The biking diaries

The exotic allure of Taitung County’s Green Island promises much for intrepid cyclists. But a stomach-churning ferry ride, steep winding roads and the lingering memories of a violent prison past lend the rocky outcrop a sinister quality

By Sam Sky Wild  /  Contributing reporter

Mon, Jul 29, 2013 - Page 12

For Taitung residents, Green Island (綠島) is a constant, yet distant presence which dominates the horizon from its deep sea base. Cycling along Taitung’s Route 11 coastal road, the tiny islet — often shrouded in Pacific Ocean mist — seems almost close enough to swim.

With the intriguing island, and all its history as a far-flung prison of the Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) regime seemingly so close by, it felt almost obligatory to escape to the rocky outcrop for a weekend. And so four of us recently assembled our bikes — ranging from high-tech ultra-light road bikes at one end and basket-fronted shoppers at the other — hopped on the ferry at Fugang Fishing Port (富岡漁港) north of Taichung City, and took the 50-minute churn-fest to the island’s Nanliao Harbour (南寮).

Our first destination was Green Island Zihping Camping Area (綠島紫坪露營區) (089) 672 027), located in the island’s south and conveniently close to Jhaorih Hot Springs (朝日溫泉, NT$200), one of the world’s only three saltwater hotsprings. But the campsite was closed for renovations, with no opening time in sight. So we stashed our gear among the undergrowth and hit the open road.

We traveled anti-clockwise along the 19km-long road that rings the island, making slow headway as noisy, exhausting scooters whisked carefree groups of students and squadrons of Chinese tourists alike along the winding two-lane thoroughfare.

Steep climbs up the eastern coast to the key vantage point of Haishenping Bay (海參坪) in the mid-summer heat filled my head with a violent rage, but the downward descents were a sweet, silent pay-off as sights including the oddly-shaped rock called Sleeping Beauty (睡美人) and a distant view of Lanyu Island, revealed themselves amid soothing summer breezes.

The cool revelry was abruptly broken as the ironically-named Oasis Village (綠洲山莊) came into view. This vast former penal colony, which occupies a bay in the northeast of the island, commands a view of the unforgiving ocean — no doubt a bitter reminder to then-jailed political prisoners that there was no escape. While many former inmates went on to create a coherent political alternative to the violent rule of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), many gravestones within the complex serve as a reminder of the countless victims of Taiwan’s White Terror and Marital Law era.

We made our way back to the campsite, hearts pumping. As we arrived an official lay in wait and ambushed our collectively exhausted convoy. However, after a few kind words from the casually uniformed man, who explained that he needed NT$400 per person, he was soon on his way — his pockets full of our cash.

As the barbecue pit sprung to life — and dinner looked more certain — we suddenly noticed the campsite’s enticing swimming pool. The facility may have been “closed” but in effect the pool was ours. Moments later, suitably attired, we took the body of water by storm and washed away any dust and lingering sad memories while the stars glittered overhead.

For more information about Green Island, please visit (Chinese, English, Japanese and Korean): tour.taitung.gov.tw.