Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Biking the East Coast and Green Island

Yushan above the clouds from the ferry to Green Island

This week I spent four lovely days on the east coast with my friend Andrew Bott and the travel writer Joshua Samuel Brown, who co-authored the current Lonely Planet guide to Taiwan, which is why I haven't been posting here. Saturday we left Hualien and rolled down the coast to Chenggong. Sunday morning we split, Joshua heading over 23 to the Rift Valley, while we went another 60 kms to Fugang and got on the ferry to Green Island. Monday we returned on the ferry and then took the train from Taitung to Rueisuei. The next morning, Tuesday, we rolled back on 193 to Hualien and took the 1 pm express back to Fengyuan in Taichung. Click on read more for pics and narrative....

Joshua traveled with us on Saturday. Here he picks up his bike at the Giant shop by the train station in Hualien on Friday night.

Joshua captures the Peking Duck seller.

Saturday morning: breakfast with Jesus, disguised as a French tourist.

Of course, had to stop to have my traditional Hualien biking breakfast. Not only is this place on Chungshan Road on the way out of town, its food is delicious, and the leftovers can be carried for a snack when you're hungry later in the ride.

Heading out to overcast, which hung with us most of the day.

Battling trucks is a common experience on major east coast routes.

Riding past the extravagant Farglory amusement park just south of Hualien.

A moment of breathtaking kitsch.

Posing for me at the overlook on Niu Shan.

Even though the sun didn't come out, it was still some excellent riding on the open roads of the east coast.

Closing in on Shitiping, I stopped for a photo.

Andrew above Shitiping port, caught during the few minutes the sun came out.

Here at Shitiping is where the really lovely part of the coast begins.

We took a long break here, filling the camera with pictures.

A close up of nets and equipment.

After that, we stopped at the memorial for all the people who have died of Tropic Cancer. Yes, the highway department has finally gotten rid of the Tropic of Cnacer sign. No, they still don't have it right....

As we headed toward Chenggong, the skies finally started to brighten.

This little village nestled against these giant peaks always yields good shots.

Totally lovely.

It was hard to decide which of the many pics of this area I should post.

Here's another one.

Lots of people out taking photos. Here a couple across from Josh is searching for the right background as he climbs the hill.

Wonder what stories these objects could tell....

We overnighted at a very nice B and B in Chenggong. Until I overnighted there and woke up to them, I hadn't realized how gorgeous the wall of mountains behind Chenggong is. After 120 kms the day before, we were looking forward to the easy 60 km ride to Fugang and the ferry to Orchid Island at 1:30.

We waited out a dawn rain at this shop at the south end of town.

After the early morning rain, the bike gods drew the clouds away and rewarded us with a perfect day.

If you look carefully you can see Andrew crossing the bridge into Donghe.

At Donghe, where everyone eats the fabulous steamed buns, the road is actually quite dangerous with locals crossing the road heedless of the traffic and the traffic barreling through heedless of the locals. Tour buses disgorge hordes of tourists who become pedestrians and then road kill. Be careful here!

One of the pleasures of cycling is meeting other cyclists. This man turned out to be the chief of the Taitung county post office. We rode together for a few minutes talking about his job and how lucky he was to live in Taitung.

Andrew rolls into a rest break.

We entered Taitung city, where a park gives excellent views of the coast over statues that look like escapees from a Tim Burton animation, and made a beeline for Fugang, looking forward to that ferry ride to Orchid Island, which Andrew had confirmed that morning by phone to be at 1:30.

When we arrived at the cashier to buy our tickets for Orchid Island, it was "What 1:30 ferry to Orchid Island? There is no ferry to Orchid Island today! However (what a coincidence) there is a 1:30 ferry to Green Island." So we took that, figuring that would be fun too. Here Andrew gets on the ferry.

Leaving Taiwan behind, bikes secured to the ferry. ProTip: If you have bikes and it is a nice day like this, just get on with the bike and stand in the back, the ferry crew doesn't care if you stand on the stern if the day is calm and clear like this one. You can give the crewman there the $100 for the bike ferry, and also give him your ticket, thus avoiding the long lines and crowds. And standing on the back you can watch the flying fish and the dolphins, and reduce your chance of seasickness with clean salt air and lovely views.

At the ferry port on Green Island it was a madhouse.

Andrew takes off to find a place to stay.

The main drag.

We stayed at this place, where Andrew is sunning himself in the drive. $1600 for a big room with two beds and plenty of hot water.

Not everybody was happy to have us in the neighborhood.

After Andrew napped and I went to town to find computers (there is no internet cafe, but the public library behind the post office has two public computers), we rolled over to the coast to watch the sunset. I captured this happy fellow after he had tied his goat to a stick against the wall.

Andrew found this excellent road that ran along the west side of the airport through the cemetary -- conveniently located next to the airport for those grisly overshoots -- so we had a perfect spot to catch the sunset.

Looking back towards the airport and town.


The perfect ending to a perfect day: sunset behind Yushan, Taiwan's tallest peak.

The next day we decided to do the 20 km loop around the island. Since some nameless idiot left his extra batteries and charger in the other plastic bag in his office at the university, he was forced to use his crappy cellphone cam. Please forgive him.

Andrew rode hard today.

The west side of the island is flat, but the east side has an actual climb, with a couple of nasty grades. But as you can see, the views are quite rewarding.

The remainder of the tale is quickly told. We visited the island's prisons, returned to the hotel, gathered u our stuff, and crossed on the 12:30 ferry back to Fugang. Another gorgeous day, with flying fish shooting through the air, their schools spooked by the prow of the ferry speeding back to Taiwan. From Taitung we took the train to Rueisuei, where we spent the night. The next morning, the dawn of a cool, overcast day, we cruised the 193 back to Hualien city, and picked up the 1:02 express back to Fengyuan. It turns out that 193 is much easier and faster done from the south -- I had underestimated the extent to which it is one long uphill slog from Hualien. It's a lovely road, one of the best on the island, never trafficked, and the views over the rift valley are incredible. Highly recommended.

The train proved to be another encounter with the TRA's bike train crapshoot. We bought the tix for the 1:00 pm express in Taitung the day before. There we were informed there were no bike places for our bikes and we would have to bag them --- even though it was a designated bike train with the special car for bike storage without needing to disassemble them and on which bikes could travel for free with a ticket for car 12. The spaces for the bikes were all taken, we were told.

The reality was that, as usual, the TRA staffer was wrong about the policy. In fact, we were able to pay the baggage fee and bring the bikes on the same train as luggage in the same compartment as the free bikes with the bike tickets. In fact, there were no such bikes, for the entire trip ours were the only bikes on the train -- meaning we could have had one of the four free bike spaces. The computer system associates the bikes with a seat in car 12, the car with the luggage facility, meaning that if the seats in car 12 are sold out, then there are no free bike spaces (that's right, bikes do not have priority in that arrangement -- it is impossible to get a free bike shipment if you have to sit in another car, as we did). Someone needs to give the brains of TRA planners are thorough scrubbing. There was absolutely no reason we couldn't have been treated as a free bike shipment and no reason not to reserve seats for cyclists in car 12, since it is a designated bike train. Argh!

But it was a fantastic trip, 330 kms of sublime east coast roads in four days. Hope to see you on the next one!
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


MJ Klein said...

nice photos! i really like Green Island. makes me want to go back there. thanks for the great report.

Domenic said...

Lovely Lovely Lovely. East Coast. Is there a happier place? There's some we've yet to explore! Let's discuss.

Andrew said...

What a great trip; didn't realize it was so easy to take a bike out to the islands.

I had trouble with TRA that weekend too, so rather than take a train trip, ended up riding in the Badlands north of KHH instead; great riding if you haven't been there already.

Gloria Tsai said...

Hi! Your blog looks great! My name is Gloria Tsai and I am the English editor of Eatgo. Eatgo is a free website that allows everyone to share information about traveling in Taiwan, it is a particularly good website for backpackers and bloggers. Would you mind allowing us to share some of your blogs on our website (with your name and reference to your blog, of course)? My e-mail is ~~ THanks.