Monday, July 28

Tropical Paradise (Okinawa Part I)

I love planes. You could put me on a plane and just fly me in a circle and I would be thrilled. But - put a tropical island on the other end of that flight...and you get my weekend vacation.

I slept in - it was marvellous. I rarely sleep in, really. Then I met Keith and Alex at Osaka Station for some ice cream, before heading to Kansai Airport. We got some more icecream (mmm Black Sesame), met up with Thomas, and boarded the plane... Keith, Alex and I were in one row, and Thomas was a bit further up in the plane. The 2 hour flight passed one point, the left window was completely dark, and the right window seemed perfectly light. I turned my head left-and-right-and-left-and-right until my neck started to hurt. Thomas captured a beautiful picture of the approaching night...

Then there the spoon episode. Alex decided to see if flicking me with a spoon would hurt. It did. A lot. Imprint-of-a-spoon-on-my-arm-a-lot. This was followed by me trying to flick him back and inflict an equal amount of pain, and him flicking himself with the same intent. Needless to say, this entertained us for a portion of the flight. But I did have an imprint of a spoon on my arm.

We arrived in Naha, Okinawa at around 9pm. The bus we thought we were going to take didn't exist, so we took a taxi. Keith had made reservations at the City Front Harumi Hostel, so we checked in and found our rooms. Ojisan (as we came to call him; meaning Grandpa or a respectful title for an older man) was very friendly and helpful in getting us settled and oriented in Naha.

The guys shared a room, and I (being a female and all) was in a different room. My room was shared with an older lady and a younger Down's Syndrome lady. They were very friendly and I had a short conversation with them before meeting the guys to go find some dinner. This proved more difficult than we thought, as most places were closed. But we wandered the busy highway a bit and found a family-style restaurant for some good eats. By that time, it was late, and we hit the bunkbeds for some sleep.

The next morning, I woke up feeling wonderful. I did enjoy my night at Miyajima, but I have to admit that sleeping in a real bed does top the great outdoors. The older lady in my room gave me some pretty little flowers, which I promptly put in my hair - they made me feel very tropical. We picked up some breakfast at the convenience store, and waited for our bus. A taxi driver offered to drive us up to our destination, for 1000Yen each. The bus was going to be about 900Yen each, so we took him up on his offer. And I'm so glad we did...

He was hilarious. He talked (loudly and animatedly) in broken English, for the majority of the ride. He told us about his family, and his 104 year old Mother and 108 year old Father (apparently the oldest couple in Japan), his large family, and his capabilities. He informed us that he had 8 licenses (later it was 9), and could build houses, drive cranes, scuba drive, drive motorbikes.... an all-around handy guy to know. When we asked him questions, he often paused and then went off on a tangent about something completely unrelated. My questions, he just ignored (I think he just didn't hear me...). We spent most of the trip giggling and keeping him talking - to our great amusement. When we disembarked the taxi, I asked him for a picture - he was definitely a character to remember!

When we got to our destination (a bit early), we explored a bit. We saw a sign for a steakhouse, and went 'a wandering to see if we could find it (which we couldn't).

Our destination? Snorkelling! We dressed in wetsuits and flippers and snorkelling gear, and crammed into a mini-minivan (not a Canadian sized mini-van), for a hot drive to the beach. When I say hot, I do not mean warm. I mean hot, hot, HOT! Sweat-dripping-down-your-face hot. We got stuck in traffic for a bit, and I had a short nap - that was all I could do; I couldn't move, and I was much too hot. But we finally arrived! It was a fun adventure, following our guide around the reef and the cave. We were even given some fish food and got to feed them!

After our snorkelling adventure, we decided that it was essential to find the steakhouse. It turned out to be a Movie House Steakhouse! The exterior and interior were decorated with movie posters of all genres. It was great fun to wander and look at the posters, and the steak was delicious!

In finding the steak house, we had found a small resort area, and explored it after lunch. Feeling extra tropical, I added to my hair bouquet some larger (okay, huge) flowers that I had found.

We wandered up the highway, trying to find a nice beach. We didn't find a beach, but we did find ice cream!

It was hot (did I mention that?), so we finally went back to the sort-of beach near the steakhouse. We tiptoed our way our towards the water, through the warm puddles, sharp shells, and broken coral. Getting to the water was difficult enough. Swimming in it proved even harder.

The water wasn't very shallow, but it was filled with all kinds of sea anemones and cucumbers and other mysterious sea creatures. We tiptoed and floated our way to slightly deeper water, and decided (for safety reasons) not to try and go further. I laid out like a starfish and floated...the blue sky and the clouds, the warm salty was definitely a tropical paradise. Until I tried to stop floating, and stepped on a sea anemone. Ouch. But my foot didn't go numb and my head didn't explode, so I figured I would survive. After quite a while, we realized that the tide was coming in...right towards our shoes. So we started heading back - Thomas got back first, and discovered that Keith's hiking boots were floating, and my sandal had lost it's hubby. That made for an interesting trip back to the sand - tip toeing and jumping up when I stepped on sharp points. But we made it. I ventured to a beach house and purchased a new set of flipflops, and we headed for the bus top. A taxi stopped again and offered us the same deal. Unfortunately, this driver was not near as entertaining as the last one, and we mostly kept the conversation to ourselves.

After a cool shower to rid ourselves of the sweat, sand, and salt of the day, hung out for a few minutes in the hostel's common room. Alex played the guitar a bit (as he did anytime we were around the common room), and we enjoyed the AC for a bit. I borrowed a needle from Ojisan to remove the leftover sea anemone from my still-painful foot. The piece left in me was actually quite large and painful to get out, and brought a lot of blood with it! Ojisan's wife (Obasan) gave me a bit of cleaner and a bandaid to fix it up, and we took off for another evening of Kokusaidori - Naha's international street.

We explored the shops, had some Okinawan-style Udon, and found a guitar shop (which entertained Alex for quite a while). Alex and I shared some dragonfruit and passionfruit - neither of which I had ever eaten (yummy!). There may have been some ice cream in there too...hehe.

Temples & Shrines all over Japan are often guarded by Shishi - lionlike protectors that are said to have magical powers to ward off evil. They guard in pairs; one female, one male; one open-mouthed, one closed; one symbolizing the beginning of time, the other the end. We also found them all over Okinawa - and they are a popular tourist souvenir. Every souvenir shop has them in all kinds of colors and styles, some funny, some scary. My favorite shop was filled with these - in every shape, size, and color - but they were handmade. (The other shops were mass manufactured.) The man who made them was selling them, and was midway through painting one when we were there. I bought two gorgeous statues - quite large, actually - for only $40! I was thrilled (still am) with my purchase... a reasonable price, authentically culturally Japanese, and not made in China!

When the street and shops started to close down, we visited a Canadian-run place for some snacks and a drink. We also tried Okinawa's snake wine.

It tasted surprisingly good, but it was still a little strange to drink... after some laughs and relaxation, we headed back to the hostel for the night.

More Pictures...
A Friend's Flckr Pictures...

Part Two coming soon...



How does it taste? I guess it's not the same but I bought a bottle on the snake wine website and it's good also, even sweet !

okinawa said...

Sounds like you had a great adventure in Japan! BTW, that snake wine is "awamori", or Okinawan Sake!

Stephanie said...

@asian snake wine: It was very good, and mine was sweet too! I don't know how to describe the taste, though - just yummy!

@okinawa: I did have a wonderful time! Thanks for the info - now I can Nihongo de next time! :)

Merry said...

Thank you for the lovely vicarious adventure! :)