Monday, 2 March 2015


We complete our circuit of Okinawa with a ride around the quieter northern end, where the forest still dominates the island and small villages are dotted along the coast.  We take the hilly eastern coastal road passing a few reservoirs where we can camp.  The grounds are beautifully manicured, there are toilets and picnic tables under roofs.  We start calling these 'pagodas' and welcome them when the rain draws in.  The sunshine becomes rarer and heavy grey clouds roll overhead every morning and evening.  Thankfully most of the rain comes in the night and we only have one really wet day on the bikes.  On this day we pass a man walking along the road with a trolley and an umbrella.  We stop to chat and he tells us he's walking around the island.  Judging by his speed, he'll do it before us.  We seek shelter under eaves of shops, in bus shelters or 'pagodas' to escape the heavier downpours.
local wildlife

One morning we are awoken by the 'Stars and Stripes'.  We thought we had camped in the middle of nowhere but not far along the road we come to a Marines "Jungle Training Camp".  I hope the gnats bite the marines like they bit us.  A bit further along the road are posters and a small tent with protesters against a helipad being built in the area. 
Finally we reach the northern cape and look forward to a strong wind blowing on our backs down the flat western coast road.  We've seen some locals on roadbikes riding in the hills and now we're on the low road by the sea we come across young Japanese touring in groups, usually with just a couple of panniers each.  We joke about how they probably won't get 10 metres above sea level.  Erik had warned us about the hills in the north - he had ridden the Tour of Okinawa last November with two friends and eventually they were disqualified because they were too slow - the hills beat them.  We are ready for a break and we think we have found the right place in the village of Hentona.  It's small and peaceful and there's a little patch of unused ground just by the tennis courts that looks perfect for camping on.  When the tide is in we can even hear the waves on the beach from our bed.

We hang out in Hentona for a few days.  One day there's glorious sunshine - perfect for the beach.  And then the clouds return and each night there is rain.  We are in limbo.  I don't mean we are listening to calypso music and practising how to dance under a low bamboo pole without putting our hands on the floor.  We're waiting for spring before heading to mainland Japan and we're hoping for more settled (i.e. sunny) weather so that we can visit some of the smaller islands along the way.  We resolve our internet access issue by sitting close to the nearby posh hotel on the beach.  There's a glass church (for show weddings, rather than worship) with a socket on its gatepost.  Yeah - internet and electricity.  Gayle is thus sitting on the pavement uploading photos while I am by the bikes in the carpark, sitting on the ground to sew a patch on one of my panniers.  The morning has been wet and windy but there's the promise of it clearing.  A car pulls up and a young man in a suit gets out and starts gathering things together, samples or gifts, for someone in the hotel.  I guess he's a salesman.  He tidies his hair, puts on his jacket and then spots me across the carpark.  For a very brief moment our eyes meet and I wonder if he's thinking what I'm thinking.  There he is, young and eager, in a sharp suit, hungry for success, and here I am, with a week-old beard, nowhere to go and sprawled on the ground. Poor sod.

We are awoken each day by the sound of tennis balls being thwacked around.  A group of women are clearly on a 'tennis' holiday with training each day.  But when Gayle starts chatting with the diminutive trainer she tells her that they are playing Japanese 'soft' tennis.  The ball is different, softer.  Up to that point we'd been really impressed by the standard of tennis.  Just next door is a 'pitch 'n' putt' course.  It's busy most days with pensioners playing a round of 18 holes.  There's a nice 'pagoda' here where we usually cook our tea in the evenings and a couple of times we meet Hiroshi, an old fella who speaks a little English.  He used to work for the Americans.  The second time we meet he invites me to have a go at the golf.  They only use one club - a bit like a wooden no. 2  I parr the first hole and eagle the next.  Hiroshi looks impressed.  But the ball is bigger than normal and the hole is the size of a dinner plate.  It seems that all the sports are made easier for the participants.  Before he leaves, Hiroshi fetches us a bag of chocolate bars from his car. 
the dining room
Having got into the lazy habit of eating instant noodles in the evenings in China and Taiwan, we are now happy to be cooking proper meals again in the evenings.  There are plenty of good supermarkets and having sussed out what ingredients we can find cheaply we now have the opportunity to be more creative.  So why are we eating so much spaghetti?

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