So, the main reason I went to Okinawa was to dive. But, as I got there a little earlier than I needed to and you can’t fly within 24 hours of your last dive, I did squeeze in some other activities. And I even managed to put some makeup on…once.
But before I can even get to Okinawa, let’s discuss my little oversight when booking my flight. I went for cheap, and thus ended up on a 6:00 am flight from Narita. Now, in NY, a 6:00 am flight is not a big deal. You can take the subway, or the bus, or hop in a cab for a max of $60. In Tokyo, there is no bus or cab early enough to get you to Narita at 6:00am, let alone by 6:00am. And a cab ride? Around $200. So, upon realizing this two days before my departure, I had to book a hotel by the airport.
|Freak rainstorm hit while I enjoyed a little pit stop to visit my friend Chelsea. Note to all: always carry an umbrella in Tokyo if you’re not going to check the weather.|
Professing a cheap price and airport shuttle, I booked a two star hotel. Well, two star was probably a little generous. This picture illustrates pretty sell what the rest of the experience was like. On top of which, oh, no airport shuttle before 6:30 am. What the what? But at least it was only a $25 cab ride… But hey, it was a bed for a few hours of sleep and a quick trip to the airport. And the combined cost of the hotel and the cab…less than half what the cab ride would have been. How ridiculous is that?
So, after my flight, I had a few hours to kill in Naha (the “big” city where the airport is) before I needed to hop on the bus to head north, so I decided to go see this castle at the end of the monorail line. It had some amazing views and was a good little excursion. In addition to that, I got to see a little dance performance and just enjoy seeing a new city. It’s so different from Tokyo. Much more Hawaii feeling…but older and a little more Asian (but only a little).
And then it was time to take the bus and head to the American Village to meet Jan, the dive dude. He was much younger than I expected, but super nice (as stated before–not sure why I didn’t take a photo with him) and I was just so happy to be getting back in the ocean with a tank strapped to my back.
We went for two dives over these beautiful soft coral reefs. Visibility was not great, but given that there was a typhoon just four days earlier, that was to be expected. It was still incredible. I’ve never seen that much soft coral before. And so many beautiful fish. I was also reminded how much I don’t love beach entry diving…but also how quick it is. One of my favorite things was that Jan had this new type of BC, at least new to me. They are super stripped down and have a heavy plate on the back so it’s a lot easier to hover and achieve neutral buoyancy. Also, the don’t make you feel quite so think and stay-puffy. Yes, that’s a technical term.
|Jan loaded up lots of tanks for all of our dives over the next two days. That’s a lot of air.|
After those first two dives, Jan drove me up to the pension (like a cheap B&B) where he’d made me a reservation for two nights. The cutest little house in the world with the nicest woman…who spoke no English. It was fantastic. He also showed me where a couple of restaurants were for dinner just a short walk from the pension.
After Jan dropped me off and I got settled, I headed to the restaurant he called “authentic Okinawan cuisine” which also had live music happening. It was so great. The food was delicious (I was introduced to taco rice) and the music was so fun and the people were so friendly. I was the only white girl in the whole place.
|Great light fixtures|
|Rocks and grass (fake of course) on the ceiling. So funky.|
|Okinawa is all about the pig…|
|Including pig ears. Can you see them? Hint, they’re super thin slices.|
|Super fun singers! See video below. The song is one you hear all over Okinawa.|
The next day was all about diving. It started with a very Japanese breakfast (of which I tried a little of everything…pickled plums are something I will never have again, and marinated seaweed I can live without, as well. The pineapple, however, was amazing!
Jan picked me up and we headed to the dock to meet a number of other divers. We were going out for three boat dives. I was so excited. And it was incredible (the photos of the actual dive were already posted in my dive post).
Between dives we got off the boat and had some lunch. I couldn’t resist a wander over to the beach and this Shisa was just calling out to me to take his photo. So cute! (Click the link for the story…it’s pretty cool and they are all over Okinawa and Kyoto (as I found out this weekend).
I wish I’d had my own underwater camera to take on the boat because the views were amazing, but it was way to wet for anything that wasn’t water proof. The dives were all great and it was fun to have lots of company on the boat (not that I could understand most of them, except for Jan and the couple that was diving with us). There was a group of underwater photographers and it was cool to see them get all set up under the water for photo shoots of various things. In addition to that, I got to do my first hole and tunnel diving. I don’t think cave diving is in my future…but holes and tunnels are pretty amazing.
I got back to the pension completed exhausted, lightly sun-kissed, and super salty–basically in the best state one can be in. I fell into bed knowing, but only after telling the pension lady (I don’t know what you call her) that I would need to have breakfast at 7am. We had an early start to go diving with the whale sharks.
And that experience is one I will remember for the rest of my life. Swimming with such a huge animal and being able to reach out and pet it. Seriously incredible.
After that, the diving was done so there would be time for the nitrogen build up in my blood to release prior to getting on a plane. It’s one of my favorite things about destination diving. You have to take the last day and relax. And relax I did.
When that was done, I needed to figure out what to do for dinner (the hotel restaurant left a little to be desired) and I was ready to put on real clothes and some makeup. So, I got dressed and headed down the road on a lovely walk during which I got to watch the sunset and stop as often as I wanted.
By the time I finally got to a any kind of civilization, I’d walked about two miles, but it was totally worth it, especially because it was this place we’d driven by four times in the past two days and it was this great touristy place with an awesome shop and several restaurants. Think Dole Plantation in Hawaii..but instead of pineapple, they had all of these purple potato treats (an Okinawan thing). I enjoyed yakiniku (Japanese version of Korean bbq) for dinner and then shopped my little heart out. It was a perfect last night in Okinawa.
|Me and a giant tart|
Monday morning I took a nice long walk on the beach and saw some fun creatures and collected some shells.
The I packed up and headed to the bus stop to get back down to the airport, stick my bags in a locker, and go do a little more damage in Naha. I was hoping to get a few more things for the nieces and nephews and I still needed to get my bowl. Naha actually has an entire pottery district, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find it in time, so I headed to the main tourist drag and figured I’d find something there. I ended up missing my stop, which put me right in the neighborhood for the pottery district and I found these amazing ramen bowls. (Shown back at my apartment with delicious, homemade tonkatsu.)
I also got to see some awesome t-shirts (among lots of other shopping).
|Rad Wimps. Japanese translation for Hipster.|
And I ended up getting so much stuff I had to buy a new, awesome bag to get it all home in.
|One of my nieces is going to be super excited about this…|
I would love to say that the rest of the trip was uneventful, but that would be a lie. Nothing major. Just a piece of luggage stuck on the baggage carousel with no one able to figure out how to get it unstuck and the rest of stuck waiting for baggage for about 30 minutes. But, considering what an amazing vacation it was, small price to pay.
The end. Up next…Kyoto.