The beating waves of the sea tilt our boat like a metronome — each rising torrent from the cavity below spraying out liquid on either side to the symphony of the sea. Plastic bags are hung on each row of the boat within grasping distance of queasy passengers. Despite the torrential flailing of the currents below, the sun beams relentlessly through clear seas on the tiny vessel, guiding it through the sea toward the verdant speck on the horizon.
The great cliffs on the eastern coast of Taiwan soar straight south, pressed perpendicularly against the inexorably force of the Pacific. These mighty peaks press on towards Taidong, where lame ferries await animated passengers making their way towards Green Island, a speck of land off the southeastern coast of Taiwan.
A bumpy ride
Gobbling up a few sea sickness tablets prior to boarding saves my stomach from falling victim to the continuously pulsating sea. The tides from the Pacific are notorious for upsetting the stomachs of travelers on this trip, replacing the splash of the sea with the sounds of esophagus projectiles halfway through most voyages.
The speck on the horizon balloons into my peripheral vision focusing the green and gray hue of the island.
Green Island offers year-round opportunities for leisure, excluding the summer typhoon season (about June-August). The small circumference of this island can be driven around by scooter in a matter of 30 minutes. The sense solitude is never lost here because the local government maintains a cap on how many tourists are allowed on the island during peak seasons. This keeps the population relatively low and the traffic exponentially more blissful than the mad streets of Taipei, droning with sirens and clamorous night markets. Because of this, Green Island has become an increasingly popular escape in Taiwan as more people attempt to escape their hurried city lives.
Scooters are easy to rent, but notoriously dangerous if not taken seriously. That being said, Green Island’s low population density makes it the perfect place to hop on and learn. Breaking blue waves press against a single straight road brooding with tropical foliage at the base of an unforgiving cliff. There is only one road on the island, making it an extraordinary feat to get lost. Rides around the island smoothly snake up and down cliffs, revealing full views of the island with fresh sea air crisply kissing your path.
Soak in the springs like a local
The majority of tourists here are Taiwanese, and they are always ready to reverie in the face of outsiders. This is made most apparent during hot spring sessions. The ChaoRi Hot Springs (朝日溫泉), located a quick 15 minute scooter ride from the quaint port, is a must-do for any traveler coming to Green Island. The boiling water slowly secreted from the earth beneath the island warmly wraps my back and behind in bubbles. Who would ever think that slowly cooking yourself would be so damn comfortable?! Breaks between dunks are necessary, and all the normal precautions of a roller coaster ride apply here; i.e., heart troubles, pregnancy. Though foreign travelers have been making paths through here for some time, it is common to come across glances that turn to glares. This congenial curiosity can often bare interesting anecdotes.
Becoming an instant celebrity
The outer hot springs are slightly more tepid in comparison to the interior facilities that are ornamented with rustic walls and jet hoses blasting boiling water two meters high out of the wall. My girlfriend’s brother, who sports a very hairy set of chest hairs — bountiful enough to string together several wigs, or even make Robin Williams look less like a baboon — is easy to pinpoint in a hot spring sauna. After working up the courage to submerge himself in the jet of boiling water, (about 30C) he rose up to a group of young Taiwanese men clapping furiously and whistling more onlookers on from around the large domed interior. Becoming an instant celebrity is never a far cry away in Taiwan.
“Woooo,” exclaim the young men in gregarious groans. They beckon him over, broadening their arms and stroking the air like freestyle swimmers. The excitement is somehow swallowed away from us in this awkward, amicable circumstance as they clasp us together for a pose, conveniently propping the hairy wonder in the front. Half-smiling, half-dazed — we set our ill ease aside for a few pictures with our chest hair enthusiasts. Cultural clash or over-courteous congeniality — Taiwan provides a great host of opportunities to tramp across this line.
Clean and colorful coral reefs
Snorkeling and diving remain a center attraction on the island that hosts a number of instructors waiting at your disposal. Setting out for a snorkel tour off of Green Island is especially exquisite due to the delicate preparation and preservation of the outlying reef. The center snorkel spot is nurtured much like a home aquarium, placing fish there for the education and appreciation of the public. Exotic fish of all colors and sizes swarm together in schools forming shimmering rainbows of scales sliding through the sea. Large lumps of coral hide eels and larger fish waiting for the right time to take advantage of their frolicking prey.
Snorkel tours come with a guide who will offer the use of life preservers to help pull you along the sea. On a busy day, trains of people being pulled gently like surfaced sea snakes can be seen stopping and going aimlessly around the dive area. Fathers and children alike cling to the stringed life preservers. These would-be snorkelers thrash about their tube-caravan like ants caught in a bowl of cheerios.
Beware of water
Many Taiwanese people can’t swim and the guides are not used to visitors coming and leaping into the water head first, forsaking the preferred approach of a guided tour. For many years under Chiang Kai-Shek’s martial law it was illegal to swim in the ocean and anyone found doing so would be condemned as a Chinese spy. There is a general fear of the ocean in Taiwan for many reasons. Some say that it stems from animist and Taoist beliefs that ghosts live there, or perhaps the reality of the situation is a more obvious conclusion. The sea, especially surrounding Green Island, is a jungle that swarms with unique breeds of vegetation and an ecology that should be appreciated and respected. Divers on Green Island will certainly appreciate this intricately maintained cove of beauty.
Green Island remains a preserved sanctuary of solace in a country where overpopulation and pollution have taken the forte. As the small speck of grayish-green dissipates behind you, you can be sure that this off-the-beaten track island will leave you with plenty of memories of a land and people that remain curiously beautiful.