Turtle Island

One of the joys of living in Taiwan is the myriad of options for taking day trips, depending on what sort of activities appeal to you. At work, a small amount is deducted from our pay each month as a contribution to our Welfare committee, which uses that money to subsidize these trips. Recently, I signed up for a trip to Turtle Island (named for its shape). Because the island was a former military installation, groups must “apply” for landing permits. It took us several tries before we obtained the permit.

We met in front of our work building, early on a Saturday morning, to board a tour bus. Less than an hour later, we were in Yilan harbor.

Turtle Island viewed from Lanyang Museum

We had an hour to wait for the cruise so a group of us decided to hike a short distance to the Lanyang  museum. It’s a modern-design building with angular walls and floor-to-ceiling windows that afford visitors a view of the harbor and the local landscape.

Lanyang Museum

The museum tells the story of Yilan’s history in a colorful and interesting way and is meant to instill pride in the local customs and traditions; I’m sure it’s a big hit with the area’s schoolteachers.

Yilan fisherman

All too soon, it was time to board the ship: we had to produce ID cards and health insurance information. On-board, we were all required to wear life vests and off we went, in search of whales and dolphins that are said to inhibit these waters. The water was choppy, so it was easy to get seasick. Keeping an eye out for the sealife helped with the rough motion of the ocean. We saw lots of dolphins but no whales. Unlike other oceans, the color of the water really is deep aqua blue, making it easy to see where the geo-thermal hot springs come up (look for bubbles and water that is light aqua).

Turtle Island from the ship – the head is on the left

Once at the Turtle Island wharf, we were told “no take picture” until after we were well off the dock and at the visitor’s center (read: ice cream and souvenir shop).

Oops, guess I wasn’t paying attention to the instructions

After a refreshment break, we started walking. I should point out that it was hot and humid so our pace was a little slower.

Sightseeing options on Turtle Island

We walked past the remnants of a temple – the island had once been home to a village before it was conscripted by the military -around a lovely lake to where a 20-foot tall female buddha statue had more recently been erected.

Beautiful Buddha, off in the distance

Then, we headed inside the island, through tunnels carved by the military.

One of many tunnels on the island

We came out on the edge of the island to view the guns and gun portals.

The gunner’s view

(Remember, mainland China is only 120 miles offshore.) We were told the island is no longer used by the military but one has to wonder….

Gun portals as seen from the ocean

Weekend in Yilan

0730 comes early in Taipei, especially on a weekend! But last Sunday, I’d agreed to meet other co-workers at the Sun Yat Sun MRT, exit 4, at 0730 for a bus trip to the NE part of Taiwan: a town called Yilan (ee-lan). I left the apartment at 0700, walked down Tong Hua and left on Xinyi. A few blocks down I turned on Guangfu S. road and 15 minutes later I saw SYS exit 2, but where was exit 4? hmmmmm And then I remembered the MRT tunnels underground and descended into exit 2. And there is was: a sign pointing to exit 4, blissfully in a warm and dry environment.

The bus trip to Yilan took a little over one hour, through many long tunnels. Our first stop was the Rabbit pencil factory! Yup, good ol’ fashioned wood-and-lead writing instruments!

The Rabbit Pencil Factory logo in pencils

You can imagine that it’s a popular place for the Elementary school crowd. Sitting in small schoolkids’ desks, we were shown a movie about how the pencils are made. It was all in Chinese but I got the gist of it. Then we took a tour  (also in Chinese) through the ancient factory.  It was interesting watching the raw material, Chinese cypress, being molded into bright, shiny pencils. I cracked up seeing this sign on one of the machines:

Is there an "incoherent" machine somewhere?

Next stop: DIY pizza! It was lunch time and everyone was hungry. We waited our turn to turn a blob of yeast dough into a handcrafted feast and watch it bake in a wood-fired oven. Yum!

who knew making pizza could be so fun?

Our final stop in Yilan was an orchid farm! How wonderful to step into a botanic wonderland! We got a tour (yes, again in Chinese but this time I was assigned a translator!) We wandered through greenhouse after greenhouse, each one filled with beautiful blooms and tropical plants! (You know how expensive orchids are in the States? Not here! I bought a lovely light green orchid, a pot to put it in, and a small Hawaiian anthurium for 300NT – around 10 dollars USD.) On the drive back to Taipei, we were told the farm had given each of us a lovely white orchid plant – wow!

Yilan hothouse

Wanna guess what the cost for the entire trip was? The bus, the tours, the pizza….500NT (~16.00US). Gotta love it!

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As for me, I will take the road less travelled…