Thursday, 26 December 2013

Spending the night on Japan's most beautiful island

Date: Thursday 26th December 2013

MP3 track of the day: What are you going to do when you are not saving the world? – Man of steel

Weather: Miyako-jima; terrible; very windy and wet. Ishigaki-jima and Taketomi-jima weren't much better however, they were better.

I work up early to finish writing yesterdays blog. Once completed I got ready, packed my bags and headed down to the restaurant where I met the family for breakfast. The youngest of the children seems to have taken a liking to me and, as I ate my breakfast, he chatted to me continually (most of which I didn't fully understand, due to him being four). At about 9:15am I'd finished eating my breakfast and the youngest child had ran out of things to say. This was my queue to put on my coat, say goodbye to the family, and follow the hotel owners daughter and son-in-law to a car. With my bags in the back I jumped in. As we pulled out of the hotels car park I looked back at a place which will remain in my memory for years to come.

It wasn't long before we had reached the airport and I said goodbye to my new adopted family. I gave them the present, handed them my contact details and said goodbye. As I entered the building I gave them a final wave before walking into the building and up to the check-in desk.

Being a domestic flight check-in was a breeze and I soon found myself sat down waiting for my flight. Like normal, I'd chosen the front row of seats (within the waiting lounge) so that I could watch the planes come in and take off (however, trees blocked my view so why I chose the front seat I will never know). Behind me sat a whole high school of children plus teachers. These details are important because I had finished updating my diary and reading about my forth coming location; I still had over an hour to wait and so I inserted my memory stick and began to watch the only other Christmas film I'd brought – Love actually – forgetting that there are some quite graphic (naked) scenes. As one such scene appeared upon my screen I closed it quickly and slowly looked over my shoulder; how would I explain to a group of Japanese speaking high school students that the only foreigner in the airport wasn't watching porn. I continued to watch the film but kept an eye out for any other 'inappropriate scenes'.

With half an hour of the film left I had to shutdown my PC and board my flight. I walked down one of the departure tunnels and actually out onto the runway to meet my plane. What greeted me was a tiny propeller powered plane that looked as though it was built before I was born. As I sat down, within my allotted seat, I looked at the small tires outside (the wings were above the cabin meaning that I could look down, but not up) realising that this would be a good experience as I'd never been in a propeller powered plane before. However, at this point in time I just wanted to land safely so that it would be an experience that I could tell people about.

The flight was fine and, though slightly more turbulent, I'd been through worse on normal flights. The great thing about the wing being above me was that I could look straight down on to Okinawa's coral reef waters.

Once landed I breezed through the airport, picked up my luggage, and boarded a bus into town. After the first stop two 'nutters' boarded the bus and, of course being the only white face on the bus, they decided to talk to me. This provided great entertainment for the rest of the passengers however, I just wanted to be left alone. One 'nutter' tried to remember all the English he had learned which included 'thank you', 'yes', 'no' and 'this is a pen'; which, as you can imagine, made the conversation rather short and pointless. Still he continued and I pretended to forget all the Japanese I'd learned since coming here.

It seemed to take forever to get into town. Fortunately the bus stopped outside the ferry terminal and I bombed it inside. Within seconds my Japanese had returned as I spoke to a 'ferry ticket saleswoman' and asked about the ferry schedule close to the new year. It would appear that the schedule doesn't change and my planned trip to Taketomi-jima, and Iriomote-jima, can happen as normal. I thanked the lady and bought a '4-day pass', which worked out a lot cheaper than purchasing the tickets individually. I booked my ferry to Taketomi-jima for 3pm and phoned my accommodation to confirm a free pick-up from the ferry terminal. The time was 1:30pm and so I had plenty of time to head into town for lunch and to get food for my island stay.

A&W seems to be an American fast food chain which is popular here in Japan. I have never been to an 'A&W' and so, with limited time, I decided to change this fact and go in. I ordered a bacon burger, onion rings and a drink for £6. The size of the burger wasn't bad but the quality wasn't great; the reverse could be said for the onion rings. The drink was out of proportion to the meal as I was given a pint of coke. Once consumed I visited a local convenience store where I purchased enough food for tea tonight, breakfast and for snacks. Tomorrow, I have to take a ferry back here before heading off to Iriomote-jima; therefore I shall do the same then (i.e. buy food for my stay on Iriomote-jima). With all of my food purchased I headed back to the ferry terminal.

I had to wait twenty minutes before my ferry was scheduled to depart. It was a fifteen minute trip to the island therefore, either the island was very close or the ferry was very fast; unfortunately the later was the truth. The boat pushed it's way through the sea covering the glass pane I was looking through with water. As soon as the trip started, it ended. Feeling a little seasick I departed the ferry and saw a smiling woman looking at me and holding a sign. Within a flash my bags were in the car and we were off, driving up towards the only village on the island. The rain had eased by now which lead me to hope that the weather might improve.

It only took five minutes or so to reach my accommodation. I was staying at a 'minshuku'; a kind of Japanese home-stay with tatami floored rooms and home cooking. The place was fantastic and my room looked perfect. The drink they served me when I arrived however, wasn't. I have no idea what it was (lemon I think) but it was very bitter. Not wanting to be rude I decided to drink the whole thing in one go (when the owner wasn't looking) to not pro-long the bitter taste. Afterwards the lady told me that dinner was at six and breakfast at eight; I replied by saying that I hadn't ordered food however, she said that it was included within my booking (so I bought that food in Ishigaki for nothing). I smiled, thanked her, and then went to my room to put my stuff down and get ready for going out; the time was 3:40pm and so I only had two hours of day light left. As I was just about to leave the rain started to pour and the wind picked up; just my luck.

I found myself tip-toeing around this beautiful village avoiding the rain and wind. Where possible I took photos only in the direction the wind was blowing; this meant that my back caught all of the rain protecting my camera. The village here holds around 300 people; all houses are tightly placed together. As I was soon to find out it was a tiny maze due to all the buildings looking the same. All of the buildings have been built to traditional designs; mostly square in shape, these bungalows are mostly made of wood however the roof is made from terracotta-tiles. On most roofs, demons can be seen which, I suppose, have the same roll as gargoyles back at home. Surrounding each home are high rocky walls draped in flowers of some sort. Outside the wall is a sandy road which connects these houses together. I got out my MP3 player, selected the 'Superman – Man of Steel' classical album a friend gave me, and did the thing I always enjoy; I walked around the village, in a random direction, taking photos of anything and everything.

At around 5:30pm I decided that it was time to start to head back to my 'home stay'; but where was it. The village was only the size of a few football fields however, with everything looking the same, I ended up approaching parts of the village I'd approached previously from different angles. Time was passing on and even though I had a map and a compass, with everything looking the same (therefore no land references) it was pointless. I therefore asked a local who pointed me in the right direction. I eventually made it back to my home-stay around 5:45pm.

Soon dinner was called and a feast of sashimi (raw seafood), tempura, pork, cheese, miso soup, noodles and rice awaited me. There was also an egg side-dish which I avoided. The food was delicious and I ate it all quickly. Due to their only being six guests we all ate together however, no-one really spoke to me; I'm not sure if it was because they were shy, or that they felt that their English was inferior, however I tried to chat to them but they seemed to keep the conversation among themselves. I did however get invited to have a drink with them later, which I will do after this blog has been written.

So tonight I shall have a quick drink with the group before getting an early night (might finish watching 'Love actually'). Tomorrow the plan is to spend the morning on the island before returning to Ishigaki-jima for food and supplies and then taking the ferry to Iriomote-jima. I have to say; I wish I'd put in a 'day of rest' when I planned this trip.

I hope the weather improves tomorrow; Taketomi-jima is why I came to Okinawa!

Toodle Pip!

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