Monday, August 19, 2013

Snake Alley

A few of us decided to try the Huaxi Street Night Market by Longshan Temple. It is important to note that Longshan temple is a pretty popular tourist attraction. However, most folks here advise against exploring the area at night by yourself.  
We managed to find traditional clothing at the market (ignoring the shorts)

 But it seemed to specialize in seafood...

...and snakes. The market is also known as "snake alley", for good reason.

We decided to give the snake a try and ordered their soup.If you look closely, you can see chunks of the snake meat below.

As big as those chunks look, snake is extremely bony and there really isn't much meat on it. The texture of the meat was very similar to fish. We then decided to share shots of venom, blood, and snake gallbladder.

 Though the venom did have us a little concerned...

On my way home, I walked through NTU's campus and came across a flower blooming at night. Normally, that's not note-worthy, but this flower had several photographers set up around it so I decided to grab a photo and pass it on. Does anyone know what it is?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Bike trip - Day 5

This is really the final day of our trip. The leftovers of a typhoon were blowing towards Taiwan and we decided to bag our plans to hit the southern tip of the country - even though we were just 30 miles away. It was a bitter-sweet decision but we found riding in a heavy rain is no fun.

This is the beach at our last hotel.

Notice the clouds in the background.

This is as far south as we got...well, not really. I rode about a quarter mile further to the 7-11 the night before

We rode to Fangliao to catch the train (Fanshan was too small to take bikes).

We rode the rails to Gongshan with a bunch of Taiwanese conscripts. This was a fortuitous event because conscription has been in the news lately (a conscript with a masters degree was worked to death and the subsequent military coverup has caused numerous protests throughout the country) and is on its way out. It was also a reminder of the nation's troubled history with its neighbors.
We stopped off at Gongshan and purchased tickets to Taipei. The bikes had to be shipped separately, so we stripped them of all our necessary stuff.

 Here we are posing with the lady who helped us navigate the booking system.
We had a few hours to kill before we left, so we walked around the city. We ended up in a market filled with mushroom and peanut vendors.

We ate duck for lunch.

And then relaxed for a very long 5 hours on the train. The only thing I attempted to photograph during this time was this large Buda statue.

And we arrived at Taipei's main station. Sergio and I didn't say much to each other other than adios before we both headed off to our respective apartments and passed out.

Bike trip - Day 4

It had rained all night and our clothes had not quite dried after being washed the day before, so we put some of our stuff away wet. Our goal was to leave Changbin and make it to Taidong so we could catch a train to the west coast.

Before we hit the trail, we rode into town for breakfast. The kids in town were fascinated by us westerners. Sergio is showing them pictures of Taipei on his camera
It may be  hard to see but those are our bikes in the background. It turns out our innkeeper also runs the local butcher shop. We parked our bikes, unlocked, under her awning. Even though I did not take pictures, the breakfast was amazing and cheap.

Traffic was fairly light and we did not have to climb much, so the day went by relatively smoothly.

 However, we were surrounded by rain clouds.
 Just a quick aside - there were so many amazing flowers roadside - unfortunately, I was lost in the moment and only captured these pictures.

We stopped off at a popular rock formation to rest and refill our water. Unfortunately, they did not have free water so we just grabbed a bottle each.

We passed cemetery after cemetery on this ride.

 I finally stopped to take a few pictures of some of the rice fields. Most of the farming I saw was very labor intensive and done on fairly small plots. I didn't capture any pictures but most of the fruit is wrapped in plastic until it is ready to be picked. I don't think I saw any evidence of industrial farming until I was on the West coast.

It started raining in the afternoon so we took shelter under a few trees. While there I decided to take a picture of the second or third set of cattle I saw on Taiwan. 
Here we are sheltered from the rain.

We then rode on another mile or so before it really started pouring. This time we took shelter in one of the small road side temples. 

There was a jewelry shop across the street. I left 100NT with the shopkeeper for the temple's maintenance. 

We spent about an hour at the temple until the weather cleared. We then rode on and made one final stop at a nice little beach outside of Taidong.

...where we ran into this little guy. It was not very happy to see us

It is not a huge city but it was much larger than everything we had been in since leaving Taipei. That being said, there was lots of agriculture all over the city.

We then reached the train station and decided to push our luck and get to look for a place to stay on the west coast. So, after a little bit of confusion, we managed to get a train to Fangshan. Here is an aboriginal art piece that greets you as you walk to the platforms.

 We decided to take the train from Taidong instead of riding because support services for bicyclists thin out in southern Taiwan. Once you pass Taidong, Police stations are further apart and water is tougher to come by.
Our train car turned out to be a coldwar era relic. We did not have AC and 2 of the four fans were not working (they were original to the rail car). This turned out to be a real problem as we passed through the tunnels because the car filled up with diesel exhaust from the train.

 Despite all this we finally arrived in Fangshan...although it turns out the station was closed for the night...and it was raining and pitch black out.
 We carried our bikes up and down a few stairs until we got out of the station...which is at the top of a steep, and unlit road. We gingerly rode down until we hit the main road and asked for directions to the nearest hotel at a little road side quiche-place. The attendant there pulled out his iPhone, showed us exactly where the hotel was and then gave us each a free quiche despite our protests. We thanked him profusely and then rode a few miles down the road in the rain until we hit our hotel. Our dinner was from 7-11 that night, but we didn't care. We were just happy to have a warm place to lay our heads.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Bike trip - Day 3

Today had us ride about 60 miles from Hualian to Changbin. The general route can be seen below
We were expecting it to be relatively flat...unfortunately we were severely mistaken. There were several climbs along the way with the biggest being about 200 meters. I don't think either of us were ready for that. It probably wouldn't have been so bad but our legs had taken one heck of a beating in the previous couple days. That being said, we were able to take in some amazing scenery.

We traveled for about 3 miles through the tunnel below. It was relatively well lit and we had a separate bike lane the entire way. We also noticed that traffic was getting relatively sparse the further south we traveled.

This was actually the first of any livestock that I saw along the road. We knew we were entering a different world because most land in Northern Taiwan is way too expensive to use for livestock.

As we traveled further south, we found plenty of wonderful beaches. However, they were primarily empty. The train does not follow the coast at this point, so very few people come out here. That was perfect for us.

We found many temples along the way.

We ate lunch in the small village of Fengbin. At this point we were both extremely tired and a little dehydrated. However, we stopped at a little restaurant and ordered lunch. They did not speak any English, and the menu was full of seafood-type characters (of which we were unfamiliar) so our lunch was a little bit of a crap-shoot. It actually turned out fairly well.

 We stopped again at a police station to refill our water. I thought I'd include a picture of one in case other cyclists are curious as to what they need to look for.
After lunch the road flattened out a bit (still lots of rolling hills) and we picked up speed.

As beautiful as everything was we got used to the ocean on the left and mountains on the right. Because of this, I am afraid I did not capture all the amazing sites I should have. Sorry, but here is one of the many waterfalls we passed along the way. 

We hit the Tropic of Cancer a little later in the day. I'm not sure if you can tell, but I am actually leaning against the stone for support...

Here is the actual marker. It is divided in 2, so it straddles the line.

Here is one of the many Christian churches we passed.

It began to get dark and drizzle as we closed in on Changbin. We stopped off at the Baxian caves and asked the lady at the information desk if she knew of a place to stay. Luckily, she was friends with an innkeeper and called ahead to book us an extremely cheap room. When we arrived, the innkeeper was ready for us, washed our clothes AND gave us bananas from her farm so we wouldn't cramp up during the ride. If you are looking for a place to stay, I have included her card.

 Here are our bananas.
We rode in to town and grabbed dinner after that. I honestly cannot remember what we ate because we were so tired. I believe we slept something like 11 hours after that.