Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Spring Ride in Taiwan Day 2 - Jiaoxi to Juifen & back 40km

As Jiufen is a mountain town, the roads that lead there are mostly steep, curving, narrow, and possibly dangerous. Wiki  

Umm, too much soaking in Hot Springs?

Today was to be an optional ride especially for those who needed a good rest after yesterday's gruelling 110km start. It was one heck of an adventure and some of us were still recovering and still aching. The plan was to catch a train to Fulong, then cycle north along the beautiful East Coast and make the steep climb to Juifen, one of the must do's in Taipei. Then for those with a bit more stamina, head for the ridgeline before cycling/training back to Jiaoxi.

Only trouble was that yesterday's storm continued on, though it was more a light drizzle in the morning. I wondered how many would show up as yesterday's ride really was tough and many were well and truly buggered. Hence, it was a nice surprise to see a full house at breakfast. The night's sleep had done its job magically, judging from all the bright smiles and high spirits! The More Love Hotel put up a great spread and we gobbled our way happily through each course of superb Taiwanese porridge.

After riding through the storm, our bikes really took a bashing. Chains were getting rusty, squeaks started from nowhere, brakes needed adjustments etc. We all checked our bikes making sure all bolts were tighten, tires pumped, rims cleaned and chain lubed. With our raincoats on, all 16 of us cycled to Jiaoxi Train station just 5 mins away. Due to restrictions, some of us had to fold up our bikes and bagged them. I was so touched by the generous spirit of Siew Ling and so many who volunteered to do so. Folding for commuting is where our Bike Fridays did not excel compared to the KHS and Dahons.

The 35km train ride to Fulong took about half an hour. We had lots of fun just chatting and laughing away, much to the amusement of the other passengers. Upon arrival, it was assembly time and the versatility of traveling with foldies really is a big plus in touring.

A quick check into 7-11 was necessary to load up on supplies and it was here that I discovered a new favourite snack - Taiwanese Tea Eggs (hard boiled). Absolutely delicious boiled in all sorts of spices such as anise, cinnamon, fennel, Szechuan peppercorns and soy sauce of course.

Ying Chang was getting a little annoyed, just a little, as we took more time than usual eating and shopping for goodies. The tone of his fatherly voice got all of us scurrying to our bikes and we were soon gliding down the beautiful bike paths of Fulong. Our wheels were spinning smoothly on wet roads, splashing away at times, making for a very pleasant experience and I was very glad I had my mudguards on. Somehow, all of us were just filled with joy and the magnificent coastal scenery before us just lifted us to the heavens, despite the light rains.

We passed by the rocky and rugged coastline with big grins and it was special to see the waves coming up and splashing everything clean. A toilet stop in a small fishing village was in order and it was fascinating to see the fish farms. The overcast weather did not dampen our bright spirits as we waited for everyone to arrive. Though the rain started to get heavier, we pressed on another 10km before the left turn off to Juifen. This part of the route saw us traverse through some tunnels and that was a little scary especially for first timers.

While waiting for the others at the turn off, we took this opportunity to rest and refuel. Oreo kindly braved the rain and acted as marker. His spirit typified the strong camaraderie we enjoyed and I was very grateful. I scooted off with a small team of eager beavers once the main team gathered and our first target was the amazing Golden Waterfalls, just 2-3km away. But the steep climbs saw many pushing their bikes in the rain uphill, but tough as it may be, bright smiles were aplenty.

There were hordes of tourists there despite the rains and for good reason, it was beautiful. We hung around there longer than we wanted and managed to actually take a picture without tourists.

The 8km climb up Jiufen was tough and demanding. This was where the team was really stretched out and it got us who were in front really worried. Turned out that the more adventurous side tracked to see a beautiful Pavilion with a view half way up. Really admire their spirit and energy. So nice to be young! Here is Esther, alway the fashionable one, seen "blending" with the background!

We were soon getting really hungry as it was cold, wet and getting really smashed from lots of climbing. Finding an eatery up in the mountains was futile and we had no choice but to press on to the touristy centre of Juifen. What made it worse was the long wait for the others and after what felt like eternity, our group decided to wait for them in Juifen itself. 

A bit of fascinating history here... Juifen as the name implies, meant 9 portions. History has it that 9 families originally settled there and ordered 9 portions of shopping. In 1893, gold was discovered there and development came under the Japanese rule. It was intriguing to know that British POWs from Singapore during the war were put to work in the mines. They were housed in the Kinkaseki camp. After the war, gold mining declined and all the mines were shut down in 1971. Juifen was once again forgotten until a movie A City of Sadness was made in 1989 about the infamous 228 incident. This led to hordes of tourists flocking to Juifen and now, it is a bustling attraction with Jishan Street literally littered with all sorts of quaint shops and eateries. 

Pic fm Weibo

We wasted no time to wolf down the well known beef noodles, located at the first right hand corner of the entrance. This tasted exceptionally good and I supposed it has everything to do with our famished condition. Served in hot beefy broth and al dente noodles, with succulent pieces of stewed beef, we were in heaven.

Pic fm

We were certainly spoiled for choice when it comes to food here and we finished off our meal with an amazing Taiwanese bean dessert. What makes Taiwan really amazing is the value pricing for food where a complete meal can be enjoyed for US$3 only.

When the troops finally arrived, we broke into 3 teams. The first one was Ying Chang and Oreo, who decided that the riding was too easy, and went on up the ridge line. None of us followed. Amazingly after that, they rode 40km all the way back to Jiaoxi in the rain! Hats off to these 2. The rest of us preferred to just enjoy Jiufen and stay out of the rain, shopping and eating all sorts of goodies. One went off earlier and my team later, to the train station at Ruifang.

It was no point waiting for the rain to stop and it was fun descending the steep curves down to catch the train. Downhills are the reward for the hard climbs and we savored every second. Our foldies were required to be bagged and trust Mike Khor, who rode on his full sized Surly, for a first class camouflage job with 2 plastic bags. Presto, his Surly became a Dahon! Well, sort off...

To my horror, I discovered that I had no black plastic bag to cover my BF for the train ride back to Jiaoxi. Quick thinking by the Prof saw my yellow raincoat becoming a bike bag. Necessity truly is the mother of all inventions!

We all got back safely to Jiaoxi and after a quick shower, proceeded to a very special baked chicken restaurant some 3km away from our hotel. They use traditional clay jars to cook the chooks and the result spoke for themselves. Juicy, soft chicken meat with crispy skin! 

Special thanks must be given to Papa Mike for bringing along his surgical gloves and demonstrating the proper way to pull apart a chicken. His medical training and skill earned him the coverted "Chicken Doctor" award, best not to translate literally to Chinese.

After dinner, we had fun just soaking our tired feet into the hot spring canals near our hotel. Jiaoxi is truly a beautiful place where natural spas abound everywhere. It was truly a very special day and though we were all exhausted physically, our spirits remained high and excited at what is to come tomorrow. Touring with such a fun bunch of folks is simply priceless!

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