Thursday, October 05, 2006

Okinawa Kayak trip, Summer 2006, Part 6

Map of the trip.
That night, the heat is unbearable. Inside the tent the air is so thick and heavy as to be suffocating. Outside the tent the swarms of mosquitos devower my body. There is nothing one can do but give up on everything and set out to sea in the middle of the night. Navigating in the dark is okay with the GPS, but dealing with waves and gusts of wind is a challenge. Once we leave the wind shadow of the island, we are hit with fairly large waves and wind from behind. Staying together is challenging, but very important. A lot of my energy is focused on keeping together and staying right side up. With practice your body becomes adept at retaining its balance not through visual cues but rather from the feel of the water on your boat. Before we know it the sun has risen and we have made great progress. For once conditions are favorable, and as it is our final crossing I feel comfortable overextending my energy, knowing that the days ahead will give me plenty of opportunity for recovery. We reach our final destination in the morning, having made record time in our last crossing. At the port in Yoron various workers greet us and share our excitement in our achievement. Cell phones instantly bring a string of onlookers, even the local English teacher is summoned, and paraded in front of us. As if all being foreigners meant that we somehow have something in common. We are happy to be at our final goal with a few days even to spare. We can now for a few days pretend we are normal tourists on a romantic holiday on a tropical island!
That evening we go and see the Kariyushi Band, a local band that performs every night at their own personal bar. Last year while on a kayak trip from Okinawa to Amami Oshima, we were first introduced to this dynamic band. Seeing them again is wonderful. Their lead singer is a stunning sanshin player and their mix of Okinawa music local traditional music is a unique blend of styles. By the end of the night all guest are friends and we join together dancing and singing.
The next day we spend the morning kayaking (surprise, surprise). We have already grown tired of the land and long for the sea. On a tourist map we find a strange tourists attraction for scuba diving enthusiasts- an underwater marriage ceremony chapel. In our kayaks we set out to find this structure. For hours we kayak around the outside of the reef, flipping over every few meters with our diving goggles on, looking for the chapel. For hours we perfect our rolling technique and finally after almost giving up, we come upon the chapel. After anchoring our boats we take turns diving down the 18 meters to the chapel and take goofy pictures.
Engrossed in our silliness we hardly notice a kayak coming toward us. This is the first time on the entire trip that we would meet a kayaker. As it turns out the buffed and carefully tanned Mr.Sakae works for the local B&G club, which has a supply of sea kayaks. He had heard about our arrival to the Island, and had been on the lookout for us. He kindly invites us back to their head quarters, but as we have spent most of the day playing at the underwater chapel we now have to get going if we want to circumnavigate the island and go snorkeling before the sun goes down. Yoron Island is almost completely surrounded by a coral reef. Once you are inside you are basically trapped. Upon inquiring to Mr. Sakae about the best possible route, he encourages us to take the inside route. Mr.Sakae offers us an escort part of the way around the island. The inside route ends up being quite exciting as we surf waves that are breaking over the reef. Mr.Sakae is no slouch, and is obviously an experienced sea kayaker.

Finally rounding the northwest corner we are protected from the waves and enjoy one last snorkel before the sun goes down. The next morning we hang out on the pier talking with the local people fishing and finally drag our kayaks over the tetrapods and up to the ferry terminal. We are not eager to be leaving this magical island. All of our struggles and hardships are over and we should feel relieved but instead we find ourselves accustomed to this way of life and relaxed.


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