Japan (Part 2): Cycling The Forgotten Islands

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Ohkaneku Beach, Yoron

From the ferry window, I observed rocks that looked like mushrooms, surrounded by the most turquoise water I had ever seen. We had just arrived to Yoron Island via the overnight ferry from Kagoshima, a 20 hour journey, but luckily we stopped on other islands on the way to break the long journey.

Sugar canes, Okianarabu Island

Sugar cane, Okinoerabu Island

When we got off the ferry, we were greeted by the ferry terminal – two peeling shipping containers, where we obtained a map that was 100% Japanese. We cycled to Ohkaneku Beach, where we camped for three nights. The only nearby place to eat was a tiny take out sushi stand, in the place you’d least expect to find one. At this point we remarked that Yoron seemed like paradise, and with no tourists we concluded that the island had clearly been forgotten, ignored by most tourists who flock to Tokyo and Kyoto. That suited us just fine.

Beautiful onsen on Sakarojima Island

Beautiful onsen on Sakurajima Island

We started our island hopping in Kagoshima after riding most of the length of Kyushu Island over the previous four weeks. We were all ready for a bit of a rest and luckily we had booked a cute Air B&B apartment, so much more homey and comfortable than a stamp-sized hotel room. From our window we had a view of Sakurajima, an active volcano. We spent our four days in Kagoshima mostly eating and relaxing. One day we took a ferry to Sakurajima, where we enjoyed mandarin soft serve ice cream and a soak in an onsen overlooking the ocean, at a dilapidated and seemingly deserted hotel.

Camping on Takonoshima

Camping on Tukonishima

On the way to Yoron, we spent time on two other islands: Tukonishima and Okinoerabu. On Tokunoshima we cycled down a road that got progressively smaller and seemed unlikely to lead us anywhere, but indeed spat us out at Prince Aze Beach. This was our first taste of the beaches in these parts. They tended to be long, beautiful, isolated, and with not another person in sight. Despite the end of the world feel, most had clean washrooms, well stocked with toilet paper, the end folded into a triangle, the Japanese way. This also marked the happy return of our tent and stove to our lives.

Sushi for lunch, from the supermarket...

Sushi for lunch, from the supermarket…

Then we re-discovered supermarket sushi, a healthy and inexpensive lunch, perfect with a baby since there was usually an eating area or park nearby, and we could stock up on supplies at the same time, such as yogurt and chocolate.

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This family came to bring us presents

On our last night on Okinoerabu, I went to an Izakaya (Japanese tapas bar) to get takeout with Neil. We met a father and son. The son kept on shoving his face as close to Neil’s as he could, which Neil wasn’t crazy about. In the meantime I had a conversation with the father, who didn’t speak a word of English. We used gestures like in charades, and he tried using his smartphone to translate, but often this resulted in humorous and incomprehensible results.

The next day, as we were about to leave our guest house, they showed up together with the mother to gives us a gift: two t-shirts imprinted with “Okinoerabu: the attractive island” and some locally made Okinawan doughnuts (sata andagi). They also gave us a note, which I made sure to keep:
“Yesterday Thank you ask them to the children of the other party. This is a gift of just heart. This traditional sweets and designed by T-shirt Okinoerabu of Okinoerabu. In addition, please come to Okinoerabu.” It was a heartfelt gesture, I wish we could be as welcoming to visitors.

Dinner with Aki in Naha

Dinner with Aki in Naha

After island hopping for a week and a half, we finally reached the city of Naha, Okinawa, where our w onderful Warm Showers host Aki awaited. I had been in touch with Aki periodically throughout the previous two months via email. The funny thing was that for the longest time I had assumed she was a man (based on her name), and just a few days before finally meeting her I realized my mistake… Oops. Aki was very helpful and friendly, and like a few people we had met on the trip, was busy turning Air B&B into her main occupation.

Mr. ridiculous enjoys dragon fruit

Mr. Ridiculous enjoying a dragon fruit

In Naha we finally managed to lay our hands on some “interesting” fruit such as deliciously sweet papayas and creamy custard apples, which Mark Twain supposedly called “the most delicious fruit known to man”. Neil loved the purple dragon fruit, which resulted in an addition to our Mr. Ridiculous series of photos.

With another week on our hands, we continued our island hopping by catching a ferry to the Kerama Islands, a series of tiny jewels embedded in the brilliant turquoise fabric of the sea. On Aka we camped for two nights at the long Nishibama beach, before getting soaked by the rain, and having dinner in the only dry spot – the toilets.

We enjoyed a swim o Aka Island, before the storm

We enjoyed a swim on Aka Island, before the storm

With more rain in the forecast, we decided a hotel would be nice on the next island, Zamami. We explored both islands by bike, visiting the many viewpoints and beaches, snorkelling with many colourful fish, coral and even a sea turtle. On Zamami we saw the most tourists we had seen for the whole trip, but alas, there was a shortage of places to eat, so we invariably ended up back at the same places over and over again. At La Toque we enjoyed one of the best fish dishes we’ve ever eaten, seared swordfish in a garlic sauce. On our first visit to that restaurant, Neil spilled a glass of water all over the floor, and on our second visit I bested him by breaking a glass. We decided a third visit might not be welcome.

We cycled to all the view points on Zamami Island

We cycled to all the view points on Zamami Island

Back to Naha again, where on a morning stroll with Neil, I stopped in at Kirishima Bakery to get some just baked croissants for Maya to wake up to – Japan has many excellent bakeries. We packed up our bikes and mountain of gear, which was transported to the airport in an envoy consisting of a truck driven by Aki’s friend and us in a taxi.

This is how our bikes made in to the airport in Naha

This is how our bikes made it to the airport in Naha

A short flight brought us back to Seoul, where it all started. We spent two nights with Jessica, Terry and their four years old son Benjamin. This was a good chance to finally find out what those densely built housing complexes look like from the inside. We made time to go to Spasis Jimjilbang to enjoy a hot soak – the place was absolutely packed since it was New Year’s Day. Benjamin took us on the ultimate playground tour, and Terry drove us back to the airport for our 12 hour flight to Israel, which was surprisingly pleasant.

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Everything is possible

This marked the official end of our three month cycle touring trip to South Korea and Japan. How can I sum it up besides saying it was an absolutely amazing experience? A few days ago, we met with a friend who asked us what was the most difficult part of travelling with a baby. I thought about it, and fumbled for a clear answer. Later I realized that the hardest part is inside of us. It’s a psychological barrier, a belief that things are impossible, cannot be done. Once we surmount the barrier, it’s smooth sailing. If you think you can’t do it, then with that kind of attitude you definitely can’t. If you think you might be able to do it, go for it!

Till next time...

Till next time…

Posted in Cycling & Cycle Touring, Overseas, Travel, Trip Reports | 6 Comments