Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cycling around Taiwan: Day 9: Keelung to Hsinchu

Start day 9: February 17.
Location: Keelung City (基隆市), Taipei–Keelung metropolitan area (台北基隆都會區).
Remarks: Awoke at 5am. Breakfasted in hotel room on provisions gathered the night before. It had been raining since we were up in the mountains yesterday and only let up, fortuitously, at the same time as we made ready to leave the hotel. We followed the signs to the number 2 road which would take us to the top of Taiwan, happy to put up with the wind for as long as it was delivered without rain.

The rain began when we were about half-way along Provincial Highway no.2 between Keelung and the northernmost points of Taiwan.  The downpour was no surprise when it happened.  We continued on in the rain which relented a little but never really stopped while the wind continued to tear at our cheap plastic rain coats.  We weren't exactly sure where the northernmost point of mainland Taiwan was.  I had tried to find out by making a pedestrian journey from our hotel room to the tourist information centre in Keelung the day before but I had trouble communicating what it was I wanted to know and they had trouble describing it to me (once they had agreed on where it was).

Eventually we stopped at a place that looked significant.  It featured a stone archway that led out onto a small outcrop of rock.  It looked "northernmost" and so we took a few photos to prove that we'd been there before getting back on our bicycles and pedaling again to stay warm.  Standing still in rain and wind can drain your body heat quite quickly.  Either of those elements - wind or water - alone is tolerable but together they can make any outdoor experience in the lower centigrades pretty discomforting.
Cold, wet, windy.

While we started to shiver and made comments about how we were starting to shiver these two fishermen looked right at home in the conditions.

Even the bright gaudy colors of this temple, close by where we stopped, struggle against being washed out by the greyness of the day.

A little further around the coast we came upon a small cape sporting a lighthouse and realized that this was the official northernmost point of Taiwan.  I guess I should have inferred as much from the whole-of-Taiwan map we were using: while the scale of the map made determining and locating the northernmost point of mainland Taiwan tricky, the cape with the lighthouse was named on the map (as Fugueijiao) and in hindsight it seems intuitively sensible that this cape was significant enough to have a lighthouse and a name because it was the northernmost point of mainland Taiwan.  But we were too cold and wet to bother stopping again.

As we traced the arc of the North Coast and Guanyinshan National Scenic Area and our bearing gradually shifted to the south-west, the wind that had so often been blowing rain in our faces for the last four days was placed more and more firmly behind us so that it now became an aid in our progress.  That was a very nice change and well-received by us.

Somewhere close to the township of Sanjhih we stopped to rest and recover at a 7-Eleven and adjacent breakfast shop where we took stock of our injuries, aches, and discomforts.

Our sandals are soaked and the skin on our feet is water-logged.

John wrings out his wet socks.

We cycled on southwards along the no.2, skirting the city of Danshui, aiming for the first bridge that would take us across the mighty Danshui River.  We crossed the GuanDu Bridge, comprising a series of attractive red arches, and in doing so, left Provincial Highway no.2 behind and joined the way of Provincial Highway no.15 which took us back up to the coast and then westwards while slowly veering towards the south.

The rain-showers continued.  While we stopped at a Hi-Lite convenience store, the sky opened and dumped rivers of water on the landscape around us, creating pools that grew faster than the drains could drain them.  We enjoyed hot Milos and other such comforting foods while admiring the deluge.  And as we made our preparations to leave, the torrential rain reduced to a trickle, allowing for an easy getaway.

The rain continued, varying in intensity.  By two o'clock we still hadn't eaten a proper lunch and were feeling a little miserable.  We decided to leave the no.15 (and probably the day's cycling) to look for food and shelter.  Despite having ended up in an industrial area we found a nice duck-soup-noodle place in which we enjoyed a good hot meal.  We also obtained directions to a nearby love hotel.

We checked in to Valentine's Hotel (NT$1880 for the three of us) and tried to settle in.  The airconditioning was unresponsive and continued to keep the room temperature at a point where it chilled us.  The free condoms and lubricant, porn on demand, and coffee and tea did little to cheer us up.  When we unpacked our panniers we discovered that water had infiltrated them and soaked some of our belongings.  We had no really dry clothes to wear.

After checking the weather report on TV and discussing our situation we decided to catch the train back to Tainan the next day and return to Hsinchu to complete our journey some time in the future.  The decision was an agonizing one and once it was made we consoled ourselves with the pizza we had had delivered to our room; we had ordered a vegetarian pizza and a chicken pizza with a side-serving of onion rings; of course we received a ham pizza and a vegetarian pizza with a side-serving of onion rings and another of chicken drumsticks.  Indiana Jones and his friends watched as Mola Ram pulled a man's heart out of his chest and we watched them watching as we tore the tender, deep-fried chicken flesh from the bones.

The bed was very comfortable but as I wandered off into sleepyville I couldn't help but feel depressed that we were giving up so close to home.

End of day 9: February 17.
Location: Hsinchu City (新竹市).
Distance on my electronic odometer: 864km.
Accommodation: a love hotel called Valentine's on the south-eastern edge of the city; NT$1880/night for a double bed plus additional bed on the floor.
Remarks: After touching the northernmost rim of Taiwan we cycled around the coast to Danshui, crossed over the huge red arches of the first bridge, and onto the number 15 which took us around the coast. As the road veered towards the south we were fighting the wind less and less. We still hadn't eaten at about 2pm when we decided to leave the 15 and look for a hotel. Party morale was rather low: the elements had taken their toll on our resolve. We ate at a duck restaurant and received directions to a love hotel. Our room was cold, all of our belongings were damp, even the clothes in our panniers. We eventually made the agonizing decision to put our adventure on hold and planned to return to finish the journey on another weekend.

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