That Weekend When I Camped on a Tiny Island
Last Wednesday afternoon, I was at a bank, sitting across from a woman dressed like a flight attendant, trying to open an account. Given the fact that this language barrier is a bitch, it really wasn’t all that hard. Although, come to think of it, I did sign my name an awful lot; sometimes twice in the same place. I have no idea what exactly I was agreeing to with those signatures. Hmm… Well, let’s hope no one knocks on my door and says they need my liver.
Anyway, if someone does come around asking for any of my vital organs in the near future, I’ll at least die with a fantastic weekend under my belt. You see, while I was at this bank, my friend Erika (the one with whom I hiked up Monkey Mountain) texted me, asking if I’d like to spend the weekend with her and some of her friends camping on a tiny little island off the coast. I texted back, saying I had a softball game on Sunday that I’d already committed to. But after about two minutes I came to my senses – I didn’t move to Taiwan to play softball. So I wrote her back saying screw it, I was in. I’ve never camped on a remote island before. This is why I came to Taiwan.
So on Friday night, I went to Carrefour and bought me a sleeping bag. You can seriously find almost anything at Carrefour. Except roll-on deodorant. All they have are the spray cans. But yeah, Carrefour like the Super Wal-Mart of Taiwan. But without the roll-on deodorant. Or the hillbillies.
I really had no idea about this island we were going to be camping on, except that it was pronounced “Shau Leeocho,” and there are about a million different ways it’s spelled in English. When Erika first texted me, she wrote “Xialioxo”; when she texted me the name a second time, it was “Shaliocho.” I couldn’t even find it online because Google didn’t recognize either of those spellings. But now I can tell you that both Lonely Planet and Wikipedia spell it thusly: Hsiao Liuchiu. So let’s go with that.
I was to meet Erika and the four others at 9 am Saturday morning at the main train station here in town. Somehow I slept through my alarm (of course I did), and I woke up at 8:56. I called Erika and asked if I could still make it. She said hurry. And hurry I did. I threw some things in my backpack, raced downstairs, hopped onto my deathcycle and flew to the station in record time. I parked somewhere where it said “parking.” I had no idea if my scooter was safe or not, but I had no time to worry about such things. I ran across the street to where they were and met them at 9:31.
Besides Erika and myself, there were 2 couples going. A Canadian couple (Ryan and Leah) and a gay couple (Johnjohn and Hein). And just like most of the people I’ve met here (foreign and local), they are some of the coolest, nicest people I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with. Johnjohn’s Taiwanese, and he has a car here. So he and Hein drove down to the harbor where the ferry awaited us. The rest of us split a cab down there – a 45-minute cab ride that cost each of us about $4.50 US. Amazing.
After we got to the little harbor town, we decided to wait for the 12:30 ferry, so Johnjohn could go to a local market and buy some groceries for dinner. This would prove to be a fantastic decision.
Finally, just after noon, with the sun blazing down upon us, we boarded the ferry. I’ve heard about ferry trips here. How these smallish vessels full of people get tossed around by that bully of an ocean, and how that causes the people on board to get a bit seasick and return the contents of previous meals back into the world, in the most repulsive of ways. And not only do they vomit, but they apparently vomit into clear plastic bags, giving everyone else on board a most terrible look into these people’s dietary choices. And from what I’ve heard, it starts with a couple of people, but then the sounds and sights and smells overwhelm a few others and they join in, and then before long, it’s a boat-wide puke party! It’s like that scene in Stand By Me, except no one can leave.
Luckily, we had a pretty calm sea that day, and as far as I know, it was a vomit-free 30-minute ferry ride to Hsiao Liuchiu. Once in port, we were herded off the boat and immediately swarmed by about 10 old ladies wishing to sell us things (I think). One of them rented scooters, and so we were happy to give her business. We got 3 scooters, somehow loaded all of our crap into and onto them, and headed toward the campground.
Driving the scooters on the island all weekend was magical. There was barely any traffic, the air was so much fresher, and pretty much no matter where you were, the ocean was right there, offering a gorgeous, picturesque view at all times.
When we got to the campground, we were stunned. In a good way. It didn’t look anything like I had envisioned. I was just expecting a little shack where you’d pay and then several little dirt plots to set up your tents. Um, no. There was a pretty big office, with couches and a TV; beyond that, there was an expansive, wooden deck with wooden deck chairs for lounging. There were also round tables with seats for eating – or, in our case, for drinking and playing games. And beyond the deck was a gorgeous field of lush green grass that overlooked the ocean. It was quite lovely. We set up our tents on the field, fairly close to the water.
After the jump, see video of a real live sea urchin up close, as well as a huge, lovely picture gallery from our weekend at Hsiao Liuchiu.
Once the tents were up, we donned our swim trunks, hopped on the scooters and headed for the beach, about five minutes away. The typhoon, as you’ll recall, did a lot of damage to southern Taiwan. It also washed up hundreds of giant logs onto the beaches. So the beach area itself was rather small, but there was still plenty of room for the six of us to make ourselves comfortable, have a few beers, and play in the ocean for several hours. The water was amazingly clear. No matter how far out you were, you could look down and see the bottom. We even saw several sea urchins hiding in the rocks! Johnjohn decided to show us one up close. It was nuts! All the little spikes were moving around! Have a look (you have to look closely, but those spikes are definitely moving):
Once the sun started to set, we decided to head back and fire up the food. As I mentioned before, Johnjohn had bought some groceries in the ferry town with the intention of having a feast. And feast we did! At the campground, you could rent a little charcoal grill – they even heated up the coals for us! – and so John went nuts, barbecuing all of the wondrous foods he’d bought earlier – pork, beef, squid, mushrooms, onions, sweet Taiwanese sausages, oysters, and more that I can’t even remember. Hein told us that Johnjohn’s quite the chef. I will never, ever argue that sentiment. We ate like kings.
After the feast, we headed over to the circular tables and broke out the whiskey, the beer, the Pictionary, and the Uno. Good times were had by all – Ryan and I dominated Pictionary – and after a couple hours it was time for bed.
I won’t bore you with a ton more prose about Sunday, since it was really more of the same. We explored the island a bit, walked around, had a wonderful seafood lunch at a little restaurant on the main street, and then it was back to the beach. It was actually cloudy and overcast most of the day; but right when we started heading to the beach, the sun broke through, and gave us an amazing setting one more time. My lasting memory from that day will be sitting at a picnic table right next to a little temple on the beach, playing cards, having a beer and listening to music as the sun set behind the ocean. Blissful.
Oh, and the new photo that adorns the top of this little blog? I took it from this picnic table about 20 minutes after this one. There’s some context for ya.
After sunset, another wonderful, cheap meal at a local eatery, then back to the campsite for more games and whatnot. A worker at the campground joined us as we played our games, and he said some pretty weird things. He was a happy, smiley fellow, but kept asking us these weird hypotheticals in broken English and using our answers to tell us what kind of husbands/wives/fathers/mothers we were all going to be. It was amusing, so Ryan and I stayed up with him pretty late.
On Monday morning, we were up early. The sun tends to turn a tent into a sauna around 6:30 or so. Even though we were the only ones staying there, the staff still made us breakfast, which was awesome. We lounged on the deck chairs one last time; and then we packed up, hopped onto the scooters, and headed to the ferry. We boarded, and our wonderful weekend was over.
Somehow, my scooter was still where I parked it, and I only had to pay $75 NT to drive it away. For those of you scoring at home, that means I got to park my scooter in this place right by the train station for two full days… for about $2.30 US. Score.
I got home around 11:30 in the morning, disheveled and dragging ass. The eight hours I taught that day were a colossal struggle.
But it was totally worth it. Hsiao Liuchiu was incredible, and I plan on going back again. If you find yourself here in Taiwan with me at some point, my friends, I hope you come too.
Now, please enjoy a substantial gallery of wonder from that glorious weekend. As always, descriptions are given to you, the lovely reader, free of charge.