Grant was really keen to go to Okinawa, it was one of his top things to do while we were away, so we planned to go for a week over his birthday.
We got to Fukuoka airport and after an hour delay was on the flight, very excited!
Okinawa is a small island south of Japan and apart from the capital city doesn't have any public transport, so we booked a car for a few days to drive around the north of the island, before doing some island hopping on the even remoter islands near the south.
We picked up our car from the airport and drove an hour north to a hostel that we had booked for the first 2 days. Unfortunately when we got there the hostel looked completely crap from the outside, in a run down and pretty much deserted neighbourhood. With nothing going on around it.
I felt really bad for Grant as I wanted to make his birthday special, and he wasn't very impressed with the sight of the hostel either, so we thought we'd find somewhere nicer. We drove around for an hour but everywhere we went said they were fully booked (which we thought was extremely unlikely, we had been warned that the Japanese don't like people just turning up and like to know you're coming, and this proved that point!) so eventually we gave up and reluctantly drove back to the original hostel.
We checked in and got shown round by a guy the hostel owner Yoda (good name!)- It was basically his house and he was using a couple of rooms upstairs for the hostel, it didn't look like the kind of place we wanted to hang around. We had booked to stay for 2 nights but determined to stay somewhere a bit nicer for Grants b'day we only checked in for 1 and got on the wifi to book a nicer place for the next night. We dumped our stuff and drove to the nearest restaurant for dinner then headed back to the hostel expecting a crap evening hiding in our room. As luck would have it however, when we got back Yoda was having a party in the garden and one of the girls spoke very good English and invited us to join in. It actually ended up being a really good evening chatting and drinking with them, they even sang Grant happy birthday at midnight! It was like being at home with our friends, just the Japanese version of them! Was pretty cool getting involved in a completely local experience and a random and unexpected one as well, just goes to show things never turn out like you expect!
The next morning was Grants b'day so I cooked him a birthday breakfast before heading out to the visit the aquarium nearby, the biggest aquarium in the world apparently! It was built over 4 floors and as well as all the normal stuff, had a massive tank (and I mean massive) with among other things had 3 whale sharks, sting ray and dolphins in it, was pretty cool. We ended up standing there and staring at it for ages! You could even go up to the upper floor and stare down into it and see all the work that went into keeping it clean and the fish healthy. On the way out we found a dolphin show was about to start in an area set up just back from the beach, a lovely way to chill out after walking round the massive aquarium. It was a beautiful day and a lovely setting.
Eventually we dragged ourselves away and headed to the new hotel we had booked the night before.
The hotel room was much more like we wanted (i'm a total flash packer at heart!) and had a lovely balcony looking over 2 different beaches. I had bought Grant a few bits and had made him a happy birthday banner, so wanted to get it all set up in the room as a surprise for him. We weren't planning on staying in the hotel for long, just checking in then carry on exploring so I suggested he wait in the car while I checked in. Unfortunately he wasn't having it and I couldn't think of a decent reason why he should, so when we were in the room I tried again saying I needed the bathroom and I'd meet him downstairs. But he wasn't having that either so eventually just told him I wasn't well and would prefer it if he left, which eventually he did although not overly impressed about it! That was more effort in real life than it was in my head!!
Back in the car we drove to some nearby shops for supplies but then realised it was getting quite late and we wanted to chill on the beach for a bit before it got too dark, so drove back to the hotel to leave the car, get our swim gear on and walk to the beach by the hotel. Secretly I was also keen to get back to the hotel so Grant could find his surprise... I was all excited when he opened the door, and stood back to watch his face, and watched him walk right passed the display I had put out, sit on the bed and started sorting his stuff out for the beach, I couldnt believe it! I waited for about 15 mins (I have no patience so that's along time for me!) by which time he'd walked right past his presents another 2 times and not noticed them, before I couldn't wait anymore and had to point it out to him!! Good job I went thru all the effort to make it a surprise!! ;-) Still he liked his stuff which was the main thing.
After laughing about it for a while we got changed and walked down to the lovely golden sandy beach, with a little bay of warm water, not a bad way to spend your b'day!
Restaurant choices that evening were a bit limited but our hotel did offer a shuttle service to its sister hotel that had a nice, but expensive, all you can eat restaurant with a lovely outside patio. Obviously we made sure we really did eat all we could to get the value out of it! Right at the end my eyes lit up when I noticed a chocolate fountain in the corner (I literally stopped my conversation mid sentence when I noticed it) the perfect way to end a fatty dinner!
Having learnt our lesson about the Japanese not happy about you just turning up, we had booked a hotel for the next day further south down the island and nearer to the place we had to drop our car back. Our third day in the car was spent driving round various little islands, including miyagi Island, which I assume the Karate kid instructor was named after, taking photos, admiring the scenery and stopping off for a chill on a few beaches along the way. On the island next to miyagi island we found a beach resort and finished the day off sitting on a wooden raft in the sea admiring the beautiful scenery, it felt like I was back in Thailand, it was lovely!
The next day we had to take the car back so after what turned out to be quite a long detour to a cliff viewing spot to have a picnic lunch, we drove to the hostel we had booked for the next 4 days, dropped our bags off and went to take the car back.
Taking advantage of not needing to drive anymore, we got the tram to Naha - the capital and main city - and to a popular food, drink and shopping street in search of a weird food market we had heard of, and a pub to spend the evening in. Successfully we managed to find both :-) The food market was quite cool, with massive puffer fish heads and pig faces everywhere which seemed to be a delicacy in Okinawa. As we were about to walk out a guy asked us if we wanted our photo taken with a pig face he had on display that was wearing sun glasses and a hat, we did of course, very random!!
The evening was then spent in a couple of different bars, one of which was a 100 yen (70p) a beer, an absolute bargain in Japan, drinking beer and eating taco rice before heading home to our hostel.
We had purposely booked a hostel next to the port as while we were in Okinawa we wanted to do some island hopping and visit the tiny remote Kerama islands. The plan was to have our hostel back on the main land where we could leave most of our stuff, but if we found somewhere to stay on the remote islands we had the option of doing that too.
We were up early the next day and on the ferry to Zamami, the largest Kerama Island. When we arrived I instantly fell in love with the place, it was absolutely beautiful. We got off the ferry, asked about accommodation in the tourist office, and walked along the beautiful coast line to find a camp site on the beach where you could hire a tent, the cheapest option for accommodation. The tent sounded like a good idea at the time, especially as we were double paying for accommodation that night. We knew it would be hot, it was glorious weather, but neither of us realised just how hot it would be until we were literally dripping with sweat trying to put the damn thing up, having to take a break every 30 seconds to stand on the shade and wipe the sweat from our faces. At one point I had to take my top off and just stood there in my bra, not caring who could see me, I couldn't cope wearing clothes anymore! Eventually we had it up and wasted absolutely no time getting into the sea, in our underwear, no time or enthusiasm to get changed! The setting was perfect, the camp site was just behind a lovely beach which looked out onto a couple of even remoter islands in the distance and the sea was lovely and warm. If anything the only problem was it was too hot! Must have been at least 40 degrees! We got out of the sea, had cold showers in the outside showers still in our underwear (I was pretty convinced there were too many creepy crawlies in the shower blocks) and got dressed wondering what to do with ourselves now. We were both a bit burnt after putting the tent up so wanted to be out of the sun, the only problem being that there seemed to be no share anywhere! We planned to get the bus into the main village (more of a van - which came at non regular random times, at least 1.5 hours apart) but we had an hour to wait, so hid from the sun next to the tiny on site café and waited.
When we got off of the bus we realised there wasn't much to do in the village either! We needed some supplies for dinner so went and found a tiny supermarket to buy food that we didn't need to cook (ended up with a mish mash of crisps, dodgy looking sausage rolls and biscuits, very healthy!) then after a very quick walk round the tiny village found shelter in the shade by the port where we waited for the bus back to our camp site. We waited about an hour, and then only got it by the skin of our teeth as we realised it was parked in a different place than we thought it was and had to run after it screaming and shouting as it drove off! Luckily the driver saw the nutter white folk running towards the bus just in time!
Back at the camp site and it was still sweltering hot, but had cooled just enough that we weren't getting burnt by the sun and we spent a lovely couple of hours chilling on the beautiful, and pretty much deserted, beach until the sun went down.
Then it was time for bed.... the major flaw in our plan being that inside the tent was hotter than outside! We ate our random dinner on a make shift table and chairs outside that we'd made from rocks but once it was too dark to see, moved into the tent to play cards and continually fan ourselves waiting for it to get cool enough to sleep. Unfortunately that never really happened! I did pass out at some point, but not for long as the sounds of all the bugs and god knows what else freaked me out so much it was hard to sleep thru it! I do actually love camping, but camping in your own country, with normal temperatures and normal bugs was one thing, camping in Japan in the blistering heat and unknown creepy crawlies was another thing all together!
We had considered staying in the tent 2 nights, especially as the setting was so beautiful, but after a night of not sleeping were up early to pack up the tent!
We had booked a snorkelling tour for the day, so after getting sweaty again putting the tent away (it was only 8.30 by this point and already too hot to move!) we got picked up by the tour guide and driven to a little boat to be taken to one of the remote islands. The snorkelling was pretty cool! I hate being in deep water, and especially hate being in deep water in the sea so normally get pretty freaked out by snorkelling but we were so close to the shore that being in the sea didn't bother me at all. We were snorkelling over reefs with loads of different brightly coloured fish everywhere it was wicked! We were out there for at least an hour before we got called back to the boat, it was enough for our first session, but definitely gave me the snorkelling bug! When we got dropped back to the port we hid in the shade on our regular bench waiting for the bus to take us to the opposite side of the island, to another beach which was supposed to be even more beautiful than the beach we had camped on. Furuzamami beach was indeed beautiful, and the sea even clearer than the beach we'd stayed at before. Still not wanting to sit in the sun, and also not wanting to shell out on an umbrella, we found the only bit of shade under a tree on the beach, and chilled reading books and swimming... can you get any more relaxing?!? A couple of hours later we got the bus back to the port to get the boat to Aka for the night, an even remoter island, where we had booked the cheapest guest house we could find.
We had been told that the women that ran the guest house didn't speak any English, which was fine with us, but we hadn't been told she was a bit mental! She must have thought it was hilarious that she had English guest staying as every time she saw us she just giggled and randomly chatted to herself! The room was quite decent (or so we thought!), completely authentic Japanese, but more importantly had aircon! At last we could hope for a few hours of not sweating our whatsits off!
We went for a wander round island (which didn't take long!), found a tiny little bar and then found a lovely café to eat dinner, right on the water front. There were pretty much the only 2 places to go on the island, but luckily for us they were both pretty decent.
Back in our guest house room, and 2 cockroach killings later, we settled down on our Japanese futons on the floor, aircon blaring, and torches at the ready to inspect the floor we were on every 5 minutes for more cockroaches and bugs! There goes our good night's sleep!
The next day we wanted to head back to Furuzamami beach on the first island to hire snorkelling gear and make the most of the beautiful sea. We had a bit of a wait until the first boat so went back to the café on the waterfront for breakfast before catching the boat back over. The snorkelling on Furuzamami beach was even better than the tour we had been on the day before. The fish were pretty much the same (although Grant did see a massive eel which he kindly didn't tell me about until we were out of the water so I didn't freak out!) but it was nice swimming around at our own pace. We were in the water for ages! This time as we were on the beach for the day we did invest in a beach umbrella and had a lovely day chilling in the shade waiting for the afternoon and the ferry back to the main Okinawa island and our hostel.
I really enjoyed being on the islands, it was so relaxing that I'm determined to get a couple more remote places booked into our trip before we come home!
The next day was our final day in Okinawa as we were flying out back to mainland Japan at 7pm that night. After a decent night sleep with aircon and no bugs, we were up early and checked out of our room and walking back into Naha city to kill some time, having a massage (again not a very back packery thing to do but lovely all the same) eating ice cream and chilling with a beer in our favourite pub before heading to the airport to get our flight to Nagoya.