Monday, April 27, 2009

Spring Break Okinawa!

After a little airport excitement (lots of running) in Tokyo, we had a spacious relaxing flight. Okinawa welcomed us with soggy arms. The city Naha has a nice monorail that gave us a dry view of the wet city, while bringing us to the hotel.

The hotel was near the main drag, and so we hit it up the first night. The street has the restaurants of local fare as well as American inspired. Gift shops pouring onto the sidewalk, mostly selling the same wears as the next shop. Okinawa does have some colorful items to shop through. They are quite proud of the regional sake, awamori. It is a stronger batch, and if you pay enough, it comes with a snake inside. I tried it, tastes like sake to me, not impressed.

The next morning we strolled down to the docks with all our gear on our backs. We did not stroll fast enough, as all the ferries were gone for the day. Our hopes of going out to another island were momentarily dashed. Plans were altered, and we bussed up to the northern end of the main island. There are some closer islands up there.

In our new area we found the docks just as they were closing. No ferries this day. We did however make it to a small island connected by a bridge. Once on the island, a fellow working a roadside food stand told us which beach permitted camping. The beach right under the overpass, okay. The night was the first trial of a new tent bought specially for Okinawan beach camping. The rain came out heavy, but did not come in. We thought we parked it safe, but morning light showed that the tide had come up to lick the tent.

The next day we headed back south. We stopped in Nago for awhile and got a tour of the Orion Beer Brewery. There was also plans for seeing a pineapple themed amusement park/winery, but doing so would require missing the last highway bus. I really wanted to ride the pineapple carts.

Back in Naha, we played it safe, and stayed in a hostel near the docks. The next morning we were then able to catch a ferry out to Kume-Jima. A four hour boat ride to the furthest of Okinawa's first island set. There are three sets. We both managed to keep our food where it belongs on the ocean ride. Not all passengers displayed such fortitude.

Once arrived, there was confusion as to which bus was ours, or whether we even had a bus. The lady behind the counter grabbed her keys and gave us a lift to our beach destination a few miles away. Lovely. Our literature spoke well of this beach that was off the beaten path. Tide was out, and we could have walked a ways out. Everywhere were mounds of rocks and seaweed. If your passion is collecting shells and coral pieces, this is your beach.

The kind dock lady was s quick to give us a ride, we did not even have time to evaluate our resources. Once we decided to find dinner, it became evident how removed our location was. Taking a good sized walk, we were able to find some snacky basics between a small store and an airport giftshop. The walk did showcase some nice farmland.

After filling up on our snack meal, we wandered into the building 20 feet to the right of our tent. It was a small shop/bathroom/hangout to oversee the beach. This night it had an older lady on duty and two guys hanging out, one old, one younger. She was watching a documentary on TV about Okinawa, and they were playing a local stringed instrument and singing traditional songs. If they sang too loud, she turned up the volume on her show. The trio welcomed the presence of Lindsay and I. The lady gave us bizarre little snacks long after we were filled, and the guys bought us some beers.

I came across this cryptic message on the beach.

The morning's goal was to catch a bus to the other side of the island for the primary beach and a higher traffic area. Walking back to the little store, we found the bus stop. It listed a bus once an hour, most hours. The bus time came and went. We saw nothing. A guy across the street came out of his house and asked what we were doing. He gave us a ride to the other beach in his car decorated with Lilo & Stitch items. It seems that here, spring break does not correspond with tourist season. Except for wandering locals, the sand was empty. A non-camping beach, we had to walk a couple miles to a health spa/campground that rented us some grass in their backyard. Down on the shore, some ladies were harvesting the green stuff off of the rocks. We saw this a few times.

Sadly, we never swam. But we did get our feet wet. We walked the couple miles back into town and were able to get a warm meal, Mexican. A welcome change to the convenience store camp food. With plenty of doubt, we were actually able to catch a bus back to the docks the next day. The ferry seemed a little quicker the way back, and we got a semi-Japanese style hotel in our original neighborhood close to the monorail.

The trip was three nights camping on/near beaches, two hotels, and one hostel. We never stayed in the same place twice, and much of the time we spent walking with all our gear on our backs. Much time was lost moving from one area to another, as it seemed we were always in transit. Camping was our goal, but hotels were needed when we were trying to get from one place to the next. The trip was great, but far from a relaxing day at the beach.

There and back we rode in a Pokemon plane. Japan!

I am growing familiar with the train rides back from the Tokyo airport.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Thai'd up

We woke and packed ourselves out of the Chinatown guesthouse, walked to the nearest dock, and caught the river taxi north to our next neighborhood. After settling in on Khao San, we went up to the roof to relax by the pool.

We spent a fair amount of time walking up and down Khao San, the parallel streets, and winding passages that connect them. It was your one stop tourist shop. Everything you could want as Thailand memorabilia was sold there. And while the vendors probably saw a healthy mark-up, the prices were still reasonable. Certainly the best collection of tshirts I have seen anywhere. For all of its commercial activity, the street was still great. All the food was cheap and delicious. The merchants were locals. The community was quite international.

The next morning was our last. We checked out and headed for some more sights. First stop was the Golden Mount, a giant artificial hill with a golden bell-like object on top. It was too giant for my small camera to handle, so please enjoy this photo of some small bells, also found atop the Golden Mount.

The next stop was Wat Suthat, a meticulously neat and ornate temple. The hot Bangkok sun was bouncing off of everything including the shiny tiles on the ground. On occasion a monk would pop out, going about his business. Us tourist folk were free to wander the lovely grounds and snap our photos.

Inside a large central building sat a substantial bronze Buddha. To his front a monk was leading a small service for a group of worshipers and/or tourists. To take a close look at the tall dark walls, I could see an unending spread of story telling pictures.

The sun had peaked and was starting its descent. We started our lengthy walk back toward the hostel, where our bags were kept. This stretch offered a better look of some everyday Bangkok life. Construction workers, laundry hangers, and a fresh market buried along the riverbank.

Slowly walking through the market to eat all the curries, fish, and vegetables with my eyes. Here and there the setting sun would find a hole in the tarps and junk piles, illuminating an otherwise hidden pocket of color. The whole tent was ready to burst with radiance, but the locals managed to keep some order by hiding their market in tarps, and repressing the dangerous colors.

We quickened our walk by cutting over to the river and taxiing up a few stops. The move was further improved upon by catching the sunset from the riverbank. The sun did its thing, and went away. We ate a last meal on the tourist drag, and used up the remainder of our baht on a few end of trip purchases. Bags on back, we wandered the street until shuttling to the airport for a 2am flight home.

Thailand is the best place yet.