Tuesday, January 14, 2014

An Island Christmas

Our school gave us foreign teachers Christmas day off of work, which meant that it was prime time for a little southern adventure. Christmas Eve found Angela, her visiting boyfriend Charles, Michelle, Katie and I on the high speed train headed for Kaohsiung. We had dinner at a Cajun style restaurant called The Bayou. I would have been in Nwalins heaven, if they had made my food. Bad drinks and skipped food made this a Christmas Eve dinner to remember. 

At least we managed to leave with a few handfuls of candy canes each

In the metro station

 After dinner we went in search of our hotel. A few missed streets later and a little backtracking, we finally managed to find the "Nice Hotel".

Our room was a little falsely advertised and the online description didn't mention that all three beds were pushed together to make one giant wall to wall bed. 

Christmas Day found us pushing the snooze button multiple times before dragging ourselves out of bed and finding a taxi to take us to Donggang. After a 45 minute taxi ride, making it to the ferry pier exactly as the boat was pushing off and a 20 minute boat ride we were on Xiao Liuqiu Island.

We quickly rented scooters and within ten minutes were being led to the first "touristy spot" by the older woman who ran the scooter shop. She scooted us straight to "Flower Vase Rock", rambled something in Chinese to me (which I took as, stay on this road and you won't get lost), waved goodbye and was off to rent more scooters. This woman exemplified the same friendless and helpfulness that so many other Taiwanese people have shown towards myself and my friends. She didn't have to lead us herself to the rock, but she did. She didn't have to try to explain to me how to navigate the island, but she did. She didn't have to be friendly and cheerful, but she was. I am constantly still amazed and awed by the niceness, and more importantly the sincerity of that niceness, that most Taiwanese people seem to have. It's something that I know will stick with me long after I leave this beautiful place. 

The rock is named "Flower vase Rock" but we decided that it looked more like Africa

After leaving the beach we spent the rest of the day zipping around the island visiting all of the "must do" things on the tourism map we received after getting off of the ferry. The island is the only coral island out of Taiwan's many offshore islands. There are various places around the island where you can see massive above ground pieces of rock embedded with dozens of types of coral and other small sea creatures. 
We visited some of these rocks, as well as most of the other tourist spots on the island. We saw beautiful beaches, caves that people used to hid in during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan and bamboo jungles.

For me the best part of the day was scooting through the little towns and seeing what I see as (and this may just be my skewed version of the truth) what the entirety of Taiwan was before its massive economic boom. The island had no high rises, no industrial park, no factories and only two 7-11's. It was filled with one story houses, temples, above ground graves and mom and pop run stores and restaurants.

Teaching Charles how to scoot

Walking through the "Wild Boar" area

Bamboo forest

If you're not careful, your car may just fall off the cliff

The deserted beach we found where Michelle stepped on a sea urchin

Checking out the views

The last part of the day was probably my favorite, and the part where I have no pictures. Our final stop of the day was this place called Lobster Cave. After scooting past ramshackle houses, chicken coops and vegetable gardens, and getting lost once or twice we finally found it. And boy was it worth it. We walked out to the edge of the rocks only to be treated to the sight of the biggest sea turtles I have ever seen. Their shells had to have been at least four to five feet wide. All five of us stopped and stared for what seemed like an eternity. We were all completely awestruck by seeing such beauty in the wild. Here we were on a deserted rocky shoreline, on an island off of the coast of another island watching massive sea turtles paddle in the waves. It was one of those moments in life where you just have to stop. 
We found out later on that the island plays host to turtles most of the year. The turtles come here to feed and mate in the coral reefs right off the coast. I'd love to come back during hatching season. 

After watching the turtles, we hopped back on our scooters and returned to the ferry dock. We boarded the ferry  and within twenty minutes were back on the mainland. From there it was only one taxi ride from hell, some snacks from 7-11 (in lieu of Christmas dinner) and an HSR ride until we were back in Taichung. 

It was an insane 24 hours, but it was absolutely worth it. 

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