Today I travelled to Juifen, a small city that is built in the mountains. We travelled from Taipei and took the back way to get there, via Pingxi and its famous waterfalls. Pingxi is about halfway to Juifen.
The weather wasn’t great when we left Taipei, but today was the day to leave so we jumped on my bike and hit the road.
Driving through clouds
We had planned to stop at the waterfall at Pingxi on the way, but unfortunately the famous Shifen waterfall was closed. We still managed to walk along the suspension bridge.
It’s Chinese new year at the moment, that means most things are shut. I’m unsure why there were tons of coaches heading to the waterfall, perhaps those guests we heading to the old quarter of the town.
I didn’t realise that the onward journey from Pingxi would take us into the mountains. As we slowly raised in elevation the cloud got thicker, the mist got heavier, and soon we were in a weird type of rain I’ve never really experienced before.
You can picture it like being in a cloud, right at the boundary where the water droplets are almost too heavy for the wind to hold them up, and where they’re heavy enough to fall as rain. The air is heavy with water and it’s all swirling around not knowing whether to rise or fall. This is what we were driving through.
The road was winding and steep going up and down in places. The visibility was about ten meters and every ten seconds I had to wipe the water off my helmet visor. My helmet is new and well made, it has good ventilation, but my glasses wouldn’t stop fogging up. This added to the whiteness around me.
This is on the verge of being dangerous
Soon it seemed the driving would become dangerous, and if I didn’t make a change something was bound to go wrong. I made the decision to briefly stop and I opened my visor, pulled my glasses down to the end of my nose, shut my visor and continued driving at a slow pace.
Riding in a foreign country is challenging, but add mountains, rain, a person on the back of your bike, roads you don’t know and low visibility, and it’s particularly challenging. Never the less I kept the pace slow, squinted my eyes slightly and used all my concentration on not getting us killed.
After about a hour of driving like this we started going down the mountains, and the fog and mist lessened. We reached the town of Juifen, checked in to our hotel, dried off, then decided to go out and get food.
A dark, magical town
Much of the town was shut, but it was beautiful to see the fog and mist and weird rain engulfing the town. I couldn’t see far at all, everything was soaked and bathed in a sheet of grey and white. It was literally cloud, a small city cloaked in clouds.
Despite the inclement weather, there were still other tourists going about checking out the magnificent old quarter they have here, which is connected by several groups of about 10-15 steps that lead you to the next level. Red lanterns lead the way, and shops beckoned you in with their warm lights as you traversed the steps in either direction, the shops that were open anyway.
We wandered around trying to find a place we could eat, but there really wasn’t anything we could have (with me being a vegetarian and only about 3 different places to choose from). The wandering was nice though, and we ended up in the suburbs. This isn’t your typical suburb, it’s a maze of small roads and paths and steps that go up and down and in every direction. You could easily get lost.
Families making merry
As we walked around the homes I saw massive family gatherings through the doors of the houses that were left open. Large groups of all ages sat around big round tables with a feast set out in front of them. I wished we could have joined them.
After much wandering we found the red lanterns again, nice, we were on the right track back to ‘the touristy bit’. We saw a 7-11 ahead of us with a large group of people hanging around it. It seems the 7-11 was the only real shop open. We bought some food and came back to eat it.
I’m unsure what tomorrow will bring
I’m unsure where we’ll head tomorrow, but I hope it’s a bit drier. While the drizzle and clouds make for amazing lighting and atmosphere, they make for unfavourable driving conditions. Plus I’d like to see what this town looks like from a distance of further than 50 meters.