Tenaha te Aotearoa

One more drive to Port Denarau for a final, Indian meal, before leaving Fiji. It was a beautiful sunset and it was with some reluctance that, back home, we began to pack our bags.

Sunset at Port Denarau, the Sun is behind us

Will we come back to Fiji? Yes, it’s been a fantastic experience, but some of the poverty was quite striking and stark. The beautiful, well-maintained bright and shiny resorts are just a stone’s throw away from families selling fruit by the side of the road. Lots of people don’t have running water and while it may be their choice, many people were walking round with bare feet. I like taking photos but sometimes here, there was no pleasure in seeing folks in such straits. I don’t think I could be a photo-journalist, I’d be wanting to help and intervene too much, I suspect.

Onwards and upwards. It was time to move on to the land of the long white cloud. The hire car was returned, what was left of it. All week, we’d noticed more and more bits missing: the volume control knob, the blades in the air con vent, all carefully photographed so we don’t get the blame. It always sounded like it wasn’t going to start and indeed, when we filled up with petrol, it really didn’t want to go, straightaway. Still, it was useful for a few days. The good thing about it having so many dents is that, if we’d acquired a new ding, it wouldn’t have been so obvious. But we didn’t, despite the best efforts of some of the bad road surfaces, loose chippings, gravel etc.

A dent in the hire car

I like a good logo and I thought this one at Nadi Airport was particularly clever.

Gloria Jean’s Coffee

If you can’t see it, the swirl of steam is the G and the hand holding the cup is the J. Gloria Jean. No? Just me, then!

The flight to Auckland was uneventful and we were greeted by this oxymoron from Middle Earth: a five-metre tall dwarf.

Welcome to Middle Earth

We couldn’t get a portable wifi device so we both ended up with local NZ sim cards. We should have internet access while we’re here, especially if our various lodgings have wifi that we can use.

It was a scorching 31°C yesterday in Nadi and the forecast suggested it would be much colder in Auckland when we arrived. But no, it was a fabulous 22° and not a sign of the thunderstorms they’d experienced here yesterday. Perfect!

We enjoyed a ride courtesy of Super Shuttle. It was a roller-coaster of a ride but the driver did slow down for a couple of the road humps. He didn’t like having to take one couple to their home as it was out of his way. Maybe he wasn’t meant to be a public service vehicle driver. He didn’t seem too enamoured of the local Chinese population either. One third of the people living in Auckland are Chinese, apparently, and the young ones all drive expensive cars. There are more Ferraris per capita in New Zealand than in any other country.

We were safely delivered to our Airbnb in Ponsonby and by luck, the trailer with our luggage was still attached.

Our hosts are poms, Ian and Joanna. We came all this way to get away from English people… haha, only kidding!

We had a chat and an introduction to the house. Liesel and I went for a walk to find something to eat: we won’t be cooking here, they live in the house too. But Joanna has promised us breakfast tomorrow morning.

We came across Bic Runga’s sister’s shop, just round the corner.

Boh’s Bohtique

Yes, we were looking for somewhere to eat, but the sports on offer at this pub didn’t really do much for us.

Not much on TV

Probably the most famous landmark is the Sky Tower. We’d been driven by it earlier but it’s hard to see much when you’re bouncing around while gripping the seat in front so tightly.

Sky Tower

We won’t be bungee-jumping off it, or the Harbour Bridge, or any other edifice. I did one once, in 1994 and there’s no need to repeat the experience.

Seaspray

That was a little bit scary and definitely a first for both of us. We were escorted to the cashpoint machine. And all because we needed tomatoes.

We never anticipated becoming involved with the Fijian criminal underworld yesterday while visiting some gorgeous islands.

We got up unusually early to join the bus at the nearby Mercure Hotel at 8am. We waited and waited, got worried because nobody else was waiting and no buses appeared. We decided that if we were still waiting at 8.30, we’d go in our own car. But finally the bus turned up, more of a people-carrier really. Fiji time. Fiji bus.

The ride to the Port of Denarau was short but sweet, and as soon as we arrived, we knew we’d have to come back to spend more time in the port itself. All those shops.

Counter clerks in Fiji do like using their staplers. They’ll never give you one piece of paper when three or four will do, all stapled together. And the boarding passes for the day’s boats appeared fastened in this manner, to a pamphlet.

We’d opted for the all-day Seaspray Day Adventure as it took us via a few islands to our main destinations.

Looking back at Denarau

Most of the young people chose to spend the day on South Sea Island doing young peoples’ things. Energetic activities.

South Sea Island

Treasure Island and Beachcomber Islands also look exactly as you’d expect south Pacific islands to look. Not as wild as in Robinson Crusoe’s day, there are now buildings and jetties and facilities. Transfer to these islands was on a small tender. After 90 minutes on the high speed catamaran, we transferred to another boat at Mana Island.

The Seaspray Day Adventure would be our home and base for the following six hours.

Mana Island – where you can stay overnight

There were nine of us passengers, guests, and seven crew. Not a bad ratio. While sailing, they played music for us, gave us champagne and offered drinks throughout the day. There was shelter from the Sun but mainly, we just gazed upon the sea and the islands. And just a few, fluffy clouds to break up the monotony of the blue sky. Liesel saw a turtle in the middle of the ocean, it came up for air and said hello.

Our lovely crew

Modriki Island was the first port of call for us. We went snorkelling. Liesel had a much better time than I did. I don’t know whether I’ve just forgotten how to breathe using the equipment or mine had a leak, but I took on board far too much sea-water. Liesel saw shoals of little blue fish, scissor-tail sergeants, an eel, a parrot fish but she didn’t find Nemo nor Dory.

I spluttered my way to the beach, had a quick walk and waited for the little dinghy to pick us all up.

Modriki Island

Then, it was lunchtime. Plenty of barbecued meat was on offer but the salads I chose were far superior IMHO. We realised we hadn’t eaten potatoes in this form, boiled, for a long, long time. Couldn’t get enough potato salad!

The neighbouring island is Yanuya. Here, we visited a Fijian Village and were welcomed with a traditional kava ceremony that was genuinely not just something for tourists. Kava is a drink made from the root of the kava kava plant, and it is quite bitter. But, in the end, not as bitter as I’d anticipated. And no side-effects.

There was a market area, where many of the local women had their arts and crafts for sale. Well, probably not their own work, the clue being that most of them were selling the same set of items.

The village itself was fairly deserted and the school was closed for the six week holiday.

Liesel trying out for the Rugby 7s

Like a lot of Fiji, the sunshine, the heat and the torrential rain has taken its toll on many of the buildings. The village is, apparently self-sufficient, but the drinking water is brought in on tankers.

How did that tyre get round the bottom of this mature tree?

There were a few signs of life, a couple of little children running around, the sound of faint music from a couple of house, but I think most of the adults were either working over in the fields or enjoying a siesta.

Laundry day
Recently installed solar panels
Yanuya Island

Some of the more adventurous and confident guests jumped in for a quick swim before our boat returned us to Mana. We disembarked onto a very hot jetty to wait for the fast catamaran back to Denarau.

Swimming

We wanted to visit a nearby Hindu Temple but on arrival, we realised, we couldn’t go in because I wasn’t wearing trousers. I haven’t worn trousers for ages, and it never occurred to us to consider the Hindu dress code.

Sri Suva Subramaniya Hindu Temple

We’re in Fiji for just a couple more days so we’re trying to eat as much of our food as we can before moving on. Liesel wanted to make salsa again and the only ingredient missing was tomatoes. The local supermarket didn’t have any and the guys outside were charging far too much for their produce. So, off to the big city, well, Nadi, we went.

Parked up, fed the meter, looked around getting our bearings, trying to remember where the market was located. A dark voice behind us asked if we were looking for something. “Ah, the market, it’s over there, follow me,” he said. So we did.

We crossed the road, turned right, turned left, went down a narrow street, turned into a narrower alley, turned right, walked up some stairs, passed a room where some lads were playing pool. I wondered why the market was upstairs, it wasn’t last time. We were shown into a room filled with Fijian works of art. All genuine Fijian craft, we were assured, no Chinese or Korean knock-offs. Compare this heavy wooden turtle with that cheap one from China, made from balsa wood. There were big masks, bangles, jewellery, ornaments, turned wooden bowls, all great stuff of course, but nothing that we could buy and carry with us.

Our guide was by the door, another man was ‘selling’ the wares, an elder turned up and lit a cigarette then asked if it was ok to smoke here.

In the end, we bought a small painting. It will go with our new curtains at home, we think! We didn’t have enough cash on us, and they didn’t use credit cards because their money isn’t put through the banking system.

Liesel and I looked at each other, wondering what kinda mess we’d gotten ourselves into.

Our guide took us to the nearest ATM, I withdrew the cash, paid him and he then showed us to the market that we wanted to go to in the first place.

Quite possibly the most expensive three tomatoes we’ve ever bought, ever, anywhere.

He then took us back to our car.

I think we may have had a close shave with the Fiji Mafia, but so far, we seem to have got away with it. If we wake up with a horse’s head in the bed, we’ll think again.

As anticipated, we returned to Denarau where we ate lunch, keeping a look-out for gangsters on our case. There was one suspicious character. I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera.

Merry Christmas: this tree is made from plastic bottles

It was a lot more overcast today, so we were lucky with our trip to the islands, yesterday.

The Port of Denarau

We drove home the ‘long way’, in order to take some photos.

Didn’t expect to see this
Sugar cane train engine
One of many roadside markets
Roadside goats

I went for a quick walk but the main road isn’t that interesting or photogenic, so I came back, changed into my swimmers, and spent a while in the pool. Yes, this Airbnb has a pool and it has an awning that isn’t entirely waterproof: it let the rain in!

Mick, coffee, pool, rain

There is also a small fish pond with a lot of large koi. They often come up to the surface and say hello too, when we walk by.

The rain was pretty half-hearted, but at least it did encourage the frogs to come out.

It’s raining frogs

So, salsa, rice and bhaji (a local spinach-like vegetable), crackers, crisps, rose apples, pineapple, mango, chocolate biscuits, ice cream and an apple all made for a very nice, balanced but wide-ranging supper.

Was my sleepless night due to lack of exercise? Too much coffee? Too much food? Concern about the local triads or other criminal organisations? I lay awake for ages worrying about this and in the end, I picked up my book for a while. Yes, of course I read it.

Our final full day in Fiji was filled with fun on the internet. This. And Liesel was booking flights and cars and things for the next couple of months. We listened to the radio: Cerys Matthews, Amy Lamé, Tom Robinson, Bob Harris Country and very little Christmas music, just the way we like it.

Bula, Pacific Harbour

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.

The view outside our Pacific Harbour Airbnb

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 beach: hope this is high tide
I’ve got a loverly bunch of coconuts

The birds outside are loud. Bulbuls or songthrushes, it’s hard (for us) to tell, but this chap would make a terrific alarm clock.

A very loud songbird

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.

Grand Pacific Hotel view

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!

Pretty tree and lovely wife in the Botanical Gardens

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.

Waqa dura, two-hulled

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.

Oh no, Philip, we’re not taking that thing home

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.

Xixuthrus heros – Heer

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.

Feejee teehee

And $7 bills? Really? Yes, really.

Seven dollars – even more nuts than a quarter in USA
We are the Champions!

They were produced to commemorate the Fiji Rugby 7s team winning gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Zamami

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.

A pair of these dragons didn’t stop us, we’re not scared

We rode the high speed ferry, Queen Zamami, to the island of Zamami. High speed, and it bounced pretty high on the waves, too.

Thanks, I don’t mind if I do: a nice souvenir of a very bumpy boat trip

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.

Looking tropical
The long and winding road

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.

Selfie of the day
Turtle tracks?
Ama Beach
Ama Beach
Ama Beach as depicted on the brochure

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.

Marilyn’s Statue

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.

Lots of hard work going on here

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.

Furuzamami Beach
Feet of the day

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.

Queen Zamami III
Thar she blows!

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.

Okinawa lion
Cat on a hot tile roof
Another one
Loads of them
And another one
And another one
And a couple of mice to complete the set

Okinawa OK

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.

Pavements eat broken pots

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.)

Nice beach, shame about the view

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.

Another beautiful family, another blessing

This chap looks quite intimidating. His job might be to frighten away evil spirits, but he didn’t deter us visitors.

Alligator? Dragon? Scary either way
Artistic photo of the day

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.

Banging drums and dancing
Playing in the road

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?

I’ll be your belly dancer

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.

The biggest rope in the world
The legend

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.

We walked down these nnn steps (forgot to count)
American manatee sent as a gift from Mexico

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.

Emerald Beach
Holy mackerel, stay out of the water

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.

Octopus? More like a quadropus

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.

Dance steps 101

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.

Old fogeys’ 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.

Young kiddies’ 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.

Ms. They’re like M&Ms but half the size

We perambulated in an orderly manner alongside the river and crossed the bridge.

You shall not pass (we did)

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.

ET and Jaws together at last
Not for us, thanks
Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas, everybody

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!

Hot Stuff

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.

Waiting for the bus

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?

Honeymoon of (Reformer and samurai) Sakamoto Ryoma and Oreo

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.

Sakurajima

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.

The footbath or foot spa
Scrambled eggs

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.

Sakurajima
Here are the stats

I thought we’d finished with big vegetables when we left Anchorage. But no, we were in for a treat.

The Sakurojima big radish

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.

One more time: Sakurajima
More statues in Kagoshima

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.

Merry Christmas, Kagoshima

What to do for supper tonight? Well, I didn’t like the look of this for a start!

Lots of fibre, presumably

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 futuristic monorail
The view from the front when it rained

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.

Hawaiian dancers
Hula and good singers too
Google bad Translate of the day

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.

The Tale of Genji

I think I’ve mentioned before that I am currently reading The Tale of Genji. It dates from 11th century Japan, a time and place with different moral values to ours. I’ve just got to the bit where Prince Genji has kidnapped a 10-year old girl mainly because she reminds him of an old flame. The museum dedicated to the book is at Uji, not too far from Kyoto and we spent a couple of interesting hours there.

A sign of things to come, on the pavement

It was a good walk from the station to the Museum on a bright, warm day. The gardens were very pretty too, more Autumnal colours.

Nice colours outside the museum

The exhibits were interesting: some old copies of the book, a wall displaying the story ‘in a nutshell’ and some items dating roughly from the period of the story.

Unfortunately for us, there were very few captions in English, so while we could admire the artistry of the paintings and the crafsmanship of the ox-drawn rickshaw, we didn’t learn much about them. Also: no photos.

We did watch a 30-minute film, in Japanese of course, but there was no way they could do justice to the novel in a mere half an hour. Still, it’s fascinating to see a museum dedicated to just one book.

We walked back through Uju, visiting a shrine and a temple. Are we shrined and templed out yet? Almost!

Ujigami Shrine is, of course, another World Heritage Site.

A gate
Young love by the Uji River
Liesel on the Asagini Bridge

We heard a steady drum beat and thought it sounded like the dragon boat races we used to watch in Kingston. After crossing the Asagin Bridge, we saw two small dragon boats in a short race. It had to be short because if they’d rowed much further, they would have gone over a weir.

Dragon boat
Selfie of the day
These phoenixes have risen

The recommended route around the Byodoin Temple gardens was followed by most people. The golden phoenixes on the roof are relatively newly restored, but the orginals are on display inside. These date from the early 11th century. Older, even, than the Tower of London.

A bridge and its reflection

The local café in Uji was, we agreed, the best we’d found so far. The coffee was delicious, as well as very pretty, and the egg salad sandwich was magnifico.

Coffee of the day

The next café, the following morning, was good too, very nice toast. I do miss decent bread, so it’s nice to find some twice in a row!

Kyoto Tower, near the railway station

We spent some time in old Kyoto, venturing up to the roof garden above the railway station. Then: we were up on the 11th floor watching the cruisers below. No, that’s not it, we were looking for breakfast there but ended up in the aforementioned café instead.

Roof garden and roof gardener with those special shoes
Beware low flying kites
A splash of colour on the roof

It was a short walk to Higashihonganji Temple, the biggest wooden structure in the world, it says. And it is a huge temple. No photos inside which is a shame, but the hall is huge. But it must be very cold in Winter, we thought.

There’s a large rope made from human hair as conventional rope at the time just wasn’t strong enough

A bad hair day: rope made from human hair, 1895

This temple is also famous for its bell, which was rung for us on the hour. The reverberations last as long as the final chord in the Beatles’ A Day in the Life.

A copy of the bell that was rungggggggggggg

We then started walking towards Fushimi Inara Taishi with Google Maps on our phones each giving different directions! Mine seemed to know best, so we followed its route, over the river, towards Inari. It started raining a bit so we caught a train for the last section. But what a shrine that is, well worth a visit. The place is full of foxes and gates.

Lots of gates
One of many foxes
More gates
Another fox
Another pretty garden
Another fox

Foxes and gates: yes, that sounds like it ought to be a board game. I’ll get onto my lawyers rightaway to patent the idea.