nub of the island.  There was also a fifteen mile stretch of not so pleasant cycling through Keelong, the country's second largest port, that had no bike lane and seemed to go on forever after the fifty miles of idyllic cycling that had preceded it.

It wasn't quite warm enough to attract sun-bathers to the beaches, but the rocky shorelines abounded with people fishing.

As at the bottom of the island, there was a half-mile walkway to the northern tip.  The southernmost point was marked by a monument.  Here was a lighthouse.  The ocean beyond was clogged with freighters and cargo ships.

I could have camped in the low-lying trees at the cape, but was forced by waning light to find a place to camp six miles before I reached it.  If I had known how agreeable it was, I would have pushed on.  There wasn't much to choose from in the steep mountainsides that rose above the road. I was forced back from an initial attempt by a pair of dogs.  I ended up putting my free-standing tent on the concrete fringe of a small temple carved into the mountainside.  I gathered up leaves as a little extra padding for my sleeping bag.  Cyclists are welcome at temples, so I knew I wasn't violating a taboo.

I'm finishing off my third loaf of bread. As with the other two, there has been an uneven number of slices, unlike most places. Either they don't use bread here so much to make sandwiches or preferring an odd number of slices could be another of the many superstitions that rule this country, such as the avoidance of the number four. It is associated with death as it has a similar pronunciation.  

When I was searching for the hostel I was reminded one doesn't see the number four in addresses.  The hostel address was 16 Lane 20 off Shongshan North, Section Two  I didn't know if I should be looking for Lane 20 or Lane 16, similar to the quandary of whether to put the day or the month first for dates.  I guessed wrong by going to Lane 16.  I feared the hostel might have closed and I'd have the task of trying to find another in the vast urban maelstrom of Taiwan.  

It was almost enough of a relief finding it to check in right then and there, except that it had doubled its price from the twelve dollars Lonely Planet quoted, the cheapest of the city's hostels.  Rather than the not-so-easy task of searching out the other hostels to see if they had similarly raised their prices, I was induced to commit to this one upon learning a Canadian cyclist was living in an apartment a floor above.  With luck he'll know of a bike shop where I can get a box for my bike, which the hostel proprietors didn't, and will also want to attend this weekend's bicycle trade show.  He'll be the first Westerner I'll have talked to since arriving.  The only ones I've seen were an older Australian couple at a visitor center for a beach resort asking about bus service.  Taiwan is not a tourist destination for Westerners.  It is somewhat popular though for Japanese and mainland Chinese.

I had to be creative once again in Yangmingshan finding a place to camp, as it had no sanctioned campgrounds.  It seemed that the only level spots in the park had residences on them, going back to well before the park was established, or had been turned into gardens or trails.  I had to burrow into a thicket just off the road.  It was one of my least quiet camp sites, but I had no regrets whatsoever of sleeping on the ground rather than on a mattress.

My campsite was just above one of the fifteen villas Chiang Kai-shek built for himself around the country.  It was walled in and well secluded so I had no vantage of it.  I did pass his Taipei villa just before I began the climb to the park.  

It is surrounded by vast gardens, and much as he is in disfavor for the harshness of his dictatorship and his greed, it is a popular gathering place.  Just inside the gate sits his 1968 Cadillac that many people stopped for a selfie.  The roses were just beginning to bloom, but there were many other flowers in full bloom.  Taiwan is known as the Kingdom of the Butterfly.  Hundreds of species make it their home, including one that is the only butterfly besides the Monarchs in Mexico that have a winter migrating grounds.  I am too early to see any of the vast migrations, but they are a huge attraction.  Highways even have protective canopies over them for the butterflies.

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