Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cycling around Taiwan: Day 8: Fulong to Keelung

Start day 8: February 16.
Location: Fulong Township (福隆鄉), Taipei County (台北縣).
Remarks: Awoke at 5:30am. It was still raining lightly. There was a lot of condensation on the walls of our room; Some clothes that we had left by the window were quite damp. The complimentary hair dryer was used extensively to attempt to dry our essentials.

We ate a two-stage broken breakfast, first at 7-11 and then at the breakfast restaurant: oatmeal, milk, yogurt, dan-bings (omelets), and dou-jiang (soy milk).  When we asked the lady at the breakfast restaurant if we could buy some fruit from her she told us that the fruit we were interested in had been used in religious observance the day before and proceeded to give it to us for free; bananas, jujubes, and tangerines. It was raining as we got away onto the 102, unaware of the mountain assault we would be making later that day.

We had decided that we would cycle to Keelung via the inland roads rather than continuing along the coast.  County Road no.102 looked like being the best road to take.  It would take us on a not-overly meandrous route from Fulong to Keelung while still offering the promise of a break from the sights and sounds of the coastal highway.  On our map of Taiwan the no.102 passed through places called Gongliao, Shuangsi, Jioufen, and Rueifang.  It sounded interesting.  Our map didn't give us any indication of elevation.

Despite the light rain we admired the beautiful countryside as we passed through small communities and slowly ascended.  When we stopped to check the map under a convenient awning we saw that the town of Jioufen lay on our route and this name jogged John's memory, something about it being an old gold-mining area.  He also thought that this was a place he had been once before but remembered it being very, very high up.  I remember he even recalled making the joke about being able to see his house from up there.

The road got progressively more serpentine and less developed so that eventually there were no more buildings and very few cars.  The countryside was indeed beautiful; we saw Cherry Blossoms by the roadside in full bloom.  And around every bend was another incline and another bend.  Eventually it began to get misty and cloudy and we turned our bicycle lights on.  By now we felt that we were very high up and the wind and rain had really turned against us.  We were getting quite cold and having to walk up a lot of the way.  At a brief rest stop under the slight rain-shade of a large stone sign, we discussed turning back and taking the coastal road instead.  We decided to persevere.

On a reasonably level piece of roadway we stopped and commented on how the visibility had been reduced to the point where we couldn't see each other cycling ahead and about how cold it now was.  We began to worry about how long it would be before we would get to someplace out of the wind and rain and cold.  Andrea used some chemical warming pads we had brought with us to stave off the cold.  We weren't really prepared for these conditions: sandals, light shirts, pullovers, and cycling shorts.  We began cycling again, less content with our ride than before.  Suddenly, looming out of the mist and cloud upon the hill-side in front of us we saw a wooden pagoda and our hopes of being warm flared up again.  This pagoda was the first sign of urbanization we had seen for quite a while.  A little bit further down the road we saw a sign reading "Rueifang Township" and we knew that our deliverance was imminent.

We pedaled on towards Rueifang and the incidence of signs of urbanization increased exponentially until, quite suddenly, we were turning onto a street packed with tour buses and pedestrians and people trying to evade the rain which continued to fall.  As it turned out, today was a special day on the Chinese calendar (coming soon after the turn of the new year) and Rueifang was bustling with hordes of temple-goers from Taipei who had come to visit certain famous sites and temples in the area.  For us it was surreal transitioning so quickly from being lost in the clouds to rubbing shoulders with the horde.  We slipped into a 7-Eleven on the main street seeking warmth and warming.  Andrea and John both bought socks for their hands and Andrea also got some for her feet.  We purchased hot coffees and had the staff heat up some bread for us to eat.  The staff were very busy but dealing superbly with the influx of visitors to town and with us, the foreigners who didn't know where socks were supposed to be worn.

Once we had recovered from the chilling inflicted by the mountain, we got back in our saddles and headed for Keelung where we intended to stop for the rest of the day: it was finished as far as we were concerned.  We booked into a cheap hotel close to the central bus station, indulged our keen interest in hot showers, and generally recovered by doing a lot of nothing much.  I was thinking of cycling on to the northernmost point of Taiwan by myself that afternoon but John and Andrea convinced me to wait until the next day when they would be ready to cycle to the northernmost point as a group.

Keelung lived up to its reputation as The Rainy City: it didn't stop raining for the duration of our stay.  We couldn't help but wonder why people chose to live in such a wet, damp place.

After cleansing ourselves in the shower and relaxing for a while we ate a late lunch at a teppanyaki restaurant not far from the hotel.  It was really, really good.

In the evening John and I hit the street looking to rustle up some provisions for breakfast.  Umbrellas are a sure-sell commodity in this place.  We took barely a few photos the whole day because it was just too cold, wet, or windy to bother taking our cameras out.


End of day 8: February 16.
Location: Keelung City (基隆市), Taipei–Keelung metropolitan area (台北基隆都會區).
Distance on my electronic odometer: 730km.
Accommodation: a hotel close to the harbor.
Remarks: The 102 took us up some big mountains into some wet, windy, even foggy conditions and we had considered turning back at one point. However, we persevered and suddenly found ourselves among throngs of religious devotees at the top of the town of Jioufen where tour buses were delivering and collecting hordes of people making their short pilgrimage to the famous temples there. After warming up in the 7-11 we cycled to Keelung and found ourselves a hotel not far from the downtown core. It was about midday when we checked into our hotel and took our grimy bikes upstairs into our room.

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