Paul has been a dream, waking up early with me while I get ready for school and making me fantastic breakfasts of french toast, pancakes, hash browns, eggs, oatmeal, espresso, etc... The weather was pretty cold too, so he was getting over jet lag and trying to stay warm in my freezing apartment, doing chores and being very handy, fixing stuff, as well as fixing meals!!!
We celebrated his birthday at my favorite udon shop, then ice cream sundaes at Mipple, and then played some taiko drums and video games at the video arcade at Mipple. It was like being in high school all over again. But the real birthday present was going to Okinawa- especially with Japan's awesome airline birthday discount! (Tickets are at least 50% off for up to 3 guests if you use the discount within 7 days of your birthday- anywhere the airlines fly!)
We headed off to Kansai airport on Thursday morning on our way to Ishigaki-jima in the Yaeyama group of islands, the southernmost group of the Okinawan Islands. It was cold and raining when we arrived, and I feared that we chose the wrong location for our winter tropical getaway!
But the next day, the sun came out and we enjoyed the balmy weather the rest of the trip! Since Christmas is not an official holiday and the main holiday is New Years, there were very few tourists around. I think there were probably about 15-20 people on the plane there! Ishigaki is definitely one of those beach towns where it probably is so cute and quaint during the summer with the tourists and everything, but in the off season, it was deserted, and in some places, pretty depressing. Buildings were rundown, although there were some interesting pieces of architecture, and most shops were boarded up.
Our first adventure was to find Cape Hirakubo, the northernmost point of the island with a famous lighthouse. The bus ride took about an hour, and we were the only passengers for most of the trip! I'm not sure if the houses along the road were abandoned, or if they were just shut up during the off-season. The buses don't run often, so the bus driver told us that the next time he would be coming back was in about 5 hours! Since the lighthouse wasn't a stop on the route, we got off at the last stop- basically at the edge of civilization, armed only with a few cookies in my "emergency low-blood-sugar stash". We walked down a few different dirt roads until we found the main one to the beach. The water was spectacular, ranging from turquoise green to deep dark blue. However, it was probably the dirtiest beach I've ever seen- thousands of plastic bottles, pieces of foam, buoys, nets, and trash had washed up on the shore of the beach!! We didn't see a single soul the whole day- we walked the entire length of the beach as far as we could go in each direction, even trying to clamber up the rocks trying to reach the lighthouse, but couldn't make it. The sun was out, but the water was pretty cold- no swimming or sun tanning for us- just a lot of windswept hair!
After a few hours, we walked back up to the main road, and since we still had a couple hours to kill before the bus would be coming back, we decided to start walking to the next stop. We didn't realize how long that would take- but it was a good hour's walk! We saw a giant crab, and stopped off at another beach. It was much cleaner, but not as scenic. At this point, we were famished- we split the cookies and finally got the bus back!
The next day, we decided to explore the famous Kabira Bay area, a bit closer to civilization. There were some tourists here (mostly Japanese) but few of them actually walked down to the water and took off their shoes. I think they were in shock that Paul and I were wearing flip flops during the winter! The shallow water was crystal clear blue/green and we walked along as far as we could go, trying to get to the next beach, Sukuji Beach. We ended up having to walk back up to the bay and catching a taxi to Sukuji (got ripped off with a "gaijin rate"- or we, uh, "contributed to the local economy"). Sukuji was as deserted as the beach from the day before. It was pretty spectacular- the shallow waters spread out a hundred feet into the sea, only reaching the tops of your ankles at most points. It was warm enough to wear swimsuits, but still too cold to swim! We ate, napped, and relaxed.... ahhhh....