Monday, 9 March 2015

down and out in okinawa

We've been cycling a couple of hours when a sheet of rain hits us full on.  We have seen it coming and typically there's nowhere to escape from it. Except...
"Gayle, you've just passed a bus shelter!!"
"Back there, on the corner".
We are going up a steep hill, and we quickly turn around and coast down to the corner to the bus stop.
"That's not a bus stop, John."  Gayle is, as ever, correct.  It's a brick building housing a water pump and there's no room for us.  We merrily turn around and plod up the hill.  At the top we stop under a tree for a breather.  A group of about ten cyclists appear behind us, riding an assortment of bikes.  They are on the pavement.  
"Where are you going?" a woman asks.
"Err, we don't know" we reply honestly.  The woman laughs and shouts to her friends "They don't know where they're going!"  We catch up with them at a 'pagoda' next to a long sea bridge to an outer island.  They are from Hong Kong, on a week's cycling holiday.  Daytrippers.  One of the men weighs up our bikes. "Heavy?"
"About 50kg?"
"Slow on the hills, eh?"
He nods and smiles knowingly.  There's almost a look of pity on his face.  But he doesn't know we topped out at 4,655 metres on this journey and I really want to tell him. Oh well.  They head off into the rain and we think about camping early.  There's a track rolling up the hill opposite towards some pine trees and a radio mast.  We can get water at the Italian restaurant down the road.  We find a grassy path up on the hill and pitch the tent as soon as the rain has stopped.  We have a room with a view.
sadly not the season
The top tourist draw on Okinawa is the aquarium.  It's the second largest in the world.  Gayle noticed that the entry ticket is cheaper after 4pm so we turn up with a group of others at the appointed hour and spend a wonderful two hours or so wandering through the displays.  The Main Show is the big tank.  Before we reach it I notice a small theatre with seats so I go in to have a sit down.  In front of me is a large screen and there are a few big fish and mantas swimming around.  I'm looking into the big tank.  There's no-one else here.  I call Gayle in and we stand and watch as the fish and rays swim past.  And then all of a sudden the window is filled with one huge shape. A huge wide mouth and fins.  A whale shark - the biggest fish in the world.  Wow.  We could reach out and touch it, but for the two-feet thick glass between us.
Down below you get a full view of the tank through an absolutely enormous window about three storeys high.  There are three whale sharks and this enormous tank suddenly seems a bit small for such large creatures.

the manta is massive...
The aquarium is set in large landscaped grounds with lots of 'pagodas', a beach, toilets and rest areas with tables and chairs and wi-fi.  There are flower gardens and a large recreation of a typical Okinawan village with examples of the different homesteads over the last two hundred years, based on constructions still surviving.  Okinawa is the largest of the Ryukyu Islands which existed as an independent set of kingdoms until the Japanese moved in in the 1880s.  The villages were built according to rules on social status and the geography.  We enjoy pottering around and, as we are in no rush to go anywhere, move in for a few days.  Except that even the most artful dosser would be hard-pressed to get around all the security.  So, we opt to camp in nearby locations each night and return during the day.  The nights are wet and windy but the days are generally dry, if grey.  It is beginning to dawn on us that Japan might just have weather that most resembles that of the UK. there wi-fi?
We potter about and do exciting things like catching up on 'computer tasks', a spot of laundry and looking at routes on the mainland.  We also need to research ahead for what to do after we have visited Korea.  Cycling around the back roads we come across quite a few of the old one-storey traditional wooden houses still lived in.  These are lovely and the style has been copied, sometimes successfully, in concrete but you can't beat the originals.  It seems remarkable that there are still any standing - so much would have been destroyed in the war.  
a safe arbor
We camp in a 'pagoda' surrounded by tidy allotments for a couple of nights and are awoken each morning by farmers coming at first light to tend their crops.  In the evenings we are lulled to sleep by the omnipresent tannoy announcements in each village.  No matter where we camp, we always hear the dong-dong-a-ling.  It feels a bit surreal at times - as if you can never escape.  There are signs all over Okinawa telling you your current altitude above sea level with advice on what to do if there's an earthquake and/or tsunami warning.  At 8 metres you have to clear out.  At 76 metres you are probably okay - the tsunami which took out the Fukushima nuclear plant was 40 metres high.  Sleeping on the beach suddenly seems like a risky business rather than a romantic activity.

23 metres - our last camp in Okinawa

No comments:

Post a Comment