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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Taiwan Day 16 - Monkey Mountain

Full picture set of the day here: Flickr set or slideshow.

Back to the rainy north, and back on the bike this morning. After 2 days of sitting and eating, I'm exhausted. I need to get back on 2 wheels and burn some of this stuff off and make room for more food. As I mentioned yesterday, we have a lunch date today. I pushed it out to 12:30, saying that I needed to go long on a ride. I forgot to mention the guy's name who is taking us out. His name is Better. For real, yo. Nat's dad talks about him all the time. I have to be honest, I can't not judge the book by it's cover on this one. I'll leave it at that.

But first, Monkey Mountain. Now it's not really called Monkey Mountain it's just where I saw the monkeys that day, so I wanted to get back up there and climb to the top. Last time I made it most of the way, but not all the way. Today it was all the way or bust. I set sail a bit after 7:00 and much to my surprise, I was wrong in saying I wouldn't see the blue sky again until we got back to NJ:

So a word about the rain, or more specifically, the rain forecast. Before we got here I saw 1 forecast where it was 10% chance of rain. Since then, it's anywhere from 40-90%. I've learned that there are 2 kinds of rainy days here in the winter. The first is the 40-60% kind, and the other is the 70-90% kind. 40-60 means there's a reasonable chance that it will be dry most of the day, and it will rain some little bit somewhere along the line. 70-90 means it will be wet most of the day, and it may or may not rain when you're out. We had a few days of 70-90, but we're back in the 40-60 which is what we had when we got here. Now if only these lows of 47 would get a little bit back to normal, everything would be ok.

So of course, in that pic above it's only a sliver of blue and most of it was gray. I was heading to the hills which are almost constantly shrouded in clouds. So I knew it was going to be wet & cold up there, and today I dressed more appropriately. Shoe covers, longer pants, thicker gloves, thicker head cover, and a rain jacket. As I started out, I was warm.

That wouldn't last. As soon as I got to the base of the hill the mist started. And it steadily grew to drizzle as I climbed higher and higher. I have to admit that my sense of wonder is no longer as strong as it was the first week, at least on a ride like this. The novelty of my riding here has been replaced with a total comfort zone. I'm still awed by some of the construction and scenery I get, but I'm not taking as many pictures on the rides, especially on days like this where I really want to get my ride on so I can get my eat on later. I need to uncover more new things and spark that sense of wonder again.

The road was more of the same, since...well, it was the same. Lots of these signs along the way:

Unfortunately, no monkeys. The goal of the day was to get to the top, 4000 feet up. The ride wasn't anything amazing, and I really don't have anything new to talk about. I got a few "jia yo!" comments, and a thumbs up by a passer-by. But it was mostly me and the rain, which I had some conversations with along the way. The general conversation went like this:

Me: Dude, can you give me a break with this rain?

Rain: Dude yourself. I'm rain, man. I'm what makes the island what it is. You know, water is plentiful, I help grow all this awesome fruit and tea that you like. Scenery? Hello, you ever see a dry mountain? Kinda boring, and good luck getting a road up on that bitch because the trees and plants and stuff help keep the damn mountain together. No rain means no trees means landslide central. Now STFU and pedal.

Fine. So I made peace with the rain and made my way to the top. Unfortunately, the hill topped out at about 3950 feet and that was it. I ended up climbing 3250 feet in 7.7 miles which took 1:11, which is solid and leads me to believe that the TaiPingShan climb will take me about 2 hours or so, assuming I ever get there. This rain makes it pretty sketchy on the "down" part of the trip. I may need to buy some new brake pads for that trip.

I did get to see some monkeys after all, about 50 feet from the top they were in the trees and screaming at me again. Once again, no pics and not even any video. I tried to go with the video but they were gone by the time I broke it out. These monkeys are so lame in that regard. I guess they're camera shy.

I turned around, put the rain coat on (going up I was fine), and rolled back down for 33 minutes. Even though I was dressed more warmly it was freezing. I can't imagine how cold I would have been without the extra layers. I stopped a few times to take random pics of signs and later I was able to figure out that most of the area belongs to the department of the forestry, and much of it is only opened on a limited basis to the public, just like the other spot with the gate and the application process.

I took a slightly different route to get home which made the ride more interesting. The straight out & backs are boring, and the alternate route makes life much more enjoyable in the whole life & spice balance. I still have to take that 8-10 mile straight shot back from Scallion Land to Luodong every ride. But there's not a whole lot I can do about that.

So lunch. Better. His fiance is actually someone we've met before, as she used to live in Jersey City. It's been quite a long time but at least we know her, as opposed to being paraded in front of scores of people I either don't know or don't remember. We got there first and sat down to wait. Shortly after they showed up and we did the normal meet & greet & eat. This was the same place where I had the possible Best Meal of Trip the other day.

It turns out that Better is simply a poor choice for an English name, and it ends there. He was actually quite a nice guy and the lunch ended up being a decent time. He knew a little bit of English, so he tried to engage me in conversation, which was somewhat broken but he generally got the gist of what I was saying, which is more than I can say most of the time. Anna can speak English too, though for the most part, she didn't. That's the way these meals usually go. This is the price you pay for free food, I suppose.

After lunch Nat's dad immediately tried to get us to go to his sister's house, but thankfully Nat's mom told him to go fly a kite so we want back to the apartment to relax (not for long) and grab a coffee. I wasn't even halfway done when he burst into the living room and announced, "Ok, Norm, they're waiting for us at my sister's house. We better go." He said it as if we had made these plans and they were waiting for us. The man is persistent, I'll say that.

Nat gave me the option to bail but I went, since it was something to do. Nat's mom, however, took the out and hung out with her sister upstairs. It gets us out of the house and I get to drink tea on someone else's couch. Julia had some toys to play with and we got snacks. The only thing is that they constantly try to bombard you with food there, and it's a series of "no thanks" over and over. They also tried to talk us into dinner which we managed to pass on. We stayed maybe an hour.

Not sure if I've posted this, but here's a picture of the grave sites that randomly litter the hillsides here, which we saw on the drive:

Nat thinks they're gaudy and I suppose they kinda are. They're interesting enough from a tourist standpoint but they probably are a bit much to be dropping all over the countryside. But it's a pretty integral part of the culture, the ancestor thing. So you'd never really be able to change this. Nat's dad is totally bonkers over all the pomp & circumstance related to his mother. He carries around the small plaque with her picture almost everywhere now to show people. So the grave sites are just part of that religion.

Back to the house and some more relatives were there, this time Crash and YaoChun, both readers of the blog on Facebook. Crash had some goodies for me, including a waterproof camelback that his company makes, a waterproof iPhone case, a small bag to strap on the top tube of the bike to put stuff in, and an extra bladder for backup water. Very nice score, and this will certainly come in handy when it's time to hit TaiPingShan or LiShan.

YaoChun was just there to look happy, which she always does.

After they left we went to get some dinner and hit the bakery and food store. We dipped in for a quick stop at the night market to get something to eat while waiting for dinner, a sort of appetizer if you will. I think it was a lard stick wrapped in lard and deep fried, and salted. It was good for sure. Off to the bakery madness, the noodle shop, the grocery store for milk, then to get some veggies and back home to find that 2 of Nat's cousins were there. I groaned, as you can't actually eat dinner when other people are there without offering them food, which would mean going back out and buying more stuff. But as soon as we walked in, they got up to leave. I'm sure they knew we were about to get our food on and I must have looked hungry. Given how often people try to give me food, I must always appear hungry.

We had some noodles and veggies, which is a pretty standard meal here. Julia, meanwhile, was hammering some potato chips and looking guilty:



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