Stuck on the Island

It’s small island time at least once per year for me. So this time I wanted to go to the island of Zamami, about 50 km west of Okinawa’s biggest city of Naha, which is on Okinawa main island.
There are three possibilities per day to get to the island, twice with a speed ferry, once with a slow ferry. The only same day possibility was to take an early flight to Naha, then move to the port and take the afternoon speed ferry to Zamami.
I arrived in clouds and rain and went by taxi to the port, but the taxi driver was already saying, probably the ferries don’t go, it’s too choppy out there.
He was right, there was a sign at the ticket booth at the port saying, none of the ships had been going that day. Ugh… I quickly checked booking dot com and found a good priced hotel close to the port and the taxi driver brought me there.
The hotel turned out to be quite new or renovated and the room was astonishingly nice for the last minute deal price.
I had been in Naha once during my student times in Fukuoka a staggering 24 years ago. The other times I’ve been to Okinawa I only passed through Naha. Of course I hardly remembered the place. But the one place to go to is the Kokusai Douri, the International Street. It’s a pretty long shopping street and off it branch several shopping arcades as well.

The one thing I remembered about Kokusai Douri was that there were dozens of what was then called “army surplus” stores. These shops sold old military uniforms and whatever other kind of military stuff. There is a large US army base in Okinawa, which the locals hate. The US gave back Okinawa to Japan only in 1972 by the way.
These army surplus stores have all but disappeared. I found only one single lonely shop selling military clothes and gas masks and stuff like that. All the military shops were replaced with harmless souvenir shops selling tinker and food specialties. Well, I surely prefer that to the military crap.
At 2:30 in the morning that night I was woken up by a nasty alarm on endless repeat: attention, a fire has broken out in the fifth floor, please evacuate the building immediately. The recording was in Japanese and English with teeth grinding alarm sounds in between that were blasting your ears off. Since I saw nothing and smelled nothing, I was not very freaked out and took the time to put on socks, pants and two jackets before leaving the building with my purse and computer. Some hotel guests had been more freaked out than me and stood there in their pajamas freezing. It was raining again and windy at around fifteen Celsius. Three fire trucks and the police came in one mighty commotion.

At 3:30 they called the alarm off. The very nervous night manager stood in the breakfast room and thanked the guests for their cooperation and that thanks to us the fire brigade could check everything so quickly and efficiently and sent everyone except for floor five back to bed. I was on floor four of the ten story building, luckily. No clue when the fifth floor was allowed to return.
In the morning the front desk showed signs around that a guest had tampered with a fire extinguisher and the case was now investigated by the police. Oops πŸ˜‰ seems like a drunken dude will not enjoy the rest of his stay in Naha.

From Scotland to Ireland

Instead of flying, I decided to use ground transport to get from Scotland to Ireland. I wanted to go by bus to the ferry port but those buses were fully booked and ended up going by train. The train journey was less stressful than expected, since it was Sunday morning and rather empty and the two transfers in Glasgow and a town called Ayr were less of a hustle than I had thought. However, arrived at the end point, a place called Stranraer, I faced troubles going the last ten miles or so around the bay to the ferry port in Cairnryan, which has no train access.

Stranraer and Cairnryan are tiny villages with NOTHING there. The ferry is basically made for people with cars. At the station in Stranraer is nothing. Not even a taxi booth. A family had booked a taxi and it came to pick them up and I asked the driver if he could help me to call another cab or whatever. After some back and forth he packed me into the car as well, which I was very grateful for. It was a bit ridiculous. You can see the ferry at the other side of the bay, but how to get there??? I was not aware of the tinyness of Stranraer πŸ˜‰

I made it to the ferry port all right and was one of the very few people checking in by foot. I had a nice chat with an elderly security guard before they let me into the waiting room. The ferry is fairly big and was booked out to its capacity limit, I suppose. Thanks to a fine day one could see the coasts of Ireland and Scotland and also the Isle of Man and several other Scottish islands during the two and a half hour ride.


Arrived in Belfast things were a bit easier thanks to the size of the town and a public bus came to the port to pick up the few pedestrians without cars. Apart from the hustle to get to the ferry, it was a nice trip and I enjoyed my time on a large boat.

Okinawa Main Island Report – Part 3

Minnajima
Thanks to the internet I found out that the other island visible from Sesoko beach next to Iejima is also inhabited and that there is a ferry going there. The island is called Minna and the much smaller ferry to it left from a small port called Toguchi not too far away from Motobu port. There were two ferries per day during the winter, one left at 11:00, the other at 17:00. If you go with the one at 11:00 you can catch the ferry back to the main island at 14:00, which is the last ferry leaving back to the mainland.
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Minna Island is so far the tiniest inhabited island I have been to. There are fifty or less people living there.
I asked at the harbor whether I can take my bicycle. A guy in the office, who turned out to be the ferry’s captain, said you don’t need a bicycle, you can walk the entirety of the island in one hour and the roads are too bad too. Okay πŸ˜‰ So I left my bicycle at the harbor. The comment about the roads being “too bad” translated into dirt paths outside the paved hundred meters of village.
The place is insanely beautiful but tiny indeed. In summer they have tourists on the beach, but now people are not swimming due to those venomous creatures around between November and March, so the place is lonely. In summer it must be quite a party island. It’s shaped like a croissant and the inner bay and the beach outside are both fantastic.
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I first walked to the crescent bay, then around one arm. Then around the other. They have a school with two or so students on the island and some ten houses nestle around the school. There is no shop and not even a road really.
After two hours you indeed don’t know what to do anymore and I returned to the harbor where the ferry still sat waiting.
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Walking up and down the beach I ran into this fellow here, it even walked once in while πŸ˜‰
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Back at the main island at already 14:15, the day was still young and I rode my bicycle inland in search for a forest park. The place is lovely and gave me that jungle feeling of Iriomote island for a few moments.
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Then, I was determined to find out more about the mystery of the white buildings of Sesoko below the school which I again had seen from the ship to Minna island. I rode around Sesoko, trying to find a way there and ended up dumping the bicycle and trying on foot, but neglected sugar cane fields full of two and more meters high weed stood between me and the white buildings and I saw no getting through. I was about to give up when I ran into a guy on a scooter who looked like kind of a guard. He stopped and told me that the road I’m on is a dead end. I asked him about the buildings and he said, oh they are part of the failed resort hotel too and off limits. They were supposed to be the bungalow part of the hotel.
Hurray. The mystery was solved and I went back to my bicycle and rode to my functioning hotel. Whatever company tried to develop the resort must have bought the whole northwest corner of the island. What a shame that it now stands there all and rots. It wold have been nice had they torn down the modern ruins and returned the land to the people or the Okinawa government or something.

Churaumi part two
Back to the aquarium on my last day of holidays but a lot of other stuff before that. I bicycled beyond the ocean expo park area to the Bise Furugiya road, an “old” village with dirt paths between the houses that are lined with trees. The trees stand so close together that they produce tree tunnels. In some of the houses regular people are living, while some of the houses are pensions, but I wouldn’t want to live where tourists are wandering over my front yard every day! Amazing.
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Then I went back to the Ocean Expo park. At first into a pacific ocean museum, which is mostly Polynesian themed, describing the islanders lives and their canoes. Then I visited a planetarium session about the winter sky in Okinawa with a nice local legend about the Pleiades.
On the way to the botanical garden are traditional Okinawa houses, and yes, times were tough when everything was made from wood and bast fibers. Then on to the botanical garden through the park. Every detail is beautifully designed in this place and it must be such a big amount of work to keep it all up and running. The botanical garden is insanely beautiful with every detail in perfect order. Thousands of orchids and other plants are there to enchant. I think this is one of the best botanical gardens I have seen so far. It only competes with the botanical gardens of Singapore.
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Then I returned to the aquarium. I had been there the first time in the morning and noon and had learned that there is whale shark feeding at 15:00 and also 17:00 every day. The guys eat krill. They suck it in together with water and for that purpose they turn to “stand” in the water, which is the only time they do a thing like that. It’s quite impressive to see these eight meter long beasts standing in the water while they eat.
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After the feeding there is some krill left and it makes the waters a bit fuzzy. To clear it up they blow oxygen from below the tank, and a pillar of water bubbles rises in its middle. The black manta had its fun with the bubbles and made somersaults inside it.
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I hope the plan of making the whale sharks breed works, I would take the opportunity to come back to this aquarium to see a few hundred tiny whale sharks in the tank. πŸ˜‰ I learned at this second visit that they also have another female whale shark, which is not in the main tank. She is not yet big enough to swim with the two others. Sounds like she is the “spare” candidate in case the two in the tank don’t like each other. πŸ˜‰ Looking around in the internet shows that actually not that much is known about whale sharks. They might get over 70 years old. They reach sexual maturity only at around 30 years. Well, let’s hope the three in Okinawa will teach us a bit more about their reproduction.
I said good bye to the aquarium and the expo park then and bicycled home to “my” island, where I checked the sunset at the local beach again, but it was too cloudy to see the sun sink, nevertheless the sky and the sea were magnificent.

The next morning, one of the hotel staff brought me to the bus stop for the bus to the airport again and I asked him when the high season is and it indeed is summer. So far I’ve been to Okinawa prefecture only in spring, autumn and now winter, summer is still missing πŸ˜‰ but, the hotel gentleman said every year they have to bring three, four guests to the hospital with severe sunburns! Okinawan people try to stay indoors during the day and only go out in the morning or the evening while the – he didn’t say stupid, but he meant it – stupid tourists go outside and swim e.g. without t-shirts on to protect themselves against the intense sunlight. If a local goes into the water, they all wear t-shirts, he said. Well, since I’m not only a colored but also a slight natural redhead and get sunburns after five minutes, I usually walk around quite thoroughly dressed even if it’s hot, so I should be fine also in summer πŸ˜‰
It’s been a great and stress-free trip.
But the next adventure awaits – my “real” holidays of this winter – 70,000 tons of metal! Starting 2nd of February. uhhhh!

Okinawa Main Island Report – Part 2

Iejima
I had checked for departure times the day before at the port and went there to catch the 11:00 ferry to Iejima together with my bicycle since this is a car ferry. I haven’t been on too many car ferries yet in my life and was amazed that the cars have to drive into the ferry backwards. Gulp. I love my sweet little bicycle that they stored in a corner of the ship.
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While I’m a little scared of small boats for less than ten people, I love big or bigger ships and greatly enjoyed the short, 30 min, ride to Iejima.
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Arrived there, I went straight to the prominent central mountain, just to take a look, not expecting that you could get on top. But, you can get on top! Someone bothered to build sturdy concrete stairs up to the very top of the mountain.
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I always admire the pioneers who put those stairs there in the first place. That must have been quite a job. The stairs are steep and tiring, but the view from the top of the mountain is breathtaking. You see the island in its entirety and the ocean with the other islands around it is amazing. That view alone is worth a trip to Iejima.
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I bicycled around a bit and then headed for the western half of the island. Most of it is off limits, US army base….
But before the base is a cave that I wanted to see. The cave was of course used by the villagers on the island during WW2 as a shelter. It also would have been or maybe was an excellent pirate cave πŸ˜‰
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Tired from the stair hike and all the cycling, I enjoyed the boat ride back, but discovered two things on Sesoko island (where my hotel is) while riding past the island on the ferry that I had not noticed yet. A big building in the middle and mysterious white buildings below it.
I bicycled thus around Sesoko and discovered quite a maze of tiny back streets to people’s houses. I found the big building, which turned out to be a school, lol. I was too tired to go looking for the white ones, there were still some days left with more chances to explore πŸ˜‰
This was New Year’s Eve by the way. I asked in the hotel whether there was a shrine people go to, but the answer was, they go to Nago which is 17 km away one way. Not a reasonable distance for a nightly bicycle ride, so I spent the evening in the hotel.

Churaumi Aquarium
Luckily my hotel was only 6 km away from the main attraction of northern Okinawa, the ocean expo park with its central attraction, the Churaumi Aquarium. Chura means beautiful in Okinawan language and umi means sea, by the way.
I bicycled there after breakfast and arrived at 10:30 in the morning. I went straight to the aquarium, having made sure via internet before that it was open on the first of January. It was open and well visited. It’s main feature is the giant ocean tank, home to numerous creatures with the two stars being two pretty damn big whale sharks. The male one lives in captivity for 21 years already and is now 8.6 meters long. The female is in captivity for nine years and not much smaller than the other. The aquarium is hoping that the two will produce offspring one day. Let’s see!
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Apparently the aquarium was majorly overhauled and renewed some fifteen years ago and the building is impressive. I also liked it very much that there is a hidden-away elevator that takes you up to the top of the main tank and you can look inside from above. Very nicely thought of and arranged. I stumbled across the elevator by accident and I bet many people miss it.
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Next I had lunch and then visited the manatee and the sea turtle buildings, which are separate from the main aquarium. The manatees looked very cute while making rolls inside the water. A place like that of course also has a dolphin building and show. I watched the show in the fully packed arena of the dolphin place with bus loads of Chinese tourists around me. I’m always a bit cringing at such animal shows, however, a zoo employee once told me in a zoo in Tokyo that e.g. sea lions would get too bored if they have no stimulus like doing tricks in a show. So I hope it’s the same for the dolphins. Well, the shows don’t seem to hurt them, since one of the dolphin ladies was already forty years old, as the show announcer said.
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Next I wandered to the “emerald” beach, although I would rather call it sapphire, since the ocean is more blue than green πŸ˜‰ A very nice stretch of beach, but there were “no swimming” signs around everywhere, saying that from November to March swimming is not allowed due to various animals around, jelly fish, and also other venomous creatures.
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I had not seen the planetarium or the arboretum yet, but it was enough for one day and I bicycled back to Sesoko. With the weather being excellent, I rode to the Sesoko beach, which faces west, and enjoyed a very pretty sunset. Only one bank of clouds in the way, but they actually made the sunset nicer.
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