There are few places in this world that one can truly call magical. Places that seem to transcend space and time, existing entirely within themselves. I can with unshakable confidence categorize Nantucket Island as one of these places. No matter how many times I visit, it always feels like the first, with the island never failing to invoke the sense of being transported to another world. It's unique ambiance making all the stresses of my every day somehow seem nonexistent. As if the only thing in existence is the island and the ocean holding it in its embrace. The experience begins with the boat ride to the island, salty breeze forming impossible tangles in my hair and whipping against my skin with a damp stickiness. The first step off the boat onto a cobblestone street, filled with people from any place in the world you can dream of, is an unparalleled experience. Overwhelmed as the din of thousands of people buzz in and out of the surplus of shops lining narrow streets, each person moving as though they expect the world to part for them. The bustling streets of the town slowly give way to long scenic roads that span across the island. No longer surrounded by the compact buzzing atmosphere, spacious flat fields spread out on either side of the car. Lavish houses worth millions pepper the landscape, only to be abandoned the second the first leave turns orange. Sitting grey and vacant until the heat of summer returns next year. We drive further though, beyond these luxurious estates, turning onto a small road that leads to a quaint community of houses, home to the families that live year-round on the island. People who take the island in its entirety, truly able to call Nantucket their home. The house I stay in is tightly packed next to several others, sharing the same small backyard. Children gather to play in the snug space, whooping and running through the yard. Excited legs pumping and chubby hands grasping at each other in the throws of whatever game had caught their attention. The neighbor's dog yipping excitedly at their heels before losing interest and boisterously pushing through our screen door with urgent expectancy. Pawing around for the treats my sister often gave him. Away from the fancy poster of Nantucket that brought so many to vacation on the island, these small moments hold the most wonder for me. Down the street near our house lay the turtle docks. The rickety T shaped formation of old grey wood jutting out into the reed-filled water. Children crowd over the side of the dock in wide-eyed fascination as they lower raw chicken tied to pieces of long twine into the muddy water. A combination of sharp claws and teeth shred the meat in a flurry. Huge snapping turtles are pulled above water as they stubbornly cling to their catch, dangling on the string in full display. Delighted squeals bubble in the air as children gasp in exhilaration at the captivating animals. Leaning over the docks laughing and shouting as the fight for a half-eaten chicken bone intensifies. Attention rapidly shifting from one thing to another, desperately trying to follow the wild activity beneath the water's surface. Having my fill of excitement, I continue on. At the end of the street, a familiar sandy path opens up through thick bushes. Climbing the long winding beach path, up and down the dips in the sandy trail, through low hanging dappled trees, and into a clearing filled with golden grass mimicking the ocean's soft ebbing waves as the wind trickles through it. Suddenly the thin trail opens up into a dauntingly steep dune. Scorching sand scolds sandal-clad feet as I struggle to ascend the ever-shifting hill of fine pale sand. Finally, at the apex, I'm met with blue, the most magnificent and all-encompassing blue I've ever seen. The unapologetic sky distinguishable from the sparkling waters only by the infinitely present horizon. Days spent lounging in the sunbaked sand, surrounded by people of similar dispositions, content to simply exist. Eyes closed, the sun's molten warmth soaking into muscles. A gentle breeze rolling across reclined bodies and tickling exposed skin as we sink into the heated sand with a sigh. Breaths become deeper and slower still, being lulled into a slumber like trance by the gentle rhythmic whoosh of waves beating a soft lullaby. I find myself being pulled back to the island each summer to walk the same sandy path and enjoy the excitement of the turtle docks, wanting to experience all the things that make up Nantucket again and again. From the bustling rudeness of people accustomed to having the world at their feet to the earnest families whose very souls are a part of the island. Every single aspect of Nantucket supports this all-encompassing magnetic atmosphere. No matter how many times I experience it, that first step onto that warm cobblestone street brings me back to the very first time, the moment I became hopelessly enraptured.
Closing my eyes I can immediately picture your face, as if your amazing features have been tattooed onto the insides of my eyelids. It brings a smile to my face, seeing that birthmark in the center of your forehead, the way the corners of your lips have a small smile pronounced in them. I smile at the way I can immediately place every freckle on your cheeks from memory. I smile as I think of the way your laugh sounds like a stone skipping across a pond after being thrown from gentle caring hands. I smile at how when we hug or kiss our bodies interlock as if they were blocks never meant to be unbound. I smile at the way you have become everything to me. You are my world, and I can never bear to let you go. I'll give anything to continue this love we have harvested from a simple seed planted in the ground long ago by the universe. The seed that demanded you and me to be its caretakers; the seed that decided we were to be soulmates. It is true that in the dead of night when I am lost, I can find you in the persistent stars that somehow shine so bright for me. It is true that in the petrichor I can find you on the individual teardrops that reside on the lush grass. It is true that when there is nothing to be made from the disasters I have created, the thought of us and everything we could be buoys me to reality. I cry sometimes, because I know that although you are my soulmate, perhaps our time together is not definite. For soulmates aren't always forever. Perhaps you are to leave me when there is a smile you find warmer than mine. Perhaps my eyes won't sparkle quite like they used to for you. But a part of you rests in my heart, and that's what matters. You and I will always be attached by a single thread for all of our life. If we are to take two entirely different paths, only connected by that string of fate, I see myself finding you once again later on in my mind. You will always be on this map that has been charted for me by the greatest cartographer of all- destiny. It is quite possible that you and I are to drift onto opposite coasts of the land we have shared for the time we have been together. It is quite possible that we may cultivate our own islands to invite other people into it, other soulmates. But know that in the center of the island sits a perennial blossom you and I have grown, and continue to grow. Because although you have passed to create your story without me, you have left an imprint on my soul. You, soulmate, have filled a crater that I held within with the devotion and love you have shown me.
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.
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