Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Lengthy Update

A hopefully lengthy update

I'm writing from a bungalow I've rented for a night in Yoron-To. By the time I send this I'll be three islands (well more if you want to count all of them but three more of my planned ones) down from my last update. I've been writing this and adjusting it as often as possible, hard to capture everything as ridiculous turns of luck and interest keep happening.

I left Ohama campsite in the north of Amami-Oshima with a view to go and buy fuel and then check out the campsite at Yadori beach in the very south of the island. I'd walked all of about 50m when I met a group of women out on a family walk. A grandmother, her three daughters and one granddaughter. We chatted for a while, they asked about the ukulele and my family, I showed them some photos and they offered me a lift to Naze as they were headed that way and I gratefully accepted.

In Naze I thanked them, went to the internet cafe briefly and then went to find fuel for the trangia. Well I didn't find any despite a very lengthy search, resigned myself to raw food for the next few days and hitched a lift to Yadori with an Okinawan man in his 60's named Orichii-san who had moved to Amami a year before to look after his mother. It was a long drive over mountains and alongside mangrove forests in the last two hours of sunset. He dropped me in Koniya, ten minutes from Yadori and just afterwards a car pulled over and a gardener who didn't give his name drove me along the last small roads past a few shrimp farms (strange looking things, fields of pools of water with oxygen pumps) to the campsite.

I arrived just before sunset to find it deserted except for on the beach itself where the guests from the hotel next-door were having a drink and a chat. I walked to a point further down along the beach and sat toasting the sun with a cup of soymilk.

In the morning I went snorkelling, Yadori was even better for this than I'd heard. I saw a lot of fish I couldn't name, small and multicoloured. The only thing I recognised was a distinctly gloomy pufferfish. My swim was cut short by the discovery of a tommy hilfiger wallet on the reef bed. I dove down and shooed a wrasse out of the way before picking it up and swimming back to shore. When I landed and opened it to have a proper look a crab scuttled out.

I handed it in to the woman who owns the bar closest to the campsite, and between her and a man who trims the palm trees they found a name and number and within ten minutes the owner turned up, saying he'd lost it on the coast about 15 miles away.

I spent most of the rest of the day reading Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and then walked to a nearby beach I'd heard about. On the way I met a man from Osaka who has his second home in Yadori and I talked to him a little bit about Osaka and my trip. We then split ways and I found Hoshinohama, a beach that to me looked thoroughly like Budleigh Salterton near Exeter.

When I went back to the camp I found my bread was on the turn from having spent most of its time in a hot tent, and I was trying to work out if that could really be called a loss of the day given everything else having gone so well. Just as I was deciding it wasn't the point was driven home by the approach of Mr and Mrs Nishiyo, the Osakan man and his other half walking down the road to me with a small cooler of beer. I thought they were visiting the family who owned the bar but they instead came up to me, gave me the cooler with three beers and a pot of yoghurt inside, asked if I wanted to use their hot shower, offered me some instant noodles and said they were driving up to Naze the next day if I needed a lift in that direction.

I was overwhelmed. It took a lot of persuading them that I was alright for the shower and noodles but I accepted the beers and yoghurt and said I hadn't decided exactly where I was going tomorrow but it would definitely be north and a lift would be great. I wanted to go to Tokunoshima fairly soon after but wasn't sure how to go about it, the ferry leaving every other day at 5am from Naze. I'd have go back up and camp in Ohama and leave early in the morning by taxi with a wet tent or sleep in the internet cafe in Naze.

That evening in Yadori A-san of the family from the bar came over to my tent and asked me about my plans for Tokunoshima and then invited me into the bar whilst he and his sister Mie-chan did a quick google search. They told me that I could get a ferry from Koniya (which was about 15 minutes north of where I was) at ten in the morning which would save me the problem of accommodation in Naze. I thanked them both and A-san and I played bongos and ukulele for a while.

In the morning the Nishiyos took me to Koniya, gave me their business card and wished me good luck. I arrived in Tokunoshima and within 3 minutes a father and teenage son offered me a lift to Aze, a 15 minute drive from the port. They told me I should come back in May for the famous bull-fights which I gather are bull-vs-bull.

They dropped me off and I wandered off to find the campsite deserted of people but with three permanent-looking tents. I set mine up and sat in the shade reading for a few hours until it got a bit cooler at which point I walked the 40 minute path to the nearest village that had a shop. Bought some bread and mackerel and on the way back a pickup truck slowed down alongside me. The round-faced, wild eyed and rambunctiously healthy Yamakura-san asked where I was headed and informed me "We're going now!" he told me a bit more about the agriculture in Tokunoshima and recommended I try any potato-based spirits I find. His driving was as rambunctious as he and we were soon driving along the pedestrian footpath of the campsite, the sides of the car shaving a few inches off the hedges on either side. He seemed intent on making sure my feet left the truck and arrived in the tent without touching anything between and came close to parking squarely on my ukulele in the effort.

He roared a ganbatte and honked his horn about 15 times on the way out of the campsite and I ate my dinner, took some photos of the stars when the sun had set and went to bed.

The next day I read some more and attempted to walk to town to find internet access and contact Emma. I'd just walked up the long road from the campsite to the main roads and ten steps after that a car slowed down and Yamada-san of Kobe offered me a lift as he was also heading to Kametoku to go shopping. He lived on Tokunoshima for two years in his teens but comes here twice a year to see his mother who lives alone. Well we got to the capital only to be told by a gaggle of schoolgirls that there aren't any internet cafes of any sort. Yamada-san offered to drive me back on his return home after shopping so I went with him and bought a couple of bananas.

On the way back we talked about towns near Kobe and it turns out Yamada-san used to work at a hospital in the first town I wwoofed in back in 2009, Sasayama in Hyogo-ken, home of some amazingly good black bean tea.

Having no internet I decided to hasten my pace, thinking there might be some on Okinoerabu-jima (the next island down). Well I arrived there the next day and on the way from the port to the campsite I decided to stop in a hotel and ask if they could recommend a place. The woman at reception said there wasn't anything in terms of internet cafes but I'd be welcome to use theirs and she handed me an ethernet cable before walking off into the hotel. I wanted to be as quick as possible and having sent the message I was putting my laptop away when she came back and gave me a cup of green tea before disappearing again. I started looking at my map and she reappeared again with two onigiri (triangular blocks of rice wrapped in seaweed) which she put down before me and said she thought I looked hungry. I accepted them and when I finished eating I said thanks and tried to give her some money for the internet, tea and food but she insisted I hold onto it. I said thanks again and started to leave, and when she asked where I was heading it emerged her colleague was driving that way in five minutes to pick up a guest, so once again I found myself being driven to a campsite. It was ridiculously windy in Kibiru and once I'd set up my tent I started walking to orientate myself. I keep thinking these islands are smaller than they really are, after two and a half hours of walking fairly slowly and taking photos I'd gotten nowhere near as close to a full circuit i.e. back round to my tent as I had imagined I would.

Went to the bus stop to find the last bus had left ten minutes previously so I started walking back and decided to give hitching one more go. A few cars went past but then one came by in the opposite direction and the grinning man driving, as well as the young man and woman in the back all shouted hello.

I said hello back and it carried on on its way. I carried on walking but soon it came back to me and slowed down.

It turned out to be Takashi-san and friends. He'd been given a call by friends who had driven past me a few minutes previously saying there's a foreigner hitching down in China town (the name of the town in the south of Okinoerabujima, pronounced Chin-na) and as they were just out on a wander they decided to come and get me. Takashi was enthralled to find out I was camping right by his family home and when he dropped me off he invited me out for drinks later on and said he'd be back in an hour or two.

A very warm welcome to Erabu, elated I returned to my campsite where I met the most disturbing and frustrating stray cockerel. It was such an effort to construct that evening's mackerel sandwich without it getting into my food bag. It was persistent to say the least, I chased it round in circles about seven times but it wouldn't leave. Eventually I threw a small stone at it and that convinced it. I have the ghost of remorse as it was only hungry but frankly it was a horrible looking chicken, caked in grime.


Takashi turned up with his grandmother in the car who couldn't stop laughing hysterically when I got in. I soon learned between them they'd devised a plan to surprise everyone in the family. Takashi had told his parents he was having a friend for dinner but didn't say anything else, the great shock being I'm a tall caucasian ( I had no idea foreigners were this rare on Amami, Tokunoshima, Okinoerabu and Yoron. I knew you didn't see many but I was surprised I was such a novelty) . We drove off to pick up his uncle who was mildly surprised and amused and then went to the Sugawa family home.

Well, his mother and father gawped and the first things they said were "Takashi!!! Does he speak Japanese?!!! Does he like Japanese food?!!!" But as soon as I introduced myself and we worked out that my small Japanese would be sufficient for a sustainable stream of conversation (everything eased by Takashi's grandmother who was still chuckling long and hard) they soon relaxed and were incredibly warm to me. Dinner was delicious, we had sushi along with meat and vegetables cooked on an electric hot plate placed on top of the table. We talked about, well everything but in particular fishing and families. After dinner Takashi and I were dropped off at a friends house (Nori-san) where we chatted and had a few drinks with everyone who was back from studying for the spring holiday.

As it got so late Nori invited us to stay over so we pulled a few futon mattresses out of the cupboard and went to sleep. In the morning Takashi and Nori asked me to stay that night as well (my last night in Erabu) and that day was spent with Takashi checking out a few of the scenic spots on the coast, proving I didn't find the water cold as an Englishman by awkwardly paddling in my zip-off shorts, and in the evening we helped set up a barbecue organised by Yurika-chan's family. Yurika is studying hair-dressing in Osaka (Takashi's there too studying business) and five of her friends had come to spend part of the holiday in 'Erabu.

We ate barbecued meat and vegetables and drank beer and potato-shouchou Yurika's father grows potatoes) and lit some fireworks and I played ukulele for quite a while and taught a few chords to those that wanted to learn and again went back to Nori's that evening to sleep.

In the morning Takashi dropped me off at the port and came to wait for the ferry with me, I've been blown away by his generosity and that of everyone I met on Okinoerabu jima and if you're reading this Takashi- "どもうありがとうございます!!いちばんたのしかった!”

I arrived on Yoron shortly after and started walking to the campsite at Yurigahama where I'm now staying in a structue like a mushroom, it's a one room house on top of a concrete pillar.

1 comment:

  1. Hi there.
    I'm taking a trip similar to this (island hopping from Kagoshima to Naha), from the 20th of September (in a weeks time). Like you, I speak Japanese, but I have some trouble with Kanji - as you can imagine, its been a little hard finding information on this area that wasn't in Japanese.

    As such, I was elated to come across this blog. Your experience really seems fantastic and has made me even more excited for the trip ahead. I wanted to ask some questions that I hope you might be able to answer.

    I was a bit worried about getting around the islands. I was thinking i'd miss quite a few things on my 'to see' list, as I don't have the money to rent a car (nor do I really fancy driving somewhere I've never been before).

    Your post makes it seem like hitch-hiking as a foreigner is a relatively easy thing to do - and that everyone is very friendly and accommodating. Is that so? I personally, would love to just 'go with the flow' and ride with locals that I meet along the way.

    I don't really have any other questions. If it is *that* simple to just chat with locals, and they'll involve you in their travels and experiences - then I'll be happy to just go from island to island and see what happens.

    Any 'must see' locations would be greatly appreciated.