30 Oct 2018

Tacklin' the Typhoon - sort of...

The strongest and steadiest weather I've ever experienced.

We had a short flight scheduled from Taichung to Penghu - Taiwan’s tropical island off of its west coast - between mainland China and Taiwan in the Formosa Strait. From the air, probably close to 20,000 ft high, you could still see the rolling swell and the breaking whitecaps below. I knew from sailing that white caps start to appear at around 10 - 12 knots of wind, causing the water to pile up on itself so much that it breaks into the turbulent white water that we’re used to. I couldn’t begin to guess the strength of wind below us - considering our altitude and that the sea looked like it was popping popcorn in slow motion.

That afternoon, we had planned to go to Jibei - on the north side of Penghu, but due to the strong winds, the ferry had shut down. Instead, we scheduled a ferry ride to Hujing, a small island to the south of Penghu - where the strong northerly wind was sheltered by Penghu itself. It was still incredibly exciting on the boat - and I’m glad I had my sea-legs for it. The wind was so strong, it took a long time to dock the ferry properly and the police came to help. According to the locals, we were the second ever cycling tour group to visit Hujing.

In the main photo of this post, you can see the road in the background leading up to the hills. As soon as we crossed that section we were soaked with sea-spray from the oncoming wind lifting up the ocean itself with an unpleasant reminder of the elements we were in. It didn’t take long to get used to the wind on the bike - even from the side it was surprisingly manageable, and there were no points where it felt like what we were doing was unsafe. We had a support vehicle, shelter, and plenty of food and water should anything awful happen to us.

Hujing used to be a military station from Taiwan’s complicated history. It lays on the tropic of cancer, with a latitude of 23.5 degrees, and has many old buildings and interesting architecture - including two giant hands that the sun sets between if you aligned your view at the proper angle. We spent quite a bit of time playing in the wind, with an incredible few of the South China Sea and the Formosa Strait.

The strangest part of this day - beyond the absurdity of the strength of the winds, was that there was an opera playing in the village (population 100) as soon as we arrived. They were throwing candy and snacks into the audience as they dramatically and impressively performed for the ten person crowd (including seven of us). One of our trip leaders got so excited by this that he rushed to be a part of the action. I’m not sure if it was the intensity of the weather, surreal landscape of the location, unexpectedness of the random opera, or the candy itself, but this sequence of events made absolutely no sense in my head and I had to take a minute from the group to recoup and make sure what I was experiencing was actually real. I inquired afterwards as to what it was exactly that we saw, and it was indeed an opera, but the reason the show was still happening amidst the insane weather, was for the gods. It is preformed usually three or four times in a year as far as I understand it, and happens rain or shine, typhoon or not. If there isn’t a sold-out crowd to watch the play, the gods certainly were there anyway, and (hopefully) enjoying the entertainment.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget this day. It was beautiful, unnerving, gut testing, and physically challenging. Although, for the most part at least, I had a smile on my face. Just south of us, Typhoon Yutu was funneling the screaming air from the strait and making landfall in the northern Philippines.