Le Tour De Taiwan – Day 29

28 days later… and I’m getting close to the end of my bicycle trip around Taiwan. Fortunately I saved the best for last!

View From Hehuan Mountain Main Peak

Sunny View From Hehuanshan Main Peak

Fugang – Hualien

After an overdose of relaxation on Orchid Island, the ferryboat took me back to the picturesque little harbor of Fugang. The time I jumped on my bike, darkness was falling. But I didn’t mind getting a dusky ride. Around 11 PM and 100 km further north I pitched my tent on a campsite with the well–sounding name “Shihtiping” in the small town of Fengbing.

A perfect spot, if it wasn’t for the grumpy man brusquely waking me up the next morning around 6 AM. The angry gentleman turned out to be the owner, requesting me to pay 8ooTWD. An absurd amount for my ridiculously small one-person tent sadly placed in the grass (for comparison: a hostel dorm usually costs around 500 TWD). After a long and difficult negotiation involving my hands, feet and a site named “google translate” I paid 400 TWD and continued my journey. A campsite named “Shihtiping”? I should’ve known…

Fengbin Harbor Early in the Morning

Fengbin Harbor Early in the Morning

The remaining stretch from Fengbin to Hualien city was short. And as the nightly biking the previous day went well, I was all set for an easy day of relaxed cycling. On arrival in Hualien I realized that it was short, but definitely not as effortless as expected. To make my point:

Elevation profile Fengbin - Hualien City

View Along the Coastal Road to Hualien

View Along the Coastal Road to Hualien

Hualien – Taroko – Hehuanshan

Since I left on the bike, I had been thinking about climbing one of the many mountains in Taiwan. And after all, what would “Le Tour De Taiwan” be without a decent “queen stage”? Back in Taipei, Cecilia had shown me footage of her heroic climb of Mt. Hehuan (aka Hehuanshan aka “Joy Mountain”) during wintertime. Great inspiration! The climb is extra interesting because of its accessibility. The main peak can be climbed from Wuling (at 3,275 m the highest  pass in Taiwan). Moreover, the road to the climb from Hualien crosses the magnificent Taroko National Park.

The profile of the climb (more here – Taiwan Kom Challenge):

Elevation Profile Hualien - Hehuan Mountain

Elevation profile Hualien – Hehuanshan Mountain

I decided to pitch up my tent around Heliu in the Taroko gorge (altitude 400 m) Sunday late afternoon. The next morning I woke up at 5AM to tackle around 60 km of climbing towards the town of Guanyuan (altitude 2.374 m).

Taroko Gorge Valley View

Taroko Gorge Valley View

The climb was physically challenging with the MTB and the extra weight wasn’t helping to get up faster either. Luckily more than enough reasons to forget the physical strain: a beautiful sunrise, my very first encounter with (shy) Taiwanese monkeys and the majestic natural surroundings all along the way. Sometimes though, the road got dangerously close. Luckily warning signs were provided 🙂

Road close

Beware: Road Close

After a short night sleep in the Youth hostel in Guanyuan (there’s only one just in case you were wondering) I got started for the most beautiful part: the actual ascent towards Hehuanshan Mountain. Only 17 km between Guanyuan and the final climb but no doubt the hardest bit on the journey so far. Several parts have an elevation percentage above 12%. However, every bit of the journey was worth it. The view at 3.416 m above sea level on the main peak of Hehuanshan is stunning!

Hehuan Mountain Main Peak

Hehuan Mountain – 3.416 m

Le Tour De Taiwan – Day 18

I’m writing from Lanyu (Orchid Island), a small volcanic island off the southeastern coast of Taiwan. The plan was to spend 4 days on this little piece of paradise. However, because of the rough sea, yesterday’s boat was canceled. The perfect moment to write a short report about the last 9 days of cycling and traveling through the “Ilha Formosa”.

Heading From South to East

Heading From South to East

After having spent a day of exploring around Kenting, I got back on the road towards the east coast of Taiwan. Because of the strong wind, I was moving slow. Not that much of a problem considering the breathtaking scenery around me.

Breathtaking View Cycling Towards the East

Breathtaking View Cycling Towards the East

I decided to give my legs some rest and my upper body some work in the relaxed surfer town Jialeshui where I crashed at Winson’s house. Two days later, after a late afternoon surf session I bumped into another (crazy) Belgian! Koen is a fellow Prince Albert Fund alumni that spent one year working in Taipei. As we were moving in the same direction, we decided to bike together the next morning.

Surfing is So Happy

Surfing is So Happy…

Sunset in Jialeshui

Jialeshui Sunset

We took off early for one of the toughest but most beautiful “stages” of Le Tour de Taiwan until now: Jialeshui to Taimali (to see the route click here).  It was great to have a companion during the 115 km long ride in the sweltering heat on a hilly route (1551 m of incline). For those wondering where I get the stats from: Koen is an electrical engineer interested in technology registering our every move with one of his many useful apps.

Jialeshui - Taimali

Jialeshui – Taimali

Quite remarkable are the many “police stations” along the road. The criminality must be close to zero in most of the east as the stations function as “bicycle service areas”, invariably staffed with policemen keen on providing food, water, a place to sleep or information about Taiwan.

Police Station or Service Station for Cyclists?

Police Station or Service Station for Cyclists?

Sleeping Spot in Taimali

Sleeping Spot in Taimali

After a short and rainy night, we got up at 4.30 am and drove 30 km towards the pretty harbor town of Fugang. We arrived around 7 only to find out that the ferry wasn’t leaving until 9.30. Luckily we found shelter in one of the nearly five thousand (!)  7-ELEVEN stores in Taiwan.

Fugang Port

Fugang Port

The last few days on Orchid Island were spent snorkeling, diving and hiking. In short: enjoying life. However, the desire to head towards the mountains is growing. Hopefully the sea will be quiet enough to catch the scheduled ferry on Tuesday so I can continue my journey!

Port of Lanyu

Port of Lanyu

Diving

Two Crazy Belgians and One Crazy Fish

Lanyu View

Lanyu View

Sunset over Lanyu

Lanyu sunset

Le Tour De Taiwan – Day 9

After a good night sleep I got on the road together with Hom Yian, Cecilia’s dad. Hom Yian is (besides friendly and generous) a worried Asian father and wanted to make sure I’d safely make my way out of Taipei. So he decided to join me for the first day.  At times it must have been hilarious to witness us  communicating, in a language we both don’t speak. A remarkable duo to say the least 🙂

Ready to go!

The first three days on the bike were quite challenging. After having spent a wonderful time enjoying city-life in Taipei, it was hard to get adapted to the cycling rhythm. A burning sun with temperatures well above 30 and the realization that I should have packed lighter were not making it any easier. Next to that, along the west coast of the island there’s a lot of heavy industry. Understandably this does not make it the most beautiful area to be cycling through. Finding sleeping space or a spot to pitch my tent was hard as well. So I had to turn to the Almighty Buddha again. The first night I slept in a small Buddhist “chapel”. The second night, the Buddha’s smile turned even brighter and I enjoyed a (free) stay in a full-blown temple (with bedding, hot showers and stunning sunset).

Sleeping Spot First Night

Sleeping Spot Second Night: Fangyuan Temple

Sleeping Spot Second Night: Fangyuan Temple

Sunset Near Fangyuan Temple

Meanwhile, some friends had notified me about typhoon Usagi moving closer to Taiwan slowly but steadily. I decided to bike to Tainan where I met up with the local mermaid-girl Trista (thanks for the referral Joanne!). Once again I found myself amazed by the genuine hospitality of Taiwanese people as I was celebrating the Moon festival together with Trista and her lovely family. Thanks for the wonderful time we spent together and the tasty Taiwanese food you made me try!

With another 5 extra kilos I made my way further south (to the city of Kenting). The scenery has changed and I am now experiencing the true (natural) beauty of Taiwan. Some shots along the way and during a trip I made today:

Entering Pingtung County

Namwan Beach Tractor

Nanwan Beach Tractor

Houbihou Port. No Fishing

Baisha Beach

Baisha Beach

Sunset Near Guanshan

Guanshan Sunset

Tomorrow I’m planning to continue my journey towards the east side of Taiwan. Looking forward after what I’ve seen last few days!

P.s. Sometimes I miss Belgium.

Belgian Beer. Available in Taiwan as Well!

Sometimes I Miss Belgium 🙂

Le Tour De Taiwan – Day 0

I’m writing from the city of Taipei where I’m staying at Cecilia’s place. Cecilia is a young Taiwanese writer/artist David met a couple of years ago while trekking through Kyrgyzstan. It truly is a small world indeed. Thank you Cecilia for the generosity/inspiration and David for the referral.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be heading out for my own version of “Le Tour de Taiwan”. After some final preparations today (buying a tent and picking up Cecilia’s bike), I’m all set for this new little adventure. My estimation is to be on the road for the next 3 weeks, covering around 1.500 km (distance/time will greatly depend on how many times I get lost and whether or not I’ll attempt to climb Mt. Hehuan). I’ll try to regularly post updates about my (cycling) experiences in the time to come. Now, however, I urgently need to “hit the sack”.

Testing the Bike in New Taipei City

“Testing” the Bike in New Taipei City

Photographic Impressions Busan (South Korea)

(Tasty?) Street Food (Busan – Taipei) 

Bite my Tongue

A Happy Pig

Street Fooood

Pig's Trotters

Pig’s Trotters

("Pierced") cock in Taipei (Taiwan)

“Pierced” cocks in Taipei

A City With a View

A Room With a View (From Couchsurfing Host Sam’s Flat)

Fishing the East Sea

P1060976

A City With a View I

All roads lead to… Tokyo?

A City With a View II

Haedong Yonggunsa Buddhist Temple (해동 용궁사)

A Temple With a View

Praying for Good Grades

The Baby Buddha Needs a Good Washing

And the Buddha? He just smiled...

And the Buddha? He just smiled…

Finding my Seoul

I can’t believe that two and a half years passed since my last contribution on this blog. It feels good to start exploring/writing again!

The last few years in a nutshell: after returning from the world trip I obtained a scholarship to work abroad through the Prince Albert Fund. I moved to the south of Brazil, spending an interesting time working for a Belgian company active in renewable energy sector. A year later, I returned to Belgium where I continued to earn a living with the same enterprise, awaiting my transfer to Brazil.

Gradually I started feeling uncertainty about the path I was following. I tried rationalising my doubts and swept my general feeling of discontent about the way life was unfolding under the rug thinking: “it will get better”. Unfortunately it didn’t. And a couple of months later it snapped. With a combination of pain in my heart and relief I quit my job and got back to life on the road for a while.

When people ask what I’ll be doing with my life, my honest answer is “I have absolutely no clue”. But I’m confident things will fall in place. In the words of a random Ozzie dude: “no worries, mate”. Or in the (famous) words of Steve Jobs: “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on”.

Street art in Seoul

Street art in Seoul

And that’s how I’m writing from the city of Seoul where I have been staying for the last 10 days. Suffering from jet lag and the extremely humid heat, I was “out of my element” the first few days. Little by little, I found back my bearings and am now spending a great time. It pretty much feels like I’m spending time in another universe.

Some random (first) impressions – experiences

Korean food is incredibly tasty. Eating is a true pleasure and social event over here. I will spare you the names of the dishes (admittedly I actually can’t remember any of them myself), Instead I added a couple of  “food shots”. The dishes are often spicy and meals always include Kimchi, Korea’s national dish (fermented vegetables). Drinks that go with the meals (most of the times abundantly) are “Makgeolli” (Korean rice wine) and Soju (Korea’s national liquor).

Help, the table is too small.

Help, the table is too small.

Traditional Korean meal with Kimchi (fermented vegetables) and Myeolchi Bokkeum (dried salty fish)

Heyri art village is located one hour north of Seoul. I discovered this unique spot through a recommendation of the two young French artists Manon and Nicolas (click the names to see their work!). Both of them are studying fine arts in Nantes and were having an exposition in this little artistic town that houses hundreds of painters, musicians,cineasts, architects and musicians. While walking around in the village we discovered various nice sculptures and I was impressed with the neat architecture of the art galleries and other buildings.

Horse sculpture at Heyri Village

Horse sculpture at Heyri Village

The blue man

The blue man

Cool architecture in Heyri Village

Cool architecture in Heyri Village

One of the artists we encountered (thanks for the intro, Nico!) is the renowned photographer Mr. Anso Lee. We were received like kings in his magnificent house and had the opportunity to share all our stories. Mr. Lee has pretty much been all around the globe and is now gladly receiving people from all sides of the world. Thank you Mr. Lee for your hospitality but above all your amazing energy and inspiration!!

Mr. Lee taking a shot

Mr. Lee taking a shot

The result! Gerard - Nicolas - me and Will

The result: Gerard – Nicolas – me and Will

Most women are obsessed with their looks in the South Korean “beauty culture”. You see girls taking self-shots all the time, comparing and exchanging them with their friends. You spot girls standing close to any window to closely examine if their make-up is still in place. Plastic surgery is extremely popular. According to this article it is estimated that one out of five women had some kind of “job” done . The following quote makes the point pretty accurately: “Eyelid surgery to create a double lid and nose jobs to lengthen and thin the nose are the most popular surgeries. These procedures are so common they’re called “the basics.”

The city is a very interesting combination of old and new. The subway system is one of the most modern and advanced I’ve ever used. People are connected all the time and there’s wifi everywhere. The gaming industry is huge. On the subway everyone (even the average 80 year old grandmother) is playing video games, watching television or taking self-shots with their (huge) smartphone. The same time, impressive historical sites can be witnessed.

Gyeongbokgung palace

Gyeongbokgung palace

City view on the way to the N-tower in Seoul

City view on the way to the N-tower in Seoul

Last but not least, what really colours the experiences are the people you’re sharing them with. I had the luck of bumping into inspiring folks with the most diverse backgrounds. Thanks guys!

Nicolas

Nicolas

Jooyoung aka Jay

Jooyoung aka Jay

Manon and Will

Manon and Will

Will and Annas performing "hot shot" :-)

Will and Annas performing “hot shot” 🙂

Posing with the lovely family "Kim" in front of Seoul town hall

Posing with the lovely family Kim in front of Seoul town hall

Simone, Nissa, me and Annas

Simone, Nissa, me and Annas

The next 10 days I’ll be following a meditation course, meaning I’ll be disconnecting completely. Quite a contrast with the high-tech-always-connected city of Seoul 🙂 Let’s see how that goes. I’m looking forward to writing my next travel report!

With love,

Tom

Day 330: Incredible India

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been heavily slacking on keeping this blog up-to-date. I’ve got two excuses for this and I hope they are sufficient. Firstly I can not describe how overwhelming the Indian subcontinent is. Just as a good Indian curry has an abundance of flavours, so does traveling in India offer you a never-ending array of powerful impressions. I went from the simmering heat of Goa’s beaches to the ski fields of Kashmir where we were overwhelmed by a snowstorm; I saw cathedrals in Old Goa, a giant mosque in Old Delhi and Hindu temples all along the road; I ate dosas, samosas, kachouris, pav bhujis and every other type of street food I could find till I started sweating and my nose started running; I slept in a mice-infested dharamsala in Mukundgargh, next to a bonfire on Gokarna beach, in the crowded train station of Vasco da Gama, in the palace of Mahansar that was slowly losing it’s glory; I spent some of the happiest days of my life with amazing friends, I was raging in anger when we almost got robbed, I was utterly humbled when the police had to come to my rescue, I almost lost my nerves with the never-ending stream of touts.

My itinerary through India


All along it has been a rollercoaster of emotions that normally would have inspired me to write a long-drawn blogpost as a way of reflecting and processing it all. However, there is a second excuse. I’ve spent the last six weeks in the company of some amazing people, with whom I had great conversations and who made this trip so much more enjoyable. First off there was my lovely sis who had sent herself as a christmas gift to Mumbai, after which we traveled together to the beaches of Goa and Gokarna while we did some ruins spotting in Hampi in between. Next up was Flavio, a great Swiss whom I had met in Nepal, with whom I met up in Udaipur. My dear friend Jeroen followed shortly after and together we cruised through the magnificent state of Rajasthan. Finally there was a top-level reunion with Travis, my American buddy from the Annapurna Circuit, in the snow of the Kashmiri mountains.

Jaisalmer desert with Cristina, Jeroen and Flavio


Let me warn you, India will give you an epic sensory overload and not every tourist coming here is as smitten with it as I am. When you hear all the horror stories, please take them with a grain of salt and assume things are only half so bad. The positive stories on the other hand can only partly describe how beautiful this country can be. The aspect I loved the most about India in the end was how it keeps surprising you. Time and time again I’ve run in to places and views that I had never imagined when I was thinking about India. It would be impossible to describe everything I’ve seen and done, but I’ll give you a hint by describing the emotions I have experienced.

Joy

First thing on my Indian agenda was a reunion with my lovely sister. Ever since we left the brother-sister fights of puberty behind, the two of us have been getting along great. After missing each other for nine months, the reunion at Mumbai airport was pretty emotional (there were some tears of joy involved). Then we set off on our big adventure together, a little anxious since we had never traveled together and I’d been going solo for the last couple of months. It couldn’t have gone better however. Wether we were just chilling on the beach or visiting temples in Hampi, every time we had a blast together.

A sister-brother reunion

Also: having a great lunch in Jodhpur with Jeroen, Flavio and Cristina; gazing at the stars in the freezing cold desert near Jaisalmer

Anger

The trip with my sis was not without any accidents however. On our trip to Goa the bus driver tried to steal her wallet (and thus also her passport, which would have ruined the trip for us). Long story told short: I put our backpacks upfront near the driver and just out of our sight (stupid me, I know), when we wanted to get it back the wallet was gone. There was no other explanation then having a malicious driver, who when confronted denied everything. After pleading him just “find” the passport and keep all the money turned out to be useless, we went for a more direct attack. While my sis was trying to convince him to give our stuff back, I stepped in front of the bus and tried to block it in true “Tiananmen protest” style. It worked slightly when we made him drive us to the local police station, where they were not particularly helpful. Making no progress, I asked to once more look through the driver’s cabin in a last desperate attempt for success. After thorough inspection I all of a sudden found a hidden hole below the carpet, where luckily enough I found everything back. And thus we were back to Joy.

Thinking about Taj Mahal makes me forget my anger 🙂


Also: the police refusing to let us file a report afterwards; the constant flow of touts offering rickshaws, accommodation and hash

Humbled

One evening in the beautiful surrounding of Hampi, we decided to climb up to a viewpoint. After seeing a glorious sunset, we headed back down again for dinner. Being slightly reckless I decided to skip on the flight of stairs going down and instead went down jumping from boulder to boulder. Pretty exciting, untill … I got stuck. With a vertical, flat rock behind me and three steep 20 metre drops on all other sides I had no way to go. While a group of inquisitive monkeys slowly came closer (for a second I was afraid I had invaded their territory), I finally managed to signal my sis and Daniel (Spaniard who had joined us) about my uncomfortable situation. After getting together a troop of local policemen and a sturdy rope, they came to my aid. By this time a crowd of people had gathered below and were watching my rescue.

Jumping around in the safer bits of Hampi


Also: practicing yoga and realising I might be the least flexible person in the world; playing beach volley-ball and not being able to return any of the spikes by the impressively strong ladyboy of the other team (Thailand).

Exhaustion but loving it

I found out about snowboarding in India when I met Travis in Nepal. We decided to meet up for this once we both got there. After some logistic optimisation work we both arrived in Kashmir. First off, forget all the prejudices you might have about the insecure situation this close to the Pakistani border. The area is wonderful, people are super nice and there is so much to do I’ll definitely come back (driving a motorcycle over the world’s highest motor road pass towards the Buddhist monasteries of Ladakh has gotten high up on my bucket list). After spending a freezing cold night on a living boat in Srinagar, we set off for the ski resort of Gulmarg. Famous for its backcountry skiing and abundance of powder snow, we found ourselves among a nice mix of skibums spending the winter there and backpackers who found out about this skiers’ dream location on the road. I spent four days carving my way along steep slopes, through narrow gulleys trying to avoid the rocks that sometimes peeked out. Compared to Europe’s perfectly groomed slopes, this was true adventure and I have never enjoyed snowboarding that much. At night we’d be tired, but a great cup of Kashmire kava would send us to sweet dreams in our stove heated room.

Gliding through Kashmiri snow


Also: crossing a shoulder-high sea to reach our remote beachshack in Goa every night; hiking with our heavy backpacks from haveli to haveli in Shekhawati; taking night trains across the subcontinent in the sleepers compartment; riding our camels and trying to forget the horrible saddle pains.

Complete relaxation

I’ve seen some great beaches on this trip, but for me nothing compares to Gokarna and it’s three lovely strips of sand: Om, Half Moon and Paradise beach. Heavily recommended by fellow travellers, we decided to change our plans and spent some time in this town just two hours south of Goa. Arriving in the middle of the night wasn’t the greatest starting point, but we set up a campfire with some companions on the beach and awaited sunrise. At that moment we saw the true beauty of Om beach. A long semi-circle beach with tons of palm trees waving towards a cristal blue sea and hardly any buildings to be seen. Each morning we’d set out on a short hike along the coast to one of the several beaches and just relax while enjoying the sun, the sea and the great indian food.

The blue city at night


Also: sunset over the blue city of Jodhpur; sunrise, sunset and once more sunset over the impressive Taj Mahal; picnicking on the walls of the old fort of Chittaugargh.

Sadness

India for me was about going to unexpected places and traveling with great people. To realize how amazing this has been for me, I just have to think about how sad I was every time I had to leave a person or place behind. All my fellow travellers were just amazing: Ruth, Jeroen, Flavio, Travis, Daniel, … and so many more. I’m utterly determined to see all of them again, which might be easier in same cases than others. India itself was just as brilliant: I hated leaving the relaxed beaches of Gokarna and Goa, I wished to stay longer among the rocks and ruins of Hampi, I hoped to continue visiting palaces and forts in Rajasthan, I could have continued gazing at the Taj Mahal, I would never grow tired of having more curries, naan, parathas and samosas… There is still so much left to discover and so many places to visit again, that I’m surely coming back. But for now I felt sad leaving it all behind.

Murals and an old lady in Rajahstan


Meanwhile I’ve started the last days of my amazing trip here on Koh Tao, surrounded by once again great friends I’m trying to enjoy every last bit of it as much as possible.

Take care and hope to see you all soon,

Much love,

David

As always you can find more pictures here and here.