Motorcycles and Madness in Taiwan
It was a beautiful clear morning, and the path to adventure lay before us. The plan was simple. Travel down the west coast of Taiwan, cut across a small mountain range up the east coast, across another mountain range, and home again.
Our trusty steed
In the area of equipment, economy was important. I had the biggest and most powerful motorbike the average person in Taiwan could buy – 150cc. To this was strapped a tent, sleeping mats, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, food and girlfriend. At a top speed of about 80 – 90 km per hour, we were not going to break any land speed records.
Taiwan is best known for computers, but a little known wonder is the natural beauty of the place. Running up the middle of the island is a majestic mountain range. The range is truly spectacular.
Leaving the east coast, and the majority of people and factories, also means leaving the thick smog filled air. When first arriving on the east coast, the scenery is spectacular. Mountains reach right down to the sea. The sea is an aqua blue, clean and clear. Without doubt one of the most beautiful sights in the world.
Camping is no problem in Taiwan, especially if you have some trouble with the local language. First stop on the plan was Jrben (zurben). This area is famous for hot springs. A lot of people camp in Taiwan, but few of them venture far from the amenities. Once you find a river, not in flood, you are virtually left on your own to the tranquil sounds of the water and the wildlife.
Jrben hot spring
Taiwan is also well known for its earthquakes. Effects of this instability are the hot springs. There is nothing more soothing after a days ride on a motorbike, then to sit in the heavily mineralised waters of the hot springs. You can choose from the very commercial bathing areas or the natural settings, where the water bubbles up from the source itself. It’s the perfect treat for the weary traveller.
Part two of the journey saw us travel up the coast to meet the mountain range, and start the long journey home.
Travelling anywhere in the region of China and some parts of Asia during the Chinese New Year is not a good idea. In Taiwan most of the country is on the move. Stopping for supplies on the way into the mountains, we spoke to the local shop owner. All he could say in his broken English was “careful, be careful”. What could he mean? It wasn’t long before we found out.
In the centre of the mountain pass was a famous gorge, a nice place to set up and camp for the night and split the journey. Or so we thought. The road snaked its way up heading towards this gorge we had heard about. Arriving, we found just that, a gorge that you could see from a large bridge, but nowhere to camp. On the map it looked like we were about halfway through the mountains.
The road continued to make its way up the mountains Two hours later there was still no end to the climb. The road conditions had taken a turn for the worse just in time for the traffic to increase.
Being earthquake country, at times half the road was missing. This part of Taiwan was also famous for landslides and in some places the road had been devastated. This seemed of no consequence to the Taiwanese. They came in large numbers, and at great speeds, and on any part of the road that seemed to feel most comfortable.
In Taiwan there is an unwritten hierarchy for traffic. It goes in size. Trucks and buses first, cars, and then of course the lowly motorcycles, scooters and bicycles. The consequences of this were that an approaching car would never move over for a motorcycle. Given that the road clings to the side of the mountain, it was a very dangerous dance. On one side was a two-foot wall with at least a drop of a kilometre and the other was the grand prix circuit for Taiwan.
Stopping outside a roadside restaurant, searching the skyline and the impossible height of the mountains, we looked for the pass that would take us through to the other side. Upon leaving, the road climbed and climbed. There was no pass. We were going straight over the top.
Just when you thought that things could get no worse, they did. The temperature dropped about ten degrees. At the top the view was spectacular, not quite risking your life for, but very spectacular.
Legend had it that many people died making the road. Local people said that before the weeklong holiday was finished there would be a few more.
Riding for three hours and covering less than a hundred kilometres, all that lay ahead was a damp dark tunnel and the other side of the mountain.
The road stayed in its normal condition, narrow and falling off the mountain. The traffic however increased significantly. On at least five occasions, a head on collision with a car or truck was only seconds away. If the tinge of fear had not set up camp in the pit of my stomach, then the smell of leaking brake fluid made the tent look like a house. Luck being on our side – it rained.
The journey down the other side of the mountain range took another three to four hours. Dismounting at the first town, lips caressed the ground in heart-felt thanks.
Chinese New Year brought out the celebrations in people. That meant firecrackers, and lots of them. There goes the restful nights sleep. Waking found us lying in the salted pools again, before making our way home in the driving rain.
What could be the moral of the story? My recommendation is this. If you want to enjoy the beauty of Taiwan’s mountains, run a bath throw in some salts and connect to the net.