A drive north to Ikema Island…and a Reminder of the Ups and Downs of Independent Travel

We both slept better last night on our thin mattress rolls and plastic bean pillows than we had the night before, though it would have taken more days at Tukayama sou for us to really get used to sleeping on such a hard surface!  We woke up quite early, as you might expect, and were totally on time for the 7:30 am breakfast.  It was a symphony of vegetables and tofu this morning – Chiyo San, the chef and proprietor here, who is well known all over Okinawa, takes the time to prepare almost a dozen small dishes for each meal, and few of them are repeats of previous meals!  There were two dishes this morning using carrots grown fresh in the vegetable garden here – and both were especially delicious!  

After we gave our thanks to the staff at Tukayama sou for a wonderful stay, we began today by driving to two of the islands connected to Miyakojima by dramatic bridges over the open turquoise tropical waters.  These islands are very small, and are primarily agricultural, with fields of sugar cane and vegetables.  On the first we drove to, Kurima, at the southwestern end of Miyakojima, there were elementary and high schools, a concrete tower overlooking the sea, and a few small convenience stores, with the balance devoted to agriculture. The second island, Ikema, is at the far north of Miyakojima, so we drove through Hirara to get there.  

As we entered Hirara, we came to a narrow street with many shops and restaurants that we hadn’t found the last time we were in town, and this is where I had the opportunity to learn again how important it is to be mindful!  We decided to stop for a walk around, and in trying to park in the narrow parking area we found, I damaged the front bumper of our rental car by hitting a curb that stuck out into the lot much more than I expected.  Even though I was going just a few kph, the super compact car we had rented still suffered a substantial dent in its fiberglass bumper, one that will cost us quite a bit when we return the car.  

I felt just terribly about my careless mistake, and so Tali and I spoke at length about it.  Since our travels are intended to provide opportunities for learning and growth, this accident can teach me to be more mindful in my driving all the time, and especially to be more cautious while driving and judging narrow spaces, that’s for sure!  In a broader sense, I want to move through life more gently and calmly than I do now, taking my time and being fully aware of my surroundings… and not only when traveling, but all the time!

We continued our drive north to Ikema island, and after we crossed the bridge, we quickly found a spot for a snack, and to decompress a bit.  The location we chose – a spa hotel overlooking the sea on a beautiful cliff – was fantastic; unfortunately, the cafe’s Olive Garden-esque Italian food, the same pale reminder of Italian cuisine that seems to be on offer everywhere in Japan, was much less breathtaking than the views.  

We left Ikema island after our lunch stop, and went to Sunayama, the beautiful beach close to Uplausagi, our new guesthouse for the next two nights.  Sunayama is a beach set into a small limestone cove, the rock formations providing some shade and a beautiful frame for the pretty-as-a-picture sandy beach.  Tali took a quick dip, and found on the sandy bottom, under about a meter and a half of water, someone’s rental car keys!  We left soon after, to go to check in to Uplausalgi, and while we were walking away from the beach toward the parking area, we tried to decide what to do with the keys, as there was no lifeguard, no one in charge anywhere in the area.  We easily found the rental car in the parking lot, and we really couldn’t settle on the best course of action.  We finally decided to leave the keys with the car they belong to, and hope that the person who lost them will go and check around the car before calling the rental agency for a new set of keys.  We trust in the essential goodness of our brothers and sisters, that the keys will find their way into the right hands, and that no one else will take an interest in them.  

We checked into our guesthouse and decided to relax for a few hours until dinner, as I was a bit sunburned from yesterday.  Before we knew it, the hours had passed, and it was time to go – when we made our reservations at Uplausagi, Yoko, the manager, had offered to make a reservation for us at one of the few restaurants in our area that stayed open late for dinner, and we had chosen the Japanese restaurant she offered.  

Her husband Naoki, drove us to the restaurant, and promised to pick us up when we had finished eating, and Yoko also invited us to come on a special nighttime expedition after dinner, along with the other people staying at the guesthouse – we couldn’t understand exactly what it was, something about either flowers (“Hana” in Japanese) or fireworks (“hana-bi”), but we were game either way! 

We did not see Kyouwa Restaurant, our first destination tonight, until we had already arrived, as it is set back a bit from the road, with no visible signage – this is a place that you must already know about, because you won’t see it while casually driving by, even if you’re looking for a place to eat.  We were met roadside by the chef, the husband of the couple that own and run the restaurant – who bowed deeply to us as we walked to the door to go in.  

I got the feeling that we were in for a special dining experience, and my expectations were easily surpassed by the superb meal we had.  Kyouwa offers set menus featuring either fish or meat, with everything locally sourced, incredibly fresh, and beautifully presented, like country-style kaiseki dining.  Once again, just as at Tukayama sou, our fish set course had at least a dozen dishes, with many we have never seen before at any Japanese restaurant anywhere – for example, the tempura course included dragon fruit flowers (which taste a little like artichokes), fiddlehead ferns, and sea grass, each perfectly prepared and brought to our table just seconds after being cooked.  I have to admit that, as delicious as everything was, I was happy when the rice dish was served, which traditionally signals the end of the meal, because I was definitely full by then…but then there was a small dish of beautifully fresh mango after that…and then after that, a small bowl of matcha (whipped green tea)…  The chef’s wife had brought each dish out to us with an explanation of what it was…sometimes she pointed to a picture of local fruits and vegetables, sometimes she tried a little Japanese, and sometimes a little English…The overall effect was charming, and we felt so grateful, so blessed to be sharing this wonderful experience.  

The chef’s wife had made an addition mistake in calculating our very reasonable tab (5000 yen for the two of us, without drinks), and fifteen minutes after we had left, by car, believe it or not, the chef caught up to us to apologize and give us the correct change!  He could have held it until tomorrow night, since we have already made reservations to eat at Kyouwa again, but this would not be in accordance with the honorable nature of so many of the people we have met during our travels throughout Japan.  There is much to learn here, in terms of how to move through life in a graceful and respectful way…  When we do return for our second dinner there, chef has promised an all new menu, unless there is something we had tonight that we wanted to have again.  Now that’s a difficult decision – to repeat the known delicious dishes, or to go for all new ones!  We have opted for the new, and we will try to eat very little during the day tomorrow, so we’re ready to enjoy another culinary masterpiece!

After dinner, at about 9:00 pm, Naoki and Yoko took us and the other Uplausagi guests in their van to a nature preserve, an area on the edge of the sugar cane fields that has a lake with mangroves growing around it, and some very rare, very special trees – the Barringtonia Asiatica, which bloom only at night. In fact, each flower on this tree only blooms for one night, then at daybreak falls to the ground, but there are so many buds of these delicate flowers on each tree that the entire blooming cycle lasts for a few weeks every year.  

We parked on a dark farm road, at the entrance to the nature preserve, and walked with lanterns and flashlights through the entrance, where we were suddenly
surrounded by these ethereal white or pink blossoms.  Please have a look at Tali’s WordPress blog (www.talilandsman.wordpress.com) for beautiful photographs of the Barringtonia Asiatica.  Because these flowers are night blooming, they depend on the night creatures of the preserve, including bats and frogs, for their pollination, and their very strong, very sweet perfume attracts these animals.  

What was even more amazing than these flowers were our fellow guests, who along with lots of other locals and visitors, marveled at the beauty they could see by flashlight and lantern, strolling from tree to tree, admiring in detail the beauty before them.  One of our fellow guests, a lively mother who was with her children, was literally dancing with joy at the sights!  I was totally charmed, not just by the Barringtonia, but also by the spontaneous joy I saw all around me.  Tali and I felt so fortunate to have been invited out to witness this special display of beauty, and we expressed our gratitude to Yoko and Naoki by giving them a hearty round of applause in the van on the way back to Uplausagi.  


About juleslandsman

I live, when not traveling, in Sweetwater, Colorado, located in between Vail and Aspen, and in Kohukohu, a small town on the Hokianga Harbour in New Zealand. I write travelogues, memoirs, and reflections when I'm not skiing, biking, or otherwise outdoors. I retired recently from a career in the financial services industry that spanned more than twenty-five years.
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