We heard Taiwan is China without chinese people. It’s true they speak mandarin ans it’s official name is Republic of China. By the way it’s what is written on the taiwanese passports, it creates some confusions at the borders when they travel.
These similarities can be explain by the history of the island. First populated by aboriginal people, the island was discovered and colonised by Dutch and Spanish people. They bring Chinese worker from the continent. After struggles for the imperial throne, a Chinese general, Koxinga chased the European people and settled on the island in 1662. Later, Taiwan was given to Japan as a tribute until its defeat in 1945. After the world war II, Tchang Kai-chek, leader of the Kuomintang, nationalist party opposed to the Chinese Communist Party came to take refuge in Taiwan and take the power while claiming the rest of China. The dictatorship lasted until the end of the century before a progressive transition to the democracy.
Geographically, the island looks like a sweet potato stretched from the North to the South. We arrived on the west side where the plains are filled with many cities. The accommodations are quite expensive. As it seemed difficult to camp we contacted several Warmshowers for the first week. We were not disappointed! The first one, Chi welcomed us as kings. He gave us local food, advices for our path and Wi-Fi codes for the numerous 7-eleven of the island.
We left Chi to met the next host living in a small village. On the road, we were impressed by the number of Taoist and Buddhist temples, more numerous than in China! Food was cheap and delicious. We found the dishes finer and more sophisticated than in China. Here, there often was somebody who knew some English words to help us to understand what we ate. It helped a lot. Chinese electrical scooters were replaced by motorcycles as numerous but with heat engine. It was less pleasant but here, no more infernal horns. What a relief for our ears!
The village where we arrived was covered by paintings with a particular style. We discovered they were the work of our host Jeff, illustrator. He had two passions: bicycle touring and painting. You can imagine how wonderful are his travel diaries. With another traveler, Chain, he brought us to the puppets festival which touk place in the neighbor city. We discovered a real popular culture which replaced television in the past. We discovered also a very interesting woman who was full of ideas. She was a real local figure behind many cultural projects. The one we preferred was the Kamishibai or story- bicycle, a kind of ambulant story machine. These two days were very intense, enriching and stimulating.
In Tainan, former colonial city, with our host-guide, we made a tour in numerous temples. Teacher in history of art, Michelle taught us a lot about the history of the country, religion and writing of Chinese. Taiwanese people are at the same time very religious and very tolerant. Buddhist, Taoist and Confucianist temples cohabit with Catholic and Protestant Churches. The first evening, Michelle brought us to see one of her student who was learning Chinese, Dominique. He was a french guy married with a Taiwanese woman and he just opened a bakery. We enjoyed the pastries with a good taste of France!
After crossing Kaoshiung and its monkey hill, we finally left the urban zone where the traffic lights chopped the road. We discovered the wonderful coastal landscapes of the south. One day, a car stopped and gave us fruits that we didn’t know yet. Thanks!
When we went on the east coast, we paid a visit to Shuan, a friend of Chi. She welcomed us with a big smile. She brought us to bath in the neighbor hot spring, walk on the beach, taste the local fruit: Buddha’s head and eat delicious fried noodles on the local night market.
A typhoon in the Pacific ocean was threatening us. Nobody could predict where it will strike but it sent us bad weather and a strong headwind. The progression toward the north was difficult. One day, we were caught by that looked like a triathlon. When they passed us, the participant encouraged us with the famous “Jihao!”: keep fighting! When we understood it was an ironman (3.86 km of swimming, 180 km of cycling and 42.2 km of running), we realised they need much more courage than us!
On the road, a couple with scooter invited us in their guest-house. Two days later when we arrived, the lady of the house Hepahu entertain herself by making sumptuous meals. They brought us in their nice SUV to visit the city and around.
The typhoon, after striking the North of Philippines, suddenly disappeared. We serenely took the road toward the Taroko gorge. The village and the church where we stayed were quiet and nice. Unfortunately, because of the violent typhoon which stroke Taiwan this summer, most of the trails were closed. We took a rest and we walked a bit on the few touristic paths. On one of them, Fanchon came face to face with a snake which was caught against the wall. Everything was very fast: she took a step backward while the reptile closed its fangs in the air before it fled. We learn later that most of the snake in Taiwan are venomous and it was probably a cobra. We had a lucky escape.
After we regained our composure, we arrived at the home of a Warmshower couple One-way and Joyee. The man is at the same time prison guard and drawer. He just published a book in Chinese. We could not read but the drawings witnessed the hard life of the prisoners. It was very involved! When they knew we will take a flight in Taipei and we didn’t know how to manage it, our host decided to help us. After measuring our bikes, make several phone calls and check the bus paths, the action plan was ready. Everything should be OK, we were relieved. Thank them very much!
In Taipei, we visited the botanical garden to admire the plants and the flowers we missed on the road. We visited also the fine art museum, we liked several exhibitions which called us to mind. For example the painter Chang Chue. The entire day we reserved to take our flight was actually OK. Instead of ask a surcharge for our bicycles, the bus driver helped to load them. In the airport, at the check-in, the counter managed kindly the few extra kilograms of our luggage. Yes!
Actually completely different from China, Taiwan is a country where it was pleasant to ride. We discovered very interesting landscapes, cooking and culture. The meetings were very rich and gave birth to real friendships. It was the first country of our trip where we could live, the only problem is the language barrier.
On the 29th of October at 1 AM, we flew from Taiwan and we headed for Singapore.