Sunday, October 11, 2020

Xiao Liu Qiu, Part I

I'm sitting here in a scenic spot overlooking the ocean in Xiao Liu Qiu (pronounced "shauw lee oh cho"), a small island off the coast of Taiwan. It's mid-afternoon and I've been having a lovely day driving around the island alone on my rented scooter.

A-Road B&B: the office is to the left,
rooms in the building to the right
(there are more behind it)

We left Taichung early yesterday morning: me, my coworker Janice, and her husband Kenny. We took the train to Kaohsiung, a 3-hour ride, then rode in a shared taxi-van for another 50 minutes to the harbor, then took a ferry across to Xiao Liu Qiu (about a 20-minute ride).

my room at A-Road
We rented scooters and found the place we'd arranged to stay, called A-Road Bed and Breakfast. Turns out it isn't even officially open for business yet, but somehow we'd been able to get a reservation. I love my little room there -- as far as I can remember, though I've been blessed with opportunities to travel a lot, this may be the first time I've ever had a hotel room all to myself anywhere. It has two beds with duvets, a place to hang up clothes, its own little bathroom, and the all-important air conditioning. And a TV that I have no intention of using. The door opens to the outside, and there are two little translucent windows that there's no point in opening unless you want a view of a wall about eight inches away, or a water tank. The complimentary packets of drip coffee that awaited me on the mini-fridge when I arrived are labeled "Coffee n Fins", which is the name of the coffee shop right next door. I especially appreciated that there were not only two little bottles of water for me, but a special faucet in the room for drinking water. (I've already used it to refill those two bottles plus my original one multiple times.)

After dropping our luggage off in our rooms, Janice, Kenny, and I went out walking to find lunch. It was fun to explore the neighborhood a little. The nearest major cross street is called Zhong Shan Road, because of course it is. (Anyone who's traveled around Taiwan much will get that.) A-Road B&B isn't located in one of the main touristy areas, so there aren't a lot of dining choices right around it, but we eventually found a little restaurant not far away. I ordered curry chicken on rice, which was delicious and not spicy at all.

following the rest of the tour group

We had signed up for a tour of the "intertidal zone", so we hurried back to A-Road to meet the representative who would lead us to where the tour guide was waiting. Since we were planning to go swimming after that, we put on swimsuits under our clothes and brought our snorkel gear.

sea cucumber

We joined a group of a couple dozen Taiwanese tourists down at the beach. The tour guide, who spoke only Chinese, led us around in the shallow water and picked up various sea creatures to tell us about. I was thankful to be wearing water shoes as they had recommended ahead of time but wished my shorts were shorter, since they were soon drenched. 


It was fun getting to see and hold sea cucumbers (which feel pleasantly squishy and squirt water like a bath toy when you squeeze them right -- no, I don't think it harms them), as well as a starfish, something my family always called a spider starfish back in Kenya but the guide was adamant was not actually a starfish, and a couple other creatures whose English names I never did find out.

apparently not a starfish

Eventually, Janice and Kenny left to go snorkeling, but I stuck with the tour, since we had paid for it. I understood very little of what the guide said without Janice there to translate, but that didn't bother me. I enjoyed being part of the group, even as they only foreigner there.
no idea what this guy is

Afterward, I found a place up the beach to stash my things between a couple of boats that didn't look as though anyone would be needing them any time soon and went to try out the snorkel and mask I'd bought for this trip. In retrospect, it may not have been the wisest move to leave my wallet there containing my ID, credit cards, and all the cash I'd brought, but since this is Taiwan, I wasn't too worried. I just wrapped everything in my towel, left it in the shadows, and waded out to look for some turtles.

I left my things between the colorful boats on the right.

Xiao Liu Qiu is famous for its sea turtles, and I did see quite a few. It was a beautiful experience, just floating face down, feeling myself gently rise and fall with each wave, swimming just a little as I let myself drift. All around, the water was filled with the gentle crackling sound that I remember from snorkeling in Indonesia and that I've always assumed comes from the coral itself, but it turns out it's made by the tiny shrimp living inside it. The coral was interesting and pretty, though nothing compares to the gorgeous underwater fantasy kingdoms I'd snorkeled over in Indonesia (but what could possibly compare to that?!). Still, I enjoyed watching interesting varieties of fish and avoiding hundreds (maybe thousands) of bristling sea urchins, some of which were the largest I've ever seen, about the size of soccer balls.

And the sea turtles. Yes, I swam among sea turtles for the first time in my life. Sometimes they appeared seemingly out of nowhere, so close that I had to hurriedly back away, since there are laws about not getting within five meters of them. They were all sizes: some obviously youngsters, others almost as long from flipper to flipper as I am tall! I got to watch them grazing (is that the right word?) on the algae that cover the chunks of coral.

instructions at the BBQ restaurant
Eventually I returned to shore to find all my belongings waiting safely where I had left them. That evening, Janice and Kenny and I dined at an outdoor barbecue restaurant just down the street from our B&B, where it was all we could eat for 389 NT. We chose veggies, sweet potatoes, and various kinds of meat and seafood from the refrigerators that held the buffet items, and then grilled them at our own table. All the while, we were watched intently by several well-fed cats that wandered from table to table trying to convince people they were starving. It was a fun and delicious meal.

For the next morning, the proprietor of our B&B had given us pictures of four breakfast options to choose from, all of which she would pick up from local eateries. I can't tell you what mine was, except that it involved a bowl of soft, starchy paste topped with ground pork and a few pieces of slightly-sweet Taiwanese sausage. (We had the option of soy milk, coffee, or milk tea along with breakfast, but I forewent them because I planned to try out Coffee n Fins later.) There was also a complimentary package of twisty fried snacks for each of us, and an extra drink that apparently is a local specialty. I'm not sure what the drink was called, but it was sweet and tasty and involved a syrupy base with grass jelly and some kind of little seeds (not basil seed or passion fruit) mixed in.

one of many little harbors in Xiao Liu Qiu

After breakfast, the other two went off to spend the day snorkeling in various places along the coast, but I wanted to see more of the island. I wasn't sure if I'd end up wishing for company, but it has turned out to be a really fun day for me, even spent all on my own. I decided to do a circuit of the island, stopping to see the sights along the way, so my scooter and I set off along the coastal road. It was a lovely, quiet drive with almost no traffic except for the occasional scooter. And the views! It's so pretty around here, with the ocean on one side and often hills or cliffs on the other, along a gently winding road that dips in and out of shade and sunshine, up and down gentle rises. I've been getting more confident in my driving, and it's been really fun to just feel the wind in my face as I zip along. This little electric scooter can't go terribly fast -- my top speed down a hill was 44 KPH (about 27 MPH) -- but everything feels faster and more exciting in the open air!

Beauty Cave had lots of warnings like this

My first stop was the "Beauty Cave", which wasn't really very beautiful, but involved a pleasant stroll in and out of a series of small caves, under overhangs, and along the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. 

looking out of the Beauty Cave

To get in, I had to buy a ticket for 120 NT (about US$4), which I might have considered more than it was worth except that the same ticket can be used at three different scenic places around the island (as long as you go to all of them on the same day).

me with my popsicle

My next stop was the Black Devil Cave, also called the Black Dwarf Cave or Black Spirit Cave. I bought a Buddha-fruit popsicle from a stand near the entrance and spent a few minutes enjoying my snack along with the company of my trusty Kindle at a little table. 

some of the interesting sculptures

Then I looked through a nearby gallery of interesting wooden sculptures before exploring the cave itself. 

I assumed this was true at the time ...

I was intrigued to learn the history of this cave, which you can read about on this sign. (Note from later: I looked it up when I got home, and it turns out that story is entirely fabricated! You can read the real history of the Black Devil Cave here.) 

an ocean view from the Black Devil Cave

Once again, the "cave" involved a hiking trail (read: paved walkway with stairs) through and near a series of small caves and overhangs, with plenty of gorgeous ocean views. Several times, I stopped to just watch the waves and talk to God for a while.

Back on the scooter, I succeeded in changing the battery when the original one finally ran out of juice, a task I had been a little nervous about, but which went fine. But I was thankful for the helpful stranger who showed me how to open the seat compartment where the battery lives when I couldn't remember how. (No, I don't ride scooters very often. Why do you ask?)

Coffee n Fins
Eventually, I ended up back at A-Road, where I stopped in my room to replenish my drinking water supply, and then stepped next door to try out Coffee n Fins, which hadn't been open earlier. It turned out to be a tiny coffee shop less than half the size of my kitchen back home, with a little family-style table in the middle. I saw that others had taken off their shoes at the door, so I did the same. Inside, the proprietor sat eating a bowl of noodles, making conversation with his colleague and two customers who were drinking coffee. Since there was no English menu, I was thankful that the boss spoke English. He offered me various types of coffee from around the world and let me smell the beans. I didn't tell him I'm not enough of a coffee connoisseur to detect any difference between them! Though they didn't specialize in fancy ways to prepare coffee, I asked for and received a good iced latte (with one big spherical ice "cube") that hit the spot on this warm day. When I inquired about sugar, he looked dubious and dug through a cupboard but eventually found some for me. He talked me into staying to drink my latte there instead of taking it to go, as I'd originally requested. His air conditioning argument won me over, along with the fact that I had no other good place nearby to drink it, unless I wanted to sit in my room, which I didn't. We all made conversation over our coffee or noodles (the others spoke varying amounts of English), and I found out that the two guys who work there also give scuba diving lessons/tours. That explains the name of their business.

Latte downed, I drove off to look for somewhere to get lunch. I explored the main town and tried out some sidestreets before I eventually found a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant with exactly what I'd been hoping for: an English menu. I ordered a bowl of "mixed noodle soup" that contained clams, fish balls, ground pork, and green leafy veggies. Once again, I spent some quality time with my Kindle as I enjoyed the tasty meal.

As I drove around the town and waterfront afterward, stopping to take pictures here and there, I found myself wishing I could write about my day. I had purposely chosen not to bring my laptop on this trip, but the writer in me is embarrassed to admit that I didn't even bring pen and paper! I knew I could always blog about it after I got back home, but the details wouldn't be fresh in my mind by then, and the words wanted out in the meantime.

the place where what you've just read got written

Finding a stationery store, I went in and purchased a thin notebook and two pens. Then I rode around a little longer, back on the coastal road, sure I would find just the right place to stop and write. I ended up taking a narrow turn-off that led me to a scenic spot where there happens to be a little glass-topped table and a couple of fairly comfortable chairs. It's the perfect place! I've been sitting here for almost two hours now, listening to the surf and recording my simple adventures so far. 

writing in my little notebook

My heart is full of gratitude for so many little blessings sprinkled through this lovely day. I have really enjoyed the solitude, and I feel as though my soul has been fed, though I hadn't realized it was hungry. I've loved the natural beauty all around and the chance to explore where I wanted, how I wanted, staying in each spot exactly as long as I wanted. It will be nice to meet my friends again for dinner, but I wouldn't trade this day of beautiful solitude for anything. And I'm thankful for the opportunity to paint it with words on paper, to (probably) be transferred to my blog later. 

(Note from later: obviously the transferring did happen. :-) )

I'll sign off now and write some more tomorrow. Time to go rejoin the others and figure out where to eat.

(To read part II of my Xiao Liu Qiu adventures, click here.)

1 comment:

Mel said...

Wow! A pretty adventurous day! I'm not sure I would be brave enough to go around a strange island by myself (especially when the language isn't English!) You've made me think that perhaps I could!