Tag Archive: scuba diving

My long-awaited vacation finally arrived last week and I chose to go to Green Island, which is about 40 kilometers off the south-eastern coast of Taiwan.  Green Island is known for its wonderful coral and fish life and is a very popular area for divers.

The vacation I planned for myself was going to be awesome.  Three nights in Green Island, then back to Taipei for a night, then a two night backpacking hiking trip.  I couldn’t wait.

The first part went off without a hitch. I took the train down to Taidung, caught the ferry over to Green Island with no problems. I was met at the train station by a taxi driver hired by the tour company I went through and they also bused me to the bed and breakfast where I stayed.

It was ok. There were ants in my room and my bed, and though I should have complained, I didn’t, and as a result they irritated me the entire time. My own fault.

I was able to rent a scooter through the  tour company and so I headed off scootering around the island.  Green Island takes about forty minutes to circle on a scooter, with a variety of sites along the way. I checked out the cultural park which was a five-minute stop that turned out not to be worth the time then headed off to see The Swallows Cave.

Culture Park

It wasn’t much of a cave. More like a big depression into the cliff. It did have lots of Swallows  (I could see them flitting about and nesting all over the area), which I have since learned are very special in Chinese culture.  The area around it was amazingly beautiful and I felt rewarded for my short but extremely sweaty and hot hike to the cove.

Near Swallows Cave

The next day dawned bright and clear and I headed over to the dive shop to get my dive guide. He was my dive partner too since I went solo on this trip. At eight in the morning I knocked on his door, where he proceeded take another hour to wake up, take a noisy dump in his bathroom, and then off we went.

Turned out I had forgotten nearly everything I had learned. I had brought my dive book along so I could review the night before, but true to form, decided not to read it, and relaxed instead. That was a little embarrassing, but my dive guide whipped me back into shape in no time, mostly by lecturing me on how much I had forgotten, and into the water we went.

My first dive was at Shilang Diving area and turned out to be the most beautiful of my four dives. My guide gave me some bread to feed the fish (which is frowned upon but we did it anyway) and within a couple of minutes I had fifteen different types of fish eating from my hand. Including a couple BIG mothers which freaked me out a little, but it was all good in the end.  I even saw a Moray eel swim by.

Both of my dives on the first day were at Shilang and they were, by far, the best ones. There was a considerable amount of sea life to see, random different types of  fish, coral, all sorts of good stuff.

After a quick nap I headed out again. This time I checked out the Light House (good for 15 minutes) Guanyin Cave (5 min) and the cross country path which was long and, due to excessive bush and grass growth, tended to block all the best views. In the evening I checked out the “downtown,” which is basically a long street of tourist shops, and then headed back to my B&B.  I spent the next couple of hours sitting on a bench overlooking the coast and staring out at the sea looking at the stars and drinking a brew. It was peaceful, and I realized this was the first time I’ve seen stars since coming to Taiwan.  The overcast and smog in Taipei precludes these little pleasures in life.  It didn’t take long for me to notice some lights underwater and after watching for a while I realized that there was someone in the harbor scuba diving at night. I kept them company from my bench and watched as they made their way across the harbor and finally came out only to steal away as quietly as they could on scooters.

I asked my guide about it the next day and he told me that most divers go out there to fish.  Mystery solved.

My third day there we went diving at the Dabaisha Diving area, which was ok, but didn’t have nearly the same amount of life as Shihlang. When I commented on this my guide explained that it’s because there is more fishing in that area so the fish population is down. On my last dive, he took me to the Hot Spring Harbor right next to the dive shop and this pissed me off a little.  There was nothing to see there except for a massive graveyard of old glass and plastic bottles on the ocean floor. I think he got lazy, and that was annoying.  While he was somewhat professional in some respects, I wasn’t impressed with this guy at all.

After finishing up with the dives, I met a girl named Chris I had gotten in contact with in Taipei.  We were part of the same hiking group on FB and, though we had not met before, agreed to meet on Green Island.  I found out she is from Malaysia and here in Taiwan on a work travel program.  It was fun meeting someone new, especially after spending three days on my own. I learned some interesting things about Malaysia, and comparing our views of the Taiwanese was both amusing and educational.

We scootered around the island, visiting a few key spots including Youzihu where we got to see a small snake, and a crab that was in the process of shedding its old shell.  One of the Taiwanese gentlemen in the surf ended up helping it along a bit and separated the crab from its old shell entirely.  I also saw, for the first time, what my later research indicated was a brittle star fish.  We walked around for a bit and saw the remains of an old village long since abandoned.

Brittle Star Fish?


At one point we visited Guanyin Cave again and one of the vendors there talked us into trying to try this weird “tea”  made from Swallows. It’s supposed to be a very good delicacy with strong health benefits.

How, exactly, was it made from Swallows? I wanted to know.

Chris tried to explain, but she wasn’t sure she was using the right word in English.  At first she said spit, but then said she wasn’t sure. I eyed it dubiously but decided to try it. It was thick and mucous-like and looked like saliva. It tasted very sweet and I could feel it sliding down my throat in slow thick phlegmy clumps.  I found out later from my friend Zona that, in fact, it was made from the saliva of Swallows.

On the upside, I tried an Asian delicacy and I broadened my horizons, gaining an appreciation for different ethnic flavors and enriching my over all life experience. On the downside, I had the unpleasant experience of having an overly sweetened mucousy fluid slither and drip its way down my throat. It was gross.

After watching the sunset at Niutou Hill (by far my most favorite part of the island), we met up with some  recent college grads that Chris had befriended on the ferry ride over. They had been kind enough to let her stay in a room rented by one of their friends who had failed her graduation exams, and so had to drop out of the trip.  They treated us to a bbq dinner they had arranged through their travel agent.  It was an eye-opening experience for me and I wish I had taken some pictures.

Taiwanese BBQ restaurants have small hot plate grills in the middle of every table.  The concept, somewhat similar to Mongolian BBQ in the States, is that we watch our food grilled right in front of us.  The difference was we did all the grilling ourselves.  The boys got to work and grilled for everyone.  I have no idea what I’m doing with a grill so I was pretty happy about that, and the food was delicious.

I don’t know why this amazed me considering I have had  hot pot in Taipei a few times and have also been to a couple of Korean BBQ places. However, with the wooden tables in an outdoor tent and a massive grill in the middle of our table the whole experience was more like a genuine BBQ than anything I’ve ever experienced at a restaurant before.  Given the sue-happy nature of the US I’m not sure restaurants like this exist there. I’ve definitely never been to one.

After dinner the group took off to do a night tour of the Deer Conservation Area but I was pretty tired  so I headed back to my hotel room.  I met them all again in the morning at the Zhaori Hot Springs to catch the sunrise which was absolutely gorgeous. The Springs are famous for being one of the few salt water hot springs in the world, but to be honest, I didn’t find them to be any different from any other hot springs I’ve been in.  The area was packed as everyone gathered around to watch the sunrise.

Sunrise at Zhaori Hot Spring

Afterward we soaked in the natural springs near the coast for a while, but they were not that warm. We headed back up to the nicer pools by the entrance where I had to borrow Chris’ swimming cap to take my soak.  I don’t know if it’s a law or what, but everywhere you want to go swimming in Taiwan you must have your swimming cap.  The college grads went off to boil their eggs for breakfast at one of the hot pools designed for just that purpose.  Later, I spent a while talking to one of them about traveling, life in Poland, and all the usual stuff two strangers talk about. He was endearingly shocked when he found out I was 30. It was gratifying.

After cooling off by a picnic table I decided it was time to leave and catch breakfast at the B&B so, still in my bikini, I stood up and told them all I’m taking off.  Chris goggled at me in silence for a moment, and I explained that “taking off” is slang for “I’m leaving” in English.

She laughed weakly, and a look of relief crossed her face before she explained that for a second she thought I had left out a word and was about to take my top off.  I’ve been smiling to myself about it ever since.

I’d like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed every part of my vacation, but there was an unfortunate post script to my time on Green Island.

I got home without any problems, and was all set to get ready for part two of my vacation when I realized that the minor ache I had in my back at the beginning of the day had metamorphosed into screaming agony by the time I got back to Taipei.

I don’t know if it was the excessively long train ride (7 hours) that I took by mistake (I forgot to tell the ticket agent I wanted the express train), hauling the air tank for diving, or hauling my backpack around all day, but by the end of the night I couldn’t bend over by even half an inch without experiencing pure agony. In the morning, I called and canceled my spot. I was severely disappointed but there was just no way.  I haven’t experienced this kind of pain in years, and this was either the second or third highest level of pain I’ve ever experienced in my life. I haven’t decided which yet.

I’ll let you know more in the next post when I fill you in on my first medical visit in Taiwan.

Scuba diving has long been a dream of mine and one I had pretty much given up on.  So when I heard from a friend last October that he was going through a course, and it was offered in English, I knew this was my chance to finally realize a life long dream.

I completed the course last weekend.

So, did a beam of light shine down from on high and glorious alleluias fill the air when I finally dove?  Please.

I’m ashamed to admit a tiny part of me had expected it to.

The day dawned sunny in Taipei, but when we got to the coast it was raining and continued to rain for nearly the entire day.  The first dive was probably the worst. I got cold, the visibility in the water was poor, I smacked my head against my air tank several times (that hurt), swallowed some disgustingly salty seawater, and in general struggled the whole dive through.  Most annoyingly, my mask consistently fogged up so that I would have to clear it with water once a minute.  Which then made my eyes burn from the salt. I couldn’t see anything and that really pissed me off.  I was happy when the dive ended and wondered why in the world I invested so much of my time, money, and energy into learning this sport.

Even though we did a lot of training exercises on the second dive, it ended up being a lot more fun.  This time I wore a diving hood, which made me look like a douche bag, but kept me warm under the water.

I’m officially cool.

I don’t know if it was the hood or just the lowered expectations from the first dive, but it was a totally different experience. Exhilarating, fun, and full of random fish and wild life.

And trash. Lots and lots of trash littering the ocean floor.  It was depressing to see and even more depressing to know that this litter is in every waterway on this planet.  It makes me want to become a tree hugging environmentalist in the worst way.

I don’t know what this is called.

The second day dawned bright and clear and was a better day by far.  Again, on the first dive I struggled a bit. I got cold again, hungry, and we had to fight the, admittedly mild, current to see not a lot of anything.  Because the waves were high at the standard entry point, we had to walk in from the beach.  We struggled through waves and slippery rocks in our wet suits, lugging a very unwieldy extra 35 pounds before we got far enough in where we could swim.  No matter how much I tried to adjust it the weight belt dug into my hips the whole way.  Then we had to swim along the surface for a while to get to a good diving point.  The visibility was better than the day before, but still not as awesome as it could be. Or at least that’s what Dennis and Nigel, our instructors, told us.  The guys made a strong effort to go out of their way to show us all the cool things that can be seen under the water.

We found Nemo, coral, and tons of other random sea life.  I did not see Sponge Bob, nor any of his friends.  At one point we swam through a school of puffer fish and some other assorted fish I can’t name.  At first I didn’t see them but then some instinct prompted me to look up. Above me I could see hundreds of little fish swimming around, minding their own business, with the fattier, boxier puffer fish serenely swimming among them.  It was pretty cool to see and I think it was at that point that I really started to have fun.  We saw banded shrimp which were a very unusual color, a sea anemone (by far the sweetest thing) and a wide variety of other life.

Banded Shrimp

At the end of each dive we practiced a 3 minute safety stop. This is a stop that takes place about five meters under water and is designed to give your body extra time to dump some of the nitrogen build up that occurs.   While doing the safety stop I spent my time scanning over the rocks in our area, often completely upside down, and finding more and more life in all the crevasses.  It was amazing.    I can’t wait to dive for the first time outside of a training group.  As long as I’m warm enough I could easily spend hours down there.

There is just something so incredible about seeing up front and personal the same creatures I’ve only ever seen in a nature show.  To experience every part of it, from the mask suctioned onto my face, breathing dry tank air, feeling the current pull at my body, to the cold water flow around me, and knowing that I was there.  I was there, it was happening and none of it was a dream.

One of the things that our training book talked about was how not every dive was going to be a fun and enjoyable experience. That when you spend time out in nature, its sure to take a crap on you at one point or another. Conditions won’t always be good, you’ll get cold, hungry, the current will be too strong and on and on.  I’m glad I read that chapter of our book before we went out to do the dives.  If I hadn’t , I might have been too disheartened to try to pursue diving even taking into account the sense of wonder I felt.

Instead, I’m planning to go diving when I go on vacation in June.  With a more realistic view of what I’m doing and the inherent dangers I’m courting, I ready to do some diving for the strict purpose of having pure fun.

I can’t wait.

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