Tag Archives: hot springs

Impossible is just a word

Okay, so this title sounds like I’ve just been sponsored by Nike, but that didn’t happen. (Though, Nike, if you’re looking at this entry… call my people.) It’s just something I deeply experienced today after going through each impossible-feeling-sounding-thinking thing and coming out on the other side. We climbed 40% flat land and 60% mountain roads, but my trembling knees and elbows insist it was more than that.

Day 6/9: Hengchun to Zhiben (112 km)

This morning, we had breakfast and gathered outside in Hengchun, shortly after sunrise. I had slept for more like 8.5 hours, and had a dream where I had to hurry back to Taipei overnight for some reason, and then was trying to make it back. I was really anxious not to miss the day’s climbing, even though I knew it would be hard. I was in the middle of trying to find transport when the morning call rang my phone, and woke me up. My first thought was pure gratitude that it was just a dream, and I was already in Kenting!

When we first biked out, it was glorious. The sun wasn’t too warm yet, and we biked north for the first time on a small road, splitting apart from the main road to meander through green and gold fields. If we had gone through mango country earlier as we headed south through Pingtung, this here was onion country. It was in the middle of the harvest, and rows of onions lay in the dirt, freshly dug up, as far as the eye could see. I saw several roadside signs advertising Hengchun Onions at the amazing price of 4 bags for 100 NT. Each bag had to have at least 15-20 onions in it. It could’ve fed us for half the year. In Taipei, onions go for 10-15 NT each. We waved to laborers in the fields who were kilted up as we were with long arm coverings and hats against the sun, and many waved back. As we climbed into the hills, we started getting a lovely view of the valley we were leaving behind, and it was breathtaking. It was the kind of scenery I had wanted and hoped to see on this trip. There was much more of it, but it was a struggle to concentrate on that, since the climbing and biking got much, much harder.

After 20 km, Our first stop was Mudan Reservoir, where we all took a deep breath and went to the bathroom. It seemed nice from where we were, but I got the chance to admire it from further on up. The next leg was 14 km, the beginning two a straight ascent. Within 500 meters, I had hit a wall. I ended up stopping every 500 meters to drink a few sips of water and shake my arms out. When I got back on, it was definitely easier, and I had more energy, which completely dissipated by the time I got 500 meters further. On the third stop, I realized I had been overtaken by the last rider, and the tail rider from Giant, who is a shy young woman with a yellow jersey, smiled at me and said, “加油!” That scared me enough to amp it up a little bit and re-overtake the last rider. The thought of being exactly the 50th rider to get my ass up to the next rest stop kept me about 1 km ahead of her for the rest of the hour. I realized later that if I was actually as generous of spirit as I wanted to be, I would bike with her and cheer her on together, but for me, biking on hills is such a tricky thing that keeping to my own rhythm once I found it was of paramount importance. Breaking it to follow someone else’s would be very difficult, so I not-so-virtuously just kept ahead of the last rider, and rolled in about 15 minutes later than everyone else.

We only had 15 minutes to recover, and then it was off to the next 14 km, after which we would reach Shouka, which marked the intersection of our road with the Cross-Island Highway. This highway in the south was the only one that served through traffic, so it would be full of big trucks and all sorts of cars. This climb wasn’t as bad, because it was a lot of on-and-off climbs, and I definitely didn’t roll in next to last. Still, there was a lot of time when it was just me by myself on the road, sweating in silence, and climbing steadily. Here in the south, we are truly in the tropics. It feels like actual jungles around us, with large green ferns, the calls of birds, and air so moist you can taste it. There were homesteads in the middle of all of this, and when I went past, there were dogs guarding the house who weren’t even aware that I was there because I went by so silently. It was funny to creep up on a few, who heard me change gears and whirled around to start barking belatedly. After Shouka, the climate changed again. First, we flew down the hill for an amazing 12 km of downhill. My top speed was about 41 kmph, but I’m sure I could’ve gone faster than that – I was basically squeezing my brakes before every turn.

We stopped soon afterwards for lunch, which was delicious as usual, and I ended up grabbing my usual coffee as well from the 7-11 across the road. It was a good move, because the afternoon was pretty brutal. We had three segments with three stops, and each of them had a significant hill. We were finally heading north into Taitung, but the problem was that we were sharing the picturesque, steep roads next to the pounding surf with all those huge trucks again too! And there was construction. On the first climb out of lunch, we ended up all climbing about 80% of the way up this incredibly steep highway bridge that took us seemingly hundreds of feet into the air about 10 feet away from the beach below. And we waited there for close to 10 minutes while the traffic went the other way. Then they closed off the lane, had our cars go, and then let us through finally. When we descended on the other side, I felt like I had just parachuted into this wonderland. It was amazingly gorgeous everywhere we looked, from the steep, wooded hills to our left, to the dark blue ocean and grey sand to our right, to even the view in front of us, the highway weaving off into the distance, and the many hills that make up the east coast, each a different faded tone of blue and grey. I enjoyed it, but I was also in agony and my thighs were burning. I had to figure out a way of pedaling that wasn’t going to expend all my energy, so I’ve been angling my feet differently when I push down, and switching it up every few cycles so different muscles get a rest, if that makes sense. I complained to Debi at a stop that I had no stamina, but I think that’s a hard argument now that we’ve finished Day 6 of nearly 100 km days. Still, I burn out pretty quick when I push hard to climb those hills, even at a low gear. I’m getting better at gear-shifting, but they told us that tomorrow’s much of the same!

It took us a while, but we finally made it into Zhiben, a famed hot spring town just south of Taitung. After checking into our hotel and spa, our faithful guides warned us not to sit in the hot springs for too long – 10 or 15 minutes was his suggestion – because our muscles have been trained hard from the last five days. To sit too long in the hot springs would mean that we would relax completely, and undo all that work, so tomorrow would be more agony. Well, we all took that advice with a grain of salt. I just finished an hour of on-and-off luxuriating in the hot and cold springs. We spent some time in the indoor ones before figuring out there were open-air hot springs that showed us the clear, full moon and the twinkling stars. After a long hard day, there’s just nothing more amazing than stargazing while lying in the hot spring, sitting on warm rocks, and feeling the breeze on your skin. I had to remind myself that I was almost too relaxed now, and needed to get back to my room!

Today’s definitely been a day of overcoming challenges. Sometimes, it was a matter of taking a break when I thought I couldn’t do it and then getting back to it. Sometimes, it was experimentation with a different style of pedaling. Sometimes, it was a bit of liquid courage (mostly coffee, not the alcoholic kind). Most times, it was just putting my feet down again and again and not looking too hard at where the finish line was. I am awed by what my body has been able to accomplish, because there were so many times I looked at 24 km down the road, and internally despaired. Or if I was here by myself, biking with panniers or just a friend or two, it would be so simple to stop at any old 7-11 or roadside fruit stall and take a break and then another, to call an audible when it got darker and stay somewhere else. But our guides hustled us on, exhorting us to make it to the next scheduled stop 12 km on, and reminded us that because the sun set over the mountains pretty early on the east side of the island, we didn’t have the time to linger. I’ve been learning that impossible is just a word, and in a very good way. What you think is impossible is just usually something different.

With that realization in mind, I’m going to bed. Our next stop is going to be Ruisui, just south of Hualien. It seems incredible, but we’re already done with Day 6. Our trip is two-thirds over!

Weekends at the Beitou hot springs.

Hot springs are getting to be a habit with me, a habit I’m happy to indulge. I’m not used to having luxurious baths in steaming, sulfurous water every weekend, but it so happens that with a bit of foresight and planning, I can enjoy something that I would have nearly no idea how to accomplish in the US. Bathhouses aren’t a thing in the US, for a bunch of reasons. Why go to a public bathhouse when you can have a private bath at home, after all? Well, people are missing out on the communal hot springs experience, I tell you.

This weekend, I started off my trip by dipping in at the Beitou Hot Springs Museum, which is a good way to explain what’s going on here. Since the Japanese ruled over Taiwan, a century ago, they brought with them their own traditions of onsens, or hot spring baths, from Japan to Pautauuw. The native Taiwanese aboriginals near Taipei called this area Pautauuw, which  means witch’s cauldron, because the area’s hot springs emit steam and a sulfurous smell. Over the years, the name was Sinicized to Beitou (which kind of means northern reach). In 1913, they built what’s now known as the Beitou Hot Springs Museum, but what was then merely one of the first formal onsens for government officials and important people of the like. The Victorian structure with brick and wide windows and terraces has been thoroughly restored, and inside, you can see the main bath, an open pool circled by pillars, which was for men only. A side wing features smaller pools for women. Inside the museum, you have to exchange your shoes for slippers that you wear throughout the museum, a nod toJapanese sensibilities. In one area, there is a large topographical model of how further north, waters from the actual thermal pool is piped down to spas, hotels, and hot spring locations. It was tempting to look at every single detail, but this weekend, I merely took some quick photos, and left gazing at artifacts and such for a longer visit.  Continue reading Weekends at the Beitou hot springs.

South Caribbean, Part II: Barbados and St. Lucia.

Written on the Carnival Valor
Sailing from Barbados to St. Lucia, the Caribbean
Evening, December 17, 2014

Tonight, I’m writing from my seat on the balcony. It’s dark out here. I turned out the light, but it’s still lit by the window and room behind me.  I wanted to come out here to enjoy the balcony because it’s very soothing. The sky tonight is a little cloudy, so only a few stars are out here in the velvety warm blackness. We are sailing north once again, having reached our southernmost point, Barbados, today. So being on the port side, our view is simply of the empty expanse of the dark Caribbean sea at night. It is a darkness so complete that it seems like it’s possible to just step off the boat and become enveloped in it.

Carlisle Bay, Barbados.

This morning, we woke up early (or so it felt to me) before 8 am to explore Barbados. The shore excursions that Carnival were offering for snorkeling all seemed to be at this one location that cost too much (like $100) for too little (just an hour of snorkeling and swimming). We also figured out that it was possible to simply swim to the snorkeling location from the beach, as was recommended in the reviews, so that’s what we did. We took a group taxi to Carlisle Bay with other people from the ship, and walked past the resort place they initially dropped us off at to the public access part of the beach. And the beach was really gorgeous. Mama came to really admire it because the sand is so silky white, and the water crystal clear. Unfortunately, the sun was already strong in the morning. We applied sunscreen and headed out for two spots where we had identified boats dropping off other snorkelers barely 100 yards from the shore: one with sea turtles and the other with boatwrecks. Both were great! We saw five turtles on our first trip out, and it was amazing how close they came. We figured out that some of the shore operators drop pieces of bread in the ocean for the turtles to come near, and the turtles know these shenanigans pretty well. Some were fairly small, but one was really pretty giant, more than 50 pounds for sure. They came incredibly close to us, and it felt like I could actually reach out and touch one at one point. We also came to the shipwrecks, which took longer to swim out to. They were about 40-50 feet down in the water, and while not very big (there were three ships about 150-200 feet in length), they were interestingly overgrown with a fair bit of coral and there were lots of fish swimming around there. We even saw a guide dive in one door and out another in one wreck. It was impressive, even if it wasn’t huge, and attracted some pretty gorgeous looking fauna.

Schools of fish surrounding the shipwrecks.

Continue reading South Caribbean, Part II: Barbados and St. Lucia.