A choppy four-hour boat ride from the southeast of Taiwan leads to a secret island. Its terrain is rugged and, at first, the island feels dark and mysterious. To visit, you must be brave enough to give up English, scale through steep mountainside jungles, and zip past radioactive terrain. It is Lanyu- one of the last displays of Tao aboriginal life amidst our ever-modernizing world. Lanyu is best-enjoyed side by side with locals- they know the island intimately and are weary at first of showing you around but, if you stay at least a few days, they may open up their lives to you. Lodge with locals at a homestay to be invited to traditional aboriginal meals and tour secret sights, unseen by non-locals. We spent our first night on the island watching the men gamble before they went night fishing. They offered us fish from the morning catch, and they read our palms. My hand outstretched, they studied the lines of my hand, looked at each other, and silently rolled away my fate- apparently, mine was better left unspoken. The next morning they made up for the mystery of my future with an incredible display of the clash between the past and the present. We explored ancient coral reefs that had crawled onto the shore over thousands of years. Towering ten and twenty feet above our heads, the jagged caverns would have been impossible to navigate alone. Our wordless guide knew each turn past various bright blue swimming coves and reassured us that the swimming blue snake we saw wasn't poisonous, but that he liked to bite. Transportation on Lanyu is only by scooters with which you explore roads framed by a buzzing tropical jungle. Trace the island's perimeter of jagged volcanic, steep, and ancient coral shorelines. In the southwest, drive by quickly- there is radioactive waste forcefully stored here. You won't forget- the locals remind you daily. You need a few days to enjoy the lush forests and vivid crystal-blue ocean waves and your scooter will get you everywhere. Try fly fish- the islanders traditional food and source of income. Each night the men go out to the ocean in their traditional Tao boats, with large painted eyes and colorful designs on either side, to return in the morning with a fresh catch. For less traditional recipes, order from the all-Chinese menus and use the pictures to help you order. This island is a treasure map. As if mother nature made the island to feed the imagination, you'll see enormous volcanic rocks like the elephant head, twin lions, lovers arch, and the open-mouthed dragon. Their outlines are so clear that it isn't difficult to see how all of these towering rock formations got their names. The stops are clearly labeled and each one is an adventure of its own. Get a 360 view of the entire island from the silent top of the mountain, 550 meters above sea level. There is a weather station that you can explore there. If you are lucky, the sky will be clear for you to catch the mysteriously elusive sunrise. One morning we woke up well before daybreak to ride up to the station and despite waiting for hours, the sunrise never came. You may not believe it and at the time, neither did we. Discover the hidden bodies of water at the top of Lanyu's mountains. Ride up a steep and winding road from the northwest of the island to a small pond and towering ivory white lighthouse. Avoid going just after rainfall as many trails meander through muddy and tangled tree roots. There is a moment on this trail where you may choose left or right. Turning left leads to a sudden drop off where a waterfall used to roar over the edge. Needless to say, turn right. Hike through the thick jungle to find a wide mountaintop lake. Locals swim here in the mornings. A few other tourists may arrive by the afternoon. Small monkeys play at the water's edge. The Tao aboriginal group can only be found on Lanyu. While the Tao traditions remain pure, the neighboring Green Island, Luda, has lost its aboriginal culture to the grasps of heavy tourism. On behalf of the Tao, this travel guide must remind you that this is not a vacation destination- it is a secret of humanity that has prevailed despite the modernization of the rest of the world. Ask the locals before taking pictures of boats, homes, and other locals. It is not recommended to stray from roads and well-worn paths as private graves are often unmarked throughout the jungle. Furthermore, the island is rich with the aforementioned dry waterfalls and sudden sheer drops that would be an unfortunate find for the careless wanderer. The Tao will remind you that they are fighting to defend their sacred traditions and the health of their land whether it is from encroaching tourism or from nuclear disposal. If we respect the breathtaking landscape and this unique culture, the island will receive us with open arms. Experience life as a local on the last Tao island. In this way, the Tao and their traditions may be preserved for many generations to come.
Subscribe and stay tuned.