Taiwan is here surrounded by water, and Japan is over here, also surrounded by water. This presents a predicament.
Several months ago, as you may well know, we became part vehicle; our bottom halves were replaced by steel frames and rubber wheels. The cogs and cranks of the machine spin on an uneven mix of 10% brawn and 90% willpower (roughly speaking), and they have managed to serve us well. What they can’t do, sadly, is function correctly on water. When we came from China, there was a convenient boat which we could simply cycle onto. No such boat exists between Taiwan and Japan.
Our bikes are made by Merida, a Taiwanese company that is only exceeded in size by Giant, and so we rolled down to the Merida store in Xindian to see what they could do about packing our bicycles up in a plane-friendly box. “We can,” said the boss at the Merida store, and they did it for 800 NTD per bike. The front wheel was removed, the handlebars were removed, the bit that the handlebars attach to was flipped around, and the tyres were deflated to prevent explosions at 40,000 feet. When we went to pay, there was a small bag on the counter.
“It’s not mine,” I said when the girl behind the counter pointed at it.
“Complimentary,” she smiled. Inspecting it revealed two Merida cycling tops made of rocket parts and prehistoric meteor fragments for ‘constant cooling’. His and hers. Hers said ‘Juliet’. The price tags were still attached, and were triple what we’d spent on packing our bikes, We thanked them profusely.
Peach, a low-cost Japanese airline that came into existence only 5 years ago, has an easy bicycle policy: ‘bring the bikes to the check-in counter and give us money. You will see your bikes at the other end, promise.’ (here is their fees page)
Of course, the bikes had to be packed so the box didn’t exceed a certain length, and the weight had to be under 20 kilograms, but apart from these stipulations it really couldn’t have been simpler. The issue of getting our enormous boxes to Taipei’s Taoyuan airport (an hours drive away) was solved by Caroline’s very generous aunty driving us there in a big car with the back seats down. I have no idea how we would have figured out that issue without her.
When our bikes weighed slightly more than 20 kg (21 and 22 respectively), the immensely helpful people at the Peach counter said that, “It’s okay. Maybe there is an issue with the calibration of the scales,” and let it slide. We watched our bikes roll down the convener belt into the magical abyss, and then light-footed our way through the tiny queues at customs (after a tearful goodbye to Caroline’s cousin).
We boarded a plane, and the plane flew to Okinawa.
At about 9 p.m., we exited the plane and said ‘Hello,’ to Japan for the first time. Apart from the Japanese writing, we could have been anywhere. I’m not sure what I was expecting (robots, probably) but the airport looked like any other. We landed in the domestic terminal, and were the final flight of the day. Our bikes were waiting for us after immigration, and the complete lack of trolleys meant we had to drag them through the airport through a few twists and turns until finally reaching a mysterious queue. With the help of some Americans at the front of the queue, we learned that a shuttle bus would pick up all the passengers and ferry them to the main terminal.
With some small difficulty, we managed to fit ourselves and our giant boxes on the shuttle, get dropped at the terminal, find a trolley, ask the information desk where we could set up the bikes, and finally, as per advice, crack open the boxes in an alcove facing the taxi stand. Merida had packed the bikes very well, and it took us an hour to assemble them. The woman at the information counter had agreed to take all our box and packaging material for recycling. After Caroline hauled it all to her, they closed the airport. It was almost midnight, after all.
Did we have a plan from here? We did not.
We followed the magical blue dot on the phone and cycled to Naha, stopping at a Family Mart to use the free wifi (in order to access the wifi we had to agree to countless things which we didn’t read) to search for nearby hotels. Before hopping on the plane, we’d spoken about camping somewhere, but after all the fun and games with the bikes we felt that an actual real bed was needed. A friendly man approached us and asked if we needed help. We asked if there were any hotels in the near vicinity, and he pointed us in the right direction.
Two hotels denied us on the grounds of being full. It was surprising considering how lifeless the town seemed. We spied a capsule hotel, and secured two capsules just as the rain began to pour. Tomorrow, our cycling adventures in Okinawa would begin. For now, I had to figure out the shower situation at the capsule hotel.
Do people go naked? Probably.
Where is the shower head? Ah, several are lined up along the wall.
Privacy dividers? Apparently not.
Shampoo and body wash? In abundance.
Plastic stools? What the hell are the stools for? Do people sit to shower?
Am I alone, so does it matter if I get it wrong? It’s after midnight, so yes.