Tuesday, October 8, 2013

1500 km

I took 12 days off of work to go to Taiwan. After very little research I booked the trip, bought tickets, and applied for my passport. As the trip got closer I got more apprehensive - I can't speak a word of Chinese, I've never traveled on my own, I don't know the other people on the tour, I can't leave work for so long... let's just get it over with.

Milpitas, walk, bus, train, plane, bus, walk, Zhongli. Somewhere in that vague travel plan I left everything familiar behind.

All the bad photos were taken by me, with an iPhone.

All the good ones are taken by another guest on the tour, with a Nikon DSLR.

Waiting at SFO to board the Boeing 777
I arrived at the Kuva Chateau Hotel, the nicest in Zhongli (Jhongli/Jungli/Chungli, pinyin seems to be pretty *meh* close enough). I met the other people on the tour - apparently I'll like anyone else willing to go on the same adventures I am, the six other tour guests were all great people. One less thing to worry about!

View of Chungli from the 11th floor of Kuva
We bummed around a few hours waiting for the 5 PM tour start - our host, M13, sent a van to pick us up at the hotel and drive us to the motorcycle shop, where we rented our scooters.

Outside the motorcycle shop.
M moved to Taiwan from Canada 16 years ago. I won't say much about him since he'd like to remain fairly anonymous on the internet, but here's his youtube page (all my photos of him will be edited). We met him for the first time at the scooter shop. He's weird.

This was the first scooter I rode, a Yamaha Cygnus 150
After signing "you might be injured or die, don't sue" waivers, we got on our scooters (some of us for the first time) and bombed off into the night traffic, trying to keep up with M. We got gas, dinner, and headed back to the hotel.

The second day we toured around Chungli looking at temples and getting used to the scooters. We visited a racetrack (just watched) and someone's half-finished castle. We rode through a few (comparatively unimpressive) mountains to a street market, which was interesting.

This is us! The coolest scooter gang I saw.
Some temple in Chungli.
They were welding this together from several big sheets of metal.

This was at the race track. Renault, mid engine, 4 cylinder.
A fortune teller told this guy he could be king if he built a castle, so he did. He also ran out of money.
Street market.

Suspension bridge we didn't go across. I was impressed by these mountains at the time.

Riding a scooter in Taiwan isn't as bad as you might think. They're the dominant vehicle, and all cars and trucks are aware of them and use turn signals. You pass on the right shoulder and ride to the front of traffic lights to a scooter box. You generally don't look to your right or left, just signal and move over slowly. With that said - we didn't go slowly. All the scooters were modified with exhaust systems, fancy suspension, and Brembo brakes. Not fast compared to a motorcycle, but faster than all the other scooters and pretty loud. We certainly had a presence.

We visited an aboriginal festival. People in Taiwan love foreigners, we were dragged into lots of photographs.

The next day we woke at 5 AM to start our lap of the island. This was the longest riding day, most of the west coast of Taiwan.

400 years old.
I got to ride this a few hours. CPI is a Taiwanese brand. It was fun!
We finally arrived in Kaohsiung after 14 hours. I was tired and dirty. We only had the night in Kaohsiung, we saw the giant rubber duck, had dinner, and left the next morning.

In Kaohsiung
I'm happier than I look
View from Kaohsiung hotel the morning we left
The ride on this day was pretty short, we rode to Kending, which is a resort town and bit of a tourist trap. It was a Chinese holiday, so there were lots of people from the mainland visiting. We spent two nights in Kending, hiking and touring the amazing coast line. It rained the first night we were there, while we were hiking in a forest.

One of many gas stops.
Stopped on the coast for a while.
This town was walled for defense.
Hotel in Kending. It was a reproduction of traditional housing, but still pretty cool.

This cat was actually very friendly, he just didn't like M's dog.
Of course I climbed it! Now how do I get down...
By this time there were only 5 guests on the tour. Two dropped out for various reasons.

Us! Clockwise from top left, Danil (Russia), Me (USA), Doug (Quebec), Pasi (Finland), Stephan (Trinidad)
Don't tell me what I can and can not climb!
We left Kending and headed up the east coast. This side of Taiwan is much less populated and has amazing scenery. I switched scooters with another tour guest since his wasn't very comfortable. The Yamaha SMax 150 is FAST (for a scooter). It was faster than the 180cc and even had a "R" button that lit up and strobed when you opened the throttle (not sure if it did anything other than that). The Brembo brakes were amazing, it could stop on a dime with one finger. I rode this the rest of the trip, comfort be damned.

The SMax!
We ate at 7/11 a lot. They're every few blocks in Taiwan, and always have fresh food for cheap.

7/11 stop. BaoBao ate sausages (sassages?) the entire trip.
After a mountain pass I checked my rear tire - down to the cords! Must be all that SMax power... and also why it handled so poorly. We found a scooter shop and had both front and rear tires replaced. That's M's dog, BaoBao. 15 years old, but she rode with him the entire trip.


I would've had much more trouble replacing those tires myself.
Even after talking about scrubbing in new tires gently before doing anything stupid, I promptly slid the rear end out the moment we pulled away from the shop. Yes I'm an idiot, but didn't crash.

Not so good in the mud.

The next morning we headed up the east coast, passing over the tropic of cancer. We stopped in Hualian for the night. Not much to do in this city, though they did have a night market.

Tropic of Cancer

Hotel dog. Not so friendly.
Awake early again, and after a few hours up the coast we started inland, through and up the mountains. I was blown away by the scenery, which just got better and better. We went on the highest road in Taiwan, about 3,000 meters/10,000 feet elevation. All the scooters were fuel injected, but with the thin air we were crawling along at 25 km/h. I've never seen mountains so incredible.

The road was blasted through the mountains
Some people shouldn't take selfies

Waiting for roadwork. Exhausted, as usual.

We reached the peak. Breathtaking, indescribable, and impossible to photograph.
Actually Danil photographed it pretty well.

Probably my best photo from the trip. Climbed up a peak to get it, difficult to breath!

We rode back down the other side of the mountain (getting a little carried away on the twisty road) to our hotel in a mountain town, where we stayed for two days. We ate a lot, went to a horse show, and explored an incomplete and abandoned hotel across from ours.

Our hotel - modeled after English architecture?
Lobby dog.
I think it says it's the highest 7/11.

We woke up at 3:30 AM to ride back up the summit and see the sunrise. It was freezing, but worth it. Some of the local young people had the same idea, they played a game called "push someone on the ground and pretend to beat them up." They seemed to enjoy it.

Breathtaking, it can't be captured.

We headed out of the mountains. There was a typhoon coming in on the west coast, which we were riding back to. We were flying along the roads. The SMax scraped its center stand before using all the tire.

One last unexpected sight in the mountains
Sun Moon Lake. Amazing road.
Almost back to Chungli

We rode right to the scooter shop to return the scooters. It was a relief - 10 days, 1500 km, no crashes!
They take their scooters very seriously. This one had $25,000 of modifications.
We had one day left after completing the lap and returning the scooters. We took the HSR to visit Taipei, where M's friend Donny showed us around. We saw Taipei 101 and some other stuff.

Taipei 101 - we went up it.
Taipei 101 mall

Our last dinner together. Donny on the left, and Doug managed to not be in a lot of our group photos.

Before this trip, I thought I'd look forward to coming back home to the familiar. I didn't. I dreaded it! I checked out of the hotel and arrived back at home 24 hours later. I keep feeling joy for the amazing experience and sadness that it's over. Everything at home feels pointless, and compared to riding a scooter 1500 km over Taiwan, it IS pointless!

But I have hope - I can do whatever I want, and I want to do something else. There are so many other things to love!

Don't look so sad BaoBao... I have to come back!

1500 km! This scooter hit its top speed of 100 km/h at 10,000 RPM.

1 comment:

  1. M13? Anonymous on the Internet? Are you kidding me??