We Explore Cape Maeda
We woke up this morning at about 6am, after a good night’s sleep, right through super Typhoon Guchol’s passing by Okinawa – here at Akichichi Guesthouse, on the west coast of the island, there were gusty winds and some rain overnight, but no apparent damage from the storm. Most people in this neighborhood had not taken any obvious storm precautions either – there were no hurricane shutters or boarded-up windows to be seen anywhere – I guess that living in a typhoon zone like Okinawa has made the locals pretty blasé about even a super typhoon like Guchol, unless the storm path is tracking directly over the island.
I went with Tali for a walk in the neighborhood soon after we awoke – it was sunny and breezy, warm and humid – a beautiful morning, especially after damp and chilly New Zealand! Cape Maeda, our neighborhood here, has wonderful beaches and dive spots, but also sugar cane fields producing traditional Okinawan brown sugar, a neighborhood school, small shops and seaside restaurants – it felt very rejuvenating just to be strolling here in the early morning. I’m looking forward to taking longer exploratory walks after breakfast each day that we’re here.
Komaki, Kenny’s partner, served us an incredibly good Okinawan breakfast out on our little patio at about 8am. There were a number of dishes I’ve never had before, as well as a few that I did know. We had rice cooked with herbs and a small amount of egg, served with a teaspoon of sweet miso, a soft miso, the consistency of custard, served in a hot broth, stir fried local vegetables, including bitter gourd, a tofu made from peanuts, a small amount of rice noodles, and a few other dishes that were also delicious! Everything felt light and healthy, in addition to being quite tasty – thank you, Komaki!
After breakfast, Tali made good on her promise to go out for a bit of a run with me, the first time she has ever tried running as an exercise! I must say that she did remarkably well – she has all the right mental skill sets from her experience as a long distance swimmer to be successful as a recreational runner, and even on this, her first day ever, she easily managed to run and walk for about thirty minutes – way to go, Tali!!! I also loved going out for the run with Tali – it was exhilarating to be out in the warm sunshine, running around the neighborhood! I’m going to try and go out for a run at least once a week on this journey, and I’m hopeful Tali will join me for some or all of them.
Exploring the North of Okinawa
Despite the ominous morning clouds, we drove all the way north today, to the Kunigami region of the ancient Hokuzan Kingdom, which dates back to the twelfth century. This is the most remote section of Okinawa, with beautiful forests, stunning limestone rock formations high above the sea below, and sugar cane and vegetable farms.
Because of Kunigami’s distance from any of Okinawa’s urban areas, and the winding two-lane coastline roads with no passing zones, the small villages here carry on a traditional life of farming and fishing, not as modernized as areas farther south.
We intend today to climb to the top of Hiji Ohtaki, the thirty meter high waterfall that plunges down a ridge in the Yanbaru Forest, and then to see Hedo Misaki, the northernmost point of the island.
Even though there are many delicious tropical fruits grown here on Okinawa, including papaya, mango, bananas, and passionfruit, the local diet, much as in Japan, usually includes just a small serving of fruit with breakfast, and since fruit is a much bigger part of my regular diet, we stopped on our way north at a local supermarket to buy fruit for our lunch. There was a delicious selection of grapes, apples, tangerines and bananas available at very reasonable prices, so we made our selection and then continued on our way.
Despite the very damp weather, Hiji Ohtaki didn’t disappoint! Our climb to the waterfall was through magical forests with huge trees, the leaves of the ferns and other plants shining magically, as if just polished. The entire path was almost completely deserted, leaving us to ourselves, adding to our sense of being in a very special place at a special time. When we reached the waterfall, the sound of the water falling thirty meters to the rocks below was all-consuming. It was a wonderful experience, and I felt very grateful to be able to explore this beautiful countryside.
After we had descended to the park station at ground level, we enjoyed our just-bought lunch of fruit, rice and pickles, and then continued north to Hedo Misaki (Cape Hedo), the northernmost point in Okinawa.
Almost all of Hedo Miseki is windswept and very rocky, with several memorial sculptures throughout the point, as this area has been set aside as a monument to all the lives lost on Okinawa during the second World War, and as a silent plea for peace on earth. It was a very powerful experience, both in terms of the strength of the winds buffeting us as we walked around, and the mute testimony to the foolishness of wars, in which there are no winners, only losers.
We drove south, back to Cape Maeda, and checked in to Sunset Beach House, our new home for the balance of our stay in Okinawa. We went for dinner at Ryuka Restaurant, recommended by our host Aki san, which is a very casual locals’ spot, featuring delicious fresh seafood.
Despite the inclement weather, we had had a wonderful day exploring the north of Okinawa!
On A Rainy and Blustery Day, We Visit the Limestone Caverns
We went on a drive today, first to the eastern coast of the island, where we stopped at Hamabe no Chaya, the beach side cafe Kenny wrote about in his Okinawa guidebook, for lunch. It was so stormy today that nearby Mibaru Beach was completely deserted, except for a few workers moving benches and tables off the beach to sheltered storage. We had heard about another typhoon that was approaching the island, almost immediately after Guchol had blown through, but we hadn’t expected this new storm was going to bring a day of strong rains and winds, despite tracking well away from Okinawa.
Since it was raining too hard to do much sightseeing, we drove over to the Gyokusendo Cave Park, the biggest stalactite grottoes in all of Japan. Gyokusendo was discovered by university students in 1967, and there are more than a half million stalactites spread out along its length of five kilometers, about a quarter of which is open to the public. It’s awe inspiring to walk among such beautiful limestone formations, sculpted by water and enormous amounts of time – each stalactite grows just three millimeters every ten years, so many of these stalactites have taken thousands of years to reach their current sizes.
On our way back home, we stopped at the same local restaurant as yesterday for another delicious meal – this time, tempura, tempura-fried purple potato, Goya Champuru, grilled fish, and tea. Everything was delicious! We came back to the room at about 8:30pm, and after showers, we were soon asleep.
The Traditional Village of Bise
The morning at Sunset Beach House saw another fierce rainstorm pass through, so we stayed in, to catch up on writing, and to do our readings from A Course in Miracles. And in the early afternoon, the clouds finally lifted, and it became beautifully bright and sunny, for the first time during our stay in Okinawa!
We left at 3pm to take a drive up to the Nago area, in the North, to visit the town of Bise, a delightfully eccentric coastal village that remains much as it has been for centuries. Most of the nearly 250 houses in the Bise district, each with its own small garden plot, are divided like a chessboard, surrounded by thickly grown Fukugi (mangosteen) trees.
Fukugi have been used as windbreaks in Okinawa from ancient times. They were especially planted around houses in communities near the sea, as is the case with Bise. Among the several thousand Fukugi trees in Bise, the oldest one is estimated to be 300 years old.
The narrow, tree-shaded roads, with its old houses sited closely together, is unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere in Japan. There is a strong feeling of a community here, that is reinforced by the ancient trees lining the roads and the properties, that gives the mindful visitor an impression of how life must have been when people relied on one another for their mutual survival, generation after generation.
After we strolled through almost all of the streets of Bise, and then enjoyed our newly rediscovered sunshine by walking back to our car along the beach, we headed back to Sunset Beach guest house.