Thursday, October 02, 2014

Third Cycle And Cruise Expedition With Star Cruises

Rolling off at Ishigaki Port

It was our third expedition but this time, we will have to fly, then cruise and cycle at each port call.   Sandy and Xuejing of Star Cruises were already exploring a ride event in Taiwan and Okinawa following our successive second edition earlier this year which took us to Penang and Phuket.  It was not easy especially for Xuejing who had to co-ordinate with many parties, the likes of the airline, the hotels and the ground operator, among others and when the program was finalised, we were left with about two months to get cyclists.

Group picture at Ishigaki Port

It was a 6 days and 5 nights cruise and cycle expedition, with 3 nights aboard Superstar Aquarius and 2 nights in Taipei.  At S$1,288 per person excluding airport taxes & surcharges, it is a steal.  We had scheduled to depart on 20 Sep, Saturday and returning on 25 Sep, Thursday.  We tapped on various social media platforms to get the cyclists.  Some of my kakis signed up too.  Star Cruises did their own broadcast to cast the net wider.  Admittedly, it was a slow start from onset as this involving flight passage and people generally took longer time to ponder over.  We were hoping those who joined us in the first and second edition to join us again but after some persuasion, we managed to convince Andrew Lum (as always, Star Cruises' number one supporter) and husband & wife team in Irene and Michael to sign up for this latest edition.  My other kakis like Peter and Arthur also joined in and they too roped in their friends and relatives.  We had a couple in Patrick and Justina who live in Perth flew in to join us too.  Justina used to swim for Singapore in the SEAP Games and won 7 gold medals for us, one of our golden girls in the 70s.  When it was finalised, we had 40 of us joined by some from the Singapore media members too.

Collecting and inspecting our rented bikes from Giant 

Our departure on 20 Sep, Saturday was by China Airlines, CI752 at 1025 hrs to Taipei.  Two representatives from Taiwan Tourism were at Changi Airport to send us off.  Sandy dropped by too.  It is certainly heartening to receive tremendous support from the Taiwan Tourism.  We were probably the first to combine flight, cruise and cycle in such a unique expedition.

Peter giving his wife, Rose a push while ascending Yang Ming Shan 

Perhaps it was our good fortune looking at the positive side when typhoon "Fung-Wong" had decided to drop by at the southern shore of Taiwan on the day of our departure heading north.  It was a direct hit on Taiwan.  The port had to be closed on 21 Sep, Sunday where we were supposed to commence our ride to Keelung port from our hotel to join the cruise.  Instead of spending three nights on board Superstar Aquarius which will take us to Ishigaki Port and Naha Port, we had to contend with 2 nights and only one ride in Ishigaki instead.  In replacement, we had another night in Taipei to avoid the typhoon.  Granted no other option, we had to depend on the quick thinking and ultra efficient support team from Giant to re-route our entire cycling itinerary.

Group picture mid way at Yang Ming Shan

On our arrival at Taipei, we were met by Giant's representative, Frank who will oversee our entire cycling tour.  We checked at Danshui Fullon Hotel Hot Spring for a night.  Indeed it was my first experience staying in a hot spring hotel.  I was given a double bed which I had to share with Hong Choon.  Either someone at China Airlines (the hotel arrangement was by the airline) or the hotel must be out of their mind, who 'conveniently' assigned the room without considering whether the two persons of the same gender are indeed couple.  Sometimes, I hope the person doing the room assignment should have exercised some common sense.  Guess some have it, some don't but life still goes on.  We were not the only ones affected by the room allocation.  Arthur and his brother-in-law, Joey had a room that comes with a bathroom without door or walls.  There is no privacy when one has to do "private business".  I burst out laughing when I saw their room - much to their dismay of course. FazBoi too.  He had the same room concept as Arthur and Joey.  Fortunately, we managed to change our rooms.

Peter reaching for the skies with help from some

After settling down, we went to collect our rented bikes which were arranged by team Giant.  Our rented bikes were hybrid type.  The bikes were tagged to our names accordingly to our reservations.   The way the Giant team organised was very professional, I must say.  After testing out, everyone was happy with their bikes.  It was free and easy in the evening.  Most of us went to a local bazaar for local food which is one station away from our hotel.

One good jump before heading to Keelung Port to board Superstar Aquarius

We were to cycle for some 60 km on 21 Sep, Sunday from our hotel to Keelung port had it not for Typhoon Fung-Wong timely visit".  Frank had re-arranged for us to cycle to Yan Ming Shan in Danshui district which is near our hotel.  The one way distance was about 20 km and 40 km in all.  We had the morning till 12 noon before Typhoon Haiyan finally hit Taipei city later of the day.  The typhoon was reported to have created some havoc of sorts in Taichung and slowly moving up north.

One nice shot for Taiwan media during ride in Ishigaki

Though it was a short 20 km but it is a gradual climb from the hotel.  The highest point is more than 800 metres.  For some in the group who are not regular cyclists, this really posed a big challenge for them.  The oldest member in our group, is Uncle Tan who came with his daughter, Lee Lee.  Uncle Tan who speaks Teochew and Mandarin is 73 year-old but he has no problem cycling up the slope of Yan Ming Shan at all.  Lee Lee, his daughter told us that he cycles everyday.  The only problem he had was he could not understand the lingo (initially, of course) when we shouted, "car back" to forewarn those in front of approaching vehicle.  And he has the tendency to disobey some safety rules too.  Some had to keep a lookout for him.  Another senior cyclist in our group is Michael who is just two years younger than uncle Tan.  Peter's wife, Rose who did not want to cycle initially but gamely joined him for the ride.  She did try to climb up the hill while Peter was pushing his wife from behind - such lovely couple.  A short while later, she decided enough is enough and hopped onto the support vehicle.  The Giant team had assigned a lead cyclist, a cyclist in the middle and a sweeper throughout.  FazBoi who is our former national cyclist helped to cover for the slower riders.  The way he pushed up some cyclists up the hill with one hand seemed so effortless.  I tried too but can last for a short while only.  A support vehicle driven by Frank was always on the move.  They communicated via walkie-talkie to keep the group intact.

On the way to Keelung Port on day two of ride

We reached our hotel before 12 noon and soon, we had to check out for another hotel.  This time, we were transferred to Hotel Day+ and I must say it was a much better hotel, spacious and comfortable.  On our arrival, we were greeted by a strong gush of wind which almost threw us off balance.  Admittedly, it was my first experience with typhoon.  After our dinner, we had to stay in our hotel while the typhoon came knocking in the middle of the night while I slept soundly in my room.

Warm up led by FazBoi, ex national cyclist before Ishigaki ride 

Our second day of ride will only start after lunch as it was still raining in the morning from the aftermath of the typhoon.  We checked out at about 1100 hrs and were brought to the  Fishery Harbour for a nice and sumptuous seafood lunch.  I must say each serving is generous and 'sedap'.  Adrian who is the editor from Asia One is allergy to seafood shared the same table with us and he had to settle for more veggies dishes while we tucked in heartily - so guilty of us.  After lunch, we were to take a short 20 km ride to Keelung port where Superstar Aquarius was berthed alongside.  To add some distance, we did a little climb before riding along the coastal road to Keelung.  The waves were hitting the shore as we rode past.  It was a scenic sight.

Lunch stop at Ishigaki

We arrived at Keelung well before our boarding time at 1830 hrs and we spent some time roaming the street bazaar.  Superstar Aquarius was scheduled for 2 nights cruise voyage to Ishigaki port from the original 3 nights voyage.  Everyone had been informed to don our specially designed third edition Star Cruises' cycling jerseys for our final ride in Ishigaki.  The jerseys were designed and printed by Raymond of Quickspeed.  The previous two editions were done by Bikelabz.  He joined the tour together with his wife and daughter.  I am comfortable with the fitting.

Hosted the certificate and medal presentation attended by the hotel manager  

The vessel pulled alongside at Ishigaki port the following morning at about 0900 hrs.  Ishigaki is a small island, among the many south of mainland Japan.  Thanks to Xue Jing's arrangement, we were given priority clearance.  The Taiwanese media joined us for the ride too.  Most of us donned the specially designed third edition cycling jerseys.  Thanks for his generosity, Raymond even gave each of us a pair of his company's bright green socks too.  We had group picture taken at the wharf before rolling off.  The weather was hot, just like Taiwan.  There were some rolling along the way but compared to Taipei's Yan Ming Shan, it is still nothing.  The motorists from Taipei and Japan really exercise much tolerance toward cyclists.  I have not heard a single horn from any irate motorist so far.  They gave us much space and only overtook when the opposite side was clear.  I cannot say the same for some of our motorists back home though.  We had few stops along the way, to replenish and to take pictures.  The zealous Taiwanese media members not just ride only, they will cycle ahead and stopped to take pictures of us riding past before continued again.  I gave them two thumbs-up for their professionalism.

Oldest member of the group, Uncle Tan receiving his certificate and medal from the hotel manager 

We covered some 40 km before returning to the port at about 1700 hrs.  In the evening, there was a certificate and medal presentation cum bbq dinner for all on board.  Everyone was called to receive a nice certificate and medal from the hotel manager.  I was losing my voice but fortunately, I did not fall sick - thanks to Arthur for his energy booster sachets.  After the presentation, Joseph took to the stage with his Bon Jovi number.  He was backed up by the live band.  The night had just begun.  After dinner, some adjourned to KTV where they sang and drank all night long.  Frank and his Giant colleagues were drinking merrily with some of the cyclists at the open deck.  Everyone was in celebratory mood.  After watching the show with some, I slowly made my way to the cabin to take a well deserved rest.  

Team Giant led by Frank returning appreciation to the cyclists 

We had another day in Taipei when the ship called in at Keelung port.  Our hotel is at heart of the popular Ximending district.  We left on 25 Sep by China Airlines in the afternoon.  Irene, Joseph & Carmen, Terence & Eijin extended their holiday on own.  The trip certainly ended well and most importantly, everyone arrived safely.  Thanks to all @ Star Cruises for another successive run yet again.  Till we meet again in the our next cruise cum cycling expedition, let's relish on this one for now!  

Video montage produced by Star Cruises' number one supporter, Andrew Lum

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