You’ll Find Me in the Water @Xiao Liuchiu

They say that the water of Xiao Liuchiu is super clear, and that the difference is stark between mainland Taiwan and this beautiful coral island. Boy, they weren’t wrong. We couldn’t really get excited about the prospect of spending the next 24 hours on the island as we disembarked because… well… it was raining. We were met by an old lady from our B&B who showed us to our bikes, and then led us into the small city centre of Xiao Liuchiu, where, in one of the back alleys, we were shown a courtyard to park our bikes.

After checking in and deciding we didn’t want the discounted ticket for all the caves and hikes, booking our all-you-can-eat BBQ dinner, and being told if the weather was good at night we’d go stargazing, we headed out on our motorbikes anyway because well… we’re in Xiao Liuchiu. So what if it was raining? We weren’t going to sit inside all day. In hindsight we probably should have gone to the caves… it would have been dry inside at least. But oh well.

We took our time riding around the island. We stopped several times to take in the view that the island had to offer, despite being shrouded in cloud and rain. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer, and asked my friend to stop by a small, natural bay. There were people swimming in the sea despite the rain, and I couldn’t help myself. It’d been ages since I’d been in the ocean and as soon as my feet reached the water, I was sold. The water was beautiful. I mean, the Med was going to have to work hard to top it. The water felt warm and cool to the touch. We wouldn’t get cold if we stayed motionless, but it wasn’t exactly warm either. We must have stayed by the sea for an hour before donning our 30NT raincoats again, this time completing a circle around the island and heading back to the B&B for a shower.

 

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Our BBQ, round 1. I stopped counting after round 3.

The only pictures I took of the first day were of the BBQ. Taiwanese people love a BBQ, and my friends and I were no exception. We were so excited about this BBQ, in fact, that we were the first ones to arrive (a small backstory: my friend Teresa and I didn’t even have a BBQ for the mid-Autumn Festival so we definitely felt ‘due’ a BBQ).

After dinner we headed out to a few bars that the island had to offer, but unfortunately it wasn’t very busy, especially considering it was Saturday night. In each of the two we visited, we were one of two sets of customers there. And when we were about to head into the third, we saw no one in there, so abandoned ship for the night. We got some fried chicken and vegetables instead, and took it back to our room to eat it instead.

 

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Breakfast out in the traditional courtyard of our B&B!

Early morning, because when traveling in Taiwan you start early and finish late. Breakfast was ready for us in a little basket, and we got to eat it al fresco as the sun was finally shining! Hooray! After a quick breakfast we snorkeled… you can read all about it here. It deserved its own post.

 

 

 

After the snorkeling, one of my friends took us to her ‘secret hiding place’ which essentially is a tiny beach hidden among massive coral rocks, where we could swim and take selfies to our hearts’ content. We must have been there for a good couple of hours, (me) taking in the sun, (us) bathing in the crystal-clear, warm water and taking photos.

By the time 11 o’clock came round, it started getting really hot. We were also getting a bit peckish, so decided to head off back into town to grab a bite to eat. But then, on the way back, we passed Venice Beach, which is the one of the few beaches on the island that has actual sand rather than small coral rocks… so… well, we had to stop and at least take a look. Besides, there were some Bao-a’s left from breakfast we could snack on in the meantime. So we headed on down and got to take in a pretty cool beach. The great thing about the island is that due to all the coral, the beach is shallow as, and so you can go in quite far and still only have water up to your knees. It’s really great for warming up that water and just soaking in the ocean.

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Me and ma girlz!!
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OK we had already eaten a lot of the food… but you get the idea…

Eventually we got hungry so we had to head back into town for some food. We went to one of the most famous seafood restaurants on the island (of course), where you ordered meals by the number of dishes you wanted, and it all came in quick succession. It was pretty darn good. I mean, I could have lived without the sushi because it wasn’t very fresh and badly cut, but the rest of the food was awesome. One of my friends also got us snails as a treat which was yum!

 

After lunch we went and had a late check out from the hostel, and washed up changing into summery clothes. The day was still hot and the sun was glorious. I lathered myself in sunscreen for the third time that day. We had some time before the boat took us back to Kaohsiung so we went for another little ride around the island, looking for vistas of sweeping oceans and the famed Xiao Liuchiu sea turtles. We did end up finding some down some country road that brought us to a campsite on a cliff, with the sea turtles swimming in the vast sea below us. It was absolutely gorgeous. My camera and photo skills are nowhere good enough for it so you’ll have to go to see it for yourself.

All in all, I would go back to Xiao Liuchiu but definitely not to go snorkeling. I wish that we’d had the time to do the caves because of the Dutch/Taiwanese history of the Black Dwarf Cave (a.k.a. Black Devil Cave…), and just to see what all the fuss is about. The island is tiny and takes about half an hour to get all around, which is really ideal for just zipping here and there exploring different corners and harbors.

And the water… oh… it was so beautiful. I could have laid in either the secret hiding place or Venice beach all day and had food brought to me. Seriously so gorgeous. I would go back just to chill by the beaches and really take in the island rhythm.

You can easily do Xiao Liuchiu in two days one night, but if you want some time to chill by the ocean and not worry about catching a boat, I would stay two nights. You might find that nightlife is a bit meh on the island, which is isn’t really an issue. If you really want a drink you can still go to one of the bars on the island, just don’t expect to have a wild night out. And if you get really bored you can always take a hiking trail as well.

TOP TIP: If you have water shoes bring them because the coral starts feeling like an intensive foot massage after a while of exploring beaches.

Here are a couple more shots of the day:

Fruit-Selling at the Pool

I go swimming every weekday morning at this swimming pool that also has quite an impressive Spa. You can read more about my pool antics here.

When you go regularly, you start to pick up on things that happen around the pool, and one of my favourites happens on Thursdays in the ladies’ dressing room.

There’s one lady that buys fruit online. I don’t get it, either, we live in the countryside fruit is easy to get. But no no, she buys her fruit online. She takes orders from everyone, puts them in on Sunday, and on Thursday they’ve arrived and everyone gets to take their share home.

Every Thursday, I come into the Ladies’ changing room to this:

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4 baskets of fruit, a few ‘bricks’ of popped rice laced with sugar, and some Japanese pears that she found somewhere (I don’t know where). 

Usually as I’m getting my latex hat swimming cap and goggles on, the women are huddled in the corner. The woman that ordered the stuff telling everyone that will listen how great the quality is and how she’s definitely going to order more next week.

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The women getting their orders delivered.

I just wanted to share this story because I think it’s just so… definitive of Taiwan. These ladies are clearly retired, enjoying their retirement by going to the spa in the morning with their friends, and yet still they find a way to make money. And not make money in a dirty way, either, but in a genuine want to give others the best. In this case, the best is this amazing fruit that you can apparently buy online.

It just speaks volumes of the Taiwanese sentiment of working till you’re physically unable to, and always inventing new ways to keep busy.

Claustrophobia by the Sea

Have you ever fed fish in a pond or a fish tank? Wasn’t it amazing, watching the fish scramble all over each other, trying to get a scrap of food or two? Wasn’t it fascinating? The fish can’t get enough of it, and they will do anything in their physical power to get as much food as possible.

Snorkeling on the small coral island of Xiao Liuchiu is one of the must-do’s, or so I was told. It was fantastic there, they said. Okay, snorkelling we would do. It’s included in every hostel package anyway, so everyone gets a chance to do it.

Sunday morning. At 7.30am we were up and eating breakfast alfresco outside the hostel. Breakfast was a simple ham and egg sandwich with milk tea. Within 20 minutes, the ‘instructor’ from the snorkelling school was there to pick us up and take us snorkelling. My three friends and I climbed onto our scooters and dutifully followed him on the shop. He was terrible at riding at a pace. There were already about a dozen other people milling around, getting tacked up. We had to sign a waiver agreement, and we were told we’d have to wear wetsuits and a life jacket.

The foreigner in me couldn’t help but gripe. I’m not wearing no life jacket to go snorkelling. We weren’t even going out to sea and I can swim, goddammit. No, no, we had to wear the life jacket or we couldn’t go. Shitty customer service 1, Arna 0. I was moody. I was so moody, I didn’t even nicely decline the wetsuit. And when the man handing me a life jacket was looking me up and down to check my size, I just said bluntly, “I have big boobs”. He flashed his beetle nut stained teeth abashedly, but I remained deadpan. He gave me a bigger lifejacket. I sighed as he put it on me. I sighed as we put on our water shoes (No FLIPPERS?!), and sighed as we were handed the snorkelling gear. Off we went, again on our scooters, not before I got my friends and I to take a sad faced selfie.

The beach where the snorkelling took place wasn’t more than a 10 minute drive away (okay… pretty much everything is about a ten minute drive away here), and I felt like I was in some sort of apocopolytic movie. People were suited up everywhere, in their freaking wetsuits and lifejackets. One of the instructors that came with us made us all take a photo, and then we were herded into the shallow sea. The small stretch of beach was covered in coral, as was the water. There was very little sand, everything was littered with coral. There was very little sand that I could see, we were all standing on coral. Two instructors then went on to explain to us a) how to use the snorkelling gear and how to breathe, and b) how to hang on to the life ring and ‘just float’. I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t. Each instructor had three life rings tied to each other about a meter apart, and up to three people would have to keep one hand on a life ring at all times while we floated, and the instructor would pull us around the reef.

I know, I know, you’re thinking ‘don’t be shitting me Arna’ but no I’m not. I cackled out loud and was met with another exasperated look from the instructor. Eventually, after some nervous trialling of the snorkel gear from people in my group, we were off… or should I say…off we ‘hung around’. It was really kind of ridiculous. We never really went into any water. We were never more than 10 meters away from shore. The coral was all brown and dead. I think I saw about three fish. We kept going through really shallow waters; I was worried I was going to scrape a knee or something. My friend hanging onto the ring in front of me kept bumping into me because she was too close in front of me, with her legs stiff and nervous. It started getting crowded. In our immediate area we must have been one of about 10 different groups of snorkelers, all snorkelling with their instructors towing them. We slowly started closing in on each other.

That’s when the panic happened. I felt the commotion: water was sloshing, my friends were thrashing helplessly… what the hell? I pulled my head out of the water and about 5 meters in front of me, instructors were all pointing to the water and shouting to look at the turtle. I was upset up until this point, and now I wanted to cry. “來來,有看到了嗎?烏龜就在這裡!” People started crowding and standing up in excitement to try and get a better look (what the fuck dude get your head in the water that’s how you see with your bloody goggles). I started yelping helplessly, “Get down, get your legs out of the water!” Then, an instructor, maybe in excitement of seeing a turtle or I don’t know what, started saying “Shall I pick him up for you? I’ll pick him up for you.” That’s when I went into full panic mode. Tears filled my eyes and I could hardly get the words out, “Don’t pick him up! Don’t pick him up!” I had just finished saying this when my instructor came over to me and my friend and asked if we’d seen it. I complained that everyone was standing and I could only see legs. I wanted to go home. People were everywhere. Suddenly I felt a sharp pain under my knee and I gasped. Someone had pushed their way over me, crushing my leg onto the coral reef. I don’t actually remember much of this. I didn’t see the turtle, I refused. The instructor kept asking if I’d seen the turtle, his voice strained and loud. I took a deep breath and shouted, “I DON’T WANT TO SEE THE POOR TURTLE”. With that he turned his heel and continued pulling our group of 8, this time away from the madness of people.

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The poor turtle. Our instructor took this snap with his waterproof.

My saving grace was when my friend Erin said she desperately needed to pee and couldn’t do it among all these people. She shouted up to the instructor that she was going to go back to the beach, and without saying anything, I followed her. I did not want to take part in this gross violation of nature. The poor turtle.

I’ve always understood theoretically that humans destroy nature with our nasty chemicals and our nasty habits. But to see it play out right in front of my eyes? To know that I took part in it? I wish I could say that I at least refused, but didn’t I play along too? I was, and am still, crushed. I’m crushed by the barbarity of humanity. I’ll never forget the legs all stepping all over the dead coral and people panicking from forgetting to breathe through their mouth.

Back on the beach, my friend had finally peed (you can imagine where). We were both complaining about the horrendous experience, both of us rather shell shocked. I didn’t know what to do, so I scanned the beach, and noticed a lot of rubbish. We started picking up bits of rubbish, knowing that the snorkelling wasn’t going to take much longer anyway. Besides, we had to wait for our group. We managed to find two plastic bags and filled them both with plastic, glass, and styrofoam. Two typhoons had ravaged this island in the two weeks preceding our visit, so the beach was horrifically dirty.

 

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The poor turtle. Our instructor took this snap with his waterproof.

When members of our group started coming to shore, I worked up the courage to go speak to an instructor. With all the control I could muster, I asked some questions, and told him that I disliked the experience because of how intrusive it felt to nature. There were too many people, I complained. The instructor was very nice (I could tell he had his customer service face on– first one I’d seen today so I appreciated it). He said that the snorkelling schools agreed to use this as the snorkelling reef so the others could stay protected and untouched. This reef also had a ‘regeneration period’ between December and March every year, so it had some respite. I told him about how some other instructor had said he was going to pick up the turtle and he said, ‘well he must have been joking’. When I told him I was probably the funniest person on the island right now and I didn’t find it funny, he didn’t laugh. I guess islander sense of humour is a lot different to mine.

With that awkward conversation, we left. We drove back to the shop and gave back our snorkelling gear. They gave us a CD with some photos on there, and that was that. We played our part in the destruction of nature, and we get a CD momento to take home with us to prove it. Later my friend told me that the instructor that I’d been speaking to told her that it was a total waste of time to try and pick up trash from the beach, because ‘there will be more tomorrow’. I don’t have the mental capacity to process that, so I won’t comment on it.

The only thing I can think is, what a wasted opportunity to teach others about reef conservation or why we were seeing so little fish, and why there were so many people crowding on this once beach. What a wasted opportunity to not bite that jack-ass kid’s head off for touching the turtle. The entire experience was a wasted opportunity.

Fish fighting for their food, I can understand- even appreciate. They are trying to survive and to live to see tomorrow. But humans getting in a tizzy over a bloody sea animal?  How useless was that? How absolutely pointless is our presence, really? What is the point of our existence is we are not only harming, but intentionally harming without giving the wellbeing of this other animal a fleeting thought?

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Multiply the number of people you see here by about 5/6 and that’s the number of people on this beach, at 8.15am, ‘snorkelling’. I tried getting a pano but my phone didn’t like being stuck in the waterproof case so wasn’t playing ball.