[Day 4] City of Blinding Lights

Distance Today: 124km
Total Distance: 413km
Maximum Speed: 39kph
Average Speed: 17kph
Time in Saddle: 7hrs 22min
Journey: Feng’ Kang – Tai’ Nan (via Provincial Highway No. 1)
Accommodation: Ya’Di Hotel
Money Used Today: NT$572

WE ACCOMPLISHED MUCH MORE MILEAGE than we planned, making us half a day in front of our schedule. Our day starts off early just like the other days before, as we try to gain enough time before the sun gets too hot for cycling. And whenever the weather gets too scorching hot for us, we’ll find shelter and air conditioning and of course a place to have our lunch. After that, we’ll continue our trip reaching our pre-decided destination before sunset.

THE DAY STARTED WITH THE SUN ALREADY UP although it was only 5am in the morning. After a quick breakfast of some biscuits we brought along, it’s work time again and we cycled our way north bound for a change, and witnessing the western coastline beaches of Taiwan, which has more sand and less waves. Our speed was consistent and fast thanks to the wide, straight and properly leveled roads of the west coast. We literally flew our ways past Ping’ Tung (屏東) and into Kao’ Hsiung (高雄).

Kao’ Hsiung is a heavily industrialized city, the second largest in Taiwan. Its economy depends on the seaport and shipbuilding. But, the booming economy brought bad effects to the city, in the form of pollution, traffic and overcrowding. We witnessed numerous factories giving out smoke with the hazy sky as its background as soon as we cross the bridge separating Kao’ Hsiung county from Ping’ Tung. Although the roads are apparently wider as we approach the city, the traffic became such a nuisance that I would cycle harder with my aching legs just to leave the urban area for the less populated villages. We even passed through a long stretch of road claiming to have the most car accidents in Taiwan, and one with so many traffic lights I lost count when I reached 20. Every time there’s a red light, our momentum would have to come to a halt and then we had to start increasing our speed all over again after the green light to find another red one just right in front. The motorists and cars and large automobiles charged onto the road looking like a metallic stampede every time the lights turn green, we tried hard to keep ourselves on the safe side of the road just to avoid being crushed into pieces.

THERE ARE PROS OF BEING IN A BIG CITY though, McDonald’s and 7-11 are everywhere, and those are the places where we can cool off and rest with unhealthy carbonated drinks in our hands. After helping the city filter its polluted air for hours, we arrived at YING ZHENG’s apartment in KAO’ HSIUNG where his mum and dad and a pet cat lives. This is where KIAN HWEE, the one member in our team who quitted and went here to rest for two days, will meet us and proceed with the journey. YING ZHENG’s mum did us a big favor by ordering appetizing lunches complete with fruit deserts. This is the first home eaten meal (it is not home cooked) in a while, so we enjoyed it over long chats and daily jokes from RU JIANG. We went on for our naps all over YING ZHENG’s living room; on his floor, his couch… everywhere. Having cycled for nearly 70km this morning, we felt as if it were nighttime and had no problems getting into deep sleep.

We finally woke up at 3.30pm, unenthusiastic and hung over (some of them had sips of beer during lunch). With our remaining 70km to go on before reaching Liu’ Ying (柳營) where my other classmate lives, we have to hurry up or else we wouldn’t be able to get there in time.

IT WAS A REALLY BAD TRAFFIC DAY, most roads are congested or in some sort of construction. It’s bad enough to have dirty air filling up your lungs, and worse to have your bike turn you down in the middle of the crazy traffic. That was what happened to RU JIANG when one of his brakes went bizzerk forcing him to stop and look for a shop to fix it. When all this happened, most of us were already miles in front of him, not knowing that he was in trouble. To cut the long story short, RU JIANG was lucky to find a bicycle shop nearby and got his bike fixed before arriving to the place where we waited for him for an hour. It was already getting dark and we haven’t even cycled out of the city, this discouraged most of us and the mood went from bad to dreadful.

Although we worked our pedals as fast as they can go, it wasn’t enough for us to get to Liu’ Ying in time. We ended up in Tai’ Nan at 8.30pm, with the sky dark and the roads dangerous. We decided to call this our night, realizing that it would be too risky for us to continue cycling. After dinner, we had to look for a suitable place to stay, and this is when we met some cheerful cyclists on the road, offering to lead us to an area where motels are in abundance. We followed them for at least 5km to find that all the motels there are too pricey for us. We thanked them though, for their generous help.

WE WENT FROM HOTELS TO MOTELS and finally found one within our budget, the Ya’ Di Hotel (雅帝大飯店), which with NT$400 per person, we get 3 doubles, inclusive of supper and breakfast (and free internet access too). During the buffet supper, we had a big debate between us about how we should continue our journey. Having had big adjustments in our schedules these two days, we have to change the following itinerary so that YING EN can get to Tai’ Chung by Day 7 for her exam. Two main ideas were being argued, one is to forgo the Provincial No. 3 trip which is more difficult yet much more beautiful, for the No. 1 highway, an easier but comparably ugly one. The other suggestion was to treat ourselves to a day of sightseeing in Tai’ Nan, and take a train to Tai’ Chung with our bikes on it the following day.

TAI’ NAN (台南) IS THE HISTORICAL CAPITAL of Taiwan, a city blessed with a long and colorful historical importance. Temples of every sizes fill up Tai’ Nan and some of them are the best in the East Asian region. Monuments such as the Chih’ Kan tower (赤崁樓) and An’ Ping fort (安平古堡) are essential stopovers for a glance into the Taiwanese history. I longed to go see all these for myself, so I voted to skip the cycling to make more time for sightseeing.

Some of the cycling members insisted on finishing the journey by bike, the way it should be, and not traveling one-fourth of the designated path on train. In the end, we all agreed to cycle all the way, and to avoid much more delays, we are going to go on the No. 1 highway, which crisscrossed into even more cities just like what we had today.

CITIES AREN’T ALWAYS CYCLIST-FRIENDLY, a fact that we noticed since we entered two major ones today, but they can be quite inspiring, at least reminding us of how human development can alter our environment. I missed the sandy beaches and clear blue skies of the eastern shore more after being compared to the dusty and noisy roads of the western coastline. At least all this city frenzy makes us appreciate nature even more, and of course, where else can you get your lungs dyed black for free?

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