Taiwan 2009: pt 1

The Prelude: Leaving Las Vegas….the hard way

This past Interbike experience now ranks as my worst. Never have I been more under the gun to cover the show and get business done. Thursday night I was just barely staying ahead of the cresting wave….working hard on last-minute tasks for the mobile social. And then somebody suggested that I take drink some Jack Daniels straight from the bottle. After that, the night crashed…there wasn’t even a spiral, the plane just dove straight into the ground. Total blackout. Horrible.

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Day One: Getting to Taiwan

If I drink a lot the night before, I cannot sleep in. While this is normally something of a curse, this trait totally saved my ass this time. I woke up at 6am and switched into full panic mode to find my bike and pack it along with everything else in the hotel room so I could fly to LAX for the beginning of the Taiwan Cycling & Cultural Tour, sponsored by China Airlines.

Surprises were waiting for me at the Vegas airport, for when I had rebooked my Interbike flights over the phone, Expedia had somehow put me on a 9:35 PM to LAX, rather than AM. I nearly threw up (again!) when the American Airlines ticket agent explained the problem, but somehow she tapped a couple buttons and got me on a 9:20AM to LAX as a standby. I got to the gate with just enough time to buy some water from a shop at the terminal. As my trembling hand dropped the bills into the palm of a surprisingly cute cashier, I described my Vegas experience in three simple words: “Worst. Trip. Ever.” She giggled; I dragged my ass onto an airplane.

The flight was only 47 minutes in the air, just long enough to throw up twice in the restroom. Horrible.

On the ground in LAX, the first person I asked for directions, an airport police officer, was remarkably well spoken, friendly, and helpful in explaining how to get to get from my arrival terminal to the international terminal. The experience would prove to be misleading, as every airport worker after than managed to get it wrong, including the shuttle bus driver. Despite all odds, I somehow found the China Airlines check-in counter, where Aberdeen Tours and China Airlines representatives were waiting for me. And so far since, the trip has gotten better and better. Myself and five other bloggers from the US gathered in the China Airlines lounge to get acquainted and get ready for our Taiwan adventure. But it was still a 14-15hr flight to Taipei.

Even though we flew coach, the movie selection on the individual entertainment centers was more than adequate. Honestly, the seats were a bit tight for you normal-sized Americans, but sometimes being 5’3” is an advantage. The China Airlines 747-400 was otherwise new and clean, the food more than adequate, and the flight attendants were competent, friendly, and professional. I don’t think I’ve ever flown China Airlines (based out of Taiwan) before, but I’d definitely would do it again. Hopefully we can sweet talk our way into business class for the trip home.

Arriving into Taipei, our tour guide met us on the other side of immigration. Like most Taiwanese who work frequently with Westerners, our guide has a Chinese name and an English name. It pains me that I have no talent for tonal languages like Mandarin; my half-Taiwanese girlfriend forbids me from attempting to address her with Chinese name. We always called our guide by his English name, Allen, and that’s how I’ll have to refer to him in this blog. Allen guided us to our tour bus for a 30 min ride to ride to the Howard Plaza Hotel in Taipei. It was already night in the capitol city, and after our long flight, we just had time to get some dumplings before crashing for the night.

Day Two: We get to ride bikes

Climbed back into the bus for the 3hr drive from Taipei to Shuishe Village on the NE corner of Sun Moon Lake, so named because the two lobes of the lake resemble a round sun and crescent moon. Nestled high in rift valley, Sun Moon Lake is the largest fresh water body in Taiwan. During the Japanese occupation in the first half of the 20th century, the Japanese built a hydroelectric dam and diverted water flow from streams into Sun Moon Lake. Today, the area is a popular tourist attraction for Taiwanese and foreign tourists (particularly Japanese), as well as the home of the Thao, the smallest of the 14 recognized indigenous tribes.

After checking into the Hotel del Lago, we collected bikes from the Giant Bicycle-owned rental/retail store at the Shuishe Visitor Center. The store opened earlier this year. I’m so impressed by how much the Taiwanese are pushing cycling, this store being one of the more visible signs. The Giant store had a variety of bicycles for rent, front simple folding bikes up to DA7900 equipped TCR road bikes and Anthem carbon full-suspension.

After lunch a group of us decided to go for the entire loop around Sun Moon Lake, being told that the climbs on the far side of the lake were “very challenging”. The roads were damp as it had been raining all day, but the scenery was fantastic around the lake. Most of the roads are tree-lined on both sides, occasionally broken up with exquisite views of the lake. There are two temples, one Taoist and one Buddhist, that are right on the road as well.

As an evaluation of the road, if I could build a vacation around just staying at hotel right on the lake, and doing loops of the lake. Eat, sleep, ride, repeat. Clean air, scenic views, peaceful mountains. The roads offered ample climbing, with several of the switchbacked ascents making for a vigorous workout. I think the route is about 30km of varied terrain. Some of the descents were fairly technical too.

We finished up in darkness and after a decadent shower, we met up for dinner at the Hotel Lago restaurant. The food was good, especially the Kung Pao chicken, but there was one utterly bizarre dish. “Fried shrimp balls in pineapple” sounded good on paper, but what arrived was lightly battered shrimp, deep-fried. A good start, for sure, but then they covered it in what tasted like vanilla frosting. And then to finish they added…I’m not fucking kidding….candy sprinkles. Just too weird. Later on we would have similar dishes with mayonnaise instead of frosting-like substances, and those items were actually pretty decent, so I’m confused by the incident. In case you were wondering, the other restaurants didn’t use candy sprinkles.

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