We’re sitting here, out on the balcony of our apartment in Austria. Vienna, to be precise.
While consuming our gourmet meal of baked potato, baked beans and salad (compliments to the chef, Liesel), we were treated to the sight of a glorious double rainbow. I was looking out for it because the temperature dropped, the Sun was low enough and clouds were in the right place. Suddenly, there it was. One rainbow at first and then, coyly, the second one emerged.
If it weren’t for the building over the road, we might have seen one end, if not both ends, of the rainbow disappear into the sea, something neither of us have ever witnessed.
Hang on a minute, you’re thinking… Vienna? The sea? Have you gone mad in all that hot sunshine? Well, no, I don’t think so.
Actually, we’re still in New Zealand, of course, and we’re staying at The Austria Motel in Paihia. Our room is called Vienna rather than just plain old Room Number 1.
We booked this place through Airbnb, and I think it’s the first time we’ve not booked a private house via that site. (This is going to cause all sorts of problems when I do a statistical analysis of our travels. Does this count as Airbnb or Motel? Should I split Airbnb into two sub-categories, Private Residence and Motel? And should the Turning Up At A Motel category stay? Should I categorise by how the booking was made or by the type of accommodation it is? Nightmare.)
It was raining on our final morning on Waiheke so that made it easier to leave. Fi was having her hair cut so we thought we’d have breakfast out rather then disturb her and the hairdresser in the kitchen. We went back to Onetangi for a s-l-o-w breakfast. Our ferry ticket was for 1.30pm and although we considered catching an earlier one, that didn’t prove practical: the preceding boat left at 11.00am.
After the leisurely breakfast, we took a short walk along the beach but a few drops of rain soon sent us back to the car. We did see some wildlife though: a snake on a house and a flock of oystercatchers on the beach.
At the ferry port, I wandered around to pass the time and to get some exercise. The sea water was beautifully clear although I didn’t see any interesting wildlife here. I did however find a wonderful art installation on the beach. I think the underlying message is one of hope, that a good day will come along soon when you can take that leaky old boat out onto the water one more time.
After driving off the ferry, we followed our noses to and through Auckland, headed north on State Highway 1 and listened to our own music! Yes, it took some doing but we beat the totally nonintuitive control panel of this awful red car to connect my phone by bluetooth and to actually get sound out of the car’s speakers.
It was a very pleasant drive, the landscape was very changeable but always easy on the eye. Fields of cows and goats and even horses outnumbered fields of sheep, which was surprising. Also surprising was the amount of traffic. We thought it would ease off once we left the big city, but no, there were many more people on the road than anticiapted.
We found our accommodation in Paihia easily and settled in for a good night’s sleep.
In the morning, we went for a walk along the track to Opua Forest Lookout. It was a 40-minute hike through the bush mostly in an upward direction, but shaded under the canopy. (Actually, the word for ‘hike’ in NZ is ‘tramp’ but I’d feel awkward telling Liesel one day, “I’m just going out for a tramp.”)
The view from the lookout was stunning. We could see all the way round from Waitangi to Russell, with the sea and a few islands in between. This is why I particularly wanted to revisit the Bay of Islands, with Liesel.
There was an enormous cruise ship in the bay. A middle-aged couple also enjoying the view were discussing the pros and cons of going on a cruise. “It’s not just for old people, any more” was the consensus. And the crew come from all over the place, Italy, Switzerland, Australia, even Ukraine. So now you know.
The soundtrack to our walk, hike, tramp was provided by cicadas. I saw a couple of them fleetingly as they climbed a tree, but mostly we saw nebulous clouds of bugs just too far away to study in detail.
Once again we enjoyed the fractal beauty of the ferns. I think New Zealand could make use of this plant as an emblem of some sort.
On the way down, we enjoyed watching a family of quails crossing the path: Mum, Dad and six, seven, eight chicks. And another one. The chicks avoided falling into the ditches either side of the path which is quite a feat for such a little bird.
We also met two groups of Chinese people heading up, and both asked how long would it take and would they have enough time before running back for their coach? Liesel and I were glad that we had no such schedule.
There was a craft fair in town which we walked through very quickly: there’s always something really good that we can’t afford and/or don’t really need and/or don’t want to carry around with us.
While not looking at rainbows and eating on the balcony, we’ve been watching the goings-on in his lovely little town. It’s very popular with tourists: this is my third visit in 25 years too!
The New Zealand flag by our motel has faded with time. The limp, pink, white and blue of the union flag in the corner is a metaphor for something.
On the other corner is a new New Zealand flag featuring a fern. And I was saying they should celebrate this plant just a few paragraphs ago!
You can go on a sightseeing helicopter ride, and the helipad is just along the road, so it’s a bit loud and drafty when it comes by.
We saw the traffic warden doing his rounds. He was marking car tyres as he walked by: he’ll come back after the permitted 120 minutes to check up. His 8-stone frame is quite intimidating and made much more fearsome by the hi-vis vest he’s undoubtedly sweating in.
We saw red parachutes hanging in the air, over the water it seemed from our viewpoint, but we have no intention of doing a skydive this time. Although, when I saw the poster advertising a jump from 20,000 feet altitude, very nearly in space, I was momentarily tempted. 12,000 feet is my record. So far.
At regular intervals, the coaches disgorge their passengers who set about seeing the town with one eye on the clock as mentioned before. We did a couple of one-day guided tours in Japan and it’s really not the best way to see a place: too much information, too fast.
This KitKat was much nicer than some of the weird KitKats sampled in Japan!
This entry will over-use the words ‘hot’, ‘sticky’ and ‘sweaty’, so be warned. The first thing we noticed when we got off the plane at Nadi Airport was the heat. It was hot. 29°C, about 375°F, much like an oven.We instantly became sticky and sweaty.
We were greeted at Nadi Airport by a trio playing us a lovely welcome song. The Feejee Bee Gees, possibly.
Chore 1: buy a portable wifi device. Yes, buy. I thought we were renting it but the answer to the question “Do we bring it back to this desk?” was “No, it’s yours to keep.” I don’t know whether it’s 4G or Feejee 3G.
Chore 2: see if we can get Feejee money from the ATM, and we did, on the first attempt. Feejee dollars.
Chore 3: buy some sunblock. It was hot.
It was hotter outside. And because neither of us had slept particularly well on the 8-hour flight from Tokyo, we were both a little cranky too. For the first time ever, I was able to lie down and spread out over four seats, but I still found sleep hard to come by.
We located the bus to take us to our next place of accommodation, and when we saw one without windows, we thought, that’s great, cheap aircon. Our bus had proper aircon though, so less hot, sticky and sweaty. The entertainment for the first two hours of the ride was reggae, including reggae versions of songs that came from other genres, pop, rock and so on.
But just before we reached our final destination, someone put in a movie DVD: Rules of Engagement. Well, that brought me out of my torpor. Loud, violent, lots of swearing, ideal for the young families squashed together on the bus. I dozed a bit, but from the bus, we saw a horse (a Feejee geegee), a buffalo and a goat. Plus mangoes. Hundreds of mangoes being sold by the roadside. Quite a few mangos too.
Our destination was Pacific Harbour Post Office. Of course, we got off a stop early. Outside the Police Station. The officers were very helpful though, suggesting we don’t walk to our b&b in this heat with those bags, it’s too hot. We used their toilet and their phone and in the end, we took a taxi. Doug, our host, was expecting to meet us at the Post Office. When we phoned him, we got his wife, who was at home. A lot of confusion, made more frustrating by being all hot and bothered by the heat, and tired as well.
Doug’s a Kiwi, he showed us our place, and we had a lie down. No aircon here, but there is a fan, we’ll need that, he assured us.
He drove me to the local shop where I was able to buy a converter for the electric supply.
“Two seventy-five”, said the shop assistant.
I started counting out three $100 bills, those being what the ATM gave me.
“No, mate, two dollars, seventy-five.”
Tired. Not thinking straight. And used to the big numbers of yen in Japan, 100 yen is about 66p. $2.75 here is about £1.10. We’ll have to be careful about that.
There is no hairdryer. Liesel hasn’t not used one for eighteen years. I asked for a cheap one in the shop. No, mate. They don’t use hairdryers in Feejee, apparently.
I went for a quick walk to the beach. It was 6.00pm and still light. In Okinawa, at 5.35, boom, out goes the Sun. It’s light here until about 7.45. And hot. I was sweaty and sticky so I had a quick shower before going to bed. It was still light.
The birds outside are loud. Bulbuls or songthrushes, it’s hard (for us) to tell, but this chap would make a terrific alarm clock.
Despite the heat and no aircon, just a fan and being a bit sticky, we slept well. Doug gave us a ten minute warning that he was driving to Suva. He’d offered us a lift, it’s 48 km away, so we left without breakfast.
His wife, Loata, drove along roads that varied between Surrey-style patched quilt and potholes, to quite nice surfaces for the odd couple of metres. The drivers here are mad, we’re now glad we didn’t rent a car. Suva was very busy and after being dropped off in the heat, we were very sticky by the time we’d reached the hotel bar over the road. Yes, the bar. We were one minute late for breakfast in the restaurant so instead, we were shown to the bar where we had a late breakfast or early lunch, looking out over the pool with the ocean beyond. Naturally, I had English breakfast tea: Feejee Tips.
We crossed the road again and walked through the Botanical Gardens. Crossed the road! If only it were so easy. In Japan, everyone waited at crossings for the green man to appear, even if there was no traffic in sight. Jay-walking was strictly forbidden. Here in Feejee, in Suva at least, jay-walking is pretty much compulsory. You, well, we, stayed close to locals and followed them across the road: safety in numbers!
It was hot in the gardens and we built up quite a sweat by the time we reached the Museum.
The cashier told us the fee, $10 each, and I pulled out what I thought was a $20 bill. But no, it was a $7 banknote: an easy mistake to make as they’re more or less the same colour.
The museum has artefacts from as far back as 3500 years ago. I found the boats most interesting. And the language, which seems very similar to Maori, even Hawaiian. Wai is water in all three. Waqa is a canoe here, waka is a canoe in New Zealand.
The gift shop had aircon on, full blast. You hang around in there too long, and all the sweat will freeze on your skin, brrr.
Feejee is populated by people from all over the place. Indians were brought over as indentured workers in the early 19th century, and there is still a large Indian population here. After five years, they could either work for another five years to get the ticket home or, as many did, choose to stay to build a new life.
Indentured? Yes, they were all given false teeth on arrival.
The Queen and Prince Philip visited the islands in 1953 and were presented with this model village that people had slaved over for several months. Her Majesty donated it to the local museum.
In the wildlife room, we saw some dead animals. The butterflies are pretty but this beetle, which can grow up to 6 inches long, just looked wrong and creepy.
Too big for its own good.
We walked slowly back to the bus station: the last bus of the day left at 5pm and as I said, it would have been a long, 48 km, hot and sweaty walk back.
We went into some shops and bought some things to use on the beach: yes, we’d decided tomorrow would be a day on the beach. Also, some of the shops were a bit cooler than the streets.
I was a little dehydrated I think: I kept wanting to sit down before I fell over, so the mango smoothie was very welcome.
We also bought some vegetables in the large market, they call it a Flea Market, but it all looked like good produce to me. Even the mangoes. More mangoes. We could choose between sweet and sour pineapples. We took neither.
The bus ride home, despite the AC was, you guessed, h, s and s. And it was still too h when we got off to think about cooking or even preparing something cold, so we took a pizza home instead! Our first Feejeean pizza.
We couldn’t remember whether Feejee is north or south of the equator. I could have Googled it, but where’s the fun in that? It’s a well-known fact that water runs down a plughole clockwise one side of the equator and anti-clockwise the other. I couldn’t recall which way round, but never mind. In the shower, I watched the water to see whether, when it drained, it looked ‘right’, something I’m used to seeing, or looked odd. Well, the water pooled at the southside of the shower stall because the house is on a slope. Well, I say ‘house’, but ‘re-purposed shack’ would be more accurate. A bure. We didn’t come all this way to push water down a shower plughole with our newly washed feet, but there you go. It’s all an adventure. And if we drop something that rolls, we know we’ll find it in the deep south, by the kitchen sink.
Everything is s-l-o-w in Feejee: the internet, the electricity, the lifestyle. Well, everything apart from the traffic in Suva, that is. I had to come to the beach to acquire a signal strong enough to actually post this nonsense!
By now, you’re thinking, “Poor sod, the Sun’s got to his head. He was feeling woozy and now he can’t even spell the name of the country properly”. But if this spelling is good enough for the Museum Shop and History Gallery, then it’s good enough for me.
And $7 bills? Really? Yes, really.
They were produced to commemorate the Fiji Rugby 7s team winning gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
That was a very enjoyable five weeks in Japan. We’re now on our way to the next exciting destination: Fiji. I’m writing this at Narita Airport, Tokyo, before we hand in the Pocket Wifi. Then, we’ll be offline, set adrift, out of touch with the outside world.
Our last full day in Naha entailed a spot of shopping, first at the local arts and crafts shop and later at a more conventional shopping arcade. We could have spent far longer here in Naha, in wider Okinawa even, but I think we agree, it’s been a nice relaxing final week in Japan. Liesel knows how to plan a trip, thanks!
Liesel enjoyed a bag of cheesey chips at a shop devoted to potato chips, but not as we know them, Jim: there was a tomato flavouring too.
We passed a Monkey Bar with Monkey Girls inside but didn’t go in. There are, apparently, spider monkeys to play with while you eat your meal. Somehow, we’ve managed to avoid dining with and/or petting monkeys, dogs, cats, hedgehogs, owls, and otters since we’ve been here, and we’re not too sure about the place with dead snakes outside in jars, either.
We went up to the roof garden of the shopping arcade which was ok, apart from, this was where the smokers gravitate. There were instructions on how to become a smoker, what skills are involved, and a bin for the dog ends.
We had a meal, a Japanese one, and again, it was disappointing. I showed the lady my crib sheet saying, “I’m a veggie, no meat, no fish”, she appeared to understand, but my noodles were still polluted by meat. I thought the dish smelt meaty but Liesel convinced me that it was just strong cabbage.
On the other hand, here in Narita Airport, we’ve just had a lovely vegan meal, Japanese in style, but no animal products.
Many restaurants display their offerings in the window, the plastic food often looks quite realistic.
Usually in restaurants, Liesel and I sit opposite each other. We’ll be given one copy of the menu to share, so we both read it sideways. It’s great that often, we are given an English version: I can’t imagine English restaurants going to the trouble of producing separate, say, Japanese menus. Some staff have a basic grasp of English, certainly superior to our Japanese, but not all: maybe 50-50.
If it weren’t for the fact that most food here is fish or meat based, I’m sure we would have eaten in Japanese restaurants more often. But even a basic meals such as pasta, mozzarella and tomato sauce came with free lumps of bacon in it. And, not that I am an expert on pig meat, not very nice looking bacon either, mostly fat, maybe 25% actual meat.
Usually the bill is left on your table when the meal is delivered. If you order dessert or coffee, you receive a second bill. It’s all added up at the till on the way out. I wonder how often the second bill is ‘forgotten’?
One thing we like is that tipping does not take place. Top service is given all the time, it’s what they’re paid for. If you try to tip, for exceptional service, the implication is that they usually don’t give such good service, and that is considered insulting.
Sometimes, it’s quite a long wait before you’re served and then another long time before the meal arrives. But so what? Just because we expect instant service at home doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn to be more relaxed and patient here. Equally, we don’t get pestered to vacate the premises as soon as we’ve finished the last mouthful to make room for the next customers.
The streets of Naha are very narrow, not wide enough for pavements in some cases. Not even wide enough to paint a white line to separate pedestrians from vehicles!
And so to bed for our final time in Japan. We videoed a bedtime story for Martha and William and proceeded to have a restless night.
I’d lightened my bag by throwing away all the unnecessary paperwork, but it was still hard to zip up. Again. Our host had requested that we leave our bag of rubbish by the door of the flat below. I hope this was a mutual arrangement, and that we haven’t inadvertently contributed to generations of conflict and strife between two rival families.
Today is the day of the annual Naha Marathon. This is Japan’s biggest with about 30,000 runners coping with 25°C at 9am! We wished them all good luck as we set off on our own, easier marathon.
They were supported by Darth Vader and some Startroopers which seemed strangely appropriate. One thing we’ve noticed in Japan is that, if there are marshals telling you where to walk to avoid roadworks, or where to park in a car park, they’ll often be using sticks that light up. I don’t know if they’re, strictly speaking, ‘light sabres’ but I bet they have a good time when they return to base!
At Naha Airport, there is a moving walkway, a travellator, that confuses some people. Well, me. If there’s nobody on it, you can’t tell whether it’s moving or not, because it’s not split into individual segments, it’s just one very big rubber band. That’s a tip for you: beware joke travellators.
It was good to see that the Marathon was being covered on TV, but during the few minutes I watched at the airport, I didn’t see any non-Japanese runners. Mo Farah may have been here, but I didn’t see him.
The plane was half an hour late taking off due to excess traffic at the airport. That’ll be all the buses taking passengers to the aircraft from the departure gates, then! I boarded before Liesel because I had the window seat and window seat passengers board first, here, today. Always different.
Two hours or so later, we landed here at Narita. I was hoping we’d fly over Tokyo, or at least see it and of course, I was hoping to see Mount Fuji one more time. But in the end, the approach to Narita was pretty good to look at.
We posted some items at the post office and then left our big bags in the coin lockers while we ate our late lunch. Coin lockers have been a very useful facility at airports and railway stations, for leaving heavy bags while we explore. Well worth the money, so it’s worth keeping some loose change when you’re in Japan. Somehow, we acquired some Chinese and some American coins in our change. I think these must have been given in change from a vending machine, grrr, I’m pretty sure people in shops wouldn’t give us the wrong coins like that.
We’ve found the public transport systems here in Japan to be fantastic: yes, we’ve made a couple of mistakes and been frustrated by not understanding the system fully, but the service itself has been terrific. Trains, Shinkansen, buses, Yui monorail, ferries, even internal flights have all been a positive experience.
The trains run on time. They employ people at railway stations to adjust the clocks according to when the trains arrive. No, not really, but they could. We’ve only encountered a couple of delays, and one of them was due to an accident. The signage is is several languages, including English, which is good for us: but without that, maybe we would have been more diligent in trying to learn some of the language, written at least.
One thing we did have a problem with was that if you’re going to a particular destination, you really need to know the final stop for that train, because that’s the name you look out for. In some places, there is a rapid service, a semi-rapid service and a local service, one which stops at every station. So you also need to check that you’re on the correct type of train.
Platforms are marked out to show where the train doors will be. If you have reserved seats on car 3, you know exactly where to stand. On the Yui Rail system, there are footprints painted on the platform to show you where to stand while waiting, and which way to face. If you follow the instructions literally, you would bounce onto the train à la kangaroo.
The buses like their announcements. So much so that occasionally, you hear two voices at the same time, one man, one woman. It’s like the worst possible radio breakfast show combo, except we can’t understand what either of them is saying and the lady isn’t cackling at the bloke’s hilarity. Sometimes, the battery runs down, and it sounds like a dalek is talking to you.
The best announcement was on the long bus ride to Emerald Beach. It starts out with birdsong, turns into music and then the lady tells you what the next stop will be. I tried to record this but, you know, sod’s law, after more than five minutes, she just lurched straight into her vocals without the birdsong preamble. Very disappointing.
Travelling on buses with backpacks on our backs was an experience not to be repeated if we can avoid it. On airport shuttles, it’s probably accepted, but I dread to think how many elderly Japanese ladies I’ve backpacked off a bus merely by turning round. Actually, I find it hard to wear a backpack in the first place. Some muscle in my neck really doesn’t like being stretched in that way.
At Kagoshima and Naha airports, for domestic flights, the check-in baggage is screened before you see it disappear behind the scenes. So, if there is an issue, you can discuss it with an officer at the time. You don’t see your bag disappear on the conveyor belt only to have it searched by a sweaty TSA officer who won’t repack it correctly. What a great idea. So it will never be adopted by ‘wastern’ airports.
It was good to see signs assuring us that the X-rays won’t damage camera film up to ISO 1600. Those were the days, when you had to worry about X-rays fogging up your film and messing up your photos.
Most of the country is very clean, not much litter despite the shortage of rubbish bins in many places. Sadly, on Okinawa island, we saw more litter than anywhere else. We also encountered our first lump of discarded dog shit. Very close to a children’s playground. Very sad to see, but I can live with one disgusting, antisocial dog owner every five weeks, rather than the dozens we encounter each day at home.
In Tokyo, most of the vending machines had litter bins close by. You’re supposed to consume your product straightaway and discard the packaging. Or, take it away completely. Eating and drinking while walking along is frowned upon and very rarely seen, probably just us foreigners, out of habit.
Walking along the pavements, or sidewalks, is very usually very pleasant. Smoking is prohibited while walking, and you’re unlucky if you pass too close to a designated smoking area. I remember the first discarded cigarette butt I saw at a train station a couple of weeks ago. In Tokyo, the rule was to keep left, but that’s not universal. You share pavements with cyclists and nobody’s bothered. Except when a teenage boy comes hurtling at you out of the blue – but this only happened once.
It is sad to see so many American shops here: McDonalds, Starbucks, 7-Eleven, Hard Rock Café, useful though they sometimes are, and a lot of American and European fashion shops. Which is strange, because Japanese clothing is so much more elegant than ours. Maybe it’s just the novelty. But we’ve seen very few locals who we would describe as scruffy. Liesel has more of an eye for that sort of thing than I do, but she hasn’t really mentioned scruffy dressers. Some people’s shoes are funny though. The sumo wrestler with his platforms. Actual platforms, like little wooden pallets.
Some behaviours that I thought were just British turn out to be more universal. Like standing around and chatting in doorways. Like getting off a moving escalator and stopping dead to decide where to go next. Like not walking in a straight line along the pavement. Girls especially do like taking pictures of each other and there are some facial expressions that have caught on here too, duck lip pouts (not sure of the technical term), V-fingers at various angles. It seems that using a mobile phone renders the user unable to walk in a straight line, even though there’s a nice wide yellow stripe on the pavement to follow. And sad to say that even here, it’s mostly little old ladies who queue for ages in a supermarket, wait for everything to be scanned, see the bill and then, and only then, start fishing in the depths of their bags for the money.
Kawaii, the idea of Japanes cuteness, is adorable. Usually. Little 3-year olds being blessed look really cute in their grown-up outfits. Grown-up ladies look fabulous in their kimonos. Some of the cartoon characters can only be described as cute with those big old Asian eyes. Pastel colours will always remind us of our childhoods. But sometimes, just sometimes, it goes too far. At one place, we had a very nice kettle. It was half white and half pastel pink. The shape was very curvy. Very cute, But the spout was wrong. A proper spout points away from the kettle so that it pours without dribbling. To give a more aerodynamic, cute shape, the spout of this kettle bent inwards towards the top. So, you had to tilt it further than normal to pour water out, and then, when you put it upright again, it dribbled. Water dribbling? That’s not really a problem in someone else’s house, you might be thinking. But this is boiling water, remember and it’s dribbling down my leg. Looks cute, but zero points for usefulness.
Airbnb places here are a bit hit and miss. They’re great for a few days but not for a longer period. Imagine a kitchen without running hot water, or without a draining board, or without a work surface, or without cooking utensils or cutlery. We’ve had all those. Imagine a toilet with a seat that wants to toast your derrière rather than just warm it up a bit. Or a small useless bathtub. We’ve had those. Places with little to no storage, no seats to sit on, no tables or shelves to put stuff on. We’ve been there. But I think everyone has had a TV set. Everyone has had an air con/heating sytem, which we’re just getting used to being able to control after several weeks, as the controls only have Japanese text on the buttons.
Hotel rooms are smaller here than anywhere else we’ve been. I think every hotel bed has had one side right against the wall. Again, very little space to spread out, no wardrobe, no worktop, no chairs.
Toilets in Japan, well, I’ve written about them before. And yes, the second-worst ever invention (after car alarms) is the little ‘lid’ they have above the toilet roll. What’s it there for? The paper is perforated so you don’t need a straight edge to tear it against. (Yes, the perforations aren’t that good sometimes, so you get most of the sheet but then a long trail of thin toilet paper is left behind.) It just gets in the way when you can’t immediately see the edge, so you have to lift the lid, roll the roll around and around until you find the edge again. All this while you’re sitting there, business complete, trying to be quiet because the door between you and the person in the next room is very thin and might even have a grill in the bottom half. And as for all those controls, bidet, front wash, back wash, harder, softer, heated seat, hotter, cooler, auto flush or not, all that technology built in to a toilet that’s squeezed into the smallest possible space. We’ve made notes on what we need should we ever remodel our bathroom now we have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.
And so here we are, waiting for our flight to appear on the board so we can retrieve our luggage, check in and then look forward to an eight-hour flight, overnight. We’ll reconnect with a Fijian pocket wifi device as soon as we can.
We woke up this morning to news of a big earthquake in Anchorage. All our friends and family are OK, with minor damage to property. As far as we know right now, there are no reports of fatalities nor serious injuries. It’s a world away to us right now, but we’ve seen pictures of huge damage to roads and bridges, shops and houses. Sending love and good wishes to all in Alaska.
Liquor store in Anchorage
We took a gentle stroll to nearby Fukushuen Garden. Naha and Fouzhou in China, are two close and similar cities bonded by friendship that share ties of amicability. BFFs, in modern parlance. The garden has many interesting Chinese features, including a pair of pagodas that are modelled on Fouzhou’s twin pagodas.
Mount Ye and the Pavilion of Ye
The entrance fee was ridiculously cheap: the equivalent of about £1.40. You have to wonder, how can they maintain the gardens with such a small income? Or, conversely, what do gardens in England do with all the money from their (relatively) extortionate entrance fees?
One of two enormous Chinese vases, behind glass
We fed the turtles. Well, we tried, but they’re just not as fast as the fish. If a turtle doesn’t grab a pellet of food within a microsecond, a big, greedy carp comes right up and devours it. We watched the heron too, wondering if it has its eyes on a fish supper. It walked silently from rock to rock, a ballerina en pointe, its eyes gazing a gazely stare into the water, but there was no bird on fish action. Liesel was just grateful there were no baby ducks on the menu, like that day in St James’s Park!
Turtles v carp: ¥100 for a box of carpfood
We wandered home, ate, read and wondered what to do on our final day here in Naha. As I write, it’s just gone midday and mainly we’re just sorting stuff out, a prelude to packing tomorrow morning. Not very exciting, I know.
This is more interesting
This is very pretty… we need Shazam for flowers. Or, alternatively, we could just take notes from the captions by the plants in the garden.
There’s nothing quite like a relaxing day on the beach. Today was a mix of relaxation and commuting. Yes, we joined the rush hour crowds on the Yui Rail monorail for just one stop. It’s a great service, but a reminder that we don’t enjoy having to stand up on crowded trains too often.
One stop though: yes, we could have walked that far, but by the end of the day, we’d walked over ten miles, despite it being a day of ‘relaxation’, so that little reprieve was of some benefit.
We rode the high speed ferry, Queen Zamami, to the island of Zamami. High speed, and it bounced pretty high on the waves, too.
There were two beaches of interest, each a 1.5 km walk from the port, but in opposite directions. We thought, we’ll walk to both, and back, for a total of 6km. Not too far at all. Huh. We hadn’t figured in walking to the ferry terminal, walking along the beaches, mooching around the little town behind the ferry port, and walking back home via our dinner venue. Ten miles, all told: very proud of Liesel (and of myself).
It’s a very peaceful, quiet island, at least it is this time of year.
We walked to Ama Beach along the road and only a few vehicles passed us. This is a nice sandy beach, reminiscent of Kailua (Hawaii) with vegetation right at the top of the beach. I wandered over to the end of the beach looking for rock pools but they weren’t very interesting. A couple of people were paddle-boarding, and a couple of others were snorkelling. Othar than that, we had the beach to ourselves. We sat down, watched and listened to the waves and attempted to keep our eyes open.
We saw some almost see-through crabs, a spider and some crows. Plus, some tracks that may have been birds but maybe, more interestingly, signs of a baby turtle hatching and heading for the sea.
On the way back, I walked up the steps to a bluff: the map showed us a Statue of Marilyn. Marilyn who? Well, there was no statue at the top, although the view over the sea towards the other islands was stunning.
It turns out Marilyn was one of a pair of lovers. Her statue is here on Zumami while her lover, Shiro, is way over there on Aka. Disappointingly, Marilyn is depicted as a dog. And the statue is by the road.
It was a hot day and we are very grateful for the vending machines dispensing copious water, fruit juice, soft drinks and coffee, although the latter is often too sweet.
The town was very quiet, just a few locals going about their business. One guy watering his plants, another trying out his wetsuit. Several little old ladies were tending small plots by the side of the road. The caff was closed, as was the International Guest House with its mixed dorm and its female dorm. It was a very small house and presumably very cosy at peak season.
Our lunch consisted of the snacks we’d brought with us. Then we walked to our second beach of the day: Furuzamami. This time, we didn’t walk along the coastline but up and over a hill. It was steep. We knew the total distance was about 1.5 km so we kept going, but it was a long haul up that slope. We could look down on the smallholdings below. Small fields with fresh furrows. There was even a goat. I helped as much as I could by clapping and scaring some crows away from eating the seeds.
Downhill the other side was no less steep and we were grateful that again, very few vehicles passed us, including the local bus a couple of times.
This beach wasn’t as nice, not much sand, mostly broken up coral and seashells, so a bit bumpy underfoot. But the sea was gorgeous, the sort of bluish green colour than never quite shows up in photographs.
Liesel had a nice long rest while adventurous old me walked to one end of the beach, passing a mere three other people who were having a dip in the sea. I saw a discarded toilet seat and I thought to myself, if I needed to warm up my bum, I could just sit there. Then I realised: it probably wasn’t plugged in.
Plans to walk to the other end of the beach too were thwarted by two things. The camber of the beach became very uncomfortable, I felt I could have toppled over into the water at any moment. Plus, the knobbly stuff I was walking on was beginning to annoy my feet.
So I rejoined Liesel for a long, long slumber, listening to the waves, thinking about things, solving Brexit and Trump and all the other horrible things going on in the real world that we try not to think about too much but which we can’t totally avoid when we’re online, even if we look at Twitter through our fingers because it’s all so negative.
Liesel said that there were two things missing: maybe we should have brought our swimwear. And, if we’d had a car, we wouldn’t have to walk back to catch the boat. A third thing that would have been nice: a trolley dolly coming by selling ice creams and cocktails.
Sun, sea, sand (well, shells) and snoozing, that’s the way to do it! No book to read, no internet, no people.
We had to get back for the ferry, then more walking in Naha, stopping for a meal on the way back to our b&b. Ten miles: that certainly wasn’t planned! Liesel was asleep by 8pm and I wasn’t far behind.
Okinawa and its islands are overrun by these guardian lions, or lion/dog hybrids, depending on who you believe. They’re usually in pairs, one to keep in the good spirits and the other to keep out the bad. Not everyone takes them seriously. many are traditional but there are plenty that have been updated, made fun of.
We came to Okinawa to spend some time on the beach. After a late start on Sunday, we walked down to the nearest one, a couple of miles away.
Naminoue Beach is now my favourite beach. Not because you can gaze upon not one but two motorways over the water while sunbathing, but because the word itself contains all five vowels. (Cf Carnoustie and Cointreau.)
There were just a couple of people actually swimming in the sea, but most people, me included, just went in up to our ankles. I thought it was probably safe enough to swim there, but if the locals weren’t going in, then neither was I.
The sand was very coarse: you should have heard some of the language it came out with! Very good though for exfoliating ones feet.
On the walk back, we encountered another Shinto ceremony.
This chap looks quite intimidating. His job might be to frighten away evil spirits, but he didn’t deter us visitors.
Kokusai Dori, one of the main shopping streets, is closed to traffic each Sunday afternoon. This provides space for local bands and musicians to perform, and allows children to play in the road, legitimately.
We walked back via a supermarket that we’d found last night. This one is called Max Valu. It sells Top Valu items. Still, it’s a pleasant change from the ubiquitous 7-Elevens, Family Marts and Lawson Stations. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be funny if we saw some belly dancers here in Naha? Well, we turned the corner, into Makishi Park, and guess what we saw?
Emerald Beach might be more visually attractive than Naminoue, we thought. This was a bus ride away: nearly two and a half hours in each direction. Five hours sitting on a bus is not something we want to do on a regular basis. On a train or a plane, you can get up and walk around a bit: for some reason, people don’t seem to do that on buses.
On the way to the bus stop, via the Visitor Information Office, we came upon a load of old rope. Literally. Every year in Naha, there is a Giant Tug of War involving up to 15,000 people. Liesel and I would have had a go, but the sign said not to.
One thing we’ve noticed is that, if you ask for bus related information, people are very helpful in telling you which bus stop to use, and what time to expect the bus, but they seem strangely reluctant to divulge the bus number. If the bus is due at 12:10, you get on the one that turns up at 12:10 and hope you’ll be OK.
We walked through the Ocean Expo Park, past the Aquarium, said hello to the captive manatees and turtles, and made our way to Emerald Beach.
And it didn’t disappoint. It is very pretty, no motorway to spoil the view. We were surprised to see that you’re only allowed to swim in the sea between April and October. Well, it looked pretty calm today but again, nobody was in the water. Indeed, there were signs all over the place telling people that it was forbidden to go into the water.
Health and safety gone mad, was the tabloid phrase that came to mind. Then I saw the poster depicting the reasons. Box jellyfish have a nasty sting, cone shells are venomous, sea snakes are venomous, you can be impailed by long-spined sea urchins, stone fish (which look like algae-covered rocks) can sting, blue-ringed octopus are venomous, lionfish have poisonous pectoral fins and striped eel catfish can sting. We stayed well away from the water just in case an octopus with a particularly long tentacle tried to grab us.
Instead of swimming, or even paddling, we sat on the beach and read for a while, wondering if it would rain. The clouds began to look menacing and the temperature did fluctuate, but it never really felt like a storm was on the way. I went for a quick solo walk and marvelled at the beach and the small number of people here. Again, the sand was very coarse, and there was a lot of broken coral. Some of it was quite soft. I assume that this too was damaged by the typhoons a couple of months ago, and it’s still being washed up onto the beaches.
The time came when we had to go home. From 4pm, there were only three more buses back to Naha. By now, we were too late for the 4pm one, so we walked slowly up the hill and the steps and even used the outdoor escalators to find ourselves at the bus stop in good time for the 4.39. We did see an octopus in the end, but he’s quite a harmless fellow.
We boarded the bus, paid the fare (usually, you pay when you get off) and sat down.
When the bus was 50 metres down the road, we realised we’d left the green shopping bag on the seat by the bus stop. Usually the green bag has snacks in it, or shopping, or rubbish. Today, it also contained the internet. I’d left the pocket wifi with Liesel while wandering around the beach area and so it was transferred to the green bag away from its usual home, in my famous manbag. By the time the bus had travelled another 50 metres, Liesel had told the driver to stop and he did so. I’m waiting for Guinness to ratify this claim, but I ran all the way back to the bus stop, picked up the bag and ran all the way back, 200 metres, in 17.8 seconds. Admittedly, it was a humid day and I broke sweat slightly, but that’s not a bad achievement for an old fart like me.
We found a restaurant, Ethnic Vegan LaLa Zorba where we enjoyed a good curry. The musical accompaniment was mainly Anandmurti Gurumaa (Hare Krishna) and Bob Dylan, although we did hear John and Yoko’s Happy Xmas (War is Over). Did Yoko ever find her daughter Kyoko, do we know?
Did I mention it? Yes, the curry was very nice, very tasty.
Taking it easier the following day, our first Japanese dance lesson went very well, thanks for asking.
We took the monorail to Onoyama Park where we spent an enjoyable couple of hours. We walked slowly, observed a group of old men (even older than me, according to Liesel) playing baseball.
We sat for a while and watched the children playing in the playground. It would be lovely to bring Martha and William here, if only so I’d have an excuse to climb to the top of the very long slide.
There’s a running track through the park that is marked with distances and is very slightly cushioned. It was a warm day, but even some of the runners were wearing leggings and two or three layers on top. I was dressed sensibly, shorts and shirt, but I resisted the temptation to try and beat my 200 metres PB from yesterday.
We perambulated in an orderly manner alongside the river and crossed the bridge.
We eventually found ourselves back on Kokusai Dori, so went into Edelweiss for coffee and cake. Edelweiss, Edelweiss, every morning you eat me.
There were some strange things on show in the shops and we are so glad that we’d already decided not to buy any of it.
Yes, Christmas is all over the place, no getting away from it, here. It feels strange: it’s November, but very warm, 23°C, 72°F, so it doesn’t feel at all Christmassy. Hearing Silent Night performed that fast doesn’t help with the Christmas mood, either!
Our final day in Kawasaki was fascinating. No, not Kawasaki. Quasimodo. Kagoshima, that’s it, Kagoshima.
We enjoyed a bus ride and a walk to the Museum of the Meiji Restoration.
Kagoshima is full of history. Everywhere you look, there are statues and placards commemorating historical events. The Meiji Restoration changed Japan. Imperial rule replaced the old shogunate political system, and the united country opened up to trade with other nations for the first time in 260 years. This whole thing was kicked off here in the Satsuma province. In the museum, we watched a very fast reconstruction of the events and again, we wondered, why did we know nothing of this from history lessons at school?
Unfortunately, no photos are allowed from the museum, so you’ll just have to go.
We walked towards the ferry port as we were going on a boat ride. Sakurajima is an active volcano just over the water and when we first saw it, it was having a quiet smoke.
The ferry ride was easy. No tickets, you just pay when you get off. And on the way back, you pay the same person. It reminded me of the ferries in Norway where it’s just like taking the bus. Why the Isle of Wight Ferry has to be such a big deal, I’ll never know.
We were looking at a pamphlet and Liesel told me about a footpath that we could go and see. It said that at 100 metres in length, it’s one of the longest in Japan. I thought that couldn’t be right, we’ve walked along many, many footpaths longer than that.
“Bath”, said Liesel, “it’s a footbath.” Oh.
I thought it would be fun to walk the length of a 100m footbath, I’ve never done that before. But I did wonder if I’d be allowed to and whether I would, literally, get cold feet.
Well, I couldn’t and I didn’t.
It was hot water. Well, obviously: it’s just downhill from an active volcano. The natural hot spring was almost too hot. It took a while for my feet to get in but once there, and halfway up my calves, it did feel good. Liesel couldn’t take the temperature for as long as I did. Which is weird, because in the kitchen, her teflon fingers are much less sensitive to heat than mine are.
And, no, it was impossible to walk from one end to the other, thank goodness: too many little bridges and other obstructions.
Meanwhile, the volcano was still puffing away. We went for a bit of a walk and some of the footpath was covered in cinders so it seems we were lucky today that the wind wasn’t blowing the dust and the fumes towards us. We found our way back to the Visitors Centre which was very interesting too.
This very active volcano has hundreds of eruptions each year and we now know why our Airbnb host had given us evacuation instructions.
I thought we’d finished with big vegetables when we left Anchorage. But no, we were in for a treat.
The wind was changing direction on the return ferry, as the Sun was getting low in the sky, so the cloud above the volcano appeared totally different.
We still can’t get over how early and how fervently Japan is into Christmas. This tree-like structure outside the railway station is, apparently, typical of this part of Japan. Such a shame the bright colourful tree is almost outshone by the nearby traffic cones.
What to do for supper tonight? Well, I didn’t like the look of this for a start!
And for an entertaining sight, watch someone eating pizza with chopsticks!
After returning home, I walked up the road to the local hot bath. As if I hadn’t been in enough hot water today.
This time, the guy at the counter knew why I was there. I paid, got soap and a towel and after washing and showering thoroughly, I joined four other, Japanese, men in the hot tub. It wasn’t as hot as the foot spa, but still hotter than a normal domestic bath or shower.
I had to get out after only ten or fifteen minutes though, I thought I was either going to fall over or fall asleep. The others, more used to things than I am, quite happily got out and straight into the cold tub. I can do that, thought I. No I can’t said my feet as soon as they submerged in the relatively icy water.
We had to be up early as we had a plane to catch. Jin, our host, had offered to drive us to the airport, for which we were very grateful.
One of the snacks we had with us was Wasabeef Chips. Wasabi flavoured crisps, or so we thought. But sadly, beef was involved in the ingredients. And chicken. And gelatin. Gelatin? In crisps? Why? Janice and Ray came to mind. Who remembers them and their catchphrase?
The flight to Naha Airport, Okinawa, was short and uneventful. And the blast of heat when we disembarked was very welcome.
It had become a little cooler over the last week or so, and quite a few locals, including Jin, had pointed at me, stroked my arm and enquired, “aren’t you cold, you freak?” I was still in t-shirt (or short-sleeved aloha shirt) and shorts while other folks were dressed in several layers of coats and fleeces. And no, I was rarely cold, usually just late at night outdoors.
We took the monorail to our next digs, which is, of course, at the top of the hill.
The Airbnb is more spacious than the last one, we can spread our stuff out on the floor. But the ‘design’ is unusual to say the least. From the bed, you walk past the fridge on the left and a bathroom sink on the right, through the kitchen and into the shower. There’s a deep, square bathtub which we think can only be used to contain small children: you certainly couldn’t have a relaxing soak in it. But it feels good to be settled in one place for a whole week!
We came across a small park just down the road and enjoyed the entertainment. A Japanese guy with dreadlocks played some reggae from his laptop. But better than that were the Polynesian dance troupe, performing Hawaiian hula.
We’ve tried the rest, so we tried the best. Everest Curry House is run by a Nepalese guy who’s been here for two years, loves the climate as it’s similar to his home, but he hasn’t learned the local language.
The curry we had was (spicy) hot, just right for us. We opted for slightly hot, 10. The options went up to hyperhot, 100. That would have blown the top off my head, like that volcano.