Tuesday, 10 February 2015

up and over and out

Leaving Yilan we come to switchbacks almost as soon as the city outskirts have passed.  The road seems quiet - there's an expressway that tunnels through the mountains to Taipei - just us and a few trucks who insist on going the hard way, over the top.  We plod upwards and hope the grey skies do not mean rain.  We seem to climb into the drizzle and are joined by a man and his son cycling towards Taichung.  They will be staying with family tonight in Taipei, the father tells us.  Will you be camping, he asks?  We were kind of hoping he was leading up to an invitation to join them. We'll be camping, we reply.  It's our last wild camp in Taiwan and it might be our worst.  The road has got busier and in the afternoon we are on our second climb of the day.  It's a long slow pull up into the rainy forest, trucks and buses reminding us that Taipei is not so far away.  But too far for us.   We camp on a sliver of land beside the road, in a spot that somehow avoids being fully lit up by the vehicles in the dark.  It doesn't stop raining and we pack the tent wet in the morning.
jolly cyclists in the rain

Happily our ride into Taipei is easy.  We soon reach the pass and descend into the outskirts of the city on another dreary morning.  True to form the sun tries to break through and when we get onto the bike path that runs along all of Taipei's riversides we soon find a place to put the tent up to dry.  The ride into the city centre is easy thanks to this river route and by early afternoon we are settled in our hostel.  Before tea we have got ourselves two bike boxes from a local shop and are making a shopping list of things we'll need before we fly to Okinawa.


Originally we planned to see quite a few things in Taipei, including the national collection of Chinese art brought here by the KMT.  But in the end we spend most of our time doing maintenance tasks and catching up on the internet.  We collect a little parcel sent from my mum and dad so that we can start learning Japanese.  We sift through our things and send home a bigger parcel of items.  We have a 20kg baggage limit, 20kg limit for the bikes and 10kg limit for our carry-on luggage for our flight to Japan.  The bikes must be in boxes not exceeding total dimensions of 203cm.  This latter requirement drives me to distraction because I have to strip down my bike to the frame to check it will fit.  It just doesn't quite make it but I think it will be okay.

so many rules.....

We do some sight-seeing one day, walking a bit through the downtown, but our hearts, or maybe our legs, aren't into any further exploration.  At the hostel there are a couple of Canadians to chat to. One, Cameron, is teaching English at a university in Chengdu, and we have a couple of evenings chattering away.  A couple from Singapore arrive and want to party the weekend away.  I am wishing it away, counting the days to the flight and getting the bikes rebuilt in Japan.  We swap out Gayle's old tyre and leave it behind - our last Marathon XR which has done 33,000 km and lasted 5 years.  The brakes all get overhauled, new chains fitted.  Is there anything else??


We take the scenic route to the airport, first riding out on a bike path to the coast.  It's longer than the road but there are no traffic lights and no cars and Gayle is carrying an extra-wide load - our two folded bike boxes.  The rain holds off and we arrive at about 4 o'clock with the intention of sleeping overnight in the departures hall.  Cameron is there for his flight back to Chengdu so we catch up in the food court before finally saying our farewells.
About two hours later the bikes are both boxed up.  Gayle goes off to wander and I weigh our stuff.  Both bike boxes are overweight.  It's the actual boxes that make them overweight.  Stupid.  I have to reopen the boxes and remove saddles and pedals and tools. 

Hello Kitty banned in the airport

Our flight is at 9.15am so we set the alarm for 6.30am  No-one bothers us sleeping on the floor in a corner of the departures hall.  When we get to check-in our passports are checked for Japanese visas which we don't have.  We are told we need an onward or return ticket if we plan to arrive without a visa.  We explain that we plan to take a ferry to Korea, but we don't know when.  We're half asleep and after being concerned about all our baggage it's the visa rules that are the problem.  The check-in staff say they will have to ask Japanese immigration for approval before checking us in.  So naturally we have to wait to the last.  Gayle meanwhile starts to explain about our journey and our plans.  One of the staff asks us a few questions and we start saying that we only want 90 days in Japan.  He phones Japanese immigration again and we are given the nod. We can fly to Okinawa.  If only we could cycle over the sea - it'd be much simpler.


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