18 April 2009
The next morning, I woke to a rural village surrounded by paddy fields and ponds in the Jinshan District. Breakfast, steamed meat buns, were ready on the table. I guess most homestays in Taiwan would serve breakfast. We were so refreshed and ready for another day of pedalling. But no, not yet! I did not remember having a proper dinner the previous day. We went to the Jinshan Old Street to buy some brined duck meats.
As I was leaving the homestay, I was so impressed that the trails were well maintained and laid with asphalt. The garbages were taken care of properly. The government has put in a lot of effort to deal with this since 1989. Visitors to Taiwan must have heard a loud, raw electronic melody every evening. These are garbage trucks summoning garbages. Recyclable items are collected free of charge. Kitchen wastes are diverted to pig farms. And the rest, before collected by the truck, must be put inside a certain kind of bags sold by the local government with levies to fund the operation. So, we should always ask for permission to use the garbage cans in some small shops. I was quite embarrassed that I had to discard the duck meat packing in a 7-Eleven.
Gone was the dull sky. We had a sunny day with clear blue sky on the second day of our cycling trip. It looked particularly great with the colourful kites flying over a pier and the orange sandstone formations in the Yeliu Geopark in Wanli. There is this famous Queen’s Head inside the paid area which resembles the profile of Queen Elizabeth I at a certain angle. I used to think it’s Queen Millennia that they are talking about. Back in the 1960’s, the sculpture did look like a queen in real life. After half a century of erosion, her neck got chipped thinner and thinner, making her look rather like Yukino Yayoi (雪野 弥生) in the manga, Millennial Queen. Given the speed of erosion, the neck won’t be able to support the head for another decade, not to mention a thousand years. After taking a poll in which more than 60% of the voters agreed to take proactive measures to save the sculpture, the Tourism Bureau has tested various methods on other pedestal rocks in the vicinity to stop the erosion process. The results were unsatisfactory. Nothing can help save the queen yet.
After cycling in solitude for so many hours, Yeliu was a great place to hang around for its lively atmosphere. But we did not buy tickets and get inside the Geopark. We were in the biking mode. We would rather stick with our bikes and spend more time on the north coastal line and then head to the port city Keelung. We did not know how long it would take. We were told during lunch that there was a flat costal bikeway to Keelung. But this nice path has eluded us. We ended up climbing 180m with the busy traffic and breathed in lots of exhaust fumes from the cars and scooters before reaching the top. If you want to know how to find the easy path from Wanli to Keelung, check out my post here.
Keelung city is home to the third biggest port of Taiwan. It has been the northern gate for the island and strategically important for the past century. Numerous forts were built to guard the city against invaders and there are more than ten remains open to public. With two freeways and two railway lines starting there, the city is supposed to become even more prosperous. But its development has been limited by the surrounding hills. Narrow streets and old buildings are squeezed into the small area around the port, the others scattered in the hilly suburbs which consists of 95% of the city. Lacking space for renewal, Keelung remains more or less unchanged overtime. It’s like going back in time as we descended into the city centre. We checked into a small hotel and asked for a place to keep our bicycles. A staff member kindly brought us to their underground parking lots and let us use one of their mechanized parking systems. So much effort to squeeze more cars into an underground place.
While John was taking a rest in the hotel room, I took a walk and had the most delicious squid soup I have ever had at a food stall in an alley. I recommended it to John but I was not able to find the food stall again. The night market in Keelung has many great snacks to offer but nothing could compare to that squid soup. I even tried to find the store the second time when I was bike touring with Lois but also to no avail.
That was our two-day ride on the north coastal line. The next day, we would head east and cycle on the north east coastal line from Keelung to Yilan.