Day 7 – 3 Oct (124km Jhiben 知本 to Ruisuei Hotsprings 瑞穗溫泉)
So, we were on the east coast now and expecting to see the beautiful coastline again. But no, we veered inland and got something even better – wide expanses of green padi fields. And that’s when we knew we were in rice country – Chishang. Chishang 池上鄉 is one of the top rice-producing county in Taiwan and the rice was purportedly very delicious, rivaling japan’s.
This was easily the most beautiful ride of this trip.
I didn’t know we were riding into Mr Brown’s Avenue 伯朗大道, popularised by the Eva Air ad starring the swoon-worthy Takeshi Kaneshiro, until we got there. It was as beautiful as imagined. Unfortunately, we could only take a very short break there. And then we had to move off to lunch.
Lunch was Ekiben 駅弁 at a 30-year old bento shop – 全美行池上鐵路月台便當 near the Chishang train station. Apparently Chishang bento 池上饭包 had become an iconic specialty of the Chishang county and Quan Mei Hang 全美行 was the authority on Chishang bento. To qualify as authentic Chishang bento, there were 3 conditions: the rice must be from Chishang, the food had to be packed into a wooden box and it had to be dry-packed (no wet works here!). A few streets down, there was another bento shop sited at the old train station site using a converted train carriage as an eating area. That looked interesting too.
The bento was ok, not exceptional (still can’t beat the Ekibens in Japan). But just having the opportunity to sample famous local fare was an experience in itself. Plus the area around the train station had interesting shops and people. We were cooling off with cold dessert at a little shop run by a couple; they were so warm and obliging and kind and full of pride for their town and for Taiwan.
And we realised what was missing this trip – the opportunity to have serendipitous exchanges with locals.
After lunch, it started to drizzle, then rained. It was bleeding cold because the strong headwinds followed us all the way to our destination. The rain helped us clear the slopes easily but also limited visibility and there was the danger of skidding what with all of us cycling wheel to wheel. Good thing there was no mishap. We got to 瑞穗溫泉 slightly past 5pm but it was already dark as night.
Though we resented the hot weather of the past few days, raining wasn’t so cool because our jerseys were splattered with mud and dirt (and our face too) and our shoes were wet and soggy. We had a hard time washing and drying them quick enough for the next day. So between hot days and raining days, maybe should just stick to hot days.