Regrettably, I realized after a few days passed that the window for blogging about my Sun Moon Lake adventure last month had closed. While I don’t consider myself a travel expert, I do believe I represent more the avid explorer than the guidebook gaper. So, I am going to double-down on my effort to cover my Taipei escapes– and with that, on to Green Island.
When I was a child, I read books about magical jungle islands in the middle of the ocean. Never could I have guessed how much a part of my life those islands would become.
Once home to political prisoners during the White Terror years of martial law, Green Island is now a scuba diver’s paradise. Less than an hour ferry ride from Fugang, outside Taitung, the island is easily accessible for a quick weekend getaway.
My friend and I left Friday night on an overnight sleeper train from Taipei Main Station. I figured it would be a great way to catch some zzz’s before a big day of diving, but for some reason the trains here never dim the lights, and I had a helluva time dozing off. Regardless, we arrived at the crack of dawn, with just enough time to catch some of the east coast’s wicked scenery entering Taitung.
Chinese/Taiwanese can drop a temple just about anywhere, including this duck-your-head mini-cave. Churches eat your heart out.
The taxi cab driver didn’t use a meter, which usually irks me, but my Taiwanese buddy didn’t seem to mind. He got us to the ferry port in plenty of time for the 7:30am boat. And just like that, bam, we were on Green Island.
My friend, Andy, had been diving on the island nearly two dozen times. So, granted, he’s an old hand at this. He dialed up the dive shop he preferred (goes by the catchy name of “Green Island Scuba Diving” 绿岛潜水), and the guys met us at the dock to fetch our bags. They took the bags, we took the scooters– right at the docks, super convenient.
Scooters in Taiwan; what can't they do? Seriously. What would Taiwan's GDP be right now if it wasn't for these beasts of burden?
We could have antied up and done that first dive right away, but we were a bit spent. So, we decided to check in and log a few hours of much-needed shut-eye. The dive shop has a few rooms, but they were full. I almost ended up sleeping in the same room as two of the local dive masters, which, upon retrospect, would have left me stinking like betel nut for a few weeks. Luckily, they just decided to move us a short walk down the street to another guest house with a great room and a negotiated cheap price (thanks to Andy– a theme you’ll see helped a lot on this trip.)
Mystery: Not sure why Pat here was so interested in keeping the sun off every part of its body except the legs...
So, yeah, sparing all the boring details, we were all set. Andy hooked everything up, pretty much. As a dive master himself, and as an old customer, we got hooked up with discounted rates on our tanks, our scooter, our room, you name it.
We ended up doing four phenomenal dives over the next two days. They were all very easy shallow dives with gorgeous soft and hard coral formations and incredible visibility. The only hard part was that my buddy Andy has a slipped disc in his back, so I offered to help him lug his gear to and from shore. Considering all the guy had done for me, it was the least I could do. We got plenty of laughs as he would comment to other tourists (mostly young ladies snorkeling) that they should hire me for the day.
Other than that, there isn’t a whole lot to do on the island. It’s got a strip. A couple of big outdoor BBQ spots. That’s about it. Although, I must say I was pleasantly surprised by how many young women were out and about.
It's a dog's head with floppy ears and a woman lying down. Do you see it? It took me a while, but I got it. Old Chinese and Taiwanese would have crushed Magic Eye.
It’s definitely essential to rent a scooter and cruise around the island. There are some cool spots to stop off and take pictures. Off the southern shore, directly above the seasonal breeding grounds for hammerheads, is a hotspring that people rave about, but I wasn’t sold.
Other than that, and I don’t want to get all historical, but visiting the former prisons (and then driving by the new one) is a worthwhile mission. There is something strangely fascinating about prisons. From the very first time I drove by one, to the first time I visited one (Alcatraz Island), they have captured my imagination. Maybe my dad liked Clint Eastwood too much, and “Escape from Alcatraz” somehow burned itself into my psyche as a kid. But to this day, I have been to an odd amount of prisons… Robben Island, Tuol Sleng (S-21), Hanoi Hilton, etc.
The Human Right's Museum had a bizarre, anatomically correct bathroom exhibit. I couldn't help but think it was nicer than about 90% of all modern bathrooms in China.
Let’s end this drab dribble with a little lay-up. Some quick observations and pointers for Green Island:
1. Learn how to scuba dive. If you don’t know how, take the course on the island. It’s so cheap in Taiwan and this part of the world that you just can’t miss out!
2. Rumor has it Green Island is home to the largest living single piece of coral on Earth. I saw it. I believe it.
3. The Dabaisha dive is amazing. It’s this shallow water tunnel/cave complex. It reminded me off “Innerspace,” the classic substitute-teacher-film from my high school years where Dennis Quaid gets shrunk down and injected into Martin Short. Don’t want to spoil the plot and all, but surrounded by this bright pink and orange coral, wedging my way through an underwater labyrinth, I felt like I was exploring brain synapses.
4. Keep your scooter seat open. It’s hot. You’ll figure it out.
Danny Lee is the man. And, yes, Lebron James is a huge prick. That's why I wear it.
5. Go talk to Danny Lee at his spot “Orange House” on the strip. He’s a super friendly old geezer, who doesn’t look a day over 50. He also speaks English and Japanese, as does his wife, which is impressive. He’ll tell you he’s been diving for 4o years, and I believe it. The food at his spot is good, and he has rooms available too. We didn’t stay there, but he was super hospitable and I would if I went back. Also, he is a master of what I like to call “speaking like a Chinese.” It’s something to do with mastering chin up and chin down movements as well as the pace and delivery of your tones. Some people are so good at this, just so amazingly engrossing and captivating, that you could listen to them tell you about washing the dishes and you’d be on edge.
Alright, let’s leave it at five. Please e-mail me if you have any questions or want to know more about how to get there and what to do. Keep on truckin’.