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.
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.
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.
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.
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 😉
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 😉
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.
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!
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.
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.
Next I wandered to the “emerald” beach, although I would rather call it sapphire, since the ocean is more blue than green 😉 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.
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.