MP3 track of the day: I wish it could be Christmas Everyday - Wizzard
Weather: Cloudy all day with light winds and intermittent rain. The temperature was just about perfect though, it did feel as though I'd brought the weather with me.
I woke up on this fine Christmas morning to draw open the curtains and see … rain. Still never mind I thought; being British I would plod on with the days activities regardless. I would hire my car, drive around Miyako-jima (taking photos) ignoring the weather and I would enjoy it. I therefore got dressed and went for my free buffet breakfast.
Once downstairs I met the hotel owners family and they asked me to join them for breakfast. As I was tucking into my breakfast the hotel owners daughter pulled out a map and started to explain areas she thought I might like. In between mouth fulls of toast I questioned her a little before I had a pretty good idea of how my days trip would pan out. Just before leaving, the family invited me to join them for their evening meal (because the hotel owner did not want me eating my Christmas meal alone). I gracefully accepted and bid them fair well until the evening. They went upstairs to relax whereas I waited into the hotels reception area for my pick-up to the car rental place.
Right on the stroke of nine my pick-up arrived and I walked out onto the miserable dark streets of Miyako-jima. As we drove towards the car rental offices I noticed that the rain had died down a little and the weather had brightened a fraction; maybe today would be okay after all.
Within a flash I was at the hire car offices and within another flash I had filled out all of my paperwork (the company kept my drivers license; which I found odd) and I sitting within a 'oldish' Nissan March (Micra to you and me). If I'm honest, it wasn't my first choice of car but it would have to do. Within the office I had opted, for an additional 1,000 Yen, 'unlimited cover' with zero yen excess charge; I was therefore completely relaxed as I pulled out of the rental car park and headed north.
The island, being about 35km long, meant that it didn't take me long to get to my first destination. Taking the advice given at breakfast I found myself starting at the most northern part of the island and driving around it in a clockwise direction. Ironically, at the most northern part of the island was a bridge (1,425meters long) which took you off the island and onto another, called 'Ikema Marsh'. Being the size of a rich tea biscuit I didn't stay long and stopped only a couple of times before crossing the bridge once more. Before leaving the bridge I stopped and took some photos of a truly impressive structure. We've all seen road bridges before however, I bet we haven't all seen road bridges which cross coral-reefed waters. The colours were amazing.
Being Christmas, I fired up my MP3 player and selected my 'Christmas song mix'; I then set the volume to 'loud' as I crawled my way south towards the most southern point. It wasn't that I was swamped with traffic (I hardly saw another car all day), it was the fact that the islands speed limits were stupid. I spent this time to get to know my 'March' and decided that I didn't like it at all. The steering wasn't sharp, the ride position was uncomfortable and the inside of the car was bland and, frankly, ugly to look at from the outside. Give me back my Toyota Vis!
As I drove south I stopped off many times, either on the rocky coastline or down on a beach to have a look and, weather permitting, take a quick photo or two. It soon became apparent that I had come 'out of season' as not another living sole was around; places were boarded up and beach restaurants were left collecting sand … which made for some interesting photography.
At the most southern point of the island is a light house called 'Cape Hennazaki Lighthouse'. I couldn't drive right up to said light house; instead I had to park 500 meters away and walk up to it. The cape looked down onto beautiful light blue coral sea which, coming from the UK, was a little hard to register as fact. The wind and rain had picked up but it didn't spoil the view however, it did mean that I walked a little quicker than usual and I was soon back at my car in no time.
The next location was the 'Ueno German Culture Village' but, yet again, on my way I stopped many times to take photos. Whilst driving I paid a lot of attention to what was around me and less to the road, which was a mistake. It wasn't that there was a car coming in the other direction, but rather a deep trench dug across the road labelled as 'road works'. I only noticed said trench with moments to spare; I slammed on the breaks but I still crossed it a little too fast and I did hear the unmistakeable sound of scratching coming from underneath the car. As I gingerly parked the car within the German Culture Villages car park I was a little worried.
I slowly got out of my car and tip-toed to the front. After peering down I soon discovered that no harm was done; the March has a rubber sheet underneath it and that was what had hit the road. A sigh of relief swept across my face. After that I could finally take-in my surroundings. Sometime in history, some German sailors crashed upon the coral coast of Miyako-jima and were rescued by the locals and looked after for thirty-five days before Germany rescued them. To show their appreciation the Germans sent a gift to the people of Miyako-jima and in return, Miyako-jima built this cheap amusement park to try to make money from an event which occurs all around the world even to this day. As this was the 'off season' everything was shut and so I could wander freely between the Germanic houses, castle (which looked a bit like that one from 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang') and other 19th Century European looking buildings asking myself why. Why would you build this let alone come and see it. Still, with German classical music playing from the speakers, I wondered around slightly enjoying myself. I was however as confused as Roy, from the IT crowd, when he found out that his girlfriends parents had died from a fire at Sea Parks. Still I decided not to question someone's decision and just absorb the 'fakeness' before heading towards the 'Steak and Grill' restaurant for a slap up meal.
Sadly the 'Steak and Grill' was closed. Realistically I'd have to return to the capital of the island, Hirara, for food but that was at least 10km away and not in the direction which I wanted to go. Still the time was 2pm and I was starving. I therefore decided to abandon my search of the island, for the time being, and head towards town. The first restaurant I find I'll stop at it.
Quite bizarrely, for an island the size of a tambourine, there was a McDonalds and so I headed in the way the directions told me to go. Once I found the McDonalds I also discovered that it was a part of a small, and very cute, retail park. Just as I was about to go in I saw an Ootoya restaurant and diverted towards that, as it had real food. Once inside I ordered my 'usual' which was a bucket full of vegetables with some fried chicken on top and rice to accompany it. Being famished I ate the lot quickly and I soon found myself looking at the desserts thinking that I had been too extravagant already. Remembering that today was Christmas Day I put the menu down, pressed the 'waitress button' and ordered a chocolate, banana and strawberry parfait. I went for the large one.
As I waddled to the counter, 'large' may have been a mistake. I paid my bill and returned to my car to complete the encirclement of the island. This meant I had to go back the way I had come but, instead of turning left towards the 'German Culture Village', I went straight across a bridge and onto another island with a small community; Kurimajima Island.
Once again it didn't take me long to circle the island and take a couple of photos. There was a viewing platform which I took full use off. It would appear that this island (and the south-east of Miyako-jima) is 'sugar country' as acre upon acre was crawling with sugar cane, meaning that my view was blocked from time to time.
Once back on the mainland I had one last important stop. Maibama Beach is supposed to be Japan's number one beach, and it is located close to the bridge to Kurimajima. The sand was a beautiful white colour and the coral sea was certainly a rich light-blue however, with the bridge in sight, a hideous hotel on the shoreline and urban development on the island in front of the beach, I'd say that some of the beaches in Fiji or Thailand were better.
Once I'd walked along the soft white sand (and once I'd taken a lot of photos) I got back in my car and did a quick loop of the Yonaha coastline before calling it a day. I filled the car up with fuel and then drove the car back to the rental place. As soon as I'd arrived the guy giving me a lift back to my hotel was waiting for me. I, however, had my stuff thrown all around the car and so it took me a little while until my bags were packed and I was being driven back to my hotel.
Halfway into the journey I realised that I'd forgotten to pick up my drivers license. I apologised to the guy and asked him to drive back to the office. His English was almost none-existent and so when I asked him for my license he didn't really understand. The guy I'd spoken to this morning wasn't there (his English was good) and so my driver phoned him so that I could explain the situation. After the phone call my face must have gone white; I was told, over the phone, that he handed me back my license. I had no memory of this and I was adamant that it was here in this building. Seeing my distress, my drive made a 'limited' attempt to search the office were as I emptied everything out of my bag; I even went back into the car to check. As I checked my wallet for the 2nd time I was 100% sure that the office had it. Seeing that I was getting more and more into a state the driver called the guy I spoke to this morning again who said he would come back to the office. When the guy arrived (not massively happy as I guess his shift had finished and, after all, I was calling him a liar) he took me into the office to show how their computer system worked. He said that if a drivers license card is left within the PC a warning is given; this makes it impossible for him to forget to give me my license. To me that meant that it was impossible to leave the license within the PC, that's all; it could have fallen off the table or got lost within some paperwork. In any case I could do no more; he wasn't budging and so all I could do was leave my phone number, and address, and to start worrying about how on earth I was going to get a new one.
As I was writing my address I went to my wallet to find my post code when, after one final search, I found my license in between the wallets lining. Relief poured out of me and I appologise a million times thinking what a fool I'd been. The guy from this morning made a sharp exit and my driver just smiled and gestured for me to return to the vehicle so that he could deliver me back to my hotel. With a relief-ed look upon my face I got in the car.
After all that worry I felt shattered. The journey back was a little uncomfortable as I felt guilty for wasting this guy's time and practically calling the other guy, who helped me this morning, a liar. I thought about possibly sending them some gift from my home town to say sorry. Once I arrived at my hotel I once again apologised before saying goodbye to the driver and walking into the hotel.
Collapsed within my room, my room's phone rang. I picked it up and it was the hotel owners brother-in-law. He said that they were having dinner in fifteen minutes and once again invited me to join them. I got ready quickly and headed down to the restaurant. Once there a very long table had been laid out with three bowls of Sukiyaki (a big bowl of broth held over a gas light with food cooking inside). I sat next to the family within the centre as friends joined the meal and filled the outer chairs. Though a little awkward at first I spoke to the family a lot and found out that their children go to the 'French School' in Tokyo. I also found out that Tokyo has a British school, American school and even an Indian school. Time rolled on with my 'adopted family' and events occurred just as they would at home; the children were running around with their new toys and the adults were talking as well as drinking. I felt extremely luckily and enjoyed every moment.
The night finished with a photo of all of us in the main hall. I asked if they wanted any money but I got refused; I then thanked them all and headed out into the night. Dodging the rain my objective was to buy the family a small gift. Having no idea where anything was (plus it was 9pm) I decided to head to my local convenience store which had an impressive array of chocolates. I bought three boxes and took them to my room; tomorrow they will give me a lift to the airport and I shall hand them the gift.
So my time on Miyako-jima has ended. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here and although the buildings, plus facilities, maybe in need of some repairs, it would appear that the island has got all of the important aspects well and truly covered. It is therefore with a sad feeling that I leave this chain of islands.
Tomorrow I shall fly to Ishigaki-jima where I need to have lunch, buy supplies for the next day and look at the ferry schedule over the holiday period. As I shall be staying on an island with only 300 people, I'm guessing internet maybe an issue so, I'll speak to you guys later.