Sunday, 29 December 2013

Words cannot describe how beautiful Iriomote-jima is

Date: Saturday 28th December 2013

MP3 track of the day: Here in my car – Gary Newman

Weather: Superb! Blue skies, fluffy white clouds, bright sunshine and no rain or wind. The temperature was just about right too therefore, I couldn't of asked for better.

In life, you make terrible choices, bad choices, okay choices, good choices and superb choices. I would rate today's choice, of hiring a car, as superb. To some, it may seem too mundane to rate so highly however, with the weather turning from bad to perfect, the car allowed me to see as much of this beautiful island as I could possibly have seen. However, at 7am in morning I had no idea that hiring a car would turn out to, probably, be the best idea I had this holiday.

I was due to sleep in until 8am however, what seemed like gale force winds woke me up. It wasn't today that was worrying me (I'm British; I shall make the most of my time come rain or shine) but whether ferries would be operational the day after. I had to get off this island so that, on the 30th,I could catch my flight to Naha and then onto Tokyo. If all ferries were cancelled I had no idea what I would do and, it was this thought which kept me from drifting back to sleep. I therefore got up and found myself, unsurprisingly, ready way too early for my rental pick-up at 9am. I therefore sat upon my futon and read my book.

At 8:40am I moved to the 'shed' and awaited my pick-up. The owner was there, smiling as usual, and she asked me how I was. Ever since I've arrived she's been trying to force food, or drink, into me (after seeing her daughter, I can see that if I said 'yes' too often I would lose whatever figure I have left) and it feels as though I'm back at home with my mum. Even today; even though I arrived within the shed after breakfast (plus my pick-up was due within fifteen minutes) she still tried to feed me toast and when that didn't work, she gave me a rice ball (called an 'onigiri') to take with me. She's lovely but I didn't really want an 'onigiri' and now, I had the task of disposing it.

At nine on the dot a long haired, short-wearing surfer came in and introduced himself as my pick-up driver. We had to pick up one other guy and then we went back to his car rental office (which turned out to be a hotel with a 'car, scooter, bike and canoe' rental place attached). I signed the usual paperwork and made sure my license went back in the correct part of my wallet. I was then shown to my car which was a run-down Mitsubishi Wagon. This is a car unique to Japan and it is known as a 'K-car'. Within Japan there are two types of cars; your normal cars (with white number plates) and your 'K-cars' (with yellow number plates). Due to Japan having no resources what-so-ever, the 'K-cars are extremely economical when it comes to fuel (the government also gives you a lot of benefits if you choose this type of car). I drive a 'K-car' at home and I knew the above already; I also knew that this car had no power at all. Still it didn't matter; I put the car into drive and chugged along as happy as a sand boy (what is a sand boy?).

The plan for today was to drive the entire length of the only main road on the island (stopping all the time to take photos). The road only goes around half of the island (the other half is all jungle) and so I headed to the roads most northern point. I had promised myself that I wouldn't stop until I reached the 'north' however, with the sun out, the sky blue and just a few fluffy white clouds dotted around, the temptation to start photographing straight away was just too great. I avoided most possible stops however a bridge, with a viewing platform which over-looked mangrove swamps, jungle and sheer peaks on one side plus coral waters and smaller mountains on the other, proved too much of a temptation. I stopped, ate breakfast (which didn't include the onigiri), and took a lot of photos before continuing north.

At the most northern end of the road is a small town called Shirahamma. As it turned out their school marked the end of the road. I pulled into a car park along the harbour front and got out. The sun was out and the temperature had risen; without the wind it was warm enough for just a t-shirt so I removed my jumper and got to work. After photographing the fifteen buildings gathered there, I moved onto the coastline; the harbour seemed to have a natural wall consisting of two high peaked islands with a passage to their right. This created some wonderful photo opportunities.

Once done I headed back towards my accommodation, stopping every-so-often to photograph the nature which consumed both sides of the road. Throughout the day the inland side consisted of mangrove swamps, dense jungle, tiny rivers (flowing through said mangrove swamps) and huge peaks covered in Jungle plants. The coastal side included beaches, tiny islands, coral reefed waters and high peaks plunging directly into the sea. Now, viewing the same aspects all day may sound boring however, with my change of position those aspects got jumbled around and I never got bored with any view I found. In fact, by the end of the day, I wished I had longer.

After taking some panoramic views from a beautiful bridge, I found a sign which pointed to some waterfalls. I pulled into the, already full car park, and made a space for myself. The waterfalls had to be accessed via boat (which meant more money) and my guidebook stated that it would take three hours or so. I decided that, if I had time, I'd think about it at the end of the day. For now though, a path leading into the jungle tempted me even more than the boat.

I couldn't read the sign however, from the pictures and map present, I reckoned that the path led to some ruins lost within the jungle; I also worked out that they were only a 1,000 meters away. Unfortunately the islands of Ishigaki have a highly poisonous snake and, really, you shouldn't venture into the jungle by yourself (especially without letting anyone know). I ummed and arrred for a second; the path seemed well worn and, as long as I kept to said path, I was sure that the 'Habu snake' wouldn't make an appearance. I also knew that, if I didn't take any risks, I wouldn't see anything therefore, I ventured forth into the jungle at speed, eyes fixed on the ground scanning for movement.

Very occasionally I lifted my head from the path and saw a jungle not too dissimilar from Malaysia's. It was beautiful however I also knew that it could be dangerous therefore, no photos were taken. To view the ruins I had to climb onto a wooden platform, which meant that I could take my eyes off the floor as I'm sure snakes can't climb stairs. I got my camera out and photographed the few ruins which remained. Though few in number they were interesting and extremely photogenic as the local trees, and vines, had wrapped themselves around them. The ruins were made of brick therefore, they weren't that old.

After I'd seen the ruins I almost ran back through the jungle; I finally exited it without even seeing a snake. I got back in my car, had a drink and drove on. I then continued to stop every few minutes to let my camera absorb the feast of beauty which lay before it. Normally I would try and park sensibly however, sometimes to the get the perfect angle, there wasn't a car park for miles and so I became Japanese, which meant I parked on the road (I say parked; more like abandoned), switched my hazard lights on, and got to work. Obviously I wasn't the only one taking full advantage of the views plus the weather; I kept on meeting the same faces as I drove from viewing point to viewing point. I met a family whose younger daughter had taken an interest in me; I spoke to the dad briefly and discovered that he lived here.

Time rolled on and, though it seemed like minutes, I had been driving, and shooting, for well over six hours. At this point I found myself at the most southern end of the road which finished at a beach. Beautiful butterflies showed the way, through a perimeter of vegetation, to one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. The sand was white, the sea a light-blue colour and beautiful 'jungle-infested mountains' formed a clear boundary. It was heaven though sadly, I didn't have that long to enjoy it. I took my photos and returned to my car where I met the 'father-and-son' combo from the hotel. They had now been joined by the youngest son – who was extremely good at speaking English – and they all seemed equipped to catch butterflies. I exchanged pleasantries but didn't join them when offered as 'A', time was running out and 'B', catching animals is not my cup of tea. I therefore got in my car and headed back the way I'd come.

I made two additional stops on the way back; neither were long stops as I had to return the car by 5:30pm. First I went to see a tree, and then I drove to a wildlife park which was closed. As things had started to close I drove all the way back to my 'home town' – Uhara – where I bought some Milky Ways (British chocolate; you don't understand how rare it is … however the price was almost double what I though it would be) and filled up the car. I then returned the car and the same guy, who picked me up this morning, dropped me back at my accommodation. As he took me back I reflected on the day; even though my holiday isn't over it's going to be hard to beat today. Iriomote-jima is beyond beautiful and the weather had been perfect. I felt blessed and, I realised that days like to day is why I love traveling and why I came to Okinawa. All of the traveling and expense had been worth it.

Once back at my accommodation I wrote this blog and ate dinner (another instant ramen). Finally I looked at the ferry schedule for tomorrow wondering what the best course of action would be. Without a car there is little point in staying here for any amount of time and yet, the mornings weather here has never been good for traveling. Still I decided to leave here around 8am and catch the 8:30am ferry, getting me into Ishigaki-jima at 9:15am. I could then drop my bags off at my hotel and get something to eat. After this I had two ideas; if the weather remains amazing I could return to Taketomi-jima and photograph the hell out of it (remember, I bought a 4-day ferry pass so I can still use it). However if the weather is bad I can stay within the town of Ishigaki, buy some mementos and photograph the town. With that decided I retired to my room to get an early night.

Fingers crossed the weather is good tomorrow.

Toodle Pip!

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