Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cycling around Taiwan: Day 6: Guangfu to Nan-ao

Start day 6: February 14. Location: Guangfu Township (光復鄉), Hualien County (光復縣). Remarks: First day of the new Chinese year. Started riding at 6:45. Light breeze behind us, a few small clouds, a temperature of 15 degrees and, in front of us as we rode out of town, big mountains lit up by the first rays of the morning sun. Beautiful.

Preparing for the day of riding ahead of us; packing our bags and bikes, something that was becoming routine by now. 

The road out of Guangfu ran straight towards the mountain range, lit up as it was by the first golden rays of the sun.  The sky was clear and blue and the air was crisp and carried a chill.  A gentle breeze blew from behind us.  It was a perfect start to the day.

Just down the same road on the outskirts of town, the rising sun begins to light up the fields and farms, plants and animals.  The morning sky was reflected in the rice paddies.

It was really, really nice to be cycling this morning.

It may look like I am about to do something technically illegal.  A lot of people in Taiwan are constantly breaking road rules and regulations.  My excuse for breaking this one is that I cannot understand the sign because I cannot read Chinese.

We stopped only briefly in Hualien at 10am for some bathrooms, baked goods, and water.  Not long after our stop there, the volume of traffic on the road seemed to increase dramatically and there was a seemingly endless stream of traffic moving southwards.  However, our side of the road was almost empty; the northbound lane of the highway was being used as often by southbound motorists overtaking as it was by motorists actually heading north.  The reason for the change in traffic flows can be partially explained by the convergence of several roads near Hualien.  Traveling south from Hualien you can choose from one of three different roads: Provincial Highway no.9; Provincial Highway no.11; or County Road no.193.  However, if you are traveling north then you only have one option for most of the rest of the journey up the east coast and that is the no.9 and then the no.2.  So all the traffic on the coast gets funneled into one pipe.

At a lookout close to the southern end of the Cingshui Cliffs.  As the piece of interpretive signage below explains, this geological masterpiece dominates the character of the coast for about twenty kilometers between Chongde and Heping.  You are guaranteed some impressive vistas and views which must be paid for in the currency of mountainous cycling: sweat and aching legs.

Beautiful.  Note the tiny entrance to a traffic tunnel on the side of the mountain.  With so much traffic on the road and with a few too many drivers willing to take risks to get to where they are going a little bit faster, riding through this series of traffic tunnels tested out nerves.  We heard of at least one cyclist who was clipped by a car and knocked into the concrete side-wall.

At about 2:15 in the afternoon we stopped in the village of Heping for lunch.  I'm sorry to say that this little place did not make a good impression on us.  We were a little late to be looking for lunch and our options were limited.  We decided upon a dining-hall-type restaurant decorated very plainly.  There were two kids sitting in the front of the establishment annoying an elderly woman who was probably their grandmother; they were acting pretty strangely and making cat noises and the woman would occasionally growl at them.  While waiting for our order to arrive we decided that the kids were drunk.  When our noodles did arrive John and I both found long hair in ours.  As soon as we were finished we paid up and left town, sure that our stop in Heping was not going to be one of the highlights of the trip.

Close to the town of Nanou it began to rain heavily.  On the long, steep descent to the coast Andrea almost came off her bicycle.  We arrived in Nanou at dusk and after scouting out a few potential accommodations we decided upon a lovely little minsu (or homestay) on the main street.  The minsu had a Japanese feel about it; our room consisted of a nice big clean open space with wooden floors and walls; the beds were tatami-style mats which we laid out on the floor.  After cleaning up we dined in style at a local box-food place down the street.  Not fancy food but great to have in your stomach after a long day's cycle.  

End of day 6: February 14.
Location: Nan-ao Township (南澳鄉), Yilan County (宜蘭縣).
Distance on my electronic odometer: 597km.
Accommodation: a beautiful little Minsu (a kind of homestay) on the main street of little Nanou; NT$600 pp.
Remarks: It started raining on us and John and Andrea both came close to injury as their bike tires slipped across the wet rail lines that cut into the road at an angle in Heping. The rain made the ride down the mountains into Nanou quite dangerous and a little scary with Andrea almost fish-tailing to disaster on the white lines marking the edge of the traffic lane. In the very small town of Nanou we found a beautiful little minsu (a homestay) on the main street that smelled like Japan where we spent the night.

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