Dispatches from the back of the sock drawer of life

Tag: Iriomote

Uehara activities

Tuesday 10th/Wednesday 11th

So I decided to get some physical activity in to start my trip off. First: snorkelling! Having never done this before, was looking forward to a new experience, and the views from the boat were promising.

However, my inexperience was to prove problematical. Donned flippers and snorkel, and hopped in to the amazingly clear waters with the others. Sea was a bit choppy, and I couldn’t get the hang of the flippers – looking across at our skipper gliding along effortlessly I struggled to figure out the technique. Anyhow, thrashed about for 20 mins, enjoying the sight of coral and fish gliding by below – at which point I managed to inhale a chunk of the East China Sea. Struggled back to the boat, and spent the next half hour coughing up nasty coloured foam with the ever present taste of salt and iodine – lovely!

I got back in the water an hour later to stand on an ‘island’ (third pic above) called Barasu Island. It’s a bit of a stretch calling it an island – essentially a big pile of coral that disappears at high tide, and is only held in place by intersecting currents. Still, pretty cool.

The next day I tackled something more my style – kayaking and hiking. Fortified by a Japanese breakfast of rice, miso soup, fish and salad, headed over to another little B&B called Monsoon who run excursions. Stocked up on supplies of my favourite rehydration tonic – Pocari Sweat – under the watchful (but sleepy) eye of one of the locals. Still haven’t found out what type of animal a Pocari is, or how you’d harvest it’s sweat (or why it tastes so good 😁)

We would be kayaking up a river from the coast, then hiking through mangrove forest to the Pinasaira falls. The interior of Iriomote is 90% forest, and gets plenty of rain. There are 7 species of mangrove tree in Japan – and Iriomote is the only place where you find all 7 of them. We started with a 10 minute walk to the river, then a half hour paddle upriver to the start of the hike proper.

On disembarking, we spotted some weird piles of spheres made out of the sandy mud – like massive wormcasts. Turns out, there’s a variety of lobster that lives in burrows, only emerging at night to hunt for food – our guide Masa said they’re about 15 centimetres long, and very tasty if you can catch them!

Young man, old tree

So then began our trek. First a photo op next to one of the oldest trees on the island. According to our guide, it’s over 200 years old, and can be dated by counting the growth bands on the weird vertical root structures. Apparently the locals used to cut these up and make chopping boards out of them.



Our walk took us up around 250m to the top of the falls. On the way there and back we were lucky enough to see two rare species – a box turtle (who wasn’t too pleased at Masa picking him up so we could see how well he fitted into his shell), and a type of centipede which is apparently quite venomous and can give a nasty bite. It was nearly a foot long.

Not cute

It was chilling out on an overhanging tree trunk, which my companions ahead had all put a hand on as they ducked down. They were somewhat surprised when I pointed out what almost happened to them…


The view from the top was well worth the sweat:

Lunch – lucky for some!

We had a packed lunch at the top of waterfall, karaage chicken and onigiri (hand sized rice triangles wrapped in nori (seaweed), usually with a filling). I’m still getting used to the filling we had – umeboshi, or pickled salted plums, a weird combo of fruit, vinegar and salt. Other groups had ramen – hot noodle soups, prepped on camping burners.


Time for a swim

It was quite breezy at the top near the cliff edge, and the water was being blown around as spray. I’ve never seen a waterfall with its own rainbow before. We hiked back down, heading for the pool at the bottom of the falls – cool water has never felt so good!


And now a large media gallery, took a lot of photos on the way up and down.


Japan Again!

Twice in one year… this is becoming a habit!

Decided I’d save the bulk of my hols, and take a proper long trip this time. One week in, and finally getting around to uploading some comments and photos.

Saturday 7th/Sunday 8th

My chariot awaits

Uneventful trip through Amsterdam, but as we neared an on time arrival at Kansai International (in Osaka) I started to realise I might be cutting things a bit fine. Disembarked at 08:50, connecting flight at 10am… Immigration was a breeze, took all of 10 minutes. Then the baggage belt: A 20 minute wait (enlivened by the manic antics of the handlers of the contraband detector dogs, lots of running around and verbal encouragement) left me exiting customs at 09:20, with absolutely no idea of where my connecting flight would go from – and KIX is not a small airport! As luck would have it, escalator up one floor, and 10 minutes later I was through security – phew! Hence no photos of the airport 😀

So on to my third plane of the day – NU0083 to Ishigaki. First class – that meant paying £73 instead of £62, nice wide seat with recline and footrest. Service very attentive as it always is in Japan, feeling very chilled despite the fact I’d been travelling for about 20 hours by the time we landed. Ishigaki is the third largest of the Okinawa and Yaeyama island chain, and the furthest south with an airport.

Immediate signs of being in a tropical environment on arrival at Ishigaki Airport – awesome tropical fish tank, plus palm trees inside the terminal by the bar. Also, instant condensation on my beer glass, and on stepping outside realisation that it was about 34degC and humid as hell.

Bus to Ishigaki port and found my accommodation for the night – the cabin hotel Blue Cabin Ishigaki. Similar to the capsule hotels we stayed at in Tokyo, but full size (small) single bed in its own floor to ceiling ‘cabin’. Comfortable and good value, my neighbours were mostly laid back surfer types – apart from one geeky looking guy who apologised (‘gomen’nasai!’) for leaving his huge aluminium suitcase in the middle of the hall. Had a look around the port building, spotted a photo of the ‘Yamaneko’ – or Iriomote mountain cat – very difficult to spot, but very cute! Sadly I’m unlikely to see one on my trip this time.

730 Monument

Dinner after a stroll around town, café with pretty good local beef burgers – went healthy, rice and salad instead of a bun. Spotted this rather unusual monument on my wandering. It commemorates the day in 1978 when the islands reverted to driving on the correct side of the road, 6 years after they returned from American to Japanese control.

Monday 9th

The greatest?

Early start, good buffet at Blue Cabin. Not a bad view from the café. Wandered down to book my ferry ticket, and spotted this fellow at the wharfside – a local boxing hero  called Yoko Gushiken from 1976-1981 (WBA Light Flyweight), lots of people stopping for photos.


Transport of delight

And so to the ferry. I’m heading to Iriomote, the second largest of the Yaeyama islands, and just about as far south and west as you can get and still be in Japan – at this point, it’s 1000km from the south coast of Kyushu, but only 200km from Taiwan. It’s about 45 mins to Uehara port on the north coast, the route is often cancelled due to high waves (as it was the day before), meaning you have to go to Ohara port in the south and take a 50 min bus ride north.

The intrepid traveller

I opted to stay out back, and we pulled away from the dock and headed out toward the breakwater. I love the smell of diesel in the morning… It seemed quite a sedate ride, and we passed a massive liner moored in the harbour – looked like a city block on the ocean. However once we left the shelter of the harbour wall, the captain seemed to remember he was actually a power boat racer and put his foot down – massive rooster tail of spray, and I was very glad I had noise cancelling headphones with me! The small boy in the photo actually nodded off at one point, reinforcing my observation that the Japanese can – and will – sleep anywhere given half a chance. Also, I was rather taken with their recycling bin slogans:

“They will be resources if it divides.
It will be garbage if it mixes.
Resources are limited.
However, there’s no limit to ideas of human beings.”

Hear hear – and recycling bins for 4 different materials on one small ferry!

Arrived in to Uehara port, and was picked up by the owner of ペンション星の砂 – pronounced Penshon hoshi no suna, translates as Pension Star Sand – the beach out front often has tiny start shaped shells from the coral reefs. Arrived to be greeted by this sight from the decking out back of the restaurant/shop:

Imagine my sense of crushing disappointment 😁

Simple accommodation, just concrete bungalows with tatami mat rooms and futons, but perfect for a seaside break.  Went for a walk along the beach, spotted some sea snake trails – not one you’d want to get nipped by! The rock formations are fascinating, underlying layers are sandstone, topped with old coral and then soil and plants, leading to weird shapes as the different material erode at different rates.

Dinner at the Pension, curry, rice and prawn katsu (deep fried prawns in panko breadcrumbs – yum!). Was pleasantly surprised when the waitress complimented me on my skills with hachi (chopsticks).

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