Some days ago I posted I had an accident while riding bicycle around Taiwan. Just that small part of the adventure took me a whole post so let’s see how it goes trying to summarize the whole trip.
During this winterbreak I decided to stay in Taiwan to be able to save up money for my tickets for the summer
(it did not actually work, damn it). Luckily, one of my best friends and 學妹 was also staying in Taiwan so we decided to plan something together. I came up with different “budget” ideas, such as being couch potatos for two weeks, going to an island in Taiwan, or even traveling to Okinawa and backpack around there for a week, which she thought were cool, but then I decided to share with her one of my crazy ideas. I had already shared with others this plan and always received an answer such as “You are crazy”, “Sounds cool but… no”, “Good luck with that”. So here I went:
“What about cycling around Taiwan? Like, around the whole island.” Oh my God, she will think I am crazy and run away…
“OMG. WHEN? YES!!!!!“, and that my friend is how I got my adventure buddy for the next crazy adventure.
When you think about cycling around Taiwan, you think of fit persons… so, we needed training. Training that did not happen. When you think about cycling around Taiwan, you think of meeting and planning thoroughly every detail. Meetings did happen but the planning was lost among eating pizza, going to tattoo parlors, watching movies, and so on. But somehow a couple of days before the scheduled date we had our bikes reserved, all the gear bought, 30 granola bars each, and our route sort of traced plus tons of CouchSurfing requests sent and friends’ houses along the route. Not bad for last minute planning, right?
The night before the date of parting we went to pick our bikes (before that we almost set fire to my house while making a tomato soup, but that is another story). We did not count with the massive rain though, by the time we were back in my apartment we were soaking wet. Nata (Guatemala) was using the clothes she was going to use for the first day of cycling and our backpacks were dripping water… We had eight hours to wash and dry our things for the adventure of next day. So, there we went at 11:00pm in the look for 24H Washing and Dryer Machines.
Of course, we had Google Maps and Nata gave a look to the location where the place with the machines was… the thing is “giving a look” is not understanding exactly where and none of us took her cellphone. So it was cold, still rainning, dark and we were both tired, but we spend approximately one hour roaming around the streets of Taipei until we found the small shop with the coin washer and dryer machines. It took approximately one hour for the things to dry up (we had already washed them at my place, at least)… Did I mention we were tired? Well, we ended up sleeping on a 0.5×1.0 meter table… Yes, both of us in one single table.
At least this proved a point: we could sleep A N Y W H E R E.
(…and that is good if you are planning on backpacking)
We were planning to leave at 6:00am and it was already 4:00am by the time we got back home. I slept an hour and woke up to have a champion’s breakfast. Eggs? No. Bacon? No. Peanut butter jelly sandwich? No. Tomato soup and spagghettti? YEEEES. Two hours later we were ready and since it was still raining we had to be witty and create our own waterproof technology gear.
Two hours later we were on our way…
Let’s remember that we were two unexperienced girls on the road, so it did not take long before our first near-death experience. Somehow, when trying to exit crowded Taipei we ended up on a highway. Yes, you read that: A HIGHWAY. Speeding loud cars passing a couple of centimeters right beside us, with no space for motorcycle or bicycles. I am not sure how long it was before we found the first exit but by that time I was already sweating ice cold and praying inside my head. Could have been just ten minutes but I felt it as a long eternity.
Once we were out of Taipei everything got better. We went on the wrong way a couple of times, climbed some pretty steep hills, had dumplings for lunch in a small restaurant close to Taoyuan (yes, where the airport is)… but then it started raining.
As we got closed to Hsinchu it started raining a lot. Poor Nata was all dirty with mud since she was riding behind me so all the dirt of my wheels was flying directly to her. It was getting colder but I would lie if I told you we were feeling cold, when you are pedalling for over half an hour nonstop it is impossible to get cold, but as soon as you stop you would freeze. Soon enough, we started seeing buildings and there we were, at our first stop.
Welcome to Hsinchu City.
We smelled like wet dogs. We were soaked in rain and sweat. We were tired and hungry. But we had a nice apartment waiting for us. Juan (Panama) had given Nata the keys to his apartment where a hot shower, a big bed and… two hosts were waiting for us! We entered and talked a bit about the adventure of the day with our hosts: Jovane (Panama) and Luigi (Nicaragua). Then I ran to the bathroom and discovered the nirvana in that hot shower. I could have stayed there all night under the hot water…
Our host Juan was not home but he left a whole arsenal of new toothbrushes, mini toothpastes, a list with food we could take from the refrigerator, the wifi password, and clean towels for us. He took seriously the role of being the greatest host, even if he was an absent host.
Dinner, of course, was nothing but a huge Costco pizza which we shared with Jovane. Plus one ice cream and two churros. (Hey! Come on, we needed extra carbs! Don’t judge)
Oh, and let’s not forget that we had no appropiate clothes for the windy weather in Hsinchu except for the one we used during the day which was dirty, sweaty and wet… So we were saved by fashion expertee Jovane and had some really nice outfits to go to Costco in, including shoes which dangled around since his feet are way bigger than mine.
Tough first day, really tough…
Next day we tried to wake up early but our hosts wouldn’t let us leave (we are that good guests) so we got on the road until 9:30am after a quick visit to the washer-dryer machines and a breakfast in delicious gourmet restaurant 7-11.
Our next destiny was Taichung which was 95km away… and we were supposed to be there before 7:00pm since we stayed with a host we found on CouchSurfing but she is currently in New Zealand so the ones receiving us were going to be her parents. The road of this day was specially full with steep slopes and my knee was starting to hurt. I kept on telling myself “mind over body” but it got to a point in which every time I saw a mountain coming I would rather just stay there and wait for… anything, but ride my bike up. Of course I could not do that so I found myself cursing under my breath and riding while Nata did small stops to let me catch up (have I told you before how amazing my adventure buddy is?)
We did a stop in Miaoli to have lunch, it was close to Chinese New Year so ALL restaurants were closed but we saw one Vietnamese restaurant in the road and we stopped to check it out. Our surprise was when we asked for our menu and they just started laughing and they said “There is no menu, we serve what you see here”, what we saw in the glass showcase looked like cold pork knobs, chicken legs, other unrecognizable meat, transparent noodles and next to it inside a boiling cauldron a weird soup… Nope. This was not the place to eat at. We slowly went back to our bikes and escaped.
A couple of kilometers later we saw another open restaurant where they sell 便當 which can be translated to “lunchbox” which normally is: white rice, meat of your choice and vegetables. Everyone there seem really happy to see us and after answering the common questions they served us soup, an extra piece of chicken (I told you, EXTRA CARBS IS THE KEY), chocolates and candies. We were back on our way but time was flying by and we were not even half way to our destiny.
Faster, skip some red lights, faster, faster… and it was 6:00pm and according to our guide Google maps we were 2 hours far away from our destiny when we took the decision: we had to ride a train. NOOOOOOOO… But yes, it had to happen. To our surprise what we would have made in two hours of mountain trails the train accomplished it in 15 minutes. Yes, three train stops later we were in Taichung train station in the search of the address we were given.
First of all I have to say Taichung, in my opinion, was the least bike friendly place of all. Or maybe I was already in a bad mood since it was COLD and my knee was seriously killing me. We arrived to our host’s place to find the most cheerful sweet lady I could have think of. We were going to stay on the third floor of her office which the family has exactly for that purpose: to receive guests of CouchSurfing. We had a comfy big bed, warm water, shower, washer machine, sandals, shampoo, toothpaste, everything ready for us. But before I could die in bed she asked us if we wanted to go have dinner with her and our tummies roared YEEEES!
We went to Taichung night market where she invited us to different night market snacks, we played darts, walked around, met one of her friends who is owner of one of the boutiques, and then she drove us (so weird to go around Taiwan in a car that is not a cab) to her home where we met her husband and their three dogs.
Did I metion already that my knee was KILLING me and that it was COLD? Well, there she gave me ointment and some special patches for my knee, and then she gifted Nata and me a coat and a pair of warm tights for each of us. Since she believed we were going to die otherwise. Yes, you read that: food, medicine and clothes. Plus, her husband made a really nice tea and had chopped fruits waiting for us. Kindness to its maximum exponent. Welcome to Taiwan.
We went back to our home for the night. Shower. Bed. Sleep… Next morning we had a trip to continue.
So I just found out our adventure has TOO much to put on a single entry. So I will divided in 3 or 4 parts. I hope you liked Chapter 1!
Special thanks to all our hosts and people we met on the way! They are the highlights of all this crazy trip.
Oh and that day I discovered why my knee was hurting. I wasn’t using the changes of velocity and gear properly in my bike, specially when going uphill. So I was technically killing myself. At least we made this discovery in day 2… further on I also discovered my seat was too low for my long ch0pstick legs. For real, riding a bike around an island is no recreational activity for amateurs (meaning, me)… still… IT WAS FUN.