Saturday, May 14, 2011

Captain's Log: Okinawa Two for Two

Since my last trip to Okinawa was a little short and rather rained out, I was really looking forward to some fun in the sun beach time.


I think I’ll just hit the highlights (as usual, if you click through to the album, you'll find more photos, and some videos too!). One great thing about this trip was, the first half mirrored in many ways the trip I took last year. Then, I was not really involved in the planning at all, but this year I took an active role. The joy of staying in a place you have stayed before is in the comfort. Comfort of knowing what a place looks and feels like, knowing its value, knowing how to find it, how far it is from things, where to get good food nearby, etc.

As I travel more, I’m learning about the balance between the convenience of staying in one place, and the desire to hop around and cover more ground. It’s nice to leave all your stuff somewhere, and not have to find a new place and make a new bed every night, and check out by 10, and be all packed up every morning.

This trip spanned from the 30th, when we flew from Kobe in the afternoon, to (for me) the 8th when we flew back. That’s a solid 8 days of vacation (for the price of only two days of work days skipped). Our group was 6 people strong, with three returning on the 5th (unable to take that second day off, alas!).

The itinerary ended up looking like this (though some of it was made up as we went along):
30th – Travel from Kobe to Naha
1st – Naha morning, to Zamami
2nd – Zamami
3rd – Zamami morning, to Naha
4th – Naha environs (Okinawa World Park, as it turned out)
5th – 3 return super early am, other 3 make their way at some point from Naha to Motobu (Nago)
6th – Motobu (Aquarium and Ocean Expo Park)
7th – Nago, last beach chance
8th – from Nago to Shiso, a full 9 hours travel

Naha is the capital of Okinawa, and is in the south half of Okinawa Honto (main island). We stayed the first night near Kokusai Dori, which I had only visited maybe once on my first trip, but which is apparently the tourist Place To Be, the best place for ridiculousness, foreign food, souvenirs, and shopping.

Froggie bags. Ew..
From Okinawa Take Two

We stayed at a hostel called Kashiwaya, which happened to be above a bar, which happened to have 200yen beer (Orion of course!) happy hour, in which we indulged quickly (we only had like half an hour of it left) while sitting up in a loft seat area. It tasted like the start of a very good vacation. That night, we went out to Kokusai Dori to get silly, ended up singing karoke (seriously, we sang “Picture” duets three full times) with some military guys; I tried the snake sake that you see in lots of sake shops and found it actually really tasty (surprise to me, because I don’t much like the awamori, Okinawa’s other claim to fame). We ate stuff like umi-budou (sea grapes.. actually kinda salty), and I had goya (which made everyone else not want to share with me).

Zamami, of course, you know from last year’s rain-camping adventure, psychic bartender, dog that looks like a teddy bear, snorkel trip, and Star Sand Beach being just out of reach. Our triumphant return to the island had us sleeping not in tents, but in the Okinawa Resort, girls in a cabin and our lone male companion in a separate dorm box. It wasn’t raining too much, really, just lightly. We had Italian for dinner.

Everyone in the back of the mystery van!
From Okinawa Take Two

That night it was just cloudy, so we took a “Mystery Tour” given by the delightful owner of the hotel complex, a man of many hats (cook, baker, whale watcher, diver, etc.) and checked out some fun bioluminescent krill, then we collected creatures for the next morning’s shell soup breakfast (seriously, we were served the stuff the next morning). The breakfasts also had fresh-made bread from our host/leader/cook/owner guy.

From Okinawa Take Two

The next day was our Zamami beach day! We sampled two of Zamami’s beaches, one next to the old campsite (now full of occupants, poor devils), and the other over the hill in the opposite direction. We all liked Furuzamami a bit better; it was deeper and more interesting. It was here that I made the mistake of not applying enough sunscreen to my legs, and in early-afternoon lying-in-the-sun-reading way, I would later pay for this.

From Okinawa Take Two

That evening, after cleaning up, we stopped for drinks in a delightful little place near our cabinette (okay, nothing is really far away on Zamami, I think?) called Sayby Dee. It was glorious – there were coconut shakes, with rum. We bummed around, attempted to “bar hop” and watched a fire-spinning show, ended up at the swank looking place in the center of town chatting with Brits and people on vacation from Tokyo.

Coconut awesome kampai!
From Okinawa Take Two

The next day, I needed to fulfill my attempt to make it to Star Sand beach, so when the others went back to the nice beach (and I was still “in as much pain as I deserve” for my sunscreen deficiency), I rented a bike after breakfast and went on my way. Star Sand beach, though, isn’t that far from where we were staying, so to make it worth my while, I made a few stops here and there at what looked like trailheads. I wandered around a couple of woodsy areas, getting drenched in sweat and one time totally lost, thus fulfilling my obligation to go and do that by myself at some point on the trip.

Finally found the way out..!
From Okinawa Take Two
I finally made it to Star Sand, but there was no star sand to be found, at least not by me. There were lots of interesting creatures, and the beach was overcast and not so nice for idling at. Above it, there was a space of strangely green grassy hills. After I’d poked around a bit, I decided to go back. Just as I got to the bike, it began to rain again, and I rode back through it, much like last year.

From Okinawa Take Two

Not a one.
From Okinawa Take Two

After we all got cleaned up again (this time at borrowed showers, having checked out that morning), we stopped in for more coconut shakes (they just tasted like beach vacation, it was perfect) before our ferry back to the mainland at 5. As we sat, it rained harder, then began to pour. I actually ran back (being the only one endowed with an umbrella, I mean, parasol) to ask the resort people to give us a ride to the port, close though it was, because of all our stuff and the pouring, driving rain.

From Okinawa Take Two

That night, we stayed in Kerama Guest House, where I’d stayed last time, only instead of the private room, we had to stick to dorm-style. We went out to eat at a restaurant shaped like a tree, then back to Kokusai Dori and wandered around, this bar too dim/classy, that one too full, that one in dinner mode, til eventually ending up in a very boyish bar where I played Bomberman on SuperNES with a cute Japanese guy until he and his friends left to go clubbin’ and me and my friends left to go sleep.

From Okinawa Take Two

Wednesday morning, we weren’t really sure what to do; we wanted to rent a car and go tooling around to some shops and a beach and some caves I had some vague notion about. But being dead center of Golden Week, and us with no reservation, no car was available. We eventually settled on Okinawa World, home of the caves (to which we had to take two cabs… we have decided that 4 is the optimal travel group size). I was in a weird state of mind while walking through the surprisingly huge underground trail, kept seeing characters, gnomes, dwarves, nymphs half-turned in all the stalagmites. The caves were pretty awesome, humid and slippery, and when we emerged, we’d walked across the whole park. We wandered back through Okinawa-themed shops and tree groves and stopped for a beer, then to watch the Eisa Dance show, which was also awesome (sort of a display of traditional Okinawan dance… the feel was half-real, sort of like having an “Okinawa World” theme park… in Okinawa). 

Okinawa wooooorld!
From Okinawa Take Two

I found a Shisa Museum, and as you may know, I love the Shisa; those lion-dog guard figures are kickass and special. We had super buffet lunch at about 2:20, and went back to nap and clean up. 

Arty books in Moon Bar
From Okinawa Take Two

The evening was spent out on Kokusai Dori again, stopping at Moon Bar (where I got really engrossed in the books provided) along the way. We had burgers at a little hidden place called Zooton's, but the burgers were laced with heaven.. seriously, the best burger I may have ever eaten, ever. We wandered some more, and eventually turned in.

From Okinawa Take Two

Thursday morning, in the wee hours, half our group rolled out, leaving the kids behind, as it felt. We had neither guidebook, nor any real plan, so we kicked off the day with going to check out the Dragon Boat races near the port. They were fun to watch, but the rain picked up, and it became no longer fun to stand in gross puddles watching strangers strive for victory, so we left to get lunch and catch our bus north (we’d gotten advised on what bus to take, and had found the stop and everything!).

From Okinawa Take Two

Unable to find any open restaurants, we opted to get out of Naha right on the spot, and get a late lunch in Nago. The bus ride was long and uneventful, though we did roll by Kadena, which Kameron sort of remembers from living there about the first ten years of his life.

From Okinawa Take Two

We grabbed a quick lunch, and almost missed the bus to our condo (it left early! But then saw our forlorn faces at the crosswalk and stopped for us). The condo itself (On The Beach Lue) was bright and lovely, if a bit old-smelling. Paying for all three nights up front exhausted most of our funds, though, and our local bank was not going to be funding us through any ATM on a HOLIDAY (seriously, this is one thing I will never understand).

The Condo.
From Okinawa Take Two

The View from The Condo
From Okinawa Take Two

Of our group, Kam had 6 yen, Adina had like 9, and I had about 9000, total (including the emergency 100,000 I had busted out already). We also did not have a car, or bikes (the place had TWO to rent.. but there were three of us). The nearest ATM was 4km away. So, because we’re stubborn, or troopers, or idiots, we walked 4km toward “town” and came first upon a MaxValu. Hallelujah. We wanted to supply our kitchen for a sweet breakfast Friday and Saturday. We stocked up and headed back, dreaming of the yakiniku place we’d stopped to ask about on the way to the store.

Who needs money when you got legs?
From Okinawa Take Two

When we got back, it was full, the empty tables reserved. We were so mad, but grateful when a km later, the Hawaiian restaurant we’d seen (and thought would be closed by 8) was open. We gratefully tucked in to some awesome taco rice. Then went home to watch TV and hang out until bed.

Friday was to be the Aquarium day, since Adina was super excited about that, and part of the attraction of Motobu was that. I woke up feeling nauseous, got sick, and hoped it was over with that, though I sadly did not want any part of the grand breakfast of pancakes, eggs, bacon, etc. we’d all planned the night before.

Sadly, this day had some of the best weather we saw all trip.
From Okinawa Take Two

I tried to be able to go with them, I really did. I went so far as to sit at the bus stop, but it was just not happening. I knew if I went, I would just be miserable the whole time. I had thought maybe the problem was being in the condo, that I was allergic to something there, but even being outside by the beach before the bus came by (oh, and it was sunny.. maaan!) didn’t really fix anything. I stayed home all day, sleeping, getting sick, and lying there miserably.

I hear that Ocean Expo Park is awesome, and that the aquarium is too (though Georgia’s is better, word), so I’ll have to check that out someday.

Brewery of the Beer of Beers
From Okinawa Take Two

Saturday, our last day, we thought we’d go into Nago (the main city up there in Motobu) and get souvenirs, have “real Mexican tacos,” and also eat at A&W (roooooootbeeeeeeerfloats!)… but it turns out, Nago doesn’t have a central shopping district, or if it does, we never found it. We walked to the Orion brewery, which was closed, then wandered around until we got omiyage (treats for people back home) at a different MaxValu (we avoided buying them earlier so we wouldn’t have to carry them to Motobu and back.. hah!).

From Okinawa Take Two

The tacos were divine, and although I only was able to have 5 tiny tacos (Kam had like 16, Adina 9), they were the most authentic I’ve had in Japan. The owner, it turned out, had studied in Mexico, along with one of the guys there that day.

We returned to decompress and beach it, because it was actually sunny(!) and rather warm. It had clouded a bit by the time we got back, but we did some beach-lyin (me) and beach-combin (Adina), and some beach-rock-climbin (Kameron). Dinner was a beachside BBQ at our hotel restaurant porch, way too much food, but really good. Then we played with sparklers on the beach, and never drank a single beer from the 6 pack we’d bought that first night in.

Expelliarmus! (When I later performed the same charm, I almost set Kameron on fire)
From Okinawa Take Two

The next morning, I felt kinda sick again, but I kept it together by only eating a piece of toast for breakfast, and a glass of root beer for lunch at the airport. By the time I got home, I had moved up to soup!

Needless to say, by the end of the trip, we were pretty done, and glad to get back home to our little houses and routines. Shiso, on return, smelled fresh and cool and clean, and the humidity was blissfully low. The conclusions we drew from our experiences were the following:

Hokkaido (post coming soon!) was lower-stress because we all had our own rooms for basically the whole time (this also, unfortunately, cost two arms and a leg).
The ideal travel group size is 4. The ideal trip length is about 5 days. It is better to stay in fewer places, maybe two.

Apologies for the rambling nature of this post.. it’s more of a memory piece for myself than anything. Hope you enjoy the photos, though!

Look forward to the Monday adventure which followed immediately!

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