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Hope Valley, SA, 5090
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The official website of adventurer and author of It Takes Two To Tandem, Louise George. Louise currently resides in Adelaide, South Australia with her husband. The two regularly travel and undertake many adventures together, including riding travelling 880 miles through the United Kingdom, from John O’Groats to Lands End.

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Filtering by Category: Travel on bikes

Philippines: Boracay Island and two of the Romblon Island group (Tablas Island and Romblon Island)

Louise George

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Boracay Island

We had been told we might need a permit to take bicycles to Boracay as there are vehicle restrictions but we didn’t find that the case.

Our initial reaction to Boracay was shock! Apart from that it was a popular tourist destination, we knew little about it. The road was rough, dug up in places and congested with motor tricycles and electric passenger vehicles vying for customers. We found our accommodation after dodging open drains and a huge stagnant pond. Later, when we walked out looking for food, we first checked out Bulabong Beach nearest to our accommodation, only to be blasted by on-shore winds that were obviously favoured by kite surfers, because there were many, speeding from one end of the lagoon to the other. We were at the narrowest width of the island, so one kilometre later we had crossed to White Sand Beach, along with thousands of mostly Asian tourists, who like us, were out to marvel at the sunset.

Boracay had been spoiled by tourism. As a paradise discovered in the 60’s, Boracay had in recent years became wall to wall resorts, dive shops and restaurants all wanting beach frontage, visited by tourists wanting to participate in water sports during the day and beach parties at night. Two million tourists visited Boracay in 2017 and the island could no longer cope. Environmental issues such as algae bloom on the beaches and poor sewerage conditions forced the government to completely shut down the island to tourism for six months from April 2018. Now, January 2019, the island had only recently been reopened and we were witness to the continuing redevelopment program. Tourist numbers were now being limited to 6000 incoming people per day and proof of accommodation needed to be provided. Many accommodations had not reopened as they were not yet compliant with new sewage regulations. Roads, kerbs and pavements continued to be built around the tourist throng.

A local catch!

A local catch!

Boracay 15km, 202m ascent

With three days to relax before we rode again, we treated this tropical destination as a holiday. Days were filled with walks to the beach and seeking out restaurants with food flavours we enjoy.

Our favourite treat; fresh jel-like coconut flesh, scrapped off the shell, topped with mango, coconut ice-cream and black sesame seeds. We queued for one hour to get one on our last day!

Our favourite treat; fresh jel-like coconut flesh, scrapped off the shell, topped with mango, coconut ice-cream and black sesame seeds. We queued for one hour to get one on our last day!

The island is 7 kilometres long and offers every type of water activity imaginable: jet ski, sailing, paddle boarding, diving, mermaid lessons, helmet dive and parasailing to name a few so there was always people watching for our entertainment. On the second day we ventured out on the bikes to Diniwid Beach that we could access by ocean path from White Beach, and then rode to Puka Beach in the north. Many buildings in the north were uninhabited, and from signage we got the impression that some ancestral lands were now handed back to be in the possession of the Ati local tribes. Returning to our accommodation was disrupted by a traffic jam as the concrete kerb on one side of the road was being poured. We ducked down to the beach to ride our own highway!

Having watched the Kite surfers with envy and marveling at the strength they must need to rein the wind, we decided to ‘give it a go’. Our lesson was about controlling the kite, at first with a small kite on the sand and later knee deep in water with a full kite. We learned that a relaxed technique, rather than strength got the kite into the desired position and in a couple of hours got enough of a buzz to think about a future time back here to master the sport. I can’t believe that on our last evening at Boracay we were prepared to queue for an hour for a dessert treat that we had already had a serving of two days ago and I didn’t want to leave without satisfying the cravings for another one. Half a green coconut with the jelly flesh scrapped away from the husk, that now served as the bowl, topped with coconut Icecream, fresh mango and a sprinkling of nuts. Devine!

Boracay Island to near Alicantara (Tablas Island) 39km, 403m ascent

We were on the bikes before daybreak as we needed to be at Caticlan by 6 a.m. to change our ferry booking from 27th to today, 26th. We found that the Pump Boat would take bicycles so they were duly loaded on the roof of the boat cabin, and we sat inside with our panniers for the ten minute ride.

Tablas Island

Day 1:
For a small fee our tickets to Tablas Island were reissued. The ferry wasn’t in port yet, and it didn’t sail until 8 a.m. so we had plenty of time for breakfast. I had rice, egg and bangas (small portion of fish, deep fried to a crisp), Nev ate pork pieces basted with a sweet sauce, egg and rice.

Wheeling our bikes, we were ushered to be first to board the ferry. The vehicle deck gaped open, and I said to Nev “thank goodness this will be easy” but no! Rather than push our bikes to the vehicle desk we had to enter the vessel through the side passenger door, wheeling the bikes, and then carried them, in relays, up two flights of stairs so they could stand in a corner of the ‘bunk room’. This was deck class. We found a spare bunk each, as centre of the ship as possible amongst rows of bunks, bottom and top, separated by aisles, in an area as large as a basketball court. Along the outside edge of the ship, most tarpaulins were down and taut, blocking out both view and wind. It was nice to walk to the edge railing occasionally, where some tarpaulins were raised, to see islands as we passed. We copied other passengers, making a pillow of the life jacket and settled back for hours of relaxation, to read and snooze. Disembarking was again in relay, but going down stairs was a little easier.

Our first stop was for lunch at Odiongan, a few kilometres from the port of the same name. Odiongan is a small town similar to the many we have ridden through on other islands that offered little in the way of food choices for our tastes. Eventually we found a cafe that sold us a burger as small as a dinner bun and a milkshake, that we hoped would sustain us the 23 kilometres to Aglicay Beach Resort. Because Nev was still suffering from a headcold, and the day was hot with the air temperature in the 30s, we elected to take a shorter route that went across the island rather than travel 42 kilometres along the coast. There were a couple of hills but generally pleasant riding beside former rice fields that were now meadows where cows grazed. From where we left the main road we had an interesting 5.8 kilometre track that alternated between concrete and dirt, with a couple of steep climbs, and then a lovely descent to the white sand beach at the resort, that for tonight we had to ourselves. We were the only guests. Evidently due to prevailing winds, the west coast is not so popular at this time of the year.

Day 2: Aglicay Resort - no riding

The three islands in the Romblon group are small but we had chosen to spend the next five days in the area because we can catch a ferry from Odiongan to Batangas, near Manila, from which we fly to New Zealand on 5th February. It felt a bit like ‘killing time’ as today was another ‘rest’ day. Apart from eating, reading and relaxing, we took a short walk to the next bay. The first photo below is of Aglicay Beach, our own little piece of paradise, and the 2nd is of the Tablas Island coast.

Around midday van loads of tourists arrived for a buffet lunch, and some locals arrived on motorbikes to swim, but by late afternoon we were alone again. We had been amazed at the amount of work that is done here on a daily basis as each high tide recedes, leaving a tide mark of rubbish, mostly small plastics that are swept into piles and then dumped behind the resort. We resolve to try to eliminate our own household waste, especially plastic, when we return home.

Day 3: Ride Aglicay Resort to San Agustin (ferry to Romblon Island) Ride Romblon Town to Talipasak Beach

59.1km, 621m ascent

Our day needed to start early as the last ferry left at 1 p.m. but we didn’t want to put our hosts to too much trouble with a super early start, so ordered breakfast for 7:30 a.m. We’d packed already so it was good to receive breakfast on time and have the bikes rolling out the gate at 8. We were feeling rested and the couple of climbs back to the main road weren’t too difficult. Then began a slog into a headwind, up and over a headland, then repeat. We kept moving, apart from a short stop at 24 km, that happened to be our halfway mark, to get our butts out of the saddle and stand in the shade for a while.

Another long coast road; this one on Tablas Island

Another long coast road; this one on Tablas Island

We pulled into San Agustin Port and our bikes were whisked out from under us by enthusiastic porters. We purchased a ferry terminal ticket and will pay for the boat when on board. Even though we had enough time for lunch we couldn’t find anything to whet our appetite. This was often the case for us as a result of combined heat and weariness. Two boys had ordered a slice of chocolate cake coated in coconut. It looked tasty and we followed their lead, adding a normal plain bun each for a healthy option. The boat was a narrow wooden vessel that looked like it had been in service for many years. We each don a life jacket as the Coast Guard will not allow departure until this requirement is checked. As soon as we began moving, all life jackets were removed and hung again on the backs of the bench seats for cushioning comfort. The boat cut through the gentle swell and the one hour crossing was pleasant enough. As soon as we’d docked, a number of Porters stormed the boat trying to be the first to help with a suitcase or in this case, one motorcycle and two bicycles. There was no point taking ownership until both bikes were on land and just one person had their hand out for the carrying fee.

Unloading, and we are trying to keep an eye on who should be paid for the work!

Unloading, and we are trying to keep an eye on who should be paid for the work!

Romblon Island

Romblon Town looked interesting but we’d be back tomorrow, so we headed south, with the ocean on our right, riding passed some pretty beaches to arrive at the end of a narrow peninsula, at the very private white-sand Talipasak Beach, and a Nipa Hut overlooking the sea at San Pedro’s Beach Resort. The sun set over Tablas Island in the distance and the long coastline that we rode this morning was soon swallowed between the dark ocean and sky.

Day 3: Circuit of Romblon Island 43.3km, 587m ascent

My estimate of 42km turned out to be pretty close to the mark. First we had a steep climb from sea level to the high point of the headland, and then down to the main road. Riding south I found the sharp climbs along the east coast quite challenging. At least Romblon was a small island so I could focus on this not being a long day of riding.

Romblon Island; picture perfect!

Romblon Island; picture perfect!

The coast was very pretty with a number of white sand beaches and turquoise waters along which an occasional fishing boat, long and narrow, with noisy motor and the fisherman standing as if riding a stand-up paddle-board, wizzed by. We saw small quantities of little fish displayed in full sun, on narrow tables at the roadside, and wondered how long such a perishable food would sit out like that, and if the entire catch would be sold.

The main road back north cut through the centre of Romblon and took us up the edge of a broad valley cloaked in coconut trees and jungle.

Large piles of coconut meat were being tipped from bags and laid out to dry at the side of the road. We passed a marble quarry and the zinging of circular saws, and tapping of chisels as craftsman cut and shaped the stone, filled the valley. Many nipa huts were covered in white dust as if it had snowed.

There was very little traffic on the island, mostly motor tricycles that stopped often to pick up and drop off passengers. There were sections of road works, with roads being widened, or restored, where a lane had become narrow because the outside edge had broken, or where a landslide had blocked part of the inside lane. We climbed long and steady until eventually we dropped passed another marble quarry, down into Romblon Town. A cruise ship had anchored offshore but we didn’t notice any increase in the numbers of people in town. It was 2:00 p.m. by the time we sought out some lunch and the restaurants were quiet. Maybe the cruise passengers had already returned to the ship.

Day 4: Talipasak Beach loop, 24km

The purpose of our ride was to explore Romblon Town, that was a trading post during the Spanish period but first we stop at picturesque Bonbon Beach, riding out as far as we could in the soft sand to where two white-sand beaches met, forming a sandbar.

Romblon is one of the most intack old Filipino-Spanish towns in the country. There are many tradional houses and a coral-bricked cathedral. The restored Spanish Fort San Andres, looks over the town and harbour. We climbed the many stairs and were just in time to be met by a man who who proudly opens the gates to tourists. He took part in the renovation and was happy for us to climb over the balastrades for a view of the town.

Romblon Town from the 17th Century San Andres Fort

Romblon Town from the 17th Century San Andres Fort

Romblon is a quiet quaint town with few tourists even though it offers scuba diving at marine sanctuaries and access to other pristine islands nearby. The short time we had on Romblon Island was our favourite time in the Philippines.

Day 5: Talipasak Beach (Romblon Island) to Calunacon (Tablas Island)

We rode into town early as we wanted to catch the 8 o’clock ferry. The large boat was already docked. We paid for the ferry and then found that it leaves at 12:30, not the time we’d expected. We were told that If we wanted to leave at 8 we need to go to the local terminal and catch the Bangka, so we apologised, collected our money and went there. As soon as we pulled into the kerb a porter offered his service and we happily passed over the bikes. At the time of boarding we walked a narrow plank, with an unsteady handrail. I noticed the bamboo rail was not even fixed, it was just held by one man at each end! The bikes were tied to a pole on the roof. We were seated and don the life jackets, just to copy everyone else and remove them when the vessel was underway.

Many different boat styles make travel interesting. The man in the yellow T-shirt is one end of the hand-rail!

Many different boat styles make travel interesting. The man in the yellow T-shirt is one end of the hand-rail!

Tablas Island

It was drizzling as we docked at San Agustin and the sky was dark, threatening more rain. By the time our bikes were rolling and heading in a northerly direction we had dodged a drenching from rain, and instead slick-wet with sweat as we climbed for seven kilometres and then dropped, to cross Tablas to the west coast.

A typical Filipino Island scene; rice and jungle

A typical Filipino Island scene; rice and jungle

Once at the coast the road leveled and we cruised along at a good pace, enjoying the flat terrain and windless day. It hadn’t been easy finding accommodation only a couple of hours from Odiongan but eventually, using Agoda, we found Footprints Beach Resort, at Calunacon, a few kilometres before San Andres. We had an afternoon of swimming and relaxing, and our last night on Tablas Island was delightful as we chatted with our hosts and another guest and settled into our comfortable room at the three year old resort.

Day 6: Calunacon to Odiongan, 27.4km 85m Ascent

“Be at the port four hours before the departure time” was the last detail we were given as the lady handed us the tickets, days ago in Caticlan. The fine print on the second page also mentioned this. Hmmm! Locals assured us the early requirement wasn’t necessary so we relaxed over breakfast, had some photos taken with our friendly hosts and left Footprints, expecting to have one hour to wait when we reached the port.

This was our last day cycling in the Philippines and our last day in a rural area. The route was mostly flat on a smooth surface. I relaxed and let my senses obsorb the vibrancy of the rice paddies and green bunches of bananas bending from the centre of the trees. Coconut palms stood like sentinels dividing the fields from the jungle clad hills. My gaze constantly flicked back to the roadside, always looking out for dogs, chickens, children, motorcyclists, that may at any time, appear as obstacles on the road.

We arrived at the port at 9:30 a.m. to be told the ferry would depart at 1200, and yes, there was plenty of time to go the two kilometres to Odiongan, get some lunch, and return. Later, back at the passenger terminal, we waited until 1300 for the 2GO ferry. This time porters lugged our bikes up to the deck bunk room. We however, had tourist class for this journey, on a lower level. Tourist Class was an enclosed room, so no views. Like deck class there was no seating. Travel comfort was achieved by lying on the bunk identified by the number that matched our tickets. Even though the rows of bunks were close together, in this more superior class, rigid panels between bunks gave privacy and blankets were provided. We set sail while information was being broadcast over the communication system; details about evacuation procedures, the knots per hour that we would travel that should still deliver us to Batangas at our initial expected time of arrival, and then a prayer asking for the voyage to be blessed. Then followed a very long afternoon!

A 2Go ferry, that we used on a couple of longer distance transfers between islands.

A 2Go ferry, that we used on a couple of longer distance transfers between islands.

Now on the island of Luzon, our next section of travel was by bus from Batangas to Manila. In Manilla we were dumped unceremoniously at the side of the road on a bridge that crossed a river that was black with pollution. The footpath that our bags sat upon was slushy with grey filth. We packed up and decided not to contend with the traffic for the short distance to our accommodation. Nev later noticed the photo below, snapped by someone out of their vehicle window, on a Philippines Cycling Facebook page.

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We left the Philippines, the day following the death of a 20 people and injury to 102 by an attack at a Roman Catholic Cathedral on Mindinao Island. Mindinao has a long history of conflict as muslim insurgents want to re-establish the Islamic state on that island. Even though Mindinao is a long way from Manila it was a sad note on which to finish our travels.

We were subject to delays at the airport as security had been increased and every bag, both check in and carry on, had to be opened and swabbed with a bomb detecting wand. We had taken ages to back the bikes in boxes only to have the boxes opened for swabbing. Both the gladwrap and duck tape we carried was consficated at the airport at check-in as we might have used it to hold an abducted person securely while in flight.












Philippines: Panay Island

Louise George

Iloilo contrasts: Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral and Jeepney transport vehicles

Iloilo contrasts: Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral and Jeepney transport vehicles

Iloilo was in darkness when we arrived after the two hour ferry ride from Bacolod (Negros Island), and we made our way to Injap Tower Hotel. What a contrast to everything we had experienced so far! The hotel was a modern high-rise, directly opposite the SM Mall with cinemas, cafes and shops of every franchise that can be found at any mall in the world.

Day 1: Iloilo: No riding

When we booked our flights into, and out of the Philippines, we chose a six week stay, but we hadn’t realised that at our point of entry we would only be given a 30 day Visitors Visa. In Iloilo we chose to rectify the days of shortfall by applying for a Philippines Department of Immigration Visa Extension. The process took a few hours, most of which was waiting our turn to be seen, waiting to lodge the completed application form, waiting for approval, waiting to pay the fee, waiting for our passports to be returned. The office had run out of stickers to update the passports so we left with an accompanying letter to be produced when we exited the Philippines, if it was asked for. It wasn´t!

Day 2: Exploring Iloilo. 19km

Iloilo is a large city with a modern appearance but as soon as we left the main road, the surface became dirt, punctuated with potholes. Traffic moved at walking pace and there were a couple of traffic jams. With defensive riding we mostly managed to keep moving. Jeepneys constantly pulled in to pick up passengers, but usually a metre was left between the vehicle and the kerb, and with passengers alighting the Jeepney from the rear, we found cautiously undertaking them was a safe manoeuvre. At times we noticed we were the fastest moving vehicles on the road! In this manner we made our way from one area of interest to another, following a tourist brochure and saw what one of the Philippines major cities had to offer tourists. Iloilo was colonised by the Spanish in 1569 and had been an important port and religious base.

Our ride took us to Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral and then through a tight traffic jam towards Lizares Mansion. We had difficulty locating that building, and ended up at a dead end in an area that was clearly a poorer part of town. The rather run down La Paz market was our next stop and then to Molo Church. We sat for a while in the shade at a park and watched young people practicing their dance moves. Unfortunately our timing to visit Iloilo meant that we would miss the city’s most significant event that would be held next weekend. The Dinagyang Festival is held on the fourth weekend in January. It is a religious and cultural celebration with vibrantly colourful costumes, street dancing and accompanying loud drumming music. Mind you, we would not have been able to find accommodation here then.

Day 3: Iloilo to Sari-an Hot Springs Resort near Anin-y 86.8km, 452m ascent

Although we know what direction we intend to travel, we’re not sure where we’ll stay tonight. There are only a couple of options that we are aware of, but we’re not sure how far we’ll ride, so haven’t booked anything.

Once we’d negotiated the early morning traffic in Iloilo we rode the National Highway, fortunately with a shoulder most of the time. It appears that most towns on Panay Island have a 7/11 so we habitually made a mid-morning stop at these convenience stores for coffee and doughnuts. The 7/11 toilets were often signed ‘out of order’ but when I asked to use them, they were unlocked for me. The Philippines is a country I have found it very hard to ‘go bush’ in. Men are often seen with their backs to the road, nose facing a tree, but for a female there is limited privacy because there are always people about, or houses in sight. Mid morning we noticed a car wash, and pulled in to get the salt spray cleaned from our bikes. A man and his young son worked diligently and 100p later we left on two shiny bikes and we’d had a nice chat with the owner while we waited. Later we were passed by a motorcycle with a stainless steel container on the back, we passed it, it passed us. The next time we saw the motorcycle at the side of the road and the chap was selling ice-cream. We caught up again later and purchased ice-cream for us and for the young children who were staring at us curiously.

Not far south of San Joaquin the main road headed west to cross the island. We continued south through many small villages that were having festivals on different days in this week. Banners displaying religious icons and with family names printed on them, fluttered outside every home. At Cata-an we came across many high school students, outside their school, only clad in dried banana leaves folded to form the appearance of scales. These youths were going to a dance competition, as baby crocodiles, as part of their festival. We chatted with the teacher supervising the loading of a papier-mâché lizard that was as long as the truck tray, then the many excited bodies climbed on board, and we called “good luck” as we waved goodbye to the students and their supporters.

Now that we had left the main road, as we headed towards the far south-west point of Panay, we felt like we were more in the backwaters. The road was narrow and there was not much traffic. We had coastal views and rice paddies that were now terraced meadows, where the occasional cow or goats grazed.

Youngsters on bikes joined us for a couple of kilometres, five of them, aged 13 and 14. They had no trouble keeping up without gears, even on the hills, and showed off riding no-hands.

It was late afternoon by the time we arrived at Sira-an Hot Spring Resort where we got a room. The resort had seen better days as the waterslide was not functioning and the pool at the base was empty. There were a couple of cool larger pools set up for swimming. Groups of small pools, just big enough for couples to soak in, looked inviting however the temperatures varied from cool to tepid. The pools were situated on a rocky outcrop with ocean views across to Nogas Island, popular for snorkeling and scuba diving, and we watched the closing day deliver a beautiful sunset while soaking in a sulphurous pool.

The resort had a restaurant, that had mixed Internet reviews. Our meal was okay but the dining experience was spoiled by an uncomfortably loud videoke and three Filipino guests with tuneless voices enthusiastically following the lyrics on the screen. The tide was out next morning and the beachside did not look at all appealing for swimming.

Day 4: Anin-y to San Jose (aka Antique) 49.3km, 193m ascent

It´s mid January and to avoid riding in the heat later in the day we were on the bikes before the resort staff rose to serve breakfast. At Anin-y we stopped at a local restaurant, but the soupy stew being served to locals didn’t appeal. We asked for, and were served breakfast of rice and eggs; still we were given some of the liquid from the soup, in a separate bowl, as a ‘tea’.

Rice production is the main industry here and the following set of photos shows how much labour is put into the production of small holdings of rice. We were surprised to see that rice comes in many different grades with price relating to the type of grain and the quality.

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Flat terrain got us quickly to San Jose and the Robinson Mall, that with a number of franchise type restaurants was an attractive place to stop for lunch. Temperatures were in the mid 30C, with no cloud cover, and we were both hot and dehydrated. Acommodation is sparse along the west coast; especially when we don’t want to pay premium prices. We got the shabbiest room we have had to date. The building was made of concrete blocks, the room was small, with a separate bucket washroom. With the bonus of aircon, we managed to cool the hot room and rest for the afternoon. Later we rode along what we thought was the coast road, but it was actually a very narrow lane-type road, bordered by shabby houses in what appeared to be a very poor suburb. There were people about, we could see children playing at the beach when there was a gap between dwellings, but we had the feeling that people were looking at us with a ´what are you doing here´ expression.

Day 5: San Jose to Tibiao 91.6km, 443m ascent

Our room certainly hadn´t been attractive enough to hang about in, so we made another early start. McDonalds offered breakfast: garlic rice, fried chicken, hash browns and eggs.

By now we were very familiar with island countryside but never tired of passing through rice paddies, passed grazing cattle and through ‘dots’ of villages. We loved the coastline and at an elevated point near Bugasong stopped to take a photo.

From a garden over the road, ¨hello¨, was called. We were invited indoors by Rose, who had lived in San Francisco for 55 years. A former Registered Nurse, Rose was now retired to the village of her youth. Tomorrow Rose will be celebrating 76 years of age. She was fit from gardening for long hours on a daily basis. We enjoyed her warm hospitality and left loaded with fruit and chocolate treats. Further along we stopped for our usual lunch of bread, bananas, and peanut butter. We were sitting in the best shade we could find; at a bus stop, beside an enormous bill-board promoting the current controversial leader, President Rodrigo Duterte, to be reelected in May this year. A man, curious about why we were sitting there, came over for a chat. He used to work on coal ships out from Newcastle in Australia.

Roads in the Philippines on each of the islands we visited were undergoing significant rebuilding. Concrete surfaces were being replaced, dirt roads were being turned into concrete. Stone drains were being laid and stone retaining walls being built against cliffsides. This work, apart from the pouring of concrete was always done manually. We were grateful to usually have a good surface to ride on, and often a very wide shoulder to ourselves.

Had I been sucked in by the Eco in the Tibiao Ecoadventure Park? I booked accommodation within the park as it offered kayaking, and white-water kayaking was a sport Nev participated in when he was younger, and this week Nev celebrates his birthday. To get there we had a 4km ride from the main road. There were two significant climbs; short but steep at gradients reaching 18% and 16%. I was proud to ride both, but it was an effort at the end of an 87km day. Fortunately the temperature hadn’t exceeded 30C, but we still arrived at the accommodation in a lather of sweat.

We were shown to our room that was simply a large replica of a local nipa hut. Here the Nipa Huts hang out from the high riverbank giving a view beyond a curtain of huge trees, to the beautiful river. I wind the clock back to when we traveled in Asia in our mid twenties and try to feel a little excited about the mattress on the springy, split-bamboo, slat floor, with gaps between big enough for any number of creatures to crawl through. At least there was electricity. There was an open sided veranda between the bedroom and the stone walls of the bathroom facilities. A separate toilet (no seat) with water tap and bucket for flushing, and a separate washroom where a tap, placed quite low, filled a scoop with water for washing. We sat on the veranda, admired the river and the mountain beyond until we felt recovered enough to walk down to the river for a cool swim. Back at our room we had a bucket wash and dressed quickly to avoid being eaten alive by mosquitoes. We were told mosquitoes would be active between 6 and 7 p.m., and compliant insects that they are, that was exactly the period of time we found them after our blood. At other times they were not a problem. After dinner we took a Kawa hot bath, a famous tourism draw-card to this area. A large steel bowl is filled with water and local herbs, seeped to a rather hot, but bearable bathing temperature tea, by fire lit under the bowl.

Day 6: Tibiao to Pandan, 63.6km, 251m ascent

The two of us squeezed on the back of a motorbike and were driven a short distance up the hill to the end of the road. We hiked to the seven tiered Bugtong Falls with our guide Christa. We chatted as we walked. Christa lived at the mountain village and was rostered to guide four times a week. She had a one month old daughter. Villager´s income was from farming and tourism. It was a beautiful walk to the falls and then a bit challenging to negotiate two of the climbs to look into pools at the base of the falling water. We were interested to see that locals lived in the same type of building as we had stayed in last night. It was Sunday and some people were worshipping at a small church. Young children appeared to be amusing themselves, without adult supervision. We stopped and bought a green coconut for the refreshing water, before walking back to collect our bicycles from our accommodation, feeling like we had a very fortunate life.

Our ride began with a ´no-pedalling´ drop, down to the main road. The way north to Pandan, was then into head-on wind. To our right, mountains were shrouded in moisture loaded cloud, that dropped only a smattering of rain, enough to keep us cool riding in a temperature of about 27C; but with humidity high. The dark sky illuminated the young rice to luminous green. Then the wind intensified and I took my mind off the riding by focusing on the scenery, watching the grain stalks move as if hands waving at a joyous music concert. Our expected 52km ride extended to 62km when we identified our accommodation was north of Pandan. The map showed one squiggle in the road, that always meant a hill. Fortunately the final 10km was rather pleasant and the hill, definitely a zig-zag but not too difficult. Settled into our room, we looked out to see the wind whip the surrounding trees into a fury. We were happy to be enjoying a little luxury. It seems our preference, after months of cycle touring, that in itself can be challenging, is to end the day with a nice room, hot shower and comfortable bed such as we had at H&P Inn www.hpinn.net . We also had a comfortable lounge suite to sit on in the shared lounge, and access to Wifi!

Day 7: Pandan - No cycling today

Itś Nev’s birthday and a non riding day for us. We handed over our laundry and will collect it this evening. We have an admin morning, a swim in the pool, pack up and change our accommodation to Phaidon Beach Resort, over the road that we had booked in advance, a few days ago. We had initially planned an afternoon at Malupati Spring but figured we’d be riding that direction tomorrow and may as well see that area on route. Phaidon is a lovely white sand beach. We swim, eat lunch then catch a motor tricycle to Pandan to buy a birthday cake. The picture of Nev beside the Jeepney was taken the day before his birthday. Jeepneys always have a name blazoned across the windscreen and often have quirky sayings or biblical text adorning the panels.

It pours with rain while we are in town so Nev gets a haircut to pass away some time. On the return motor tricycle we got a warning that the ride was coming to an interesting point, when those passengers that had something to hold on to, grabbed it! It was an understatement to say it was a little hairy on the hill. Gears were chopped down, throttle expanded and the vehicle loaded with six adults and two children, screamed up, taking over the on-coming lane on the blind corner and with a jerk to the lowest gear, breaths held, the apex of the climb was achieved. I felt like clapping! The lady opposite said he was a good and strong driver. Sometimes other drivers stall on the hill and the passengers have to climb out and push!

Day 8: Pandan to Boracay 54km, 386m ascent

We left the comfort of Phaidon Resort and rode the climb up to Malupati Springs, where the river had been broadened and edged by stone walls to create a swimming pool area, complete with diving boards. Groups of Asian tourists floated around on inner tubes or in life jackets. There were a number of tourist vans in the car park, that appeared to be the road end. Our map showed that the road continued and linked back onto the main road. We asked a van driver for information, and while we expanded our map on the phone screen, to show him, we saw that the road stopped and was broken at the river. Although there was a bridge, he explained we could reach the other road with a bit of a walk and some bike carrying; but he wouldn’t recommend it. We’re not into epic adventures at the moment and happy to back-track, downhill to the main road. Head winds blew at us as we travelled across to the north-east coast, and then the wind was more helpful but we had a number of climbs up, and over headlands. Until now our coastal views had been pretty and serene, of calm waters with sandy shores bordered by waving coconut palms. This coast had furious waves driving into a rocky shoreline.

At Caticlan we headed straight to the port. It was 1:30 p.m. and we were hungry but had already started the process, that someone described as ´being as crazy as trying to get into Disneyland´; queue to show that we had accommodation booked, then queue for a boat ticket. We chose an ‘oyster boat’ rather than a ‘pump boat’ because we thought a boat that took cargo, rather than only passengers would be easier with the bikes. Oyster boats departed on the hour, so we chose 1500 to give us time for lunch. Filipino fast food is predominately fried chicken and rice. We had eaten this for many breakfasts, lunches and sometimes evening meals. I was at the point where I could happily never eat chicken again, but today it won again as the easiest option.

Back at the port we pushed our bikes across a narrow ramp to the boat. Within ten minutes we disembarked at Boracay. You can read our blog of Boracay and Romblon Island here.

Philippines: Siquijor Island

Louise George

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Day 1: Tagbilaran (Bohol Island) to Siquijor (Siquijor Island) 15km 123m Ascent

So far we had not found good coffee in the Philippines so went back to Bohol Bees Cafe for morning tea, before heading down to the Tagbilaran port. Tagbilaran to Siquijor Island by ferry was straightforward. It was a ‘roll-on, roll-off’ ferry that we pushed our bikes onto, and left them tucked in a corner of the vehicle deck. You can read about our riding in Bohol Island and Panglao Island here.

We docked at Larena, and were 9 km into the ride to Siquijor town when the drizzle that had been hanging about all morning, turned to rain, forcing us to duck for cover. The downpour was short and we were soon at the town of Siquijor tucking into lunch of burgers and chips before riding a few more kilometres to our accommodation at EM’S Seaside Resort.

Day 2: 54.6km, 509m Ascent

One cycle blog we read indicated that a circuit of Siquijor Island was achievable in one day. Our attempt failed! We reckon it could be achieved if you did nothing but sit on your bike seat, but Siquijor had more to offer than a concrete road circumnavigating the island. We had made a late start and the morning heat was already fierce enough for us to consider a swim at our first detour to the pretty palm-fringed white-sand Paliton Beach, but this early into the ride we didn’t want to cause irritation for the rest of the day, of the prickly sensation of salt water drying on our skin.

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We skirted back to the Siquijor Circumferential Road and rejoined it at the turn off by the little church at Paliton village. Next stop was for a mid morning caffeine fix at the small town of San Juan, that attracts most visitors to the island because of its proximity to beautiful beaches and dive spots. Late morning in January the beaches were very quiet.

At Tubod we turned inland for the sheer pleasure (said sarcastically) of undertaking a 4km climb so we could visit Lugnason Falls. A few young local men met us at the parking area and indicated they were keen to be our guide, but we knew already that a guide wasn’t really necessary, unless you wanted some instruction for jumping, or for someone to take photos of you performing jumps, with your own camera. The walk down was steep and slippery at the edge of the natural pool, but worth the effort to watch those brave enough to jump from the top of the waterfall, or swing out holding a rope from a higher place amongst the trees.

Lugnason Falls

Lugnason Falls

We swam in the pool along with some little fish that, disconcertingly, kept nibbling at our skin. There was an alternative track looping back to the car park, that featured views to many river pools that were named after signs of the Zodiac. We took that longer route but the trail was a bit overgrown in places and we arrived back at the bikes hot and sweat-sticky from clambering the jungle route.

Having ridden up from the coast, it was great to now have a downhill. We had seen signs, with paint still bright, guiding to ´Jungle Jacks´, so assuming by the freshness of their sign, that they might take care of their facility, we stopped for lunch. The patio restaurant gave great views over the jungle and out to sea, and the food was fresh. With full bellies we continued on down a steep descent to the main road, turned left, where a gradual ascending gradient took us to the Balete Tree at Campalanas. We sat, along with some other tourists, in the shade of the enormous 400 year old Banyan tree, with our feet dangling in the spring at its base, for a fish nibbling foot spa.

Back on the bikes we kept on climbing for a number of kilometres. The heat was wearing us down. We pulled to the side of the road at the top of the hill, and checked our map. We still had 6 km to Lazi, and from this point that was obviously going to be descending. It was also clear to us there was insufficient time for us to complete a circuit of the island today. We figured we would be best to turn at Lazi and double-back to our accommodation. When we thought more carefully about that decision, we realised this meant when we came back this way, the ride would start with a long climb back to this hilltop. Instead we ‘gave up,’ turned at the apex of the climb and enjoyed a five kilometres descent. A short stop back at Campalanas was to enjoy the coconut water and flesh of a green coconut; and then keeping to the coast this time, we had virtually a flat ride back to Siquijor town.

Day 3: ´Cheating´ Siquijor by motorcycle

What a good decision it was to hire a motorcycle. We headed through the centre of the island towards Lazi. Part of the journey was on a narrow road through jungle, with steep and constant climbing, until our first stop at Cantabon Cave. When we passed Canatabon village hall, someone poked their head out and asked if we were going to the caves. We had said ‘no’ because at that point we hadn´t intended going there. Later when we saw the sign to the cave we got curious so walked down to it, only to find we couldn’t enter because a locked gate prevented entry without a guide. Oh well, missed out on that experience! Next stop was climbing 148 steps, cut into the mountain path, followed by more steps up a metal tower at the top of Mt Bandila-an (557m) to get a view out to the coast.

Further along, the Bandila-an Mountain View Park gardens were a bit unkempt, but we dragged our weary legs to the top of the path and back down. Our central island route took us passed Cambugahay Falls and we stopped there to swim and to watch people swinging and dropping into each of the three pools.

Cambugahay Falls, this is the top fall of three

Cambugahay Falls, this is the top fall of three

At Lazi we picked up the coastal circuit route we had abandoned yesterday, Further along, Salagdoong Beach in the Salagdoong National Park, situated on a peninsula from the right of Provincial Road, was a relaxing place for an afternoon swim. It was a popular spot with the locals and as usual there was the opportunity, for those who loved to leap, to jump from the rocky escarpment that divided the beach into two sections.

Salagdoong Beach

Salagdoong Beach

We filled the tank with petrol; from coke bottles and then headed to a restaurant for our evening meal. Halo Halo, a Filipino dessert that translates as ´mix-mix´ was a tasty conclusion to a lovely day. Halo Halo is layers of boiled sweet beans, tapioca, jelly and fruits on top of a base of shaved ice and evaporated milk. If it melts it looks like a mixed up mess of sweet deliciousness.

Tomorrow we catch a ferry to Negros Island and Apo Island you can read that blog here.

Philippines: Bohol Island and Panglao Island

Louise George

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The cocka doodal oodal call and response of crowing roosters was a constant cocaphony, trilling throughout day and night, drowning any sweet birdsong. “Hey Joe” was called from Nipa huts, school playgrounds, palm groves and jungle; reminding us that we were never alone.

Getting Started: 23.81 km

We flew into Cebu, in the Philippines, two days before Christmas, and then needed to decide which of the 7107 islands (count differs if the tide is out) we would ride to reach Manila by early February. We had chosen Panglao, a small island south-west of Bohol, for a short break and to be our cycle touring starting point. First we needed to get there. We had three hours until the holiday office closure to get ferry tickets so after dumping our gear we rode to the shopping centre nearby, through sound waves of Christmas Carols broadcast from every small store, at a volume suitable for a night club. We secured the last seats on the 2GO ferry from Cebu to Tagbilaran. Because it was Holidays, all other ferry sailings for the next day were fully booked.

We intended to come back to Cebu Island, but this never eventuated, so our only time on Cebu was riding to the ferry 8 kilometres from our accommodation. For our travel we had to be at the port on Christmas Eve by 7 a.m. Cycling to the ferry at dawn was very pleasant, as the air was cool and the traffic was light. The port terminal was chocker with waiting passengers. We’d been told to arrive 2 hours before departure and duly complied, but with tickets already in hand the early arrival was hardly necessary. The bikes were booked as luggage and handed over to 2GO staff, for loading. We’d left the panniers on the bikes, so it was lovely to just settle ourselves.

Bohol Island: Briefly

Tagbilaran, Bohol Island, the port of arrival, was crazy with people and traffic but I was keen to get some Christmas treats. What a stupid idea! First surprise was going through security and being frisked before I could enter the supermarket, and this level of security was enforced throughout the country at other shopping centres. Finding familiar items was hopeless so I came away with little more than a packet of cracker biscuits and a locally made nut-paste sweet treat. I returned to Nev who had been waiting outside with the bikes and we set off. Fortunately the town streets that were clogged with motor tricycles and pedestrians thinned out, to only the occasional vehicle, as we rode across a bridge to Panglao Island, then into the countryside for a peaceful and flat few kilometres to our accommodation and a relaxing, no cycle touring, Christmas and Boxing Day.

Panglao Island: Just a taste: 17.81 km

Yesterday was Christmas Day that we spent relaxing beside the pool, with our only excursion being taken by courtesy van to Alona Beach for an evening meal at clothed tables set in the sand on the edge of the ocean, where we were served delicious seafood and entertained by a karaoke duo and fire twirling dancers. Today is Boxing Day and having sat around long enough, we stretch our legs on a short ride to nearby beaches on Panglao.

Alona Beach at dusk

Alona Beach at dusk

Cycle Touring: Bohol Island

Day 1: Panglao Island to Loboc 38.5km 178m Ascent

We left Panglao Island taking the same route as we rode in, but after crossing the bridge onto Bohol Island, turned right to follow the coast in an anticlockwise direction until Loay and then turned inland to Loboc. Loboc, a popular holiday destination for locals, is situated on the Loboc River where river cruises, floating restaurants, and evening viewings of fireflies along the river banks are promoted as ‘must do’ activities. We did none of these things. I was feeling very unwell and my focus was on getting out of the heat and to our accommodation for a rest. Late afternoon we walked into the small town, passing Christmas Decorations, most of which are made from recycled materials, and a group of people ‘caroling’ near the ruins of San Pedro Church, brought down by earthquake in 2013.

Day 2: Loboc to Batuan (bottom of Chocolate Hills Lookout) 32.7km, 606m Ascent

Attracted by the opportunity to fly on a Zip-Line, our first stop was at the Loboc Ecotourism Adventure Park. We were at the park the moment it opened, and committed to the ride as soon as we’d seen another couple cross and return safely.

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The ride was high above, and across the Loboc River and for a very reasonable price we enjoyed the thrill of flying across the river with great views into the river valley. There is also a ‘Ride-a-bike’ zip line at another adventure park that seemed more conducive to our cycle touring lifestyle but it was a few kilometres out of our way. With bodies full of adrenaline we headed for the more sedate butterfly park, that included me having Macaw birds sitting on my head while Nev was being wrapped around the neck by a blonde Python. The things we do for photo opportunities!

Next stop was the Tarsier Sanctuary, where we spotted a few of the wide eyed marsupials staring back at us from behind a curtain of leaves. This is certainly a tourist route and there was a lot of traffic on a road that climbed and wound through a man-made Mahogany Forest to the Chocolate Hills.

We had not been able to find an ATM and were told there was one at the lookout. What a serious climb to get some money. The road wound around one of the Chocolate Hills, so named because the geology of limestone domes is covered in grass that browns in the summer heat, and the hills look like Chocolate Bon-Bons. From the car park there were extensive views across mounds of these hills. Later we had a great view of this view-point hill from our accommodation.

Chocolate Hills

Chocolate Hills

Day 3: Batuan to Jagna 62.6km, 897m Ascent 1185m descent

The road to Sierra Bullones undulated and even though the effort wasn’t too intense, the heat and humidity sucked out our energy and hydration levels. We stopped for a cool refreshing drink but were tempted by a shop selling slushy. A bright green Pandan Slushy for me and a deep purple Ube one for Nev, hit the spot. From the bakery, Bread rolls and banana cake that we would eat later, were purchased for lunch. We knew we should expect a significant climb after Sierra Bullones but had been riding for about five kilometres without coming across one. In fact we were having a lovely gentle descent. When we reached the Malinao Reservoir we realised we’d made a navigational error. I hate having to backtrack but that’s how it had to be! Now with a gentle climb before us, we returned and rode back through Sierra Bullones, to our route just on the outer edge of town, and yes, after turning left, we were straight into a significant climb. At a small village we stopped in the shade of a hedge that separated someone’s home from the road, and sat on a wooden bench to eat lunch. A couple of children sat beside us and asked ‘Give me money?’ We were a bit shocked when they repeated the request a number of times, so we gave them a slice of banana cake to share. Later, in contrast to this, a man walking by said that if we needed water, we could go to the filtered water station in the village. He had noticed us earlier and kindly told them to give us what water we needed. The local ‘mayor’ also stopped and spoke to us about our journey and the state of the roads on the island. Most roads, he said, were now concrete, making it easier for locals to travel in the wet season. With food in our bellies we continued to climb. I was able to be distracted from the riding task by admiring mass plantings of potted tropical plants that bordered the road on each side.

Soon the road twisted with gradients getting so steep, that my energy levels lagged and I didn’t have the strength in my legs to ride so had to walk and push up two of them. The Peak was at 756 metres and from there we had an awesome downhill to the coast.

Sometimes cycle touring is like being stuck in mud. Parts of this day felt like that!

Sometimes cycle touring is like being stuck in mud. Parts of this day felt like that!

Our accommodation was on the seaside edge of the Bohol Circumferential Road, our room was almost hanging over the ocean. We got a bit of a buzz when we chatted to some other guests at the restaurant who were in awe that we had ridden that road on bicycles. They said that their vehicles struggle on those climbs in first gear!

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Day 4: Jagna to Anda 33.7km, 159m Ascent

Having been up all night with diarrhoea my body felt heavy and sluggish. Fortunately the medication I had been taking kicked in, and I finally dragged myself out of bed at 10:15 and was able to eat omelette and toast for breakfast. We set off around 11 am. After what had seemed to me to be an epic climb yesterday, my illness, and a 35C air temperature with humidity that we are not used to, at an average speed of 13 kph, this day was the slowest flat distance we’d ever ridden. The road followed the coast and the sea breeze was refreshing. We stopped briefly after 10km and purchased water and then stopped again at 20km for Nev to have some lunch. Our accommodation at Andanott Garden was one of two adjoining holiday rooms for rent and the second was vacant. At the far end of the garden there was a small thatched roof nipa hut, where the manager lived. We were disappointed to find the room had neither air conditioning nor wifi, two mandatory items we look for when booking accommodation. I napped all afternoon and then we took a walk to the white-sand beach, 400 metres away, arriving just in time for Nev to have a sunset swim. By the time we returned to our room I was needing to rest again so Nev went into Anda town to the food centre, for his dinner and to purchase fruit.

Day 5: Anda Rest day

With the fan oscillating at our feet, we did manage to have a restful night after the rather loud Karaoke singers over the road went to bed around 10pm. This was our second rest period in the Philippines when I had plenty of time, but couldn’t upload photos to blogs I’d completed. Although I had data on my phone, the Globe network signal was pitifully weak. I needed a new focus to quell my feelings of agitation, so applied the ‘be in the moment’ approach and reconsidered this interlude to be a luxury retreat. The garden was shaded by tall trees but enough dappled sunlight allowed plush grass to grow in patches making the perfect natural yoga mat. To one side there was a deep rocky sink hole with beautiful rockery planting showcasing the feature, and the peaceful tropical garden setting (so long as the karaoke over the road didn’t rev up), an ideal spot in which to read and write. A beautiful white-sand beach and calm turquoise ocean was a short walk away. We started the day with nutritious muesli, coconut milk and banana that we had brought along with us. Later we ate sweet, fresh Mango. Apart from wishing that the coffee powder with sugar and crema included, could adequately substitute for our preferred sugar-free flat-white, what more could we ask for?

We cycled the short distance into Anda village and ate a healthy lunch at Coco Loco: coconut water and jellied flesh fresh from the green shell, entree of hummus with carrot and cucumber sticks, and for me a main of chicken and couscous (my eyes were bigger than my belly, so Nev ate half), and Nev also enjoyed a Coco burger of which the vegetarian pattie was made of grated coconut. We returned to our accommodation and relaxed, listening to the pleasant music amplified from the house at the rear, that was intermittently drowned by the cheers and commentary from the cock fighting at ‘The Cockers Association’ over the road.

It was New Years Eve and we expected to eat at a restaurant near the beach, but didn’t book and hadn’t considered they would be full. Oh dear! J&R Resort further along the road was recommended. Although J&R were having a private party for guests and staff they made us welcome to join their buffet meal and entertainment of a talented duo, who passed the mic to staff to sing their own karaoke favourite during the breaks. Fireworks at midnight closed the evening and moments later the heavens opened with torrential rain as if to draw the final curtain. Our hosts kindly offered us their van and driver to transport us back to Andanott Gardens.

Day 6: Poblacion region 25 km

As with New Years morning anywhere, most shop and restaurant owners were having a sleep in, but mid morning we found a restaurant serving breakfast to sustain our cycle ride eight kilometres along the coast to Lamanok Island. The island is small, separated from the peninsula by little more than a chasm in the rock, but being clad in dense bush, it is only accessible from the ocean, first by a long, rickety board-walk through mangroves to a restaurant, and then by paddle boat. We hired a paddle boat and the rower who was also our guide. We travelled across an area of marine sanctuary that was marked by poles in the water. There was also a hut perched on stilts that we were told is where the warden spends the night, keeping a watchful eye so that local fishermen do not enter the sanctuary. We then spent an interesting couple of hours being shown Red Hermatite Rock Paintings, an ancient wooden coffin in a prehistoric burial site, and a Shaman’s Cave. We also saw that some of the natural geographic formations had been destroyed. This had occurred after the war, as some treasure hunters thought that the natural layers of rock having the appearance of concrete slabs, were treasure stores where Japanese had hidden gold.

The Poblacion area is a popular tourist destination and there are many places to stay with resorts dotted along the coast and access to half a dozen beaches. The water is clear and snorkeling and diving are popular activities. We rode back to Anda town and went searching for cave springs. There are a few in the area, popular swimming pools for the locals but it was the end of the day and most people were leaving so we didn’t venture in for a swim ourselves. While it looked amazing to be swimming in these deep caverns, some looked difficult to access with locals either leaping in, or negotiating rope ladders.

Locals enjoying a cave spring

Locals enjoying a cave spring

Day 7: Anda to Beunos Aires (Chocolate Mountains) epic 65.84km, 1030m ascent

We had already planned a long route and discussed back-up options such as taking a vehicle if necessary but I’d been awake since 5 am and read a blog about Bohol highlights from another traveler’s (not cycling) perspective. There was a little diversion we could take that would go directly past three of the attractions mentioned. With me not wanting to ‘miss out’ Nev adjusted the course, and we reckoned the new length and additional gradient would be manageable.

We were on the bikes at 6:20, each with half a mango and small satchet of red bean porridge in our bellies. The road was mostly flat, through rice paddies, and there was little traffic. At 8:30 we rode through Candijay. Nev called back to me that he was looking for somewhere for breakfast. A man beside the road heard and called out “it’s here; park at the kerb so you can see your bikes.” There was an open shop front with three lidded stainless steel dishes on a bench; one with green beans, one with mung bean sprouts and another with egg and bitter melon. None of these appealed as breakfast foods so we asked for a fried egg and rice. We each received one fried egg atop a mountain of rice, on a dinner sized plate. Later from the bakery nearby we purchased buns for lunch.

A few kilometres from Candijay we turned off the flat Bohol Circumferential Road and straight into a climb. We should have taken the steep introduction to the hinterland as an omen of difficult riding to come, and it should have also been obvious to us that terraced rice paddies we were heading to, would be on hillsides. At this point we had just completed one steep climb up one hill; however that meant now we were committed to continue; no turning back allowed!

The ride took us through many little villages. We were surprised by the number of small schools we passed, signs outside schools indicated that they had four teachers. There were a number of people about who called to Nev, as he was ahead, so there was an almost continuous cry of ‘Hey Joe!’ After a number of hills we came across a roadside tourist ticket office with three people working to collect the small fee of P20, required to visit the Can-Umantad waterfall, at 18 metres it’s the highest in Bohol. Nev joked that after that hilly road they should be paying us to be here! It was explained to us that before the falls we could turn off to Cadapdapan farm and pay another P20 to see the rice terraces.

We did this, and the view of the terraces was very pretty. As we left the farm we noticed a sign to the falls and steps down from the parking area. This was confusing as we’d recently paid to access the Can-Umantad Falls and believed they were further along the road. As you can see from the photo below, we continued our ride for quite a distance from the falls before turning into a side road that would lead to the falls. We rode downhill and at the point where we had just descended a -23% hill, and knew we were going to have to bike back out this way, we decided to pull to the side of the road and lock the bikes together, proceeding on foot. In retrospect it may have been easier to take the steps from the farm. A couple who had arrived at the farm by car at the same time as us, were emerging from the bush near the falls at the same time as we arrived, having walked down the steps, and probably didn’t need to pay a fee to see the falls. We however had continued to walk downhill from where we’d left the bikes, and subsequently arrived at a parking area where we were met by a group of locals who wanted to be guides. We followed a young lad down steps slick with mud, then took photos of the waterfall and watched people enjoy a swim in the natural pool.

We then climbed back out, walked up to the bikes and made our way back to the top road. Nev heroically rode a section that short 23% incline, while I followed, slowly pushing my bike.

Our third stop was at Canawan Cold Spring. The water source is a mystery and no-one has reached the bottom. There was another small fee of P20 to swim there, but a crazy P200 to hire a table. When this was pointed out to us we quickly removed our clothing and towels from the table top. No tables were in use! The spring water certainly was cold. Refreshed from our swim we hit the road again. We had a problem in that the road we were on was not on our map and we became worried when it deteriorated into a rocky track.

Maybe this isn´t the right way!

Maybe this isn´t the right way!

We double-backed a short distance to where we had last seen a person, and were pointed in the correct direction. Finally we got to Alicia and hoped to pay for a ride to Sierra Bullones but there didn’t seem to be any vehicles available. We continued to Pilar, getting more concerned about riding into the evening.

Is there room in there for me!

Is there room in there for me!

Fortunately a motorcycle-van driver was happy for us to hire him to take us 26 kilometres to Carmen. It was a squeeze but Nev and the driver managed to get one bike tied on the roof, and Nev and I squashed around the second bike inside. We were dropped at Carmen just on dark and rode the final few kilometres to our accommodation at Beunos Aires.

Day 8: Beunos Aires to Tagbilaran 64.5km, 394m ascent

It would have been helpful to have a good topographical map of the Philippines but we had not looked for one and had to ‘make do’ with Maps.me, sometimes Google Maps, or the Komoot App, that incidentally I thought unhelpful as it didn’t have points of interest on it, that we would want to include when creating a course. Nev had set the day’s course to take us left at Bilar and head for Dimiao on the coast, via a couple of waterfalls. We weren’t sure how far off the course the Dam-agan or Ingkumhan waterfalls were, or how steep the access would be to each of them. After yesterday’s effort we decided that we would make a decision when we got to the turnoffs. If we had to go down to a waterfall, only to climb back up, we would likely give them a miss.

“Where are you going? Oh you’ll have a good surface,” was laughed heartily at me as we rode by a local man. I relayed this to Nev but he was pretty confident we would have a straight forward ride because he had based the course on a route he figured (after reading Internet notes) a cycle tour used, and he reckoned they would be on road bikes. Sure enough, the concrete road we had been riding on that went passed the local high school was a pleasure to ride, but oh dear it soon deteriorated into a rough surface, hill-climb track. At least the views were spectacular!

What goes up, must come down. The long steep descent dropped onto the main coastal road. We found that we had ridden parallel to the road where the waterfalls were, and certainly missed them, but through navigational error rather than being hampered by the terrain. Food and hydration was our priority so we purchased water, Sprite, and buns that we ate in the shade of an unfinished building. Fortunately there are many bakeries throughout the Philippines. If nothing else at least we can find bread and buns. While they look like they are all different flavours we found that they all taste exactly the same.

Tasty!

Tasty!

The concrete road took us the final 29km on Bohol Circumferential Road back to the port town of Tagbilaran, where we celebrated the completion of our ride on Bohol Island, with two Lattes each at Bohol Bees Cafe.

Next stop is Siquijor Island

Taiwan: Cycling South from Taroko Gorge to Kenting via the East Rift Valley

Louise George

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Although there is a signed ‘Cycle Route 1’, a circuit of Taiwan that can be completed in 5 to 12 days, and we have more time than that, the entire route doesn’t really appeal to us as we’ve read that the western side of the island is very industrial, and the north will likely receive monsoonal rains at this time. We are riding in December. We’ve decided to have a good look at the East and Southern areas, and take advantage of public transport to link sections if we need to.

We’ve decided to give up on camping for now. We’ve come from South Korean autumn, where we found it too cold for camping, and continuing to lug camping gear seems superfluous to requirements now in Taiwan and later in the Philippines, that will be the next country we travel in. Neither Taiwan nor the Philippines seem too expensive for accommodation so we chose to take a more comfortable option and posted the small front panniers and all of the camping equipment to New Zealand where we figured it might next come in handy.

We´d had an enjoyable couple of days exploring Taipei; but keen to get out of the metropolis

We´d had an enjoyable couple of days exploring Taipei; but keen to get out of the metropolis

Our first section by train is from Taipei to Hualien. Bikes are allowed to be taken on trains, in a specific carriage, however no bikes are allowed on a station platform. Anyone cycle touring would know that the easiest way to get a loaded bike to within cooee of a train carriage, would be to wheel the bike, right up to where the carriage would stop, and then package the bike to meet the travel requirements. We were sure that officials would understand this, so arrived at the lift used for transferring luggage to the platform, armed with tools, bags and tape that would eventually conjure our bicycles into a form such that they would no longer be recognised as such offending items. We rang the bell, as the lift had a ‘lock’, that summoned the official, who made it clear she would not let the bikes on to the platform. We soon had a group of curious passersby keen to interpret our request and concerns, but to no avail. Rules are rules! We set about dismantling and packaging the bikes, beside the lift with our audience taking an active interest in the proceedings, us, and our travels to date. The inquisitiveness slowed us a bit, and by the time we completed the job and got approval to use the lift, we were getting uncomfortably close to departure time, and trains wait for no-one! Finally we arrived at the platform, but outside where carriage 8 would stop. We then had to run relays of heavy, awkward bikes, and then panniers and handlebar bags, what seemed like 500 metres down to where carriage one was identified on the platform concrete. By the time we, and the bikes boarded, we were exhausted.

Hualien to Xiulin near Taroko Gorge 30km

Hualien was a small station and we easily alighted and got the bikes ready to ride. Before setting off, for what we expected would be about 16 kilometres to our guesthouse, we enjoyed a Railway Box lunch and Bubble Tea near the station. We knew we would be following the coast and that there was a cycle route to follow, so we headed for the ocean, stopping briefly at the roadside to glimpse Hualien Railway Culture Park and Tungching Temple. Finally beyond the city, the coastline reminded us of the West Coast of New Zealand as the shore was of dark weathered stones and huge waves pounded the coast. On dusk we arrived at an area where many tourists were milling about and watching the ocean. There were also a couple of food stalls so we stopped to eat baked sweet potato. We couldn’t figure out what people were waiting for, but noticed fishnets on the ocean and wondered if they were about to be hauled in. By this point we had ridden well beyond 16 kilometres and couldn’t understand why we still had such a long way to go. We checked the cycle brochure and found we had headed south out of the city and hit the coast lower than we needed to, then by hugging the coast had skirted around a headland, clearly quite a few extra kilometres! Darkness followed us into the guesthouse. We were shown our room and the kitchen where we could prepare our dinner.

We had been told what time breakfast would be ready and duly arrived outside the kitchen on time. Nothing appeared to be ready but our host ushered us into his truck and drove us out the gate, across the stone beach to the ocean shore where a long table and chairs were set up. We were left to enjoy the unique beach setting and then he returned with a huge array of food, with other guests following on foot behind his vehicle.

Taroko Gorge, from Xiulin and return 50.53 km, 635 m ascent

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Taroko Gorge was an 18 kilometre gradual incline on a narrow winding road with spectacular marble canyon walls hemming in the Liwu River. Cut by the Japanese (using Taroko labour) the Zhongbu Cross Country Highway was to extract natural resources and access to control the mountain tribes. Just as well traffic was light, because the width of the occasional tour bus, took up all of the road. We took our time, stopping for many photos, to climb up to shrines and temples and just take in the spectacle of the road.

We ate lunch at the only village, Tien-hsiang, and then onward and upwards continued our cycling, but not for too long. We parked the bikes and walked in to the Baiyang Trail that surprisingly started with an entrance tunnel of 380 metres.

The walk was a 4km round trip that took in the scenic view of Baiyang Falls and finished with us wading through a dark tunnel to the Water Curtain that was sheets of water escaping through a rock fissure. The crack occurred when digging of the cave accidentally pierced the stream bed above the cave. The tunnels were built with a view to creating a power source that would have blocked the ecosystem of the Taroko Gorge. Fortunately public pressure caused the power plant concept to be abandoned.

Xiulin To Guangfu 80 km, 450 m ascent

We rode through Banana plantations before joining the main road to Hualien, and yes the direct route was exactly 16km. We easily added another 6 kilometres looking for an ATM! The narrow roads, we took on the outskirts of Hualien took us through a farming area where a variety of produce was grown, such as Taro, sweet potato, and onions. We followed a canal, on a path that must have been a footpath as it was narrow and negotiating steps was involved.

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Lake Liyu marked the entrance to the East Rift Valley where Coastal Mountains rose on our left, and Central Mountains to the right.

Rain fell heavily not long after we left the lake. There was an open garage close to the road so we ducked in. The man who’s garage we occupied pulled up a chair for each of us and we sat comfortably until the rain stopped. The man was drying very small chips of wood that I think was camphor.

It was getting dark and we couldn’t find our accommodation. We had ridden through Guangfu and had already passed through, turned around and come back to another small village. We showed a group of people sitting outside a house where we wanted to go. One lady indicated for us to follow her on her motorscooter. I was riding as fast as I could and felt anxious every time the motorscooter and Nev disappeared around a corner. Eventually we arrived at the Guesthouse (that incidentally was on the wrong road on Google Maps). We were quite a long way out of town and dinner here wasn’t an option. Thankfully our host spoke English. We took him up on his offer to drive us to town, and then he ordered our meal, left us to enjoy dinner and returned later to take us back to our room.

Guangfu to Yuli 77 km, including a detour up to the Walami Trail 747 m ascent

Our host told us his wife taught him how to cook when, following his retirement, he took on the guesthouse. She taught him well. There was an enormous breakfast laid before us. We ate as much as we could, and then on leaving we were given some bananas, a loaf of bread, a huge vegetable dumpling, and cumquats to take away. Our host also wanted to be sure we got to route 193 as he had recommended it to be the most scenic, so he rode with us. Ahead of us actually; and flat out. We had trouble keeping up. We were parting ways near a dragon fruit plantation that had been recently harvested. Next thing he was back with us, passing a couple of dragon fruit to stuff in our already full panniers.

Route 193 was rather hilly, but very picturesque, with plantations of coconut, pineapple, rice, dragon fruit, and a view across to the mountains on the opposite side of the East Rift Valley. We dropped into the town of Ruisui for coffee and then continued on Route 9 so we could see the Wuhe Tea Plantation (although we didn’t stop there) and the Tropic of Cancer Marker Park so we could get a photo to mark the milestone. Next stop was at Satokoay Stone Pillars that are a ruin of the late Stone Age of Beinan Culture; a holy place where ancestors spirits live.

Yuli was to be our home for the night and we arrived at midday, too early to check-in, so rather than dumping our gear as we would have liked as we knew we had a long climb ahead of us, we continued with loaded bikes. Our effort took us uphill, past Nan’an Waterfall to the start of the Walami Trail in Yushan National Park. There was a tour bus and a few vehicles in the car park at the top of the climb, and we were greeted by applause and a cheering squad of strangers as we arrived at the highest point; rather a delightful way for two very sweat-drenched cyclists to finish a challenging ride.

Welcoming committee!

Welcoming committee!

We didn't have the permit, nor the time needed to walk the trail, as we only had 30 minutes before we would need to start our ride back down. We walked the first kilometre to the swing bridge, passed warning signs about bears, snakes and wasps, through pretty forest. Back out to the road we walked with some people from the tour group, who shared their baked sweet potatoes with us, and then helped us by phoning the number to our accommodation and arranging a time for us to meet our host. The downhill ride was a ‘blast’ and a great way to finish another long day.

Yuli to Dulan 81.8 km, 681 m ascent

There are three ways to exit the East Rift Valley. Either continue on south and eventually arrive at the coast at Taitung or take either of two routes across the mountains in an easterly direction to the coast. We chose Highway 30, that would take us over the mountains and then give us a longer ride along the coast. We left Yuli crossing the river on a bridge for cyclists and then following the Yufi Cycle Trail. The recently harvested rice field on our right would soon be prepared for rapeseed that would paint the lowlands yellow in Spring. Papaya and Bananas would ripen on our left. The areas we have ridden in to date have had a high indigenous population. Their farming methods has changed over time from a scattered burn approach of farming millet to the production of fields of maize, and now of rice. Traditionally they sing in 8 part harmony, to make the gods happy and achieve the success of the crops.

For now we weren’t concentrating on our course and should have ducked out to the road a few kilometres back. An about turn, took us back to a turn off to Highway 30. We then passed Antong Hot Spring area and straight into the climb. It wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated; 4 kilometres of steady effort and then the road plateaued.

A 2660 metre long tunnel took the sting out of the mountain crossing. On exiting the tunnel we had cloud hanging low, cooling us with water droplets and obliterating the Liushishi mountain tops (In Spring the slops are covered in Day Lily blooms).

The Pacific Ocean spread before us. A wonderful downhill dropped us beside the coast, where a very strong wind had whipped the waves into a frenzy, but to our advantage that strength would blow favourably on our backs. We stopped at Sanxiantai Bridge and dragged our weary legs up and down the eight arches of the dragon structure, that to us seemed an incongruent link between the mainland and the ocean-eroded volcanic islands. The wind was so strong it was an effort to stay upright as we walked around the island.

Sanxiantai Bridge

Sanxiantai Bridge

We decided to take advantage of the wind and with only two hours of daylight remaining, smashed out the 36 kilometres to Dulan, a small town with a reputation for an arts scene and good food. It didnt take long to find the Sintung Sugar Factory Culture Park, and less time for us to take in the ´vibe´ there. It seemed more suitable as a venue for younger people to enjoy music, and buy food and crafts from ´pop-up´ stall.s

Dulan to Taitung 26.4 km, 118 m ascent

Because we have a short riding day to Taitung we spent the morning at Dulan with a walk to the beach, evidently a popular surf beach, and a stop for Bubble Tea that we have become addicted to. We stopped just out of town to join other tourists at the phenomena of ´Water Running Up´ but were more intrigued to sample some of the local custard apple grown with care, in local orchards.

Our arrival at Taitung was in time for lunch in the city then it was five kilometres to our accommodation near the railway station and close to the eastern exit from the East Rift Valley. We’ve had an amazing type of accommodation while in Taiwan. Lin Yuan Bicycle Homestay is one level of a private town-house, there is no restaurant nor cooking facilities, but breakfast is included, our room is large and we are given access to filtered water and to the laundry. After a rest and clothes washing, we set off on foot looking for a restaurant. Eventually we find a Railway Box restaurant that closes in 15 minutes. These ‘meals-in-a-box’ are created for passengers to take on their train journey and we have found them to be very adequate meals. They typically resemble a Japanese Bento Box and almost always include a combination of protein: pork, chicken, mackerel and other items such as tofu, pickles, a vegetable and an egg that is black edged because it has been marinated in soy, all served over a bed of rice.

Taitung 26 km

We had planned to have a day off the bikes but being out in the suburbs, cycling is the easiest way to get around. We started the day at the eastern head of the East Rift Valley to see the Badlands.

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Next was a ride through the city centre in a south-easterly direction to the National Museum of Prehistory that gave interesting displays of the geographical formation of the island of Taiwan, the development of Homosapiens through the ages, including the human species in Taiwan, and the Taiwanese First Nation people´s rights.

Taitung to Dawu 62 km, 456 m ascent

We set out from Taitung not knowing where we would be staying for the night. I’d had a quick look on Maps.me and there appeared to be little accommodation available on the coast, however we didn’t know how far we would ride so took the chance of booking later. Probably not so wise as it was a Saturday and once we were riding the coast road south, became aware of how many tourists buses were on the road. The coast road was a four lane highway. We were riding on the right so, apart from snatches of distant sea views, didn’t get to see the coast. We did however see the built up highway ahead, as it climbed up and over headlands. Our road shoulder was very wide so we felt comfortable in the traffic, but later there were long sections of road works. A new high speed railway was being built on pillars above the road, and the work halted traffic for long periods, alternating between north and southbound.

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One hundred tourists can’t be wrong so when we saw a number of vehicles, in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, we parked and walked up a switchback track to an area that looked like it had previously been a railway station. There were a couple of food stalls but apart from that we had no idea why we were there, amongst at least 100 other people milling around.

A little later at a 7/11 coffee stop Nev had access to 1-minute WiFi and established there was no accommodation available on our route. We wondered about what obstacles we might face if we found a secluded spot and slept ´bivvy-style´ in our bike bags tonight. Whenever we have been in difficult circumstances like this, something good has happened so I wasn’t too worried. Cycling routes are well signposted in Taiwan and there are designated cycling Stations, with distances between them signposted along the route. The cycling stations are usually at Railway or Police Stations. We haven’t used them yet but spoke to another cyclist who did spend the night at a Police Station, so that is always another option.

When we arrived in Dawu we noticed a sign with a snowflake on it, that we assumed meant air-conditioning, therefore a room. While crossing to that building entrance, we noticed another shop-front with pictures on the window indicating a Bike Hostel. Yes, they had a room so we settled in. A man at the seafood restaurant next door spoke good English so we were able to order prawn fried-rice, seafood omelette, cabbage, and Day-Lily Soup, in quantities that filled our hungry bellies.

Dawu to Kenting 74.5 km, 717 m ascent

We’re still carrying muesli, so that, with fruit and yoghurt was a solid start to the day. After eight kilometres our course took us inland into a twelve kilometre climb to cross the Central Mountains. Stunning views of forest clad mountains diverted our attention from the climbing task. We saw one monkey, but crashing branches indicated the presence of others leaving the roadside. Way below at the bottom of the valley an almost finished section of the high-speed railway snaked through the jungle.

We turned onto the 199 road in a south westerly direction and not long into our descent came across an Australian family of two adults and three children, riding up. We stopped for a very long chat. They’d had the bagging bikes (5) for trains issue and also experienced the northern monsoons and now rapidly escaping the industrial east. I could only admire their fortitude, and I expect infinite patience, to make their first experience of cycle touring as a family, a success.

Our descent took us through tribal villages that had buildings decorated with bright murals and statues that depicted the indigenous way of life.

Eventually, on the outskirts of Checheng, the course became flat, the landscape more densely populated and the Chinese influence more obvious.

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With the wind light today, we were soon on the South-west coast at Kenting. What a difference a day makes! Our accommodation faced a golden sand beach (no swimming allowed because of the undertow) and in the evening the Kenting night market came to life, with food, cocktail and side-show stalls, and a constant stream of Asian tourists dawdling passed these on each side of the main road.

Kenting

Today was to be a day off. We’ve been travelling by bicycle for almost six months, just clicked over 7000 kilometres and to be honest I’m feeling physically weary and getting tired of the cycle touring routine. Maybe I’m feeling a bit melancholic because this is the time of the end-of-year wind up for Australia and the lead up to the Holiday Season. I know I have the luck of a perpetual holiday but it’s losing its glamour and I’d dearly love a hug with my children, the company of friends, and a touch of a normal life. So we decided this was to be a proper day off. No cycling! By 3 in the afternoon I was feeling jittery so we headed out on the bikes and rode uphill, 4 kilometres to Kenting Forest Park, just to take in the view and then enjoy a lovely downhill back to base.


Kenting to Taiwan’s southernmost point and return 22.5 km, 322 m ascent

We came to the south of Taiwan to cycle to the southernmost point and today we intended achieving that. We’d mapped a short 21 kilometre loop course from Kenting. With blue skies, and a late breakfast of too many calories providing energy to burn, we expected a couple of hours of pleasant riding. We passed a couple of pretty beaches but our view of the coast was usually hidden by shrubbery that thankfully offered some protection from the wind. By the time we got to the southernmost point we could barely stand to view the ocean.

The wind whipped at us so erratically, as we rode north on the high western cliff side of the peninsula, that I stopped a couple of times and walked, for fear of being blown into the path of a vehicle. Later there was no traffic on the narrow, sometimes gravel, minor road that we took back to the east, but the wind gusts continued to thrash us unpredictably, and it was with a feeling of ‘well that was a short but epic ride’ that we returned the bikes to the security of the foyer at our accommodation. Tomorrow we ride north with headwinds forecast.

Kenting to Kaohsiung 108.68 km 343 m ascent

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We planned and achieved an early start as we wanted to get to Kaohsiung in one day. We knew it would be a flat ride but not sure how much of a handicap the wind would be. We started with the wind blustering sideways, but not too strong. At first we passed through the same flat route we had come south on, passing the paintball venues, and about six go-kart tracks; one even with miniature diggers and a mound of dirt suitably placed for removal. We followed a dual carriageway the entire route, with a breakfast break at McDonalds. Once we were in the lee of the mountains that stretched across the entire peninsula from west to east, we hugged the coast, sheltered from the wind. Later the route was signposted as a scenic area, and maybe it would have been if we had detoured to a beach, but we were riding in urban sprawl interspersed with orchards of mango, dragon fruit, and the wax apples that were currently in season, and the only fruits being sold at roadside stalls. Other stalls sold only onions so my guess was these were also in season. We crossed the very wide bridge over the shingle flats of the Kaoping River and arrived in an industrial zone of Kaohsiung. Many steel works and other industrial buildings lined the road and even though we had a designated cycle lane we were constantly stopping at traffic lights for trucks to turn across our path, into entrance ways of factories.

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Kaohsiung was our last cycle destination. From here the bikes were bagged and taken by train with us to Taipei where we had a final stint riding from the railway station to a suburb a few kilometres from the airport. Our evening was spent wrapping the bikes in Gladwrap, with cardboard protecting the frame, and finally bagged in the IDWorx cover bags that Nev had continued to carry. Duck tape secured the packages.

Next stop Philippines.



Jeju Island: Fantasy Bicycle Trail

Louise George

Certificate Registration Kiosks made good distances to aim for

Certificate Registration Kiosks made good distances to aim for

Jeju Island is a South Korean Autonomous Province off the south coast. It is visited by more than 13 million tourists each year, of which 80% are Chinese and the remainder mostly South Korean locals, although there has recently been an increase in the number of Middle Easterners visiting. The island is promoted as the Hawaii of South Korea, so we were hoping for a warmer climate. In reality, although we have never been to Hawaii, the only resemblance is likely to be that Jeju is also a volcanic island with black basalt rocks dominating the landscape and a stark contrast to white-sand beaches with turquoise ocean waters.

The following is how we rode an anticlockwise circumnavigation of Jeju Island following the Fantasy Bicycle Trail. It is recommended to take this direction because the coast is on the right, the same side as traffic drives.

If rewards are appealing to you then you can get the Korea’s Cross Country Cycling Road Tour Passport (sorry I don’t know where you can purchase this from on Jeju Island) and call in at the Certificate Registration kiosks along the way, for a passport stamp. We did this because we already had the passport from previous rides in South Korea and it gave reasonably spaced distances to cover and points of interest to aim for. If you are interested in reading about our ride from Seoul to Busan, following the 4 Rivers Trail, then click here, or the Seomjingan River and Yeongsangang River Trails, click here.

We travelled in late November, the last week of autumn, and tourism at that time was at a low ebb. Those who were about, were travelling on coach tours. We saw only a couple of other Korean cyclists out riding with a serious attitude, on bikes swifter than ours, and a handful of tourists on hire bikes, that looked like they were having a riding activity for a few hours. Few people sharing the cycle lane was a bonus. At key sightseeing destinations there were many free bus and car parks so clearly at this time there was also less traffic on the roads. If the cycle trail surface became particularly bumpy, or if a section involved much crossing of minor roads or lane-ways, we found it easier to keep a good pace by riding on the road. We got the occasional toot but It seemed more like a gentle ‘I’m a vehicle about to pass’ than a ‘there’s a cycle lane, you should be on it’. I expect that if you ride this course at peak tourist times, you would be expected to remain on the bike path and it would be somewhat slower as you dodge other riders, walkers oblivious to you as they have their faces peering at a screen, poorly parked vehicles, and at times an uneven surface. 

Our front panniers were left in Jeju City as we will not be using our camping equipment. Accommodation in the last week of November was very reasonably priced for a couple. We paid between $35 and $45 ($AUS) a night for clean double rooms with an en-suite. We like to store our bikes inside and this was always accommodated, albeit sometimes locked in the corner of a dining room.

Food-wise, Jeju is famous for seafood and pork, from their unique Black Pigs. We’ve been in South Korea almost a month and apart from Bibimbap, Gimbap and Seafood pancake, still struggle with meal choices. I don’t eat pork and the seafood, we thought was quite expensive. Many restaurants had the menu displayed on the walls in hanguel alphabet, so if they didn’t have pictures to point at, or if they had pictures but no price displayed, we looked elsewhere. There were some western foods, with a South Korean fusion, such as hamburgers and bakery food. We found the convenience stores had a range of sandwiches or rice triangles with filling such as tuna, that were good for lunches. Our preference is to be self sufficient for breakfast so we carry breakfast items: muesli, milk, yoghurt and bananas.

We had been told by South Koreans that Jeju Island used to be a beautiful island with a unique culture but it had, over the passed twenty years been spoiled by tourism. We had a Tourist Map that pinpointed more museums, parks, art galleries, theme parks and other man invented attractions than I have ever seen! There are also many geographical features that is where our attention will be directed. 

Day 1: Jeju City to Geumdeung-ri 74 kilometres 

I recommend you leave from Jeju City early enough to take time at scenic points along the way. The course weaves around the airport with a few little climbs and then follows the coast for a long way before leaving the city outskirts, so riding is at a casual pace. You’ll go by Iho Tewoo Beach, famous for having lighthouses in the form of horses and you’ll see the Gueom Salt Farm from the trail. Hyeopjae Beach is supposed to be one of the most beautiful on the island, but when we visited, the sand was covered in tarpaulin held down by rocks, almost as if the beach had been put to bed for the winter, and it was late afternoon on an overcast day, so the water was as grey as the sky rather than a sparkling blue. We like gardens and spent an enjoyable couple of hours at Hallim Park. Hallim Park has many different sections of gardens each devoted to a theme such as Subtropical Garden, that included interesting reptiles, a bird garden, folk village, Jeju Stone and Bonsai Garden, to name a few. A surprise was being able to walk through two lava tubes; Hyeopjae and Ssangyong Caves. 

Day 2: Geumdeung-ri to Seogwipo  52 km

A pretty ride with the sea and black basalt rocky coastline on our right and groups of black curved roofs of seafood farms and other buildings that appeared to be seafood factories on our left. Many busloads of tourists were walking towards Mt Songaksan, where there is a walking trail and luge ride. We watched but didn’t join them. The cycling route headed inland and there was some climbing for the remainder of the day. You might like to stop at the Jungman Maze Park, the Teddy Bear Museum, or the Museum of Sex and Health, but apart from walking in the forecourt garden of the latter, amongst some very interesting statuary, we headed straight for Cheonjeyeon Waterfall.

One section of the Cheonjeyeon Waterfall

One section of the Cheonjeyeon Waterfall

The Cheonjeyeon area is a picturesque forest walk, following the waterfall in three parts. By the time we had walked to view the waterfalls we were too late to see Jusangjeollidae Cliffs as they close at 5:20 p.m. We should have stayed the night in this area, close enough to take a look at Jungman Beach and the cliffs the next morning. It would have also made today’s distance more manageable. As it was we rode in darkness to accommodation at Seogwipo and didn’t get the opportunity to return to the sights we had missed. 

Jeongbang Waterfall

Jeongbang Waterfall

Day 3 Seogwipo 

In the morning we rode to Cheonjiyeon Waterfall, then Oedolgae Rock and across town to Jeongbang Waterfall, that flows into the ocean. After lunch we walked through Lee Jung Seop Culture Street and the Seogwipo Everyday Ollie Market where many vendors were selling seafood, Jeju Mandarins and chocolates of many varieties with centres of jelly made from Jeju citrus juices.

Day 4 Seogwipo to Seongsan Ilchulbong 62 km

Our lunch break was at Pyoseon Beach, a pretty white sand beach. We noticed a campground, the first we had seen, beside the Certificate Registration kiosk. We arrived at the Jeju Folk Village in time to see the 13:30 song and dance performances; the twirling dummer gave a dizzying performance. At the village there were many groups of homes clustered together in themes such as: Mountain Village, Hillside Village, Shamanism Village, and more. While I enjoyed the time off the bike, walking around the village on a pleasant afternoon, for me, having already seen the small cluster of homes at Hallim Park on day one, I felt I’d already had an overview of what homes were like in times past. 

The cycle path took us beside a yellow field of canola, where you could purchase a ticket and enter the field to take a photo; one that would be identical to a photo that graced the covers of tourist brochures promoting the merits of visiting Jeju Island. We had seen these ‘photo stops’ throughout South Korea; usually they have a theme frame, often a heart shape. People queue to take a photo through these frames when the scenery is just as beautiful without the ‘set-up’. Dusk accompanied us to Seongsan Ilchulbong and we saw the sun drop below the horizon as we arrived at our accommodation. 

The view that enticed us to Jeju Island; this is a photo of a poster displayed on a wall at the bottom of Sunset Peak

The view that enticed us to Jeju Island; this is a photo of a poster displayed on a wall at the bottom of Sunset Peak

Day 5 Seongsan Ilchulbong and Udo Island 11 km

It was a photograph, of the volcanic tuff of Seongsan Ilchulbong (also known as Sunset Peak) in the Qatar Airline Magazine, that prompted us to visit Jeju Island.  We were at the foot of the climbing trail at 6:15 a.m. as we understood the ticket office would be open one hour before sunrise. Actually you could only purchase a ticket from 7:30, pointless when sunrise would be at 7:15 a.m. We made our way up anyway. The track was well lit, mostly stair climbing, that took us 20 minutes. At the top there is stepped bench seating, enough to seat thousands of people, facing east. At this time of the year about 100 spaces were occupied. With an overcast sky we weren’t expecting a dramatic sunrise, and when there was just enough pink in the sky for us to see that a new day had dawned, we headed down. Our grey photos, with sun and wind browned grass, bore no resemblance to those in the magazine, taken by a drone from the sea looking towards land, of a crater lush with Spring grass, and the seating edited out.

Nev did the climb but he’d been unwell for a couple of days so we decided to have a second night in Seongsan Ilchulbong for him to recuperate, while I took my bike on the ferry to Udo Island, likened to a Scottish Isle. When purchasing a ticket, you need photo ID, such as passport and you complete a departure card to be allowed to board. The ferry runs often and is only 15 minutes travel time. Without my companion I found myself to be the only Westerner, amongst the other travellers sitting on the floor (there was no actual seating available), where at least I had a warm spot (the floor had underfloor heating) but I couldn’t even eavesdrop as I had no understanding of the languages spoken around me, and gained a new respect for the isolation that may be experienced by solo travellers. The volcanic islet of Udo is visited by 1000s of tourists and to help with traffic management there is a, mostly flat, one way circular route of about 11 kilometres. It seems to be the thing to do is hire a bicycle, tandem, 3-wheeler cart or another vehicle you may have never ridden/driven before and set off for a circuit with stops at key points: caves, white sand beaches (made of the carbonate fossils of red algae) grasslands, restaurants, peanut ice-cream sales. I was away from Nev for 3 hours and had taken the ferry across and return, ridden the circuit and taken my time over a shrimp burger lunch and later watched a group of Haenyeo come into shore from a dive, while I ate a peanut ice-cream. Haenyeo is the name given to women free-divers who for centuries have eked out a living diving for abalone, octopus, sea cucumber and seaweed. The occupation has been immortalised in basalt stone statues throughout the islands of Udo and Jeju. They were given a UNESCO Cultural Heritage of Humanity designation and the South Korean government has given incentives for young women to take up the occupation, but numbers are declining. 

Day 6 Seongsan Ilchulbong to Jeju City 70km

The Jeju Cycle Trail finishes at Yongduam Rock in Jeju City and we decided we would complete that 70 kilometre distance in one day, with a detour to Manjanggul Cave. The route to Woljeongri Beach was the same as we had been riding recently; flat, hugging the coast with seafood farms on our left. In one bay we noticed about 40 Haenyeos diving, some quite a long way from shore. We turned inland at Woljeongri and rode for about 5 km up to the cave. When the stream of lava, erupted from the Gomun-Oreum crater to the shore, the Manjanggul Lava Tube was formed. The tube is 7,416 metres long and the public can walk through a one kilometre section and see all the classic features: flow line, stalactites, shelves, toes and a 7.6 metres high column, all formed by the flow of lava. 

Back on the bikes we picked up the course at Gimnyeong Beach and then hurried to complete the ride in daylight. Back at Jeju City, the route took us passed the Jeju National Museum and the Culture and Art Centre but it was the end of the day with buildings already closed. We arrived at Yongduam Rock, moments after sunset, just in time to get our final passport stamp, and completion certificate. Tomorrow we have a mountain to climb. Click here to read the Climbing Mt Hallasan blog.

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South Korea: Cycling Seomjingan River Trail and Yeongsangang River Trail (313km)

Louise George

Sunset at Seomjingan River Trail Head

Sunset at Seomjingan River Trail Head

South Korea in late autumn: November. We had completed the 4 Rivers Trail (you can read about that ride here) and had five nights in Busan. We are not the best at following signage and we have read other blogs about linking these two river trails by riding many kilometres on a motorway, (that we would prefer not to do) so we imported a file from RidewithGPS to both Nev’s Komoot App and my Garmin so we wouldn’t go wrong, at least with navigational errors. We were relaxed about leaving Busan and getting to the Eastern bus station because we had already ridden from the suburb where the station is located, and confident that we knew where it was, and then pleased that our return ride to Sansong was straight forward. Navigation though, was clearly not the only aspect of touring we could get wrong!  A bus to Gwangyang was already at the terminal. Nev went in to purchase a ticket for the 11:00 bus to give us time to unload the bags and get the bikes ready for stowage in the luggage compartment. Nev returned to where I was waiting, with tickets for the 11:19 bus. He commented that it seemed an unusual time and showed me that the time space on the ticket showed 10:10. We decided that must be the time of purchase. We prepared for travel and waited. Another bus parked in Bay 25, due to depart at 11:00. By this time Nev had wandered off to the toilet but he was taking such a long time I knew he was nosing around the outdoor clothing outlet stalls. While Nev was gone the driver of this second bus to Gwangyang asked to look at my ticket. He pointed to 10:10 and said “time!” “Change!” I realised that what Nev thought was the departure time was actually today’s date written in the format 11:19! We should have been on the 10:10 bus, although that would have been impossible, because it departed moments after we purchased the tickets. Nev had still not returned to me when that second bus departed. By now we had actually missed two buses! Nev easily got the ticket changed to 12:20 p.m. By the time that bus arrived we had been standing at the station, in the cool shade, for 2 hours, presiding over our pile of gear. 

The two hours of bus travel to Gwangyang was luxurious, with plenty of leg room and a seat that could recline with leg support for those that enjoy that level of comfort. Because we had up to now been following rivers I thought the road route might offer different scenery, however apart from the absence of rivers it was much the same. Broad cultivated valleys punctuated by hill mounds covered in foliage that had gone beyond the autumn tones and now brazen, appeared to just need a strong breeze to float the remaining leaves to the ground.

Seomjingan River Trail

On the bikes we had 9 km to the trail starting point at the Seomjingang River mouth. We arrived at 3:30 and, as there was a camping area next to the trail-head, we decided to pitch our tent under a pergola to let it dry out thoroughly. I can’t say I’ve been excited about camping in South Korea and that has disappointed Nev, but it’s been very cold the two nights we had previously camped, and the nights are very long with darkness from 6:00pm to 7:00am. Also with no electricity or data , many hours of reading becomes the only entertainment. I agreed to camp rather than ride in the direction of Hadong, 20 km away, probably the nearest town with a Motel. The cold began to settle as soon as the sun dropped. Tonight rather than sit around in the cold we headed off to a restaurant we had located through Maps.me, that was 2 km away on the other side of the river. There were a number of ‘fish’ restaurants and we chose the one with the brightest neon lights. It was only 6pm and we were the only patrons. We had no idea what to order and the only thing we could establish with any certainty was that the fish had to be purchased by the kilo, that at equivalent to $72AU, was way out of our budget! A soup on the menu was reasonably priced so we pointed to that picture. The bubbling hot dish was placed centre-table with the gas flame lit beneath it, keeping the broth at a fast boil. The spicy stock was full of delicate tiny eel, beef bones and many vegetables. On the table, surrounding the soup tureen, a bowl of hot rice each was placed, along with twelve small dishes of cold food, and one small whole fish. We sat awkwardly on the floor at the low table and tucked into the feast. One of the women working in the restaurant came over from time to time and watched, with a huge grin and sparkling eyes (clearly Westerner clients are a rare source of amusement),  to see how we were getting on. She wanted to chat but that was hopelessly funny, even using Google Translate. Later she kindly brought us a Persimmon, sliced for our dessert.

The night was as cold as I anticipated it would be. Our sleeping bags are summer weight and even with most of my clothes on, as well as my hat and scarf, the chill seemed to permeate my bones. At 7 am it was 2C.

Following our Meusli breakfast, the gear was packed quickly as the pergola overhead had kept everything dry. With the Seomjingan River as our guide, we set off. There wasn’t a breath of wind and as the day progressed we were able to strip off some layers of clothing. We’ve made a habit of stopping for coffee around the 20km point, but we were at 35km and still hadn’t come across a cafe or a shop selling food. We were beginning to wonder if we’d even get a lunch break when at 40km we came across a restaurant, about one kilometre before Nampo Bridge, with a few vans parked outside. We sat at the only table, along with some working men, and were served lunch. There was no menu; everyone was served the same: thick beef bone broth, rice and nine cold accompaniments, similar to last night’s meal. Men came and went as we ate the very hearty meal, with a lot of liquid for rehydration. 

It would be almost impossible to take a wrong direction on this trail as the course is marked with a solid blue line painted the entire length. Signage to checkpoints is also very good, so when we watched some cyclists turn onto our route, (the only ones we had seen today), with that distraction we overlooked that Namdo Bridge was our Certificate Registration spot. Two kilometres further there was a coffee van so we stopped for a cappuccino, and Nev realised the error. We’d discussed not double-backing for check-points when we’d missed some on the last river trail we rode, so continued on. One of our difficulties is that we are unable to interpret the many signs that show points of interest, and I assume also accommodation options along the route. The Korean, Naver Navigation App, would have been useful, as it shows the trail and also place names in Korean and English but data is needed to use it, and we do not have a Korean CIM card as we had not purchased a Tourist CIM in Seoul. The Maps.me App, with South Korea downloaded, had helped us identify a town that had a Motel and we were happy to finish our day at Ace Motel in Yongjeong, having covered 70 kms. 

We had a late start to the day as Nev had been vomiting in the night. At 10:00 o’clock the morning chill had not lifted however we set off in 4C and it remained at that temperature for much of the time we were riding. At least the air was calm and dry. Nev had little energy and we decided to make the day a shorter distance, slowly covering a very pretty, but cold 46.2km. Just after the Hyanga Park checkpoint Tunnel we diverted 5km away from the course to find a Motel in Sunchang where Nev went to bed for the rest of the day.

Next day dawned with weak sunshine and with Nev feeling better, we set off without panniers. We had identified that the return route, linking Seomjingan and Yeongsangang Rivers, came to within a few kilometres on the other side of Sunchang city.  It seemed sensible to have a shorter day’s ride, with light bikes, and have two nights at Goldeun Motel. 

The trail continued beside the river that flowed and snaked through deep valleys. With less flat fertile areas the fields of rice and onions were much smaller. Occasionally a bright crop of red chillies added colour. At Janggunmok there was an area of wooden  platforms for campers. Across the river were some cabins and later we passed glamping tents. This appeared to be an area popular for summer river activities, and hiking trails, but at this time nothing was open. At  Seomjinggangdam, the final Certificate Registration on this river trail, we were delighted to see a Coffee sign, the first in 40km. Coffee with cake, served in a tiny cafe, where the heating was so intense that I stripped down to my first layer, was our chosen celebration on finishing Seomjingan River Trail. Back on the bikes we doubled back 5 km then took a more direct road route to Sunchang. What a difference a little sunshine makes. We were wearing just as many clothes as yesterday but the sun-bright high of 8C reached us around midday and with a few climbs we were soon stripping off some layers. We had just clocked 60 km on arriving back at our accommodation. 

Yeosangang River Trail

Tyres crunched the frost as they crossed the bridge but the sun held promise of warmth. The route not far from Sunchang-eup led us to a flight of concrete steps. At this point I was thinking ‘oh, here we go, this is the motorway that I’ve read about, and the course has brought us to it at this stepped side entrance point so we can’t see any ‘bicycles not allowed’ signs’. The bikes were unloaded, gear lugged up to the highway and then the bikes carried up in turn. Actually for six kilometres we rode on a dual carriageway, that had light traffic and a wide shoulder, so there was no difficulty. We left the highway and took a secondary road up to Damyangdam, our starting point for Yeongsangang bicycle path.

The first section of trail was on a rubberised surface similar to the protection under children’s play equipment at parks. The surface felt like it was gripping the tyres and slowing us down. Fortunately a stop-bank with a gravel path on top, travelled in the same direction so for a while we took that option. 

We found Yeosangang River Trail very easy to follow. The solid blue painted line continued, but with the bonus of directional signage being in both Korean and English. There were also two different types of signs, marking each kilometre. The trail lead us through Gaeksa-ri, a pretty tourist orientated town with many coffee shops, restaurants and a bamboo park. Our travel continued in the same vein as other river trails. The route was usually along the stop-bank that gave us views of the river on one side and acres of greenhouses shining as their coating of taut plastic glistened in the sun on the other. Occasionally there was a rice field or garlic crop that was planted in neat rows with their tops poked up through circles punched in plastic. The river had many bridge crossings, but we stayed on the left bank with the trail usually dropping beneath a bridge, so the path was continuous, punctuated with 7% descents to get below a bridge and then a 7% ascent to rise back to the path.

The river had trickled from the dam, but flow increased as tributaries entered. Occasionally a weir would reduce the flow to pools surrounded by grasses, habitats for birds, then later the river would broaden again. 

By Gwangju the river was very wide with the banks linked by many bridges. The city extended about 12km each side, beyond the river, with high-rise apartments jostling for river views. We wanted to split the trail into two days riding, so continued to a motel on the outskirts of Haksan-ri. Our odometer recorded 70 km for the day. As there were no shops nearby, we heated our packets of noodle meals and ate in the room.

Gwangju River Side

Gwangju River Side

There was the occasional spit of rain as we put our panniers on the bikes but by the time we’d ridden the 3km to seek out breakfast it was raining heavily. We drank our coffee at a cafe, then from the 7/11 brought food: hard-boiled eggs, tuna rice cakes and sandwiches, that we ate at the first pergola we came across, beside the river path. Our course continued along the stop-banks with a couple of very steep, but fortunately short, climbs adding riding challenge but little in the way of interest as our view was totally obscured by the rain and fog.

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Fortunately the rain stopped later and we eventually dried out except for the pools in our shoes. I was hoping to knock-off the 67km today without a break but with only 20km to go, energy levels were low. We left the river path but continued riding parallel to our course, hoping to find a shop. We found ourselves riding through a rural setting of acres of rice paddies, that appeared to sprout green shoots before our eyes, as they soaked up the rainwater. Occasionally there was a cluster of implement sheds and houses, but no shops. Back at the river we stopped at a shelter and ate the last of our food supplies. Three slices of dry bread, that was three days old and had a slight coconut flavour, spread with crunchy peanut butter and topped with cherry tomatoes, one Persimmon, a handful of walnuts. Our ride into Makpo continued along the stop-bank of what was now a very broad river. We were joined by a cyclist from Newcastle, UK who had been working at Makpo for a few months in the shipping industry. He was delighted to have English speakers to converse with. Later when we stopped at the final Certification Registration kiosk, a Korean man, out walking with his family on the trail, stopped me for a chat. Later, when we stopped at a cafe, the man sitting at the table next to us happened to be a teacher of English and he struck up a conversation. We hadn’t spoken to anyone for over a week so this was a wonderful way to end our last day on mainland Korea. By the time we checked into a Motel near the port we had completed 80km. Tomorrow we take a ferry to Jeju Island. You can read about our circumnavigation of Jeju Island, following the Fantasy Bicycle Trail here.

South Korea: Cycling Four Rivers Trail from Seoul to Busan

Louise George

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Our ride over this route took 10 days, covering 680 kilometres. We rode in late autumn; November. Rather than write a day by day blog, I decided to give an overall picture, both in the text content of this blog and in the grouping of pictures, rather than a chronological account, because anyone riding this route will be of varying abilities, have different amounts of gear and may choose to take a different amount of time. At the end of the blog I have listed our travel in days and distances.

We had five days of sightseeing in Seoul. The official starting point was Ara West Sea Lock and we didn’t want to ride there. We had established that bikes could be taken on the trains, only on the weekends and only in the first and last carriages that would be identified by a bicycle icon. It was Sunday and we envisaged the train and 40 km ride would only take the morning, leaving the afternoon for more sightseeing back in the city. I highly recommend you plan to enjoy just the cycling activity because in effect, that is all we achieved that day.

We decided to get the express train that goes to the airport from Seoul City Station as that train passes through, and also stops at Cheongna International City, the nearest station to the start of the trail. This journey was for us, by no means straightforward. We had difficulty finding elevators, at the stations, and when we did the space was sometimes small, so one bike (just as well without gear at this stage) would be taken at a time. The train we boarded stopped one station before Cheongna International City (not what we were expecting to happen) and wasn’t continuing. Maybe we’re a ‘bit thick’ as it took us ages to figure out how to get the next train in the direction we wanted; our efforts included riding with the bikes on an escalator (not recommended, and probably not allowed) and then being told by locals we couldn’t, with bikes, get on a train we were trying to board. Finally we went back to the platform we had initially arrived at, got the next train and disembarked at Cheongna International City.  A cycle path took us to Ara West Sea Lock, that was the trail head. Then we had difficulty finding where to purchase the Trail Passport. Coming from the trail head it’s from a reception area in the second large building beside the Ara waterway, the Ara Tower, Ground Floor. In Korea F1 is the Ground Floor. Look for the building, pictured in the next group of photos. From here you can get the Passport and also pick up a brochure about points of interest along the waterway.

We found Korea’s Cross Country Road Tour Passport useful as it gave us specific points to aim for, breaking the route into sections. Our first day we were having trouble finding the 3rd and 4th stamps (because we thought they were directly beside the trail, and these two weren’t) and started feeling like our ride was now becoming an Orienteering event; (a sporting activity we are not particularly good at), so we decided if we missed a stamp, it wasn’t so important that we would double back for it. The passport also came with a map of all the South Korean trails, and this became our only printed map. Only trouble was, the map was only in Hangul characters that Korean is written in.  We also hadn’t realised that some of the map trails were shown on different maps but some details overlapped, so at some points we were expected to have put two stamps in the passport, but on the different pages that applied to different trail sections. At one Passport kiosk (called Certification Centres) someone had taken the stamp. If that is the case, and a finishing medal is important to you, take a photo of yourself at the booth, as proof you were there. We found the person checking our passport at the end of the ride, took her job very seriously!

We found the ride back to Seoul, firstly on the Ara Waterway and then the first part of the Hagang Trail such a delight. We rode on the right bank and had a good view of the Ara Falls (Korea’s largest artificial waterfall) but were opposite the Ara Mary observatory (a circled glass floor, hanging 45m above the canal). Being a sunny autumn Sunday, there were hundreds of people out riding; family groups, wobbly new riders, many cyclists on ‘top-end’ titanium bikes. The path was dedicated for only cyclists and walkers, so three lanes with solid painted lines defining each lane. No one crossed out of their lane, no-one rode more than two abreast, most were single-file. The speed limit was 20kph and occasionally there was a pole beside the path with a fixed light that flashed red or blue to show your compliance, or not, with that regulation. We saw one policeman driving slowly on a motorscooter and two small electric trucks with workers equipped with broom and rubbish collecting items (not that we saw a single piece of litter). There were pop-up cafes, bicycle workshops, cycle retail outlets and occasionally a bike station featuring a pressurised air hose for blowing off dust, track pump, pergola and seats for relaxing, and water fountains to replenish water bottles. There were many toilet blocks, at a guess no more than 500 metres apart. There was always the river on one side and the other side of the path was sometimes wetlands, or nearer the city many parks for outdoor activities such as walking in nature, or fields for sports of many disciplines. Because everything about the trail culture was new to us, we took our time to enjoy this first day. We did wonder about the 20km speed limit but it appeared to be only a restriction on this waterway and through Seoul, and appeared again, only occasionally, where paths went through other large cities.

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It was Tuesday when we headed off towards Busan, many days riding away. There were still many other cyclists on the trail for about 25km, the distance it took us to reach the edge of Seoul’s metropolitan area, and then we saw very few people until the next weekend. 

We continued to enjoy the autumn foliage but found the days cooler and shorter than we had expected. It was dark from 6p.m. to 7a.m. The trail is well suited to camping. Occasionally there are dedicated campsites with full facilities that there is probably a charge for, but we were under the impression from other blogs that camping beside the trail was acceptable. We had our first 2 nights free-camping, the first beside a wetlands walking path, on the outskirts of a town. The second night was more emergency camping because it had got dark, and we were nowhere near a town. We had just passed a restaurant that was open, and it had a toilet block outside the building. We ate at the restaurant and then pitched the tent opposite, tucked behind roadside shrubbery. Both nights the temperature dropped to 2C so we decided in future to find accommodation indoors. 

Most of the signage along the trail was in Korean, so we had no idea what towns we were passing or what might be a point of interest. Google Translate wasn’t very good at identifying Hangul characters displayed in colour, on wooden boards. Google Maps didn’t show all of the towns. We learned that the Koreans use the Naver Navigation App, that has places in Korean and English. The bicycle trails are also marked on Naver. We did download the Naver App, but the problem for us was that Naver needs data. We hadn’t purchased a Tourist CIM Card when we were in Seoul, as it cost about $50, (we should have purchased this) and at that time we were planning to be in Korea for only two weeks, and we also knew that in cities, free Wifi was available at most cafes, restaurants and sometimes public spots. We managed to find accommodation by using the Maps.me App with South Korea (downloaded when we had free Wifi). Searching under the category Hotels would also display Motels, as a blue dot, and we would head in their direction. Often the trail bypassed towns so sometimes it meant just crossing the river to find accommodation and food. As a couple we found staying at ‘love motels’ very reasonably priced (and sometimes a bit quirky) but they were clean, and in addition to the bed were often furnished with a table and chairs, kettle provided so we could fix our own breakfast or heat noodles, and had an en-suite so they were very suitable. With underfloor heating a feature of the Korean lifestyle, staying overnight indoors was sometimes too warm for us, but really who’s complaining. An unexpected bonus was we could sometimes talk to other people, rather than just be the two of us camping in isolation. One day we were invited to join the motel manager as she attended morning prayers at a Buddhist Temple, high in the mountains, usually a two hour hike. This resulted in us taking tea, made from ginger flowers, with the resident Monk, and were each given a gift of a Korean face mask and bead bracelet. Another time we had an enthusiast manager invite a local member of the cycling association to meet us and he gave us some good tips. 

We found Koreans to be very generous as has already been mentioned, or occasionally we were given a piece of fruit by other cyclists or walkers. We also spent an evening as guests in a Korean home, in response to a generous invitation. Our knowledge of the Korean language is ziltch and outside large cities we often didn’t find English speakers, but we got by with hand gestures, Google Translate App downloaded, and pointing to pictures on the wall in restaurants. We were often asked ‘how old are you’ and found this to be in relation to Confucianism and respecting elders. While we found Korean people always respectful, additional respect was given to people older than themselves. This could be as simple as serving the eldest person first.

The trail surface was always sealed so easy riding in that respect. Most of the kilometres were flat, however many times each day there were the 7% ups and downs to access the top of a stop-bank or drop under a bridge. Korea certainly knows how to produce hills and threw a few into the mix. For us Day 3 had some road sections and with 234m ascent we gave our legs a bit more to do. Our first major climbing experience appeared on Day 5. There were two significant climbs that day, although the gradient and distance covered on the first section wasn’t too bad. The second climb was 5km of between 6-10%. We completed this ascent at the end of the day and night had fallen by the time we got to Ihwaryeong Rest Area checkpoint. We had a very cold, winding, downhill ride to Mungyeong in complete darkness. A good test for our lights. Day 6 gave us a couple of short sharp climbs and a memorable one with an unexpected 26% gradient (short and sharp) that was absolutely impossible to ride on loaded bikes. Climbs continued to feature, for us, between Daegu and Susan-Ri. After Daegu we were advised to check the trail map for when squiggles appeared, as this would identify a hilly section, and studying the map usually showed a section of road that offered an alternative, avoided the climbs and later linked to the trail. We didn’t heed this advice at the first squiggling we came across and ended up pushing 300 metres up a 15-20% incline. Where possible squiggling lines were avoided after that. There were a couple of big unavoidable climbs after Hajeong. The first included an 18% incline and the second appeared to go straight up for the short distance we could see, so we started pushing. The climb then eased to between 12-16% over 2 kilometres!

The trail infrastructure continued to amaze us. Toilet facilities were placed along the trail at regular intervals. Most were clean with toilet paper and hand washing facilities; some with music. A few toilets were squat over, porcelain pans over long-drops; usually in isolated places. Pagodas could usually be found at summits of hills or on a riverbend that had an outlook that was aesthetically pleasing; these offered shelter and lunch spots. Stainless steel fencing, extended for kilometres, even in isolated places whenever it was possible that someone might drop off the trail, if they weren’t paying attention. We were fascinated by the use of stainless steel in South Korea, for fencing, bollards, drink tumblers and even chopsticks (that I found to be very slippery) but the shiny steel gave a clean appearance.

Safety signs were prolific, in fact it was obvious the trail was treated the same as any highway with warnings as appropriate for such things as trail works, steep gradients, possibility of falling if leaving the trail (even though the boundary was usually fenced if there was any likelihood of a fall injury)! 

The theme of the trails was understandably bicycling. There were occasional art works, seats, even a toilet block, and many kilometres of stainless steel fencing that embraced cycling. At Dongam-dong there is the Sangju Bicycle Museum. 

We never tired of the scenery. It was autumn so some days were hazy all day, some were thick fog until late morning then clear in the afternoon, some were sunny with clear visibility and we had one day of stubborn rain so we called it off early. We were surprised that there was never anyone using the river. There are many weirs so there can be no through traffic such as Europe’s industrial waterways, but we never saw a small boat of any kind, nor fishermen on the riverside. 


The land beside the river had various uses, with walking tracks through wetlands, and sports fields being the most common near cities. Park Golf seemed popular, and it was at these up-sized putting greens that we saw large numbers of people. Adult outdoor gym equipment parks were plentiful, and occasionally we saw people making use of them. In rural areas there were kilometres of crops: turnips, onions and garlic, with daikon radishes and cabbages being harvested. Rice fields extended for kilometres; at this time the grain had been harvested and now the stalks were being cut and bailed in white plastic rolls. Greenhouses covered in taut plastic would stretch as far as the eye could see and change the view to one similar to glistening ripples of snow moguls. 

The mountains were often distant silhouettes, blurred by the weather, although we did get up close and personal with mountains, mid ride. There was always a cluster of high rise apartments in sight. We had no idea that South Korean urban populations would be so dense. Most people lived in an apartment in a high rise building that had a large number on the side. Groups of these buildings were called villages, and a number of villages formed a city. Closer to Busan we came across a few rural villages with clusters of small houses.

Mornings were sometimes very cold and we did make use of the face masks we were given. With the mask and a buff under our helmets we were pretty toasty but as the day warmed we removed these and other layers of clothing. We found it amusing that local cyclists, even when the temperature increased, would remain covered from head to toe in face mask, puffer jacket and long pants and imagined ourselves to be in a sweating lather if it was us riding in that attire. Sometimes we became aware of an approaching cyclist because we could hear music blasting from a speaker, surprisingly usually western songs. We also came across this sharing of music when we did some hikes, that we found annoying or not, depending on personal taste. 

This is possibly a generalisation, but it seemed that Korean cyclists did not have the knowledge, or the equipment to repair a puncture. On three occasions Nev stopped and fixed punctures, the person not having the means to repair, and many other cyclists would have also gone passed the person pushing their bike, and had not offered assistance. 

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We very rarely rode on a street in South Korea, but when we did we rode defensively, as we would anywhere, but we didn’t feel confident that drivers would be looking out for riders, as so many cyclists ride on trails away from traffic. Apart from difficulty choosing food at some restaurants, language wasn’t an issue. We did find getting cash was a problem at times. A lot of ATMs wouldn’t accept a foreign card, and while 7/11 stores ATMs were okay they would only dispense a maximum 100,000 won, with high fees. 

Four Rivers Trail completed

Four Rivers Trail completed

Overall we enjoyed our 4 Rivers experience and decided to spend more time in South Korea, riding Seomjingan and Yeongsangang Rivers Trail (you can read about that ride here) and then riding the circumference of Jeju Island (you can read about that here).

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RIDING ITINERARY

Day 1: 47km: Ara Waterway, Hangang River to Seoul, stayed at Kimchee Hostel

Day sightseeing in Seoul 

Day 2: 74km: Seoul to Yangpyeong-gun; Free camp

Day 3: 76km: Yangpyeong-gun to ; Jocheon-ri; Free camp

Day 4: 30km; Jocheon-ri, to Mokaeng-dong; Damien Motel (shorter day because of torrential rain)

Day 5: 76.km, 914m ascent; Mokaeng-dong to Mungyeong; Sky Motel

Day 6: 77km, 357m ascent; Mungyeong to Nakdong-ri; Phoenix Motel, 

Day 7: 87.8km, 246m ascent; Nakdong-ri to Daegu; Hosted at a Warmshowers home

Day 8: 70.5km, 374m ascent; Daegu to Hapjeon on outskirts of Angjin-ri

Day 9: 63.5km, 519m ascent; Susan-ri, Princess Hours Motel

Day 10: 75.4km; to final check-point at Nakdonggang Estuary Park, then to our accommodation in Busan

Morocco: To the desert and beyond

Louise George

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“Where are you from? Welcome to Morocco!” These two statements we heard on a daily basis, said with genuine interest and cordiality; no strings attached! I would however highly recommend having an understanding of French language if travelling in Morocco. My schoolgirl French was very limited. We got by; but we would have liked to have communicated with locals more as that would likely have given us a richer experience.

Travelling on a bike seat can be difficult, but any time, in many of the countries we’ve travelled in, when we’ve chosen to travel by bus with the bikes and our many bags (we each have 4 panniers and a handlebar bag), there has usually been a lot of bike preparation, and difficulties transferring gear. We had already used CTM buses to travel from Agadir to Marrakesh with boxed bikes in the luggage compartment. Now we’ve established that, for a fee, we can freight items from Marrakech to Fez. So the smaller bike box was put inside the larger bike box along with the front panniers and various items we would not need as we rode south. Fingers crossed the very large package will be safely transported from Marrakesh, and will be in Fez when we arrive in a fortnight.

Next we walked up the road to a different bus station and booked a ticket for us to travel on a Supr@Tours bus the next day, from Marrakesh to Ouarzazate. We chose Supr@tours because their timetable was more suitable for us, but we were advised to arrive next day at least 30 minutes before departure to book the bikes as freight. Carrying the bikes would then still be at the discretion of the driver, and it would also be up to the driver to allow us to get off the bus at Tiz’n’Tichka Pass, as we actually want to ride some of the way to Ouarzazate. The bus would save us 106 km of cycling, and a significant amount of climbing.

Tiz’n’Tichka - Ouarzazate 89 kilometres, 355 m ascent

Fortunately, on the day, everything was as we wanted and after a three hour bus journey, the driver pulled over at Col du Tichka, and left us on the roadside with bikes and panniers. Nev quickly got the bikes ready for riding. We took a couple of photos at the highest pass in Morocco, and set off. At 2260m the air was thin, and the landscape bare red soil. We were quite out of breath as we climbed a little more to the highest section of road. I was hoping for a ride of only downhill (descent was 1336 metres) but the total ascent of 355 metres, kept the day honest.

With temperatures up to 35C, the heat from the sun and the warm wind, sucked the energy and the moisture from our bodies. There was no shade so we had one short break in the scorching sun to eat the croissants we had brought along with us for lunch. Later we took a longer break at a cafe to re-hydrate.

Many photo stops stretched out our travel time. We were enthralled by the constantly changing landscape and colour variations. With not being sure what the road surface would be like, we didn’t detour to the tourist attraction area of Ait Benhaddou. On the first day of this cycle tour we were not ready to make it an epic, as had been the case when we rode a three day loop from Agadir, (you can read the blog about that ride here). The modest accommodation we had booked in Ouarzazate, ‘Hotel Valley Rose’ was very comfortable. With a fridge in our room we looked forward to cold drinks at least for the start of tomorrow. Reception offered to store the bikes securely; no trouble, and pointed us in the direction of a shop that sold water and food so we purchased supplies for a back-up.

Ouarzazate - Ait Sedrate Sahi El Ghar, 87.31 kilometres, 750m ascent

It would have been great to start early but the restaurant opened at 7 a.m. and it was actually very dark until that time too. We were packed and ready to leave as soon as we’d eaten. We had watched the sun rise as we ate breakfast, and with the early temperature at a pleasant 17C, we set off to get a head start on temperatures that reached 35C before midday. With only a few photo stops we easily covered the 41km to Skoura, and settled at the first cafe we come across for coffee and Wifi. Later we went into the Skoura town centre, but because we didn’t find anywhere more appealing to eat at, ended up returning to the cafe we had sat at earlier. Nev was just recovering from a couple of days of diarrhoea that started in Marrakesh, and my appetite was dulled because of the heat and dehydration. Even though neither of us was hungry, we knew we needed to eat the meagre lunch we’d chosen of tomato salad and chips.

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A soft pink hue kissed the landscape. Distant mountains melted into silhouettes in the heat haze. The arid terrain didn’t seem like it would support a large population so we were surprised to pass through many villages. At a high vantage point on the road, we could see six villages dotted over about a 15 km distance. From our bike seats these villages often appeared to be clusters of small mud brick houses hidden behind walls of the same material, (kasbahs) but we found that there is often quite a large population in the villages, with dwellings that actually extend well back from the road. To locate the typical Moroccan Auberge in the village of Ait Sedrate Sahi El Ghar where we stayed the night, we rode, as if negotiating a maze; along narrow dirt tracks between high walls, to the outskirts of town, about two kilometres from the main road.

Ait Sedrate Sahi El Ghar - near Dades Gorge, 43.31 kilometres, 385m ascent

We chose not to eat breakfast at the auberge for a few reasons; last night’s tagine had been very expensive so we assumed breakfast would probably also be pricey; I had been in hot and cold sweats all night, had hardly slept and didn’t feel like eating, and we wanted to make an early start. We rode out at 7:30, on a snack of Orange Juice and a Meusli Bar. At the main road we passed hundreds of children walking to school. From Kalaat M´Gouna to Boumaine Dades it seemed like Highway N10 was one long route where villages conjoined each other; with houses of the small mud brick variety or grand homes of many levels, all dressed in sandy pink.

We were riding the valley formed by the Dades River. As with any area in Morocco where there is a water source, populations are dense. The small town of Kalaat M’Gouna had an industry of rosewater and rose fragrances. Every second shop was selling rose products. Evidently there is a Rose Festival every May. We continued towards Boumaine but made a left turn just before the town in the direction of Dades Gorge. Only ten kilometres along the road into the gorge, we settled into Hotel Cascades Dades. Nev did bike maintenance, while I napped, then we spent a relaxing afternoon on the terrace perched high above the fields. We were looking down on a group of industrious women who cut the dried stalks off corn plants and stacked them on a donkey, then cleared the remaining stubble, readying the land for the next crop. We decided to stay out of the heat and leave the ride to the gorge until tomorrow.

Dades Gorge - Boumaine Dades, 50 kilometres, 626m ascent

My feeling unwell yesterday turned into Moroccan belly overnight. Breakfast was out of the question for me, however I wanted to see the gorge. We left our panniers and cycled at a gentle pace for the 22 kilometres.

We passed through many small villages along the way. The valley is fed by the Dades River and was densely populated. There were some new buildings under construction; some very grand. We shared the road with women coaxing donkeys loaded with corn plants, presumably to be used for winter stock feed. These swaying loads amused me, but it saddened me that sometimes only two legs were visible and on closer inspection it was an old woman carrying the burden. There were clusters of olive trees and fig, almond and walnut trees dotted the borders of many small fields of corn, from which the cobs had already been picked. Women were industriously chopping the plants at ground level, then drawing them into bundles to load onto the donkeys. The background was of rich red rock. We rode to the top of the gorge for the best views.

A magic descent

A magic descent

The road zigzagged up the rocky escarpment, upon which sat an eyesore of a building. Nev rode a few kilometres further to the head of the gorge then returned to where I had waited at the restaurant/hotel at the top. We had a nice coffee, then returned to last nights hotel for our panniers, before taking the final 10 km to Boumaine. Boumaine is one of the largest towns in the area. It hugs the hillside and blends with the ochre earth. Our accommodation had a view along the oasis of the Dades River, a swathe of deep green at the bottom of the red valley. We walked to a nearby cafe for pizza and an avocado juice. The pizza wasn’t much more than a bread base topped with cheese and herbs and the juice was very milky. I was drinking mine quickly, because I really wanted the experience of consuming it to be finished as soon as possible, as I was feeling a bit ‘grossed-out’. I had glanced across to see another avocado juice being made. The milk comes in plastic bags and the young man making the drink, tore the corner of the bag open with his teeth!

Boumaine Dades - Ait Oussalem and Gorges Todgha, 70.3 kilometres, 405m ascent

There were only a couple of climbs over the 43km to Tinghir. The road went along the centre of a broad arid valley that only supported hardy scrubby bushes. There wasn’t much visible in the way of life except a couple of goat herds and their herder, a flock of scraggly sheep and their shepherd, a group of donkeys. Occasionally a dirt road would branch from the tarmac into the dry hills that bordered the valley, and often a person would be waiting at these intersections, for a bus.

For about three kilometres before Tinghir, we passed through Nouvelle Tinghir. This area was new roading and vacant blocks that would take hundreds of new homes. There was a beautiful new Polytechnic educational complex. Clearly a lot of population growth expected! Tinghir Town was our lunch stop and what a mission it was to find food! My stomach was still delicate and I had a fruit juice drink in mind. Nev just wanted a sandwich or similar. We slowed at each cafe, trying to see what food they served. We went into a couple but I was put off by the poor quality fruit or diced chicken meat sitting out, unrefrigerated. Eventually we settled at a cafe for juice, coffee and icecream!

We rode almost to the head of Todgha Gorge and rested at our accommodation at Ait Oussalem. I had developed full on Moroccan Belly again. When the sun left the gorge we rode to the most spectacular section, the last 600 metres where the canyon narrowed to about 12 metres wide and sheer rock walls towered to 160 metres. The road we were cycling narrowed, and the river that had been flowing on our right, just disappeared. Many people had set up stalls selling scarves and rugs. They were beginning to pack up but we wondered if they might be staying in caves in the area as there were no vehicles parked.

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Back at our accommodation we had been hearing a youngster crying on and off, and on entering the dining room noticed that a child was lying in a woman’s lap, with a doctor appearing to be doing sutures on the child´s stomach. We sat at a table at the far side of the room and discussed whether an appendectomy was being performed; and the doctor doesn’t have gloves on! When I was a child I would be unable to continue a meal if there was so much as a hair in the food. Now the dinner, that had been ordered before I was aware I had gastro issues, was placed in front of me, and I tried not to think of my illness, surgical procedures, and teeth tearing at milk containers. Nev had to eat most of the two tagines, salad, bread and fruit. We later discovered the child did have an appendectomy, two weeks ago, and we had witnessed the sutures being removed

Ait Oussalem - Ksar Touroug, 100.30 kilometres, 282 m ascent

A delicious looking Berber Eggs for two, kick started Nevs day. I was still unwell, so ate bread. The ride back out to the valley was grandly picturesque, but we soon left the gorge and were back in the same broad valley of yesterday, this time for 100 kilometres.

We had pinpointed a town, Ksar Touroug, to stop at that we could see on Google maps had three cafes. Surely there would be accommodation. But no; that was not the case. As we had no cooking gear we decided to eat at the Sahara Cafe, where the cook had told us there was no camping, nor accommodation that he knew of. We were on the outskirts of town so we decided we would leave the cafe to find a spot in the desert to camp. As we were about to leave the young man at the cafe asked if we’d like to stay at his house. “We’d love to!” He took us across an open area, then through a double gate, were he introduced us to a woman. She took us upstairs to a room with a mattress on the floor and we set up our camping bed. And so began my evening with Aisha, and later her mother, who joined us after attending to the two cows housed in a walled compound next to the kitchen. We sat on tiny stools on the floor of the kitchen. Aisha prepared the filling for Berber pancakes: Grated Onion, lard, carrot, chopped chilli, basil. We were later joined by Aisha’s father, and Nev, for the evening meal. A small low round table was brought in and, as it was a snack for us, we shared a small portion of their meal; bread torn from the large flat loaf, dipped in oil, with black olives. This was followed by mint tea. We tried to communicate in French, but were now in an Arabic speaking area. Google translate came up with some weird responses, but I did learn that Aisha was a widow with two school age children. She lived here with her parents and her income was from selling breakfast at the weekly Souk.

Ksar Touroug - Erfoud, 52 kilometres, 71m ascent

I agreed to get up at 5 a.m. and go to the Souk with Aisha. We walked in the dark to the cafe, where the cooking facilities were; just a bench and sink and one gas burner. We quietly stepped over someone who was sleeping on the concrete outside, beside the door. I watched Aisha make the Berber Pancakes. Firstly she prepared an enormous mix in a large plastic bowl: 000 grade flour and coarser wheat flour, yeast, and water, set aside to rise. About 6 a.m. the first trucks arrived to set up awnings, designating individual shops of the Souk. By daylight at 7 a.m. there were many stalls ready and the first customer arrived at the cafe for breakfast. I went to the house to get Nev who had packed both our bikes, ready for the day’s ride. We fare-welled Aisha’s dad and were given two enormous pomegranates. Back at the cafe we ate freshly prepared Berber pancake, that is the dough mix cooked neatly in two exact same size pancake-like circles. The filling, prepared last night was spread over the entire surface of one circle and then the two circles were sandwiched together for further cooking. It was a tasty start to the day. We set off with a heartfelt farewell of Aisha and Amin.

As soon as we left the protection of the town buildings we were into a head wind. We weren’t anticipating a long riding day but the force of the wind slowed our pace considerably. The wind intensified and our flat ride resembled an uphill battle. A haze of sand particles obscured the distant range of hills. Sand could not be seen on the road but must have settled between the stones pressed into the tarmac. The tyres of oncoming vehicles sucked out the sand and sprayed it over us, the same as water forms into sheets when wheels pass through puddles on a wet day. Fortunately the battle into the wind was only for a couple of hours, as a change in our direction brought a reprieve.

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We passed by many kilometres of what appeared to be rows of holes, with the fill from the holes in surrounding mounds. A number of vehicles parked in one place piqued our interest and this was our cue to stop and take a look. We joined a couple of other English speakers for a guided tour. The area was of sophisticated underground canals called Khettaras, about four to eight kilometres long, used historically as a water source for irrigation. The canal contained the water but the shafts, spaced regularly, were access for maintenance and for aeration. We were shown how water was raised from the canals and also taken down into the canals to walk along a section. They hadn’t been in use since a Dam was built changing access to water, but prior to that the ground water source had been used for irrigation for 1000 of years. The separate rows were so that there were no fights over water rights between the Arabs and the Berber people.

While we rode, we’d often had children wave or run beside us as if we are in a race. To have two boys run either side of the bike was not unusual so I didn’t think anything of it. Seconds later I heard a noise behind and turned in time to see them darting up a sand hill with my locks in their hands. The locks were clipped under the pannier straps and the boys had simultaneously unclipped each side. We stopped and called to them but they just waved the locks, laughing at their cleverness. Nev waved a money note and they scarpered down the slope, threw the locks in Nev’s direction, snatched the money and raced back up and over the sandhill. I’d like to think that the boys were just being pranksters but it was a good warning for us; so the locks were then locked securely to my bike and remained that way for the rest of our trip. Later a young man rode beside Nev for a little while, then later dropped back to ride beside me. He repeatedly asked the same questions in English. I was now paranoid about our valuables and watched Nev’s phone and my Garmin, like a hawk. We slipped the devices into the handlebar bag when the lad wasn’t looking. Oddly enough a little later a man pulled in front of the young man and yelled at him, to which he slunk off. We continued to slip our valuables away whenever anyone rode beside us, or came over to talk; rather than have them on display.

The arid land slowly changed to fertile fields. It looked like some were prepared for planting. It is autumn now and I expect that Spring in Morocco is a very different scene.

Erfoud and Erg Chebbi

We arrived at Erfoud by mid afternoon and had booked a more superior hotel, because we wanted a couple of days break from riding and to celebrate our 43rd Wedding Anniversary. To be honest I’d been sucked in by the tourist hype that the ‘thing to do’ here was join the stream of other romantically inclined travellers and see the sunset over Erg Chebbi, from the back of a camel. I was exhausted from days of cycling while feeling unwell, plonked myself beside the pool and asked Nev to organise our excursion.

Late afternoon the following day, the 4WD arrived and took us to the Erg Chebbi sand dunes south of Erfoud. The track to Sandfisch followed a short section of the Paris to Dakar race. It certainly was fun to be moving faster than our bicycle pace. We arrived at Sandfisch, where we will stay the night and the vehicle was swapped for a camel each. We jostled and swayed as the animals plodded three kilometres towards the large sand dunes, and then they continued to climb with us on their backs for quite a height. Believe me, it was a pleasure to dismount. We’ve travelled almost 5000 kilometres by bicycle with no saddle sore issues, yet an hour on a camel and we both thought our butts were grazed! The camels were hobbled and we walked a little higher up the dune to rest on a blanket, that had been spread out for us by the camel driver. We watched as many other tourists arrived at the foot of the dunes by 4WD, and then mounted camels for a ride of about ten minutes. Lucky them! We were on an enormous dune, not at the top, and the summit didn’t look more than 30 metres away so we set off to conquer it. The distance was deceptive and it took a while to get to the top, but the view was well worth it.

Happy Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary!

After many sunset photos, we joined the camels and they carried us off the dune. For fear that we would be too stiff legged to ride our bikes the next day, we chose to dismount at the sandy trail, and walked the 3 km back to the auberge. Dinner was being served when we arrived and we joined another tourist group in the dining room, for a delicious tagine dinner. The evening finished with an open fire outside, and traditional music played by locals. We wanted to shower before bed as we had been romping around in the sand. Evidently a shower is not usually included in the tourist package we had chosen, but we were happy that they changed their minds and let us shower in someone else’s room. We were taken in the dark to our tent accommodation. Sure it was a Berber tent but in reality just a tent. We had been sleeping in our own tent many nights in the past five months.

We rose before sunrise so we could witness the glory of an expanse of sky throwing spotlights that changed the colourful golden tones of the desert.

Our driver returned us to Erfoud where we collected the gear we had left stored at the hotel and were on the bikes by 9:30 a.m.

Erfoud - Er-Erichidia, 83.65 kilometres, 464m ascent

We rode through a broad desert valley with a rift of rock either side. Contrasting with the barren landscape was an oasis of date palms for many kilometres. We stopped at a market. I stayed with the bikes while Nev went to look for bananas and salad vegetables. While waiting I was watching men rummage through boxes of dates, looking for good quality, and thinking to myself, ‘no wonder we get sick, where have their hands been’, then a man walked over to me and kindly gave me some dates that I put in my handle-bar bag.

As usual temperatures were hot and it was hard to find shade for our lunch break. We left the road on a single track towards date palms, and an area that seemed tucked away out sight. Within moments of laying out lunch a boy rode passed on a donkey. Not long after, a man walked by. The man later returned with a handful of dates for us.

We had passed the 5000 kilometres milestone of cycle touring without mishaps, and had hardly finished congratulating ourselves when my tyre went flat. Our first puncture! Nev found a thorn in the tyre, presumably picked up at lunchtime. Within moments we were surrounded by five boys full of business, who took the tube from Nev and found the hole. Another boy carefully checked the interior of the tyre and found two more thorns. Nev couldn’t locate the puncture repair kit and assumed he must have left it behind at Dades Gorge when he had his tool kit out for bike maintenance. We also found that the spare tube Nev had been carrying so carefully, was actually a skinny tube and not for our broad tyre. Nevertheless he inserted that tube and one of the boys helped with inflating it. Then the boy asked if he could have our Lezyne Cycle Pump. No way!

Later in the afternoon we passed through Er-Erichidia; a large town. Keen to get the punctured tube repaired we stopped at a vehicle tyre shop. Success! Later we found the items needed for puncture repair at a bike maintenance shop. Two rounds of bread restocked our emergency provisions and we headed to a family run auberge at a small village not far from town. We were shown to our room and the strains of guitar music filled the house. At dinner we met our host Youssif, the talented young musician, who spoke English. We had hardly spoken to another person in English for weeks and we found it very refreshing to be able to share Australian music with Yousif through YouTube and to learn from him what life was like for his family. His brother who was working in Saudi, telephoned home while we were there. Youssif was a qualified accountant but not happy in that profession, who had decided to open the family home to guests, and manage the Hostel, with Mum as the cook. Dad helped out as well as working on the farm.

Er-Erichidia - Er Rich, 60.45 kilometres, 689m ascent

Breakfast was Berber pancakes, Berber bread, eggs, oil, olives, jam and honey. When we left we were given the Berber Pancakes we had not eaten, for our mid morning snack. The ride of 40 kilometres took us at first high above the Barrage, an enormous lake of water storage. Long climbs led us through the red rocky terrain of the Middle Atlas Mountains. On one gruelling climb we were passed by a car that pulled over a little ahead of us. I must admit I was thinking ‘is this going to be a problem situation for us?’ When a man, very enthusiastic about our effort, came towards us taking photos. We stopped and he offered us water. Turned out he was Karim Mosta, Moroccan Desert Runner, former World Champion and his companion. We felt invigorated as they took delight in what we were doing!

The mountains ended, swapped by a spectacular ride through Gorges de Ziz, following the Ziz River and exiting through Legionnaires Tunnel built by French colonial troops in the 1930s to create a route through to the Ziz Valley that we had just ridden.

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Many Peugeot vehicles came towards us and with numbers displayed, it was clear we were on a rally route. We stopped at one car that was parked beside the road, that had people standing around it, and the bonnet slightly ajar. We asked if they had broken down, but no, having the bonnet slightly open made a level surface on which to place the wine and cheeses that was their lunch!

Our ride finished at Er Rich, 3 kilometres from the main road. We had no accommodation booked but found Hotel Tisslite had a room with ensuite. We wandered around the market, and I soon became aware that there were few women in public and that we were the only Westerners. This was an observation rather than a discomfort for me. I must admit though that in Morocco I did feel more comfortable wearing shorts and T-shirt when I was on or pushing my bike. L'sportif was sometimes said as I walked by. We had difficulty finding somewhere to eat. Eventually we asked a female chemist if she could draw a map to a restaurant. We never did find that restaurant but, while searching, came across a snack bar, walked in and ordered the same meal as the only other customer was eating. Our meal of Harissa soup, chips, cold chicken sandwich, was tasty, and fingers crossed okay for our gut. Back at the room, I showered and found the plumbing broken so had a quick cold wash. We eyed the single beds with suspicion and decided to sleep in our own sleeping bags. Er Rich was not on the tourist route, prices were low, indicative of the quality and service but we left feeling like Er Rich was the most honest little town we had stayed in.

Leaving Er Rich for the bus station

Leaving Er Rich for the bus station

Er Rich - Azrou by bus

Early morning we were at the bus station to take a local bus to Azrou. I’m not sure what is worse; cycling up a mountain pass or sitting on a bus amongst people spewing into plastic bags. The bus was however a good choice as most of the journey was a gentle climb through scenery similar to what we had ridden through previously. Because we went all the way to Azrou, we missed out on riding a very long ascent. Once we crossed the Ante Atlas Mountains, the presence of higher precipitation was evident. Fresh meadows were grazed by many sheep herds. The clusters of trees turned into swathes of forest. It was mid afternoon when we got off the bus and we responded to being ushered into a street side cafe, because the waitress spoke English. We were quickly seated and served, but lunch was marred by the smell of caged sheep. Yesterday many trucks and small vans with sheep in cages on the roofs, had come towards us, presumably going to market. Today while we ate, sheep looked down at us from the roof of a small van that was parked next to us at the kerb.

We checked into Riad Azrou, our home for two nights. The accommodation was furnished in traditional Moroccan style, with earthy tones and drapery giving a Bedouin atmosphere. We had a large room with ensuite on the ground floor adjacent to the lounge area, where we parked our bikes. Breakfast was served each morning on the roof.

Azrou - Ain Leuh - Azrou, 51.36 kilometres, 809m ascent

Looking down to Azrou

Looking down to Azrou

Azrou is nestled in the Middle Atlas Mountains, with a backdrop of lush forest and a fertile valley stretching out below. We took the opportunity to ride unloaded on a loop from Azrou, at first climbing up to the forest behind the town and for many kilometres along the hillside in the shadow of the trees. Eventually we were rewarded with many kilometres of downhill passing acres of stone fruit trees. There were new fields being prepared for planting. It looked like machinery had recently moved the enormous boulders that would have been scattered over the area, into piles, or to create a boundary, freeing the fertile soil for production. Our destination was Ain Leuh, a small town that had a waterfall. We knew, as it was the end of summer, that there would likely be no water, and we were right, but were surprised to see that for many kilometres we followed an aqueduct of fast flowing water that delivered water to homes and fields. We rode down the steep main road of Ain Leuh, dodging people and shop-front wares that intruded into the narrow street. We continued a small distance beyond the town to where the weekly Souk was spread under canvas shelters.

Many times we have seen vans with all sorts of goods stacked on the roof and covered in netting. These are mobile shops, going from one village Souk to the next. The stalls are set up and dismantled each day. What an effort, and as an observer, it seemed for little reward! Our loop route returned to Azrou, following the valley. Now and again we were passed by taxis dropping off passengers or pick-up trucks with many people standing in the back tray, getting a ride home.

Azrou - Ifrane, 29.5 kilometres, 766m ascent

Our destination was Ifrane but we took the 'scenic' route. Over eight kilometres we climb 500 metres to get to the Cedar Forest of Ifrane National Park. The ancient trees stood proudly on the hilltops. We saw the occasional monkey. Back on the main road we continued to climb to within ten kilometres of Ifrane before we got a breather. Ifrane in the distance was an unexpected sight. The buildings are all white with pointed red-tile roofs; certainly nothing like the kasbah style of town we have seen throughout Morocco.

Ifrane to Fes, 66.39 kilometres, 115m ascent, 1301m descent

Our last day of cycle touring in Morocco, was the most delightful of rides. We rode our fully loaded bikes for 66 kilometres at an average speed of 25.4 kilometres an hour. Not because we had become super strong by rotating those pedals on loaded bikes, but because apart from the first couple of kilometres, it was all down hill! We stopped in Ouled Tayet for breakfast and coffee at a cafe that was sparkling clean. Such a contrast to the dirt and dust that we had previously experienced. We didn´t stop for any photos.

We retrieved our bike boxes from Fes bus station and packed the bikes ready for their next unridden journey; by bus to Casablanca, followed by a long flight to South Korea. You can read about our ride of the South Korean River Trails here.

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Morocco: Cycling a Loop from Agadir To Imouzzer and return

Louise George

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We’d been in Agadir for four days, hardly venturing out of our hotel. That was intentional. Nev needed a couple of days to prepare our tax for the accountant and I wanted to catch up with our blogs and sort out photos. Poor wifi, even when using our phone data, was a source of frustration, stretching out the hours we spent indoors. We’d been on the go since April and even though we had a few periods of 2 or 3 nights in one place, that was always to take in the sites, and we had walked many kilometres each day. I particularly was keen for a proper rest, so apart from a couple of walks around the block to get food, a walk to the Souk, and two visits to Agadir beach, we had been very laid back. It seems that Agadir may not have more much than that as far as tourist sightseeing goes. The city was totally destroyed in an earthquake in 1960, and up to 15,000 people killed; 1/3 of the cities population at that time.

I’d be fooling myself if I didn’t acknowledge that I was anxious about riding in Morocco. So to get a feel for the country, we decided to do a three day loop on the bikes.

Day 1, Agadir to top of Paradise Valley

40 km Ascent 1130m Descent 538m 

We easily rode to Agadir’s outer suburbs and admired the grand real estate we passed. Some of the very large homes had green lawns, something we hadn’t seen until now, as the green spaces representing parks on the map had been browned off dust bowls. We were advised later that this suburb was the home to expats and corporations. Then we turned a corner and faced brown hills, scrubby bushes and cactus. Nev commented sarcastically “I’ll be interested to see what ‘real’ desert is like!” Our route planner had taken us on a little road, with a patchy tarmac surface, and virtually no traffic; which is a good thing. We had been climbing through the outer suburbs but the climbing now began with a vengeance. We climbed 536m in 14 kilometres at 4kph, not much greater than walking pace! Then we plunged into a valley, loosing all the height we had gained, and joined a well formed (main) road, climbing at a gentle gradient into Paradise Valley. The oasis of many date palms was a stunning contrast to the arid countryside, festooned with scrub and cactus that we had been riding through. On our approach to the valley, there was a shop with items that would appeal to tourists. The shop keeper ushered us to the rooftop “for the best photo” and invited us to enter other display rooms on the way down, of many colourful bowls and plates, some jewellery and Ammonites, as well as rocks broken to reveal coloured crystals. All very beautiful but we are not adding to our load, “no, not even a necklace”. Around the corner we stopped at a small shop, hoping for lunch but came out with an ice-cream and bananas. Up to now we’d seen two shepherds watching their small flocks of a half dozen sheep, and a female goat herder so we found it interesting to sit under the shop’s canvas porch, in the shade, watching the comings and goings of a number of people. A couple of motor scooters for a petrol fill from a plastic soft drink bottle, a delivery of bread, carried in a cane basket on the back of a motorcycle. We snacked on the supply of food we’d brought with us; dates, apricots, walnuts and almonds before getting back on the bikes and facing the heat.

Onward and upwards, there was a lot of dusty road works; it appeared that they are trying to make the road edges more secure so that when heavy rains come, the road will stay intake. We passed a couple of places where huge chunks of concrete had dropped away. At the moment the river is flowing at such a slow rate, some restaurants (that appeared to be not open) have put plastic chairs and tables in the stream of water, so that potential customers can cool their feet while eating. A heavy rock on