Surely none of the usual hordes would have braved the exorbitant taxi ride to an unknown location. So obscure that even the taxi driver had to step out to ask for directions. As well as a perilous caterpillar electro-buggy ride to the dock and a 500m walk along the concrete jetty in forty degree heat to arrive at a pontoon beside a flotilla of poorly maintained motor boats. No one would have risked life and limb jumping upon said boats, bouncing from one to the next, luggage in hand with sea below, and standing in the blazing sun for an hour as we sailed to an unknown island in the Taiwan Straight.
|The dock on Dadenghaidao, the only way to get to the remote island of Xiaodenghaidao|
Of course I was wrong. The boat was crammed, with people clinging to the sides. No life jackets or safety instructions. Luckily no waves either.
|The floating pontoon, in front of a six boat flotilla which you must clamber over, luggage in hand to get to Xiaodeng Island. Fujian China.|
From a distance, the island was a rocky green gem, with a layer of golden sand protecting it from the choppy blue waters. All around the sleepy green isle were shipping hubs, oil refineries, salt marshes, mud flats, piles of dredged silt and dredgers dredging that silt. An ominous sign perhaps but I maintained my optimism. The other side of the island had to be better!
|The sea off Dadeng Island on our way to Xiaodeng Island. Piles of sand, dredged from the seabed behind white plastic floats in the water.|
As we pulled into port and clambered over another line of moribund boats and onto the baking concrete harbour wall, I noticed the golden sand beside the harbour was strewn with trash of all descriptions. Not to worry, just the beach next to a working port.
We took another electro caterpillar buggy through the village on Xiao Deng Hai Dao to our hotel, passing old fashioned wooden temples and houses on the way, all complete with boat shaped rooves, dragons and shoulder spikes pointing up to the sky.
|An electro caterpillar buggy on Xiaodeng Island. I decided it had similar proportions to a caterpillar so named it as such.|
We were greeted by an old man and his wife who told us there was no breakfast or dinner to be bought on the island. Fine, I thought. I'll live off packaged cakes and bananas.
My travelling companions were less impressed. No breakfast! No dinner! Whatever shall we do! I'm not doing anything if I don't have my breakfast!
|Strawberry are good for you! (Note the grammar). My strawberry and banana bread kept me going on Xiaodeng Island.|
After hours of whining and complaining we found a restaurant for lunch, serving fish and rice. Too expensive! Shouted my companions, my wife's parents, who are used to low village prices, never having experienced the island inflation effect.
|Fish waiting to be killed in Fujian, China. I'd rather have a banana.|
After yet more hours of marching around looking for a cheaper restaurant, we came back to the fish and rice café we'd left hours earlier. Spending over £10 for a meal for four people. Goodness me!
As they ate, I ran with my towel to the island's main swimming beach over half a mile away. The beach was removed from the village so I expected clean sand.
|The warm golden sand of Xiaodeng Island, Fujian, China. Littered with sharp shards of glass.|
The beach was long (for a small rocky island) and uncrowded. The beach was backed up by forest, making it green and lush. Four huge rings lay in the gently lapping water and in the distance you could see another green gem and the Taiwanese island of Kinmen (Jinmen).
|The distant Kinmen Island, owned by The Republic of China (Taiwan) as seen from Xiaodeng Island in the People's Republic of China (Mainland China). Confused?|
I was hot and bothered but not hungry. I wrapped my towel around the trunk of a palm tree, took my flip flops off and ran barefoot into the warm sea swimming to the rocks a hundred meters offshore. I looked around to see an idyllic beach scene, golden clean sand surrounded by palm trees, complete with beach huts and a glistening blue sea. The warm sun completed the cliché and I swam back in a cheery mood. As I stepped ashore I noticed a green twinkle in the sand. I picked it up. A shard of newly broken glass. I noticed another. Then another.
|What a lovely twinkly green beach!|
Before I knew it I found myself immersed by bits of sharp broken glass wedged into the clean sand. I'd heard someone complain about cutting themselves, now I knew why. I stepped carefully from then on and was delighted to slip back into my flip flops.
After cleaning up dozens of shards I returned to my wife and her parents, who were startled I still wasn't hungry. (I can always do without fish).
|The ancient houses of Xiaodeng Island, with philosopher, Coco Wang, in the foreground. Fujian, China.|
The island is dotted with antique houses and temples inbetween the garish villas rich villagers have constructed. Sacred Buddhist shrines are kept superbly, decorated with dazzling bright colours and pictures. If the villagers and tourists treated their island the way they treat their holy sites, the island would be a tropical paradise and tourist magnet. It's obscurity derives from the way everyone uses the island as a dump with litter everywhere and glass mixed with filth along the beaches. It's telling that I spent most of my time cleaning up glass from the beach and telling locals off for littering. Although I doubt I made any difference.
|Traditional Fujian Houses on Xiaodeng Island, Southern China.|
We left the island a day early to escape the filth, and headed for the tropical island city of Xiamen (Amoy). Never go to Xiao Deng Hai Dao.