beach

Sunset at Gaomei

I have wanted to visit the Gaomei Wetlands (高美濕地) for quite some time and it just so happened that on my way back from my recent trip to Nantou that I had a chance to stop in and check it out just before sunset. 

The problem was that I was completely unprepared and without a tripod and filters for my lenses, there was no way that I was going to get the photos that I’ve always wanted to get there. The wetlands are really beautiful and are really interesting for landscape photographers which is one of the reasons why I've always wanted to visit. 

Not having the proper gear didn’t really deter me though - I think its better sometimes to familiarize myself with a place and visit more than once so I know how to get what I want and what gear I need to bring with me to achieve those goals. 

To that effect I only planned to take a few shots of the beautiful sunset and share it with people. I’ll visit the wetlands again and go into better detail about them then, but I will give a brief introduction to the wetlands right now for people who don't know what they are. 

Gaomei Wetlands

The Gaomei Wetlands are an over 300 hectare protected plot of land along the western coast of Taiwan in the Qingshui (清水) area of Taichung. They are a small part of the much larger Dadu Estuary Wildlife Habitat (大肚溪口野生動物保護區.) The wetlands have a special mix of mud and sand that make it possible for diverse biological habitats of fish, crabs, birds and invertebrates (animals not poiticians).  

The biological diversity and beautiful landscape are what makes the Gaomei wetlands popular with tourists and photographers alike. Tourists can walk down the boardwalk and soak their feet in the water or play on the sand while photographers spend a lot of their time shooting the landscape or using long telephoto lenses to shoot the birds which inhabit the area and feed on the crabs and other culinary delicacies that the wetlands have to offer. 

Children playing

Children playing. 

Part of Gaomei’s landscape includes the massive wind turbines that provide renewable energy to the people of Taiwan. During my most recent visit I noticed that a few of the turbines weren’t working, only to find out later that six of the eighteen turbines were destroyed by Typhoon Souledor and had not yet been repaired. 

Some people consider these turbines to be annoying and an eyesore ruining the beauty of natural landscapes like this, but I happen to like them and I'm never really bothered when they're around. It is easy to get shots of the wetlands however without the turbines crowding up your shot. 

If you plan on visiting Gaomei, be sure to remember to wear sandals (so you can get in the water) and wear a windbreaker as it can be incredibly windy near the coast. If you're a photographer like me, remember a tripod and some natural density filters to get yourself some good shots! 

I'll visit the wetlands again sometime this summer and when I do go, I'll go prepared meaning that the shots will be a lot better than what I'm sharing today! I hope you like what you see anyway.  


Gallery

Boracay (長灘島)

Boracay is a paradise-like island south of the Philippines capital of Manilla and is one of the country’s most popular destinations for both foreign and domestic travellers alike. The island renowned for having one of the worlds best beaches and the community on the island is set up to cater to tourists making it an island resort paradise. 

The island is located about 315 kilometres south of the capital of Manilla in the Western Visayas region of the country and is only about 10 square kilometres in size with a population of about 12,000 people with labour imported daily from neighbouring islands

Boracay's iconic Paraw Sailboats.

Boracay's iconic Paraw sailboats.

The island was originally settled by the Ati people, one of the Philippines indigenous groups and the name "Boracay" comes from their original name for the island. These days however the island is controlled by the Philippine Tourism Authority and is designated as a special municipality within the Philippines with a tourism industry that brings in billions of pesos every year. 

Tourism on the island is only a product of the last thirty to forty years and the island has only started to really develop over the past ten. When you base your economy entirely off of tourism you can expect some positives and negatives - one of those negatives has been the marginalization of the Ati people and constant encroachment on their Ancestral lands. This marginalization has led to issues of poverty and discrimination against the native peoples as well as the destruction of their culture. I would argue that Boracay should do a better job of cultivating and promoting the Indigenous culture on the island which would help to form a cultural identity like what you see on the island of Bali in Indonesia. (For more information on the plight of the Ati people check out this article

Paradise!

Tourism on the island has steadily grown over the past few years. In 2011 for example the island attracted 908,174 visitors which grew to 1.2 million in 2012. The Department of Tourism has steadily increased the amount of visitors it forecasts to visit the island each year and now that it has become popular with tourists from China, those numbers are sure to rise. Due to the increase in the amount of tourists, the island is in a constant state of development and new resorts are popping up all the time drastically reducing the amount of empty land left on the small island.

The people who live on the island work primarily in the many different sectors of the tourism industry or in the many restaurants and bars that are found throughout the island. If there is ever any shortage of able bodies, it is rarely an issue considering that Caticlan, the nearest city (on the island of Panay) is only a two kilometre boat ride away. The main problem for most of these people who serve tourists (with respect and smiles) is that they are usually only paid a minimum wage and this helps to create an extremely uneven distribution of wealth on the island. 

Walking along the main stretch

DMall, the shopping area of the island.

This wasn't my first visit to Boracay (and most certainly won't be my last) and from what I observed on my most recent visit is that business is most certainly booming. The majority of the travellers are from neighbouring Asian countries like South Korea, Taiwan and China. The people working on the island thus learn to speak Korean or Mandarin as well as English to serve their guests. I was most in awe of this when I visited Starbucks (the most beautiful Starbucks location I have ever been to) and the kind lady at the counter spoke Mandarin, Korea, Arabic, Tagalog and English to the people ahead of me. With language ability like that, you have to wonder why this genius of a woman would be working at a Starbucks! 

Tourists on the beach near sunset

I arrived on Boracay at 7am (leaving Taiwan at 12:25pm) and because it was too early to check in to the hotel, I just stashed my luggage in storage at the hotel, changed into some swim shorts and decided to go for a walk with my camera so that I could relax on the rest of my vacation and not carry it around!  

The plan was to walk down the four kilometre beach from end to the other to get some shots and waste a bit of time before going back to the hotel for a shower and a nap. There was a section of the island that I hadn't gotten to on my first visit, so I was eager to see what was around the corner of a mountain-like cliff. 

When I got close enough to the cliff, the white-sand part of the beach more or less ended and there was a stone boardwalk that rounded a corner to a place where some really nice houses were built on the side of a mountain.

The Filipino elite likely had their vacation homes up there and it looked like a pretty cool place to stay - with a great view for the islands famous sunsets. I decided to hang out for a little while watching boats pass by and enjoying the weather. The area had a bit of wind and was a bit cooler than the beach. 

A young Filipino boy taking a break from swimming.

While hanging out, I noticed that there was some coral in the water below and that the water was relatively deep, so I took off my camera bag, sat it on the side of the mountain and decided to just jump in.

After jumping a few times, a Filipino man came over and gestured to a small cliff above the boardwalk. He told me to follow him and we climbed up and he looked at me and said “jump!” 

The cliff was only about 10 or so meters above the water, but cliff jumping with the guy was fun enough to spend an hour or so hanging out with swimming. Eventually he had to go and then I walked back to the hotel to check in, have a shower and take a quick nap. 

Local Boracay children Tourist watching.

A local Boracay boy.

The next few days were spent on the beach swimming, tanning, drinking copious amounts of San Miguel, taking photos of the beautiful sunsets and relaxing. While relaxing on the island, there are quite a few recreational activities that you can take part including sailing, scuba diving, snorkelling, parasailing, jet skiing, riding around in a helicopter, etc. 

The selection of restaurants on the island is vast and no matter where you decide to dine, the food is amazing no matter where you go. You'll find western cuisines varying from authentic Spanish and Portuguese restaurants to Greek and Italian, American and English. There is also Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, Thai and several other Asian restaurants. With all of that selection it might be easy to miss some of the restaurants serving native Pinoy cuisine which I would say is actually really unfortunate, because Filipino food is great - especially their take on BBQ chicken and pork which are amazing! 

Until next time Boracay!

Boracay really is a travellers paradise – You can relax all day, eat great food and party all night. Of all the places I've been throughout my tour of Asia, it is my favourite spot to just go and relax, get some sun and have some great food and drink.  

I've been to the island more than once and its likely that I'll go back again sometime in the future. If I ever get married, I'd probably even consider having my wedding there like some of my co-workers and friends have done in the past!

If you haven't been to Boracay and you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. As always, comment or complain below!