Monday, 23 December 2013

You can't drive in Okinawa

Date: Monday 23rd December 2013

MP3 track of the day: Driving home for Christmas -Chris Rea

Weather: Cloudy but warm; t-shirt and shorts weather.

I woke up at around 6am and got ready quickly. I wasn't planning on leaving my hotel quickly, I wanted to update my blog and upload my photos from yesterday. Having uploaded my photos and having finished – but not uploaded – my blogs I checked the time to see that it was 8:30am. I therefore got out of my seat and headed towards the breakfast room for my free Japanese breakfast.

As I approached the breakfast room I noticed that there was a 'breakfast board' with prices on. After inquiring with the first waiter I saw, I soon discovered that breakfast was not free; infact it was over £10! A quick U-turn later and I was soon back in my hotel room packing. I finally checked-out, put my bags within my car and left the hotel, at around 9am, heading for my first destination of the day; Ocean Expo park.

Including a brief stop at a convenience store for breakfast, I found myself at the gates to the park at around 10am. The bizzare thing was, that it didn't cost anything to enter the park itself; you only paid when you did certain activities (for example: visiting the aquarium). This meant that it's grounds, which included a reconstructed ancient Okinawan village, rose gardens and beaches (as the park was situated right along the coast) were all free to walk around. Due to this I decided to walk around the Expo Park in a clockwise direction starting with the village and ending with the aquarium.

The reconstructed village was tiny but interesting. It reminded me of Tono's reconstructed villages due to the buildings being open for view and 'old people' waiting inside to fill you with Okinawan history … in Japanese ofcourse. The buldings themselves were not at all like the buldings within the Tono village and instead, held a closer resemblance to the buildings I saw on the islands of fiji; the roofs were made of thatch and the sides of the building were either stone or woven weed. I enjoyed roaming around this mock village freely however, it all felt a little 'too free'; since leaving the entrance gate I hadn't seen another sole. This continued through the rose gardens (which were beautiful) and the coastal walkways which went along the coast allowing me to take photos of the rocky outcrops, the beaches and the water as they merged together. These three parts made up the parks southern third which meant that I was back in the central area just before 11am. Once there I discovered where all the people had gone; they were all sitting within an open air performance area looking at a large tank of water waiting for a dolphin show to start (which started at 11am). After I dscovered that the show was twenty minutes long and free, I climbed up towards the back of the performance area and stood waiting for the show.

Now, I would lie if I told you that I didn't find the show entertaining. Four dolphins (and 2 larger fish 'things') performed a mixture of tricks including synicronised jumping, summer salts and back flips. My favourite was when the animals dived deep into the tank only to propel themselves into the air, doing a back flip before hitting a ball (with it's rear fin) dangling from a huge height above the tank. However, I'm sure you know what I'm going to say. Is it right to treat these animals in this way; are they suffering just for our enjoyment? They seemed genuinely happy, healthly and well looked after but, who really knows whats going on in their heads. I couldn't help thinking that humans wouldn't be treated like this and so why should animals; it was this thought which prevented a huge smile being projected upon my face each time they successfully performed one of their tricks.

After the show had ended I battled my way through the crowds and past the turtle enclosures to the north end of the park. Most of this part was either under construction or under repair however the beaches were still open, though a stange path had to be taken which went past the biggest building, being constructed, which I'd ever seen. I have no idea what this building will be for however, whatever it is it'll be big.

The beach had beautiful white sand, parm trees and a beautiful light-blue sea gently splashing upon the shore. I didn't spend long here as the beach wasn't that big; I took a few photos before proceeding back the way I'd come to a rest point where I bought a coke and took in the view. Like I said the Ocean Expo Park is built along the shore line; this means that the view was a panoramic one of white sandy beaches and calm light-blue seas. There was a beautiful small island in view too; it had a beautiful mountain right in the centre but sadly, the islands perimeter had been heavily developed.

Once I'd finished my coke I left the rest area and went towards my final attraction within the park; the aquarium. 1,800 Yen to enter was a little steep however, this was supposed to be the best aquarium within Japan. I also had issues with paying to see animals in tiny enclosures however, after wrestling with my conciounce, I paid the entrance fee and went in.

The aquarium was well laid out. It was planned logically with exibitions starting closest to the surface of the ocean and working downwards. First of all, there was an area where people could actually put their hands into a wide, but shallow tank and pick up the creatures within it. As you can imagine, this area was filled with children which, actually, I didn't mind. Sure I cringed as some children were a little 'stong' when picking up some of the creatures however, overall, having humans coming into contact with animals and removng that 'fear aspect' can only be a good thing.

Once past I went into an area focusing on 'coral life'. Though some species were in tiny compartments, a lot found themselves swimming within a large tank where people could walk around and view it from every angle. The fish within this part seemed to be very bright and matched the coral which they swam inbetween.

The next area tackled the 'middle area' of the sea. The excibition consisted of the biggest tank known to man which housed many types of sea creatures including manta-rays and huge sharks. The display was very impressive and became superb when you travelled though a glass tunnel which allowed for the giant sea creatures to glide above you. The three sharks (can't remember their 'type') where huge. There was a restaurant which had tables placed strategically so you could watch the fish as you ate however, even though I was starving the menu didn't appeal. Instead I went into a shark labortory where countless facts where on display to remove the myth of sharks being dangerious. Onced I finished reading all that there was on offer, I went back to the main tank where a diver had just entered with a camera in hand. The shots the diver got weren't any better than I could see myself and, due to all the dialogue being in Japanese, I left bound for the final exibition; the deep sea water area.

This was mainly small tanks, poorly lit, to reflect these creatures natural habitat. This meant that sometimes seening the animal was a little difficult but not impossible. Some creatures that far down are able to make light themselves and with the dark setting, which I found myself in, it was all the more impressive. Once I finished in this section I left the aquarium content that it was worth the entrance cost, that I'd learnt a lot but still concerned for the animals well-fare. I finally made it back to my car at around 3pm; four hours after I'd entered the park. I was only supposed to spend an hour or two tops as I wanted to drive to the northern tip of the island however, this was now out of the question due to time. I therefore left the carpark heading south towards Naha.

This time I decided to drive down the western coast which had it's benefits and problems. The western road, the '58', was a lot straighter than its eastern equlivant and, at leat at first, I made good time … for Okinawa. It wasn't until I got close to Naha (where I passed many American military bases) that traffic ground to a halt and I genually believed that walking was quicker. Due to the sheer amout of traffic lights, one-lane roads, stupid speed limits and a local population consisting of people (Japanese and American) who can't drive, I firmly believe now that you can't drive on these islands for enjoyment. I had longed to open up the full potential of the car however, as I returned it, I knew that I was never given the chance.

I need not have been worried about scratching the car as the collection people never even checked. I handed them the inspecton sheet, took out all my baggage and walked to the local monorail station. Once in town, I found my hostel within no time and although not as 'comfortable' as my hotel room the previous night (though this is only 1,000 Yen a night), it was certainly characterful and 'homely'. I therefore put my bags within my dorm and went out to buy dinner. After I retired to my hostel, with said dinner, I wrote this blog and uploaded all of my photos from the day.

So tomorrow I leave Okinawa's main island for Miyako-Jima, where I shall be spending Christmas. Tomorrow will be a 'moving day' as my flight is right in the middle of the day (3:15pm). So I'll next speak to you from the beautiful island of Miyako-Jima.

Toodle Pip!

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