Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Rainy in Okinawa

Well, don't let it be said you can't take something good out of a bad situation (that being said, I'm willing to honestly say that I'd prefer a less rainy situation). So, I've reached the Japanese island of Yonaguni. This is about as far as you can possibly go without leaving Japan, as I'm now much closer to Taiwan than I am to any place in Japan:

Taiwan's the big yellow island; Yonaguni is the little one marked in red; Tokyo and the Japanese mainland too far away to be in the picture frame

There's a number of upsides to being here:
- there's great diving
- it's entirely lacking in civilization... relatively speaking, of course. I thought the island looked somewhat similar to Fiji, but it is Japan, so it's much more developed than that, but it is very, very far from neon-lit techno-mecca that is Tokyo, Nagoya, etc. This entire island has 2 traffic lights...
- I've reached the last page of the Japan Lonely Planet guide book. This feels like an accomplishment, as if I've actually managed to go to the last outpost of this land... There's also very few foreign tourists - generally a plus.

And, presently, there is one big downside: the weather sucks! It was just gloomy and overcast when I arrived on Tuesday. Wednesday, diving day, it rained the vast majority of the day. We went diving anyway, and it was actually much, much warmer under water.

Diving, by the way, is the epitomoy of an inexact science - there's no point in having pre-conceived notions. I arrived here expecting hammerhead sharks at Irizaki point and underwater ruins at Oseki. Saw neither (waters too choppy at Oseki and waters not yet cold enough for the hammerheads to show up). Instead, we went diving through a maze-like cave labyrinth the first time, running into an eel that had to be at least 4 meters long sitting in its little crevasse, gaping its mouth. Second dive was at Irizaki - no sharks, but two big turtles swimming directly past us, reminding that these creatures, seemingly so slow and clumsy on land, are quire graceful under water. So, not quite overwhelming, but definitely worthwhile. If I get to see manta rays when I head back to Ishigaki tomorrow, the entire excursion will be worthwhile.

Other fun experiences here in Yonaguni:
- there's not a single restaurant on this island (as I mentioned, not particularly civilized by local standards). Plenty of tourists though (mostly local), so all the guesthouses include meals in their stay. At 5 o'clock, I went outside and saw the guys brining in a big fish they caught that afternoon and starting to clean it. 6 o'clock: dinner, with fresh sashimi!

Dinner-time with the Yonaguni Dive Service dive shop.

- I rented a scooter - this island does not require you to speak Japanese in order to give you a scooter, unlike Ishigaki... They were also every bit as fascinated by the International driver's license with its many, many pages as the cops in Russia. The island takes about an hour to drive around the entire perimeter. A good bit of sight-seeing along the way, and at least the rough seas made for some fun shots:

My scooter. Thailand, Indonesia, Japan... a scooter is still just a scooter. This one actually had the most rust on it.

Irizaki Point, where a rock, from nearby Taiwan, marks the Western-most point in Japan

Along the Southern coastline

Tachigamiiwa Butte, framed

And this is what you get from all those big waves crashing into the island (and keeping me from diving where I had wanted to to) - gigantic sprays of mist washing over the shore-line rocks.

And big azure waves crashing into the shore

And washing over rocks all along the coast

Making friends, trying to bridge the language barrier

- it is Japan after all, so there's internet access everywhere, including this remote island outpost, so I've had time for a couple of posts while passing the time here, watching the rain outside. I'm also having time to pretend to be vaguely intellectual by reading Oscar Wilde...

Also, a brief addendum to the last post - customs offices on both sides of the Pacific don't like dirty cars, so I had to wash the mini inside and out pretty thoroughly for ... for the first time ever, I suppose. Some interesting discoveries along the way: the dust from Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, etc. will probably be with the car forever. You run a rag over it and it changes color, but then it dries, and it turns out you just moved things around a little. Digging behind the rear seat turned up a couple of little souvernir trinkets I'd gotten for my uncle back in Berlin... which I had assumed were stolen in Krakow - who would've thought! I'm also not allowed to have anything in the car... so I had to empty and unpack all the crap in the car, and throw away most of it. Sorry, Cy, I'm afraid the Lada muffler and your recliner aren't going to make it back to Seattle after all. But if you want them badly enough, they're sitting on Joel's balcony - I'm sure he could find out how much it would cost you to ship them to Seattle. I'm willing to bit the answer is 'a whole hell of a lot' though.

Back to Ishigaki: early this morning, I started the slow and steady march towards modernization, starting at the remote outpost of Yonaguni, and eventually culminating back in Tokyo. This morning, it was merely a ferry ride back to Ishigaki - had to be the roughest sea faring trip I've ever been on as the ship's not particularly big, and the seas were plenty rough.

The ferry getting ready to depart the relative peach and quiet of the Yonaguni harbor

The waves build up strength as we're rounding past Irizaki Point

No real problems for any of the dozen or so passengers on board, but I doubt anybody but the crew found the ride particulalry comfortable. The unfortunate part came when we arrived back in Ishigaki, and the seas had failed to get any calmer. In fact, as it turns out, most of the dive operators on Ishigaki didn't go out at all today, and while they might be sending some ships out tomorrow, Manta Scramble, my manta ray destination of choice, remains completely inaccessible - 5 meter swells... So, this seems like the appropriate time to cut my losses here in Okinawa - tomorrow, continue heading back towards Tokyo. Naha first, then on to Hiroshima and Kyoto for some more standard Japan sight-seeing.

And a quick note on the astounding Japanese puncuality. The Yonaguni-Ishigaki ferry is scheduled to depart at 10:00 and arrive at 14:00. With the rough seas, the passage was going to take longer than normal, arrival time is clearly considered more important, so they bumped up the departure time and we left the dock just after 9 in the morning. After five hours of battling the elements, lo and behold, they were throwing lines to the docks of Ishigaki at exactly 13:59. 2PM arrial time accomplished! Maybe it is all coincidence, but it's uber-punctual Japan, I think they actually planned it.

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