Friday, October 4, 2013

Travel Log: Summer Vacation PT2- Okinoshima

Travis and Steve, sharing a moment (and a brew)
After I returned from Shimane, I lingered a few days in Chizu then set out for Okinoshima. This was a trip planned by dear friend Travis, who lives out in Kurayoshi a few hours train ride from me. My companions were Travis and Steve. I met them in Kurayoshi the day before, and we set out for the port early in the morning on Friday.I was excited to be out on the open sea. Okinoshima is actually a small island chain off the coast of Shimane prefecture,

which is right next to Tottori prefecture, where I live. The boat ride from the mainland was about two hours long. We sat out on the covered deck and shmoozed a bit. I snapped a few shots and settled for the crappy bento lunches they were selling below deck. It started to really feel like a vacation as we sipped our drinks and watched the sea crash into the horizon endlessly before us. A short time later we stopped in our port and piled off the boat. We met our English speaking contact and all climbed in a van for a twenty minute or so ride to our side of the island. For this trip, we decided to save a little money and camp on a scenic overlook near the sea. So we made arrangements at the visitors center/tourist office place and someone offered to take us up to the grounds so we didn't have to shlep our gear the mile or so up the mountain and to the grounds. He dropped us off and we were the only ones around. Each plot had a little driveway where you could park your van or car, and a well kept green space to pitch a tent. There was a covered kitchen type area with running water and a long trough that acted as a sink, and several tall fire cubes where you could cook your food. Beside the dining structure were the bathrooms and showers, also covered and well maintained (but full of bugs). The showers even had gas heated water! As far as camping goes, this place was the ritz. The crème de la crème for your unwashed backpackers.
Looking out to the sea from our campground

We set our things down and headed back to the pier for a boat tour. I mentioned before that it was beginning to get a little hot when I was out at Izumo Taisha. Well, as you can imagine, a sun baked island in surrounded by the sea was even more intolerable. But I decided that I was going to work on my summer tan and sweat out some toxins so we all happily pushed ourselves a little. But I was the only one foolish enough not to wear sunscreen. More on that later.

We ate a bit of food at the pier as we waited for our boat to arrive. The sun was getting high in the sky and the sunlight was oppressive. But as we headed into the shade of the boat's air conditioned cabin, we all settled in to relax. The boat tour was a long one. It took us a good distance along the coast, showing us such hammy sights as "turtle rock" and "boot-looking thing rock" and other rocks shaped vaguely like other things. joking aside though, the coast was very beautiful and I got to see flying fish for the first time in my life. When people said flying fish I imagined the kind of thing that salmon do when they get caught by a bear, or when dolphins break the surface for a moment and go back under. But that is not at all what these badasses do. They shoot out of the water like a submarine missile and deploy two sets of gliding wings and glide for sometimes upward of twenty freaking seconds outside of the water. I tried in vain to capture one in action on film, but I did manage to get this unimpressive picture featuring one as it goes back in the water. Pretty lame. Anyway our boat trolled about over the waves and into some caves, and as I looked around, more and more people in the cabin, including my friends, had begun to fall asleep. I must admit I felt a bit sleepy too, but at one point on the way home, Steve and I were the only people awake in the entire cabin. It was kind of bizarre.

We took over that yellow thing in the distance
When we got home, we decided to hit the beach. We hailed a cab and paid the fare to take us out to the lovely beach just outside of town. I think this is where I did the most damage to myself in the sun. The water was deceptively cool and sometimes cold. As I slowly got accustomed to it, I enjoyed diving around using Steve's goggles to see the delightful salt and pepper sand
all over the beach there. Out in the water was an anchored slide that the kids could use to play around on, and as the day wore on the crowd thinned out, my cronies and I decided to stage a hostile takeover. We climbed on the slides and kicked and pushed each other off and slid down and had a grand old time. When it was time to go, we made our way ashore and cleaned off. We decided not to get a cab, which in retrospect I kinda regret. But by the end of our trip the others were strapped for cash, so I guess it was a good idea. But we walked quite a ways back and I got a pretty bad case of chafing where my legs rubbed together as I walked. It became quite intolerable and I whined about it as much as I dared to. We hit the local store for some provisions for the night and slugged it all up the hill to our campground. And so the real struggle of the day began.

This fire was so weak we didn't even get a participation prize
We bought some hot dogs and snacks to have ourselves a real fireside dinner. But as we sat down to build a fire, we noticed the challenge that was built into the grill. The cooking grate was too high above the fire pit for a normal sized small fire. All we had was some charcoal, matches and a lighter, and whatever else we had handy (wrapper, bits of paper, etc). So we started small with the charcoal briquettes. We piled in some brush and set the whole thing ablaze, but the charcoal refused to light. We built little briquette houses and stuffed the inside with flammable stuff and still they refused to ignite. We went through match after match, idea after idea, until finally we found the miracle of toilet paper. After repeated applications of toilet paper tunnels, we managed to get the fires burning on their own.We set the grates back into place, but the heat from our dinky little coal shack would not reach the meat. So we had to kinda cook it over the fire without burning ourselves, eyeball it and hope for the best. needless to say the next morning, long after the fires went out and I awoke with a start, there was a quick trip to the bathroom or two. I didn't get sick or anything, but I did undercook and eat some strange hot dog meat things.

Speaking of the bathrooms, the places were FULL of roly polys. I have no problem with roly polys, but I also had some up close and violent encounters with other insects. Namely, spiders. The first encounter happened when I was at my most vulnerable-- in the shower. I was going through a routine inspection of the facilities, being possessed of a curious mind and all. I inspected the nozzle, inspected the nobs, lifted up and inspected the drainage grate, and out popped a medium sized spider, not particularly scared of me, but more confident and confrontational. It came at me, all like "ZAA BITCH! Scared you didn't I! What chu gon' do now?" So we sat and stared at each other as I muttered curses at it to help steady my hand. I searched about for some sort of weapon even as I sealed the escape route so only one of us would be leaving alive. I dared not use the water, because I would have to cross it's attack zone and I couldn't risk giving up my position or exposing myself to fanged assault. I considered using my hand to crush it. No, too fleshy and weak. My foot? No, I haven't the courage or the aim. What, then? What Excalibur could I use to fell the enemy? I looked down at my right hand, where I was still clutching the grate. The center was too perforated to make a large killing surface; I couldn't rely on crushing it with the flat part of the disk. But I knew what I had to do. I flipped it up so I was holding it like a frisbee. I dropped into my battle stance and engaged in primal naked warfare with the beast. Later on, my friends told me they could hear the shrill clanging of plastic on plastic and my repeated war cry of "SPIDER BATTLE!" until everything went quiet, and a short time later the shower started.

The second encounter was a route. After I brushed my teeth and took out my contacts, Travis and I were heading back to the tent zone. As he stepped out of the bathroom, a huge dark shadow ran parallel to him for a few moments. I thought it might be the door, or a trick of the light. But the shadow kept pace, and when it sighted me, it realized that maybe killing two of them would be too much of a pain and it quickly blended into the darkness at the base of the wall. I shook myself, figuring I had spider battle PTSD. But as I got closer (remember, no contacts) I could see a lovecraftian horror of dark, segmented legs folded in an unholy way and connecting to a body wreathed in fear and shadow. I was repulsed by it's existance-- an ancient evil that got lost as it slouched toward Bethleham. I recoiled and quickly withdrew to my tent. I was on its territory. On a basic level I knew that its kind grew stronger in the night, and I could not hope to fight it in its place of power. The next morning I was putting my contacts in and brushing my teeth when I noticed a suspicious tangle of wires near the base of the sink. As I regained my vision, I looked into the darkness and tilted my head in puzzlement. It looked like a grouping of copper wires tied off at the base and sticking helter-skelter out of the wall. Until one of the wires began to uncurl menacingly, and I was face to face with the enemy again. I knew I could not face it inside-- I needed a clear avenue of escape. I swore and withdrew from the bathroom, silently deciding to either use the girls bathroom or the surprisingly luxurious handicapped toilet next door. Later that day I exchanged sighting stories with my friends, who had seen the menace in the bathroom as well. Luckily, it was not seen again. I was happy to leave such evil behind when we finally left the mountain.

Anyway, on day two in Okinoshima, I noticed the sunburn had flared to life over night. My arms and face were so absurdly red I looked like I was wearing lobster blackface. But the damage had been done and nothing for it, so we went ahead and headed out to the cliffs for a beautiful hike along the coast, where we could see the tallest cliffs in Japan. It was a stunning view, and horses and cows roamed wild over the cliffs, and we had a close encounter with a mother and her foal. It was a great day for a hike, but we were all a little road worn from the previous day's activities and sleeping fitfully in a tent. We hadn't slept as much because the temperature in the tent rose very quickly as the sun came up. And the sun comes up EARLY. We're talking 5:00/5:30. We managed to tough it out till around 7:00, but it was not good sleep. Anyway, we were feeling the effects but still had a great time. We wound our way back down and took a bus back into town. We had some time before the day's last activity, so we decided to go back to the beach. I knew that I couldn't run and play with the other boys because of my burns, so I sat in the shade and kicked it with a book. We departed from the beach and Travis and I headed out to the sunset kayak tour of the coastline. I was happy for a chance to get to test my Japanese again, as our guide spoke to us entirely in Japanese. She said the sunset tour was a no go because of clouds, but she said she would take us out and lead us into forgotten caves full of bats and try to sink our boat and crash us against the rocks. Well that's basically what she said anyway, I didn't catch all of it.
They seemed pretty disinterested in us

So we set out in our two man kayak with me in the back and Travis in the front. We had a great time slapping the waves and learning to steer and navigating into the caves and back out again. I really enjoyed my time kayaking and I think I should like to do it again soon. The combination of the challenge of navigation and the go-anywhere feeling of being in the kayak was exhilarating.

Many people go in, never to be seen again...
Fortunately the Kayaking place dropped us off back at our camp ground where we noticed a new family had sprung up in the plot next to us. Camping from their car, they looked happy (and smug) with their advanced camping equipment and clean, even-burning
camp stove. A pox on them, I say! I was delighted when the wind overturned their giant self satisfied tent and sent them chasing after it.

Steve was hard at work setting the day's charcoal on fire. He was a quick study and remembered the trials of the previous night, so we had a taller and more powerful flame this time. I still think I ate a few questionable things, but I was in better shape than the previous night.We all turned in early, and I rolled miserably around trying to find a position that didn't cause the flesh on my arms to feel like it was submerged in a lake of fire. I finally drifted off on my back, but again we woke early as the sun turned our tent into a greenhouse/oven.

View of the island from out on the water
On Sunday it was time to head home. The walk down the hill was kind of a pain cause of chafing, but after a quick breakfast we got our tickets, found our boat and were on the trail home with no problem. We all splayed out in the air conditioned cabin of the ferry and they caught a little shuteye. I read and walked around a bit. My arms were giving me fits so I couldn't really get comfortable down below. It was nice to see the ocean and feel the breeze too.We arrived back in Shimane where we ate dinner, said our farewells and I boarded a train bound for home. After my time on the ground, my bed was a sweet cradle of comfort, but I still couldn't sleep because my arms, face and neck were angry flaming demons, long dead and with nothing left to lose.

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