Tag Archives: weather

Perhaps one day, it will be pleasing to remember even these things

Day 8 definitely merits the above quote from the Aeneid, known in the original as “Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.” I’ve been looking for one to use this on, and I thought it was going to be one of those sun-baking days, but today definitely takes the cake so far. This quote is a good reminder that even the worst of times will be pleasing to look back on one day. And biking in the rain and mud is definitely something it’s going to take some time and perspective to look at with an unbiased eye! Here’s to Day 8.

Day 8/9: Ruisui to Jiaoxi (84 km?)

Today was a rainy, sodden mess that took me forever to get out of my clothes and shoes. I’ll be wearing some of the grime from the East Rift Valley forever, it feels. When we started off in Ruisui this morning, it was in the fine drizzle. I was wearing a dry short-sleeve jersey with long arm coverings and Steve’s rain-resistant jacket over it all. But by the end of our first 20 km, it wasn’t rain-resistant anymore. In fact, it’s not a breathable jacket, so between the rain and the sweat, everything was soaked by our first stop. I was horrified, but fortunately, we had some spare clothing tucked away in our bag. I switched to another shirt, and put on a yellow rain poncho, and kept that for the remainder of the morning.

Riding in the rain is basically the most unpleasant thing. If you’ve got sunglasses, it fogs things up and makes it hard to see. If you don’t have guards on the rear wheel, it throws up mud and grit that gets into your gears and your back and even your helmet. When trucks and large vans pass by, they emit a fine mist behind them of nasty stuff that you inevitably breathe in unless you’ve got a wet headscarf over your mouth which is its own form of torture. And the rain is usually accompanied by wind. In this case, it was a healthy headwind that was taking at least 7 if not 10 kmph off my speed. I was severely irked. By the time we stopped for our second stop, everyone’s shins and knees looked like they had been sprayed with concrete. We actually took a fun picture of all of those muddy, dirty shoes. I washed them tonight, of course, but now have some real doubt about whether they’ll make it in the future. At the rest stops, they wouldn’t even let us have a proper rest, because if you cooled down too much, it would be dangerous, and we were likely to catch a cold. To round it all up, we were trying to catch a train. We made it the epic 73 km or so to Hualien Station with only about 15 minutes to spare.

On the train, we had gotten a whole train car to ourselves. On one side, we put all our bikes. On the other side, the mainland Chinese bunch elbowed us out of most of the seats, so we took a seat on the floor (not that our muddy, dirty butts minded very much), and enjoyed our lunchboxes of charcoal-roasted chicken and veggies very thoroughly. It took about 90 minutes for us to go from Hualien to Yilan. This trip was because the Su’ao Tunnel is the only road connecting these two cities, and it’s notoriously difficult and dangerous, even for proper vehicles, not like our bikes. So they didn’t chance it, and just had us train it, which was a different way of seeing the eastern shore. Finally, we got off in Yilan, and had a leisurely 10 km bike ride to the hotel where we were staying in Jiaoxi.

Tonight was our third night of hot springs and last. It was also our last dinner together as a group. We’ve generally sat together every meal: the three Californians and their Canadian cousin, Debi, the Scottish lady from Beijing, a husband and wife from LA, and two Taiwanese ladies who came separately but room together, and of course, me. I proposed hot pot, which is NO surprise to anyone who knows me, and we found a really great place just two doors down from the hotel. They let us bring in beer and liquor, and we enjoyed a fun night having dinner together. We talked about things we’d seen on the road today (a snake!!!), incidents that had happened (one of the girls biked straight into a tree, and it was captured on video), and how old everyone was. It turns out I’m the youngest in the group (though several women look way younger), and I also took a picture on the train with the oldest person in the group – a 72 year old man from Houston. He took the pic with me, and then laughed about how his younger son is older than me (I should hope so). We then walked around Jiaoxi buying a few presents for family and friends, ended up spotting some Singaporean friends from the road in a massage center, and generally enjoyed our last night out.

Tomorrow, we have 90 something km to still tackle. The grapevine says at least 5 km of uphills (though not all at once). We’re expecting some more drizzle and rain (which I am super dreading now), and we expect to be back in Taipei between 4 and 5 pm, tentatively. I’m really, really eager to see everyone at home, though it will be amazing enough to have finally made the trip. I’m going to be glad to not live out of this suitcase any longer, and will be sad to say goodbye to these new friends. And of course, to go back to work the day after!

Sun and rain in the East Rift Valley

Day 7/9: Zhiben to Ruisui (117 km)

Today, we probably experienced every single form of weather Taiwan had to offer. The morning was as fresh and balmy as I had hoped. In the valley, we headed out to the chirping of birds. We biked along some lovely paths that afforded us views of the green rice paddies but also the amazing hillsides above where many farmsteads lay. We were making our way into the East Rift Valley, with the Central Mountain Range on our left and the Seaside Mountain Range on our right. We ended up covering our faces from the dust as the morning fog burned off, and the sun came out in full force. This morning, we were taking this very long hill and incline when I turned to speak to two women whom we were biking with, to comment on it. When one of them exclaimed that indeed, it was a hill after all (some people don’t notice!), the other one, Stephanie, turned her head, and perhaps slowed her speed at the same time. Unfortunately, she was right in front of me, and my front wheel collided with her rear wheel. What ensued was probably the most slow-motion falls I’ve ever seen. I sustained a bruise on the inside of my right knee, a tiny scrape on my left knee, a longer scrape on my left elbow, and some slightly blistered palms on both hands. Everyone was around us in a flash, and I saw the Giant van who had just passed us screech to a halt, and our lead driver jumped out and raced toward me. It was all very considerate, and I was fortunate in that I ended up being perfectly fine minus those small injuries. Our driver also made sure my front and back wheel were in good shape before he gave it back to me and allowed me to ride it again. A bit of a scare, but no harm.

Later on in the morning, we arrived at Ruihe Station. This was a tiny station which had the distinction of being a bye-station. If you wanted to get on the local train here, you had to wave to it before it arrived, and it would pick you up. It was more or less unmanned, except for one old man who was proudly standing over the cultural exhibit inside the railway station. He also informed us while waving a timetable in our face that a Puyuma (Taroko Express) train was about to come past, so we waited for it and took photos while it sped by. It was a very, very fast train, and especially the mainlanders who are from Canada were very impressed. When we stopped for lunch, it was in the small town of Chishang, which is well known for their wooden lunchboxes. It’s a delicious lunch biandang wrapped in a box that’s made out of thin wood slats, and includes just about one of every savory meaty delicacy that usually comes in a lunchbox. We enjoyed our lunchboxes by the side of a small lake, and then were set free for the next 45 minutes. I ended up lying on the grassy lake bank and watching the clouds twist and turn, took a little catnap. It was the perfect thing to counteract the lunchbox. Especially useful today since there was no coffee to get!

In the afternoon, the wind turned slightly. The sun went behind cloudcover, and people remarked that it felt like a storm coming. It was a relief at first. I biked a little bit faster and with better cheer, now that we weren’t being baked completely. I also dropped my headscarf from my face because it made it harder to breathe. After our second rest stop of the afternoon, the drizzle and mist began. Half of our clothes were already soaked in sweat, so I thought it wouldn’t matter, but by the time we were halfway through that leg of the trip (approximately 17 km), the rain had really been coming down strongly, and making it hard to see. I kept having to wipe my face, and even worse, the wheels kicked up a lot of mud that came right up our backs to even splatter the back of my helmet. We donned plastic, one-use raincoats at the next stop, but I found the idea kind of ridiculous. We also looked a sight to behold.

The second accident of the day actually happened because of the rain. One of the Californians I had been hanging out with was using his phone to take a picture of the rice paddies we were biking past with his right hand. With his left hand, he gripped his bike handle. The riders had been close together, and when the rider in front of him braked a bit unexpectedly, his hand squeezed impulsively on the left bike handle, which happens to be the brake for the front wheel. He went over the wheel and got some fairly nasty scrapes for his trouble on his knuckles and knees. Even more incredibly, he apparently got a photo of himself mid-flight because he had been about to press the button using his left thumb, and pressed it in mid-flight, capturing his face and the face of the rider behind him. It was good to laugh about it all over dinner because he turned out totally fine too, but a reminder of just how quickly accidents can happen on this road. He ended up sitting in the van until our final rest stop and coincidentally missed the worst of the storm. Lucky him. Then he came out and biked the last 10 km with us to the hotel. Finally, wet and bedraggled, we made it into our hotel for the evening.

One thing I have wanted to talk about is my evening routine. This is the kind of unglamorous but very useful thing you should know if you want to go on a long bike tour like this. When we get in, I generally head to the bathroom right away. After unpacking the essential bag of toiletries, I go straight to the bathroom and put all the clothes that I want to wash in the sink. In today’s case, it was literally everything I had been wearing: my jersey and bike shorts, leg coverings, socks, sports bra, and headscarf. I pour some shampoo over it all, fill the sink with water, and let it sit while I go have my shower. After I shower and wash my hair, it’s time to rinse and wring things out. It was especially tough today because there was a lot of persistent dots of mud and goo that had made its way into my clothing. I applied extra amounts of shampoo, rubbed it in, and scrubbed it well before wringing. This is where it comes in handy to be traveling alone. In most rooms, I have been able to use two large towels to roll my wet clothing in and then wring it out. Then I hang them up to dry. Finally, with my arms weak and rubbery, I make sure I look presentable, and then head downstairs for dinner. We usually get one hour before dinnertime, and this is what I spend it on! Other people tend to use the washing machine with more of their clothes, but rather than trying to beat other people to those facilities, I like doing it on my own. As I mentioned, it’s not glamorous, but I feel like doing this straight off has been very useful on this trip so far. I have two pairs of bike bibs (like bike overalls) that I’ve been changing on and off on this trip, so even if a pair didn’t dry, I could and often planned to wear the other pair.

One last note before I go to bed: another thing that I’ve noticed on this trip are the animals in Taiwan. There have been innumerable dogs and quite a few cats. Most dogs are just sentries for a business or home, on a long chain or rope leash that connects them to the door or yard entrance. Some look well taken care of. Some have little doghouses that look nearly identical to the roadside shrines at intersections to the god of the land. Some are flea-bitten and limping. It nearly broke my heart to see today this one dog that had liquid black eyes and was nearly in the middle of the road. He had one forepaw that didn’t work well, and one rear paw that looked like it was just one toe. I had the overwhelming compulsion to sweep him up into our van and take him home, but a few things stopped me: one was that the Giant tour guides would almost certainly say no; two was that he was wearing a collar and otherwise looked like his coat was shiny and had been washed sometime in the recent past. He probably had a family; three was that he was also running away from me, because he was afraid of strangers. It was just typical of the animals we’ve seen around, though. Most of them are working animals and bark at us when we go past. They’re not petted furry family members. The most ridiculous leash I’ve seen so far on this trip is actually a dog who was leashed, and the leash was connected to a zip line that hung horizontally across the yard above people’s heads. So it actually gave him a huge range of motion! The cats are all over the place. We met two very mangy-looking cats at one 7-11 who looked like they regularly fought the neighborhood rivals, but they were desperate for affection, and a few people pitied them enough to pet them, even though they had to wash their hands afterwards. And that’s not counting all the dead birds we’ve seen by the roadside, the truckloads of pigs being brought to market, and huge ponds full of white geese and tiny yellow goslings. They are a sober reminder of where our food actually comes from, and that outside the cities, parts of Taiwan are quite different.

So overall, quite an interesting day with lots of observations and learnings. We wrapped it up with a lovely group dinner where we brought quite a few beers at the 7-11 to share, and also a quick dip in the hot springs. Tomorrow, we bike nearly 70 km to the Hualien train station, and take a train to Yilan to avoid the Suhua Tunnel. It’s nearly the end of our trip, and it’s hard to believe!

Return to the western motherland.

I’m fighting jet lag and some exhaustion in order to put some fingers to the keyboard. Twice in the past year or so, I’ve started an entry about our visits to Seoul and Kyoto/Osaka, but it’s so hard to encapsulate everything about a new visit to a new city, and yet that’s just what I want to do. Recently, we also went back to Taichung for a day, and in revisiting some of the blog entries I wrote in the summer of 2015 about our time there, I was reminded of not only how lovely some places were, but how I was transported back to that rhythm of life by the entries I wrote neatly documenting the minute details of our lives. It made me resolve that I’m going to spend more time putting that down, even imperfectly or piecemeal. Perfection is the enemy of getting anything done, as far as my blogging is concerned. So here’s some imperfection.

I had been planning my first trip back to the US since we moved to Taiwan, but it got moved up since I left my job at the end of December. Thus,  I scheduled it for late January to avoid the crush of Chinese New Year, but I forgot the temperatures I would be facing. In fact, I left all my scarves and gloves in Taipei, and the first day out here, I started bitterly regretting that fact. The weather is just one of the many things I’m startled by. I’ve taken to religiously smearing Vaseline on my lips before bed, and reviving my habit of lotioning up. The cold is not only cold – it’s dry. I raise static on my arms taking off and putting on sweaters, the ends of my long hair stick to my puffy jacket, and I actually shocked myself the other day, something I haven’t done since 2013 in Chicago! How cold is it, you might ask? After lows in the 40s Fahrenheit in Taipei, I’ve now been thrown into the lower 20s, with significantly less humidity and more wind. My phone still thinks I’m in Celsius territory, though, so it routinely reminds me that it’s -1 degrees Celsius outside, striking fear into the hearts of those who know me back in Taiwan. Thank goodness for long underwear and my double-coated method, although I did have to buy myself something resembling a hat and gloves the first day I was out.  Continue reading Return to the western motherland.

The spring and the sun.

Spring has come to Croatia while we’ve been here, whiling away the hours in Zagreb and Dubrovnik. Trees are filling out, and the sun warms the air on the patio every morning despite the brisk chill, so that before long, we are ushered back into the shade of the kitchen. I absolutely love it. After hiding from the sun for so long, unconsciously burdened by the extreme humidity of Southeast Asia, it is a pure pleasure to be outside in this amazingly dry, sunny weather. It draws me out at all hours of the day, with a morning cup of tea or in the afternoon or to watch a bit of the sunset. And it has changed our appetite.

The Old City of Dubrovnik.

From the very first morning in Zagreb, Steve and I both found ourselves ravenous. Not content with a breakfast of muesli and yogurt, we made ourselves tomato and cheese sandwiches, which barely kept us until lunch. It seemed like we were eating every two hours, and the trend kept up for a week or two. Even now, we’re puzzling out only a few answers, reasoning that our bodies are trying to keep warm in this spring weather and keep up with the miles that we walk and climb every day. But I think it may well be that the sun and reviving world around us has awakened our appetite and energy. This morning, like most mornings this past week, I woke up at 9 am (so late!) and had a bit of breakfast on the terrace while writing a few postcards. Occasionally, bees have visited our terrace and ventured into our kitchen, perhaps drawn by the rosehip and hibiscus flower tea and plum jam on bread. (Note to self: eat breakfast inside next time.) After I showered and dressed, I left Steve to his programming and took the backpack as well as a Neil Gaiman book down with me to the supermarket about half an hour away. I came back almost an hour and a half later, out of breath and burdened with many groceries after a slow climb back. Since we live at the top of the hill that is Dubrovnik, everywhere we go is down and every trip back is a climb up, much to my chagrin.

Grüz Market, Dubrovnik.

Continue reading The spring and the sun.

Fashion, architecture, and the kindness of strangers.

We have left Asia after six and a half months of living and travel. The change to living in Croatia is quite a shock for both our minds and bodies. We’ve been adapting rather quickly to living in a European country, as both of us have traveled in Central and Western Europe before, but I have a feeling we’ll be digesting the differences from Asia for a long time. We are turning on the heat in the mornings and at night and apply more lotion to our suddenly dry and chapped skin. We pick up the bread basket at the restaurants we go to, marveling at the fact that we haven’t had good real cooked bread in months. Up and down the streets of central Zagreb, there are grocery stores galore, with everything from cucumbers to Milka to wine. And when we cross the street, we must look left again first after spending more than two months in countries where we had learned to do the opposite (Thailand, Malaysia, India). And nobody is honking! What a relief! 

Two blocks from where we stayed in Zagreb.

Essentially, Zagreb has been really wonderful so far. The more that Steve and I see, the more we like this city, which has a charming and wonderful old town that is every bit as beautiful and historic but better preserved and less touristy than Prague. There are people and dogs about in the parks, the pedestrian streets that criss-cross its historic center, sitting at roadside cafés, enjoying breakfast and beers and coffee. There are deciduous trees here, which look exotic to us after months of coconut palms, and the pale, early spring is persuading them throwing out small green buds, coaxing life into austere but elegant streets framed with concrete and stone buildings. On our first night here, it was a brisk 8 degrees Centigrade last night or 47 Fahrenheit. (I know, I know, I haven’t been in Chicago this whole winter! But you’d find it cold too if you’d been in Kochi!)

My favorite park in Zagreb, with all these towering white trees.

The Dolac or main market in Zagreb.

Continue reading Fashion, architecture, and the kindness of strangers.

Downpours and dirt: moments from India.

A sudden, unseasonal downpour ended our first full day in Delhi before it even got started.

The morning before the downpour on Main Bazaar Road.

Wearing raincoats and hoisting our green umbrella, we had barely gotten two hundred meters down the Main Bazaar in Paharganj before we realized that we were going to get soaked on our way to explore Connaught Place, about ten minutes’ walk away. And wet Delhi streets are just plain miserable. Dry, they are dusty, trash-strewn, and dirty beyond belief. Wet, they are riddled with puddles of filthy water, which you can try to sidestep, moving from one elevated patch to another. Something in my soul shrieked wordlessly each time that water sloshed over my feet in its sandals or splashed onto my pants. We called it a day and headed back, for hot showers, a soap-scouring, and sending down a half-load of laundry to be done. 

Continue reading Downpours and dirt: moments from India.