Published: January 28th 2008January 25th 2008
Another guest from the minshuku we stayed at made this out of coral at the beach where I found so many pretty seashells.
So, when the weather finally became good enough to get a ferry ticket off of the main island of Okinawa, Erin (a fellow English teacher in Japan whom I met at the hostel) and I took off for Zamami Island. Zamami is a very small island about an hour-and-a-half ferry ride southwest of Okinawa's main island. The water was still turbulent and I got seasick pretty quickly. However, things started looking up once we arrived in Zamami. It was a really pretty island with a population of only about 700 or so, and it had all the kind of activities Erin and I were interested in, but hardly any tourism.
Erin had already reserved a room at a minshuku (a kind of Japanese guest house or bed and breakfast), and when we arrived there was a note at the door welcoming us in and saying that the owners were out, but would be back soon (another example of the relaxed nature of people on the islands). The minshuku was one of the most beautiful houses on the island. It looked to be very old and was made in the traditional Okinawan style with red-tiled roofs. The owners turned out to
the roof of the minshuku I stayed at built in traditional Okinawan style with a shiisa on top
be a couple of really nice guys who made us huge New Year's feasts every night and took us shell hunting on some great beaches around the neighborhood. One beach in particular was covered in the best seashells I’ve ever found. My pockets soon became heavy with all of the spirally colorful shells I was finding. Free souvenirs!!
The next day Erin and I set out early for a kayaking and snorkeling trip around the islands. We went with a guide and one other Japanese traveler. The sky was still extremely overcast, but we weren't going to let that ruin our trip! On the way to the snorkeling spot, we spotted five wild goats on an uninhabited island from our kayaks. What were they doing on that little island all by themselves? The snorkeling was amazing! Even better than the snorkeling I did in Thailand. The coral seemed to be much healthier, and the fish were so colorful! I wish I knew the taxonomy of fish, but unfortunately I can only say there were some really pretty kinds and one that looked like Nemo and a lot that looked like Scar who was the fish inside the fish tank
view from Zamami port of a little sailboat
in the movie "Finding Nemo." I also saw a lot of big rainbow-colored fish, plenty of sea cucumbers, and some florescent purple and orange starfish. We saw one moray eel too!
That night we were pretty exhausted and had an unexpected visitor come and sleep with us, a little kitten! Stray cats were roaming around everywhere on the island, and this one slipped in to our room every time we cracked open the door.
Lucky for us, January is the start of the three-month period when huge humpback whales grace Zamami Island with their presence on their migratory path. So the next day we embarked on a whale watching expedition. The boat was really small and only had space for about ten passengers, which was nice because the whale watching trip I took before in Massachusetts was a huge boat with a whole lot of people on it. I remember I had to keep running from one side of the boat to the other to spot the whales, but on this boat, I could just sit in one spot and see all around me. We were definitely risking it though, because since it was the very beginning of
ready for snorkeling!
the whale season, none had been spotted yet. But, shortly after we floated out into the open waters, we started seeing spurts of water blowing out of the whale's blowholes. We spotted about three humpback whales, two of which seemed to be a mother and baby. They were mostly impossible to take pictures of as the boat was constantly swaying up and down and back and forth and the whales only came up for a little bit before heading back under the water for about fifteen minutes. I did manage to get one picture, though, of a humpback's tail right before it went back underwater. They were really magnificent animals.
We had met several people at the guest house and on the whale watching trip, so we all decided to go out to an izakaya (diner/pub) together that night. We met another local woman at the izakaya too who leads diving trips on Zamami. She obviously knew a lot about the island and took us to an area in the port where we could see bioluminescent microorganisms in the water. I had seen these before in the bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico and I can even sometimes see them
kayaking out to the coral reef where we snorkeled
on Yuge. They are tiny organisms, half plant and half animal, that emit a flash of bluish light when agitated at night. All we had to do was stir the water up a bit or throw a rock in, and the water would sparkle like the stars in the sky. In fact the sky was very starry that night too, and I felt like I was in the middle of two sparkling worlds below and above me.
The last day on Zamami, Erin wanted to go snorkeling again, but I decided to take a hike around the island. It was a beautiful and pretty hot day. There were signs warning of the poisonous snake that supposedly lives in many of the Okinawa islands called "habu." Luckily, I didn't see any habu, but I did see lots of lush tropical plants, hibiscus, and butterflies. Once I made my way out to a lookout spot on a high cliff on the other (mostly uninhabited) side of the island, the whales were out again, and I could see them blowing water out their blowholes and slapping their tails on the water's surface in the distance. It's amazing thinking of those huge animals
I look like a pro in this picture!
swimming around in the same water I had just been swimming in.
As I made my way back to the village on the port side of the island, I passed farm land and grazing fields with cows and goats. One goat was sleeping on top of her house. The goat reminded me of Snoopy sleeping on top of his dog house, so I got closer to take a picture. I guess I was a little too noisy and woke the goat up. She was very curious and nibbled on my finger until she finally let me take a picture. Cute!
I returned to our minshuku just as Erin finished snorkeling. We all took one last picture together with the other guests at the minshuku, and they walked me to the port to say their final farewell. The sky was so blue and the temperature was about 23 degrees Celsius. I didn't want to leave now! But I had to return to Naha to catch my flight back. So, that concludes my stay in the subtropics of Japan. Okinawa is definitely a place I would love to come back to some day. It has all the things that I
colorful fish, but what are they called?!
love from mainland Japan, but with a much more laidback feel and beautiful music, culture, and scenery!
There are more photos below