Saturday, 3 June 2017

A Big Day Snorkelling In Ishigaki

When I was a kid, I nearly drowned TWICE!

Needless to say, even though I can swim, I don't like being in the water if it's anything deeper than the bath tub. So to go snorkelling is a big deal.

I have tried this once before, when I went to the Galapagos but that was soooo different. They took us out to the middle of no-where, to where there was an extinct volcano, and told us to swim around until you got to the entrance then go inside. What they forgot to tell us was there was a really strong current!

About 2 minutes in I had a panic attack and had to get out.

To say I was a bit nervous about all this is to say the least but I'm all about facing your fears so I did it anyway...

We met up at the Dive Shop, where we were fitted out with suitable equipment, and wet suits. Then we were given some training on how to use the snorkel. I decided to stick to my full face mask as I find it so much easier than an actual snorkel.

Then we got on the boat and head out to the point. (I have to admit, when Yasutoki was talking about 'The Point' I thought he was talking about a specific place but it appears that The Point is a place where you dive!)

Live and learn.

This is where we stopped and I have to say it was stunning, photos never do the place real justice. The water was so clear and just looking over the side of the boat you could see the fish.

Yasutoki was in charge of the camera and he isn't as snap happy as me but he got some good shots, these stripy fish just hung around us the whole time as if it was totally normal to have humans swimming along side them!

And just to prove to the doubters that this actually happened, here I am, in the ocean, snorkelling! Go me. And yes that is a life vest, I'm taking no chances hahaha. I have to say, I look pretty good in a wet suit ha!

After the dive we got back on the boat and headed back to port for lunch, because the water was quite choppy when we left they had decided not to have lunch on the boat. We had more Okinawa soba, it was good at a place which looked like it was rundown from the 70's.

We had a good rest then headed out again to a different spot. The Captain knows the waters well and chooses the place to dive depending on the weather and season.

We saw a few sea snakes in this spot and lots of different fish, I have no idea what most of them were apart from clown fish and pipe fish. I wasn't too happy about the sea snake but apparently they can't bite through a wet suit anyway.

Back on the boat we had hot water to drink, seemed odd but it was actually good. I have to say the staff were excellent, the Captain and two girls were really friendly and kind and very professional. The equipment was all in excellent condition and they obviously knew what they were doing. We were lucky to get a day booked with them, the captain told us that they don't get many new customers, it is usually repeat clients that book in year after year. I understand why, they were brilliant!

I can't say I am over the fear of water but I was much happier with these team, I could actually enjoy the experience rather than worrying about dying!

The skies started to get dark as we headed back and the water choppy but it was a great day!

For our last dinner we went to the buffet at the big hotel. Most of the food is sourced on the island and there was a great mix. Plus cocktails! It was a great end to the day

And yes, I caught the sun, lobster red is fashionable these days, didn't you know? And the sea water striped the colour from my hair, I don't know how mermaids manage to maintain those vibrant colours!

It was a great holiday, next time we will skip the main island and head straight to Ishigaki. Although island life is lovely, slower, more relaxing, I'm not sure I could handle the heat of the summer.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

OKINAWA Day 5 - Ishigaki Island - Kabina Bay, Sukuji Beach and Fusaki Beach

We woke up to heavy rain - gah! We had breakfast then spend a couple of hours just lolling around, reading, writing and generally chilling.

We decided as the rain cleared up a bit, to take a drive up to Kabina bay. It is supposed to be beautiful and the bay has sea in 7 shades of blue. By the time we got there the rain had stopped so we found a place to park and went for a look at the bay. The sky was a bit grey so it wasn't as impressive as I expected. These are the after lunch photos, when the sun had come out...

We had parked in a cafe's carpark so we decided to have some lunch then decide what to do next. We had Okinawa Soba which is not made of soba noodles, rather confusingly, instead the noodles are made from egg and flour. This was my favourite noodle dish that we had on the trip, it was with spare ribs that were so tender the meat just fell off the bone. Plus we had a table over looking the bay.

The cafe is around the back or front, depending how you look at it of the Ryukyu pearl shop which specialises in black pearls - worth a look but bring plenty of money if you plan to buy some!

By the time we had finished the sun had come out so we had another look at the bay from the view point, it really is stunning! The boats are glass bottomed and you can take a ride out into the bay. We didn't try but from the looks of the faces of the Chinese tourists that we saw get off, it looked good!

The bay has strong under currents so there is no swimming allowed.

We thought we would try giving Sukuji beach a go. We got there and it wasn't busy at all, I think this was one of the most surprising things for me. No where seemed to be busy, it was always my impression that going to Okinawa in Golden Week would mean fighting with the crowds but it wasn't like that at all.

Anyway, we didn't stay at this beach because there was a sign up saying that the jelly fish nets were not out because they were being checked. Ebi-kun has had a couple of run ins with jelly fish before so he didn't want to try his luck! We decided to go back to out hotel and use Fusaki beach instead.

To get onto this beach you have to walk through the hotel lobby, head to the back right and a door will bring you onto a path, follow it round to get to the beach. There is also a small conbini at at the back of the lobby, we didn't spot this until we went to the beach.

You can rent chairs and parasols, snorkels, fins, floats etc. Take banana inflatable rides and there is a pool - the usual resort stuff. We actually rented snorkels for the guys from our hotel which is a dive tour place too. Some kind of water shoe is recommended, the beach is made of broken coral not sand.

There are a couple of places you can swim out to to see the coral, we managed to find Nemo and saw lots of other fish. near the beach there were some big white fish that Ebi-kun was trying to catch, it was funny watching him in action!

After wearing ourselves out we went and got cleaned up. We needed to find an ATM so we drove into the port town to get some dinner then dropped at the combini on the way back. What a long day!

Handy Links:

Kabira Bay HERE
R's Cafe and Pearl Shop HERE
Sukuji beach HERE
Fusaki Beach HERE

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Taste tests: Ebi-kun Eats and taste tests - Long chips

This is actually from a couple of months back but Ebi-kun has only just got around to putting it up! We accidentally ended up at a festival in Saitama Shintoshin and long chips were all the craze, of course, a certain little person insisted that we really needed to try them, for research purposes of course!

Check out the rest of his videos over on You Tube and subscribe to his channel :)

Thursday, 18 May 2017

OKINAWA Day 4 - Castle, Kokusai Dori, Ishigaki

Another early start today, I'm not sure my husband has understood the concept of a relaxing holiday!

We packed up and were off by 7.30am so that we got to Shuri Castle by opening time. The castle is kind of unusual because it has a lot of Chinese influence in it's design.

I couldn't be bothered to read the info leaflet they gave us, so I can't really tell you anything about the castle!

They do have a stamp rally for the kids but you need to pick up the map at the kiosk when you leave the carpark. If you complete the whole lot you get some sticks and a few other paper goods. You get the stickers for just getting 10, the extras are not really worth the hassle unless you want to do the whole grounds too!

Quite a few sections of the castle you are not allowed to take photos, but this throne looked like THE photo spot. You can line up and a local guide will take a photo for you, or you can walk round the side and save yourself 15 minutes!

Watch out for the locals, some of them a MASSIVE, like this grasshopper!

Thankfully we didn't meet any of these fellas. The danger is real though, already by early May, over 100 people had been hospitalized from habu bites!

After the castle we needed to return the rental car, so we dropped that off, jumped on the car rentals shuttle bus to the airport where we checked the suitcase in. then we hopped on the monorail and  did a couple of hours at Kokusai Dori.

I was expecting this to be a more American street and markets but they felt more like the markets in Cambodia and Laos. We couldn't decide what we wanted to eat so we just ended up having lots of nibbles. We stopped at Lucky Tacos but Ebi-kun ended up with an Unlucky Tacos because the lid of the salt wasn't on properly so he dumped a whole pot of salt onto his taco!

The boys had a deep friend donut, I don't like them much. Then we tried some of the famous Blue Seal ice-cream, lots of the stalls had free samples so we filled up on those too - not the healthiest of lunches!

It's no wonder the snakes are vicious, maybe they have heard the rumour that they are selling dried snake down at the market...

After our wander we went back to the airport to catch our flight to Ishigaki Island which is further south.

We picked up another rental car and drove to the hotel. there was such a contrast in the two islands, I felt the main island was actually quite grey and grim due to the concrete buildings but Ishigaki was far more what I was I was expecting. Lush greenery, blue skies, cute buildings...

By the time we had checked in we were all starving, the hotel included breakfast but not evening meals. The choice within walking distance was very limited to St Elmo Restaurant and the places at the big hotel down the road.

We decided to try out St Elmo's but we were too early so we checked out the Tojinbaka tomb. It's for 100+ Chinese slaves that escaped an American slave ship and were hunted down and killed. It's interesting to take a look if you are in the area but not worth taking a trip out to see unless you are a history buff into that kind of thing.

We got a table right on the deck at St Elmo's, it was lucky we arrived early, I got the impression it fills up quickly and it is more of a romantic place to go rather than a family spot.

The food was absolutely spot on delicious. Ebi-kun had a seafood bubbly dish that he raved about, Yasutoki had delicious roast beef and I had a great chicken and veg dish. Not massive portions but did the job for us.

That just about wrapped up the day.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

OKINAWA - Day 3 - Whale Sharks, Long Bridges and snorkelling

We decided to make an early start, you know, being on holiday, who needs a lie in!

Unlike mainland Japan when the majority of things don't open until 10am, it looks like most of the attractions down here open at 8.30am. I actually prefer this because you can make more of your day.

So we were up and out by 7.30am and drove for about an hour north to the Churami Aquarium. I'm not a big fan of zoos and aquariums but the guys really wanted to go so that was that. We got there just in time for opening and we had already purchased tickets at the conbini so it was quick to get it.

I recommend going this route as there were already long lines and if you are driving, the carpark isn't massive so you might get stuck waiting for a parking place.

As far as aquariums go it was nice, they have lots of smaller tanks but the main attraction is the HUGE tank with the whale sharks and sting rays. We managed to time it just right and got to the big tank just in time to see the sting rays being fed, that was quite exciting.

They have also won all kinds of awards for their different breeding programs and it's very informative but mostly in Japanese. If your kids read Japanese there are 10 info cards to collect as you make your way round, they are printed on good quality card and in full colour.

We of course managed to miss one and Ebi-kun wanted the set so we ended up battling against the flow of traffic to get back to the missing card! You have be warned!

I'm not sure if that is an every day thing or if it was a Golden Week special.

Ebi-kun fell in love with these little fellas, spotted garden eels, can't say I blame him, they were super cute.

We finished up around mid-day and decided to skip the restaurant and instead look for somewhere out and about.

We headed off to Kouri Island which meant going over Okinawas longest bridge and it is spectacular. Worse places to get stuck in a traffic jam! I was expecting everywhere to be a lot more crowded but we either lucked out or it really doesn't get as busy down here.

Over the bridge we decided just to stop at the first nice looking cafe. We spotted a sign on the road and pulled into a place up on the hill. We had to wait a wee while for a table and they were obviously rushed off their feet - slow eating! But the food was good, sadly we were seated inside so we didn't get to enjoy the ocean view quite as much.

If you have kids, they do have a kids corner with toys and books.

After lunch Ebi-kun was itching to get in the sea, he would have been quite happy to stop anywhere and jump in! We decided the easiest thing would be to drive back to the cabin and go to the local beach, so that's what we did, stopping to pick up something for dinner and breakfast along the way.

We spent the rest of the afternoon until about 6pm messing around on the beach. I had bought a full face snorkel mask, so we tried that out. We saw a few tiny fish but nothing exciting. The beach is public and not manned by life guards so we kept close to the beach.

Finished off with a shower, an easy dinner and early night!

Handy Links
Charami Aquarium HERE

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Taste tests: Ebi-kun Eats and taste tests - Funny fruit

What exactly is funny fruit and what makes it funny? There is only one way to find out... Click play!

Make Ebi-kuns day and leave him a comment over on You Tube and don't for get to subscribe so that you don't miss a thing!

Saturday, 13 May 2017

OKINAWA Day 2 - Tipi Tacos, The Blue Cave and Maze Of Mirrors

Our first morning in the tropical paradise of Okinawa and we woke up to rain! So we had a slow start and then headed into Onna to check out the maze of mirrors. This is actually a glass factory and downstairs is a big display shop and from what I could gather, you can also book in and blow your own glass.

There is a definite lack of signage for the actual maze of mirrors, just head to the back right of the shop (easier said than done) and you should be able to find the stairs with flashing lights to get to it.

When you get to the counter to pay, you have to choose a pair flip-flops, size and colour, there are some to try on so you just show the clerk the style and she'll ask which colour. You pay ¥650 the change from your shoes into the flip-flops and then you are handed a pair of gloves!

I was somewhat confused until we walked into the maze itself, everything is glass, including the floor - hence the flip flops!

If you have a fear of confined spaces or heights, this is not the place for you! 

If that doesn't both you it is a lot of fun, the maze changes as you go through, it does get confusing and more than once I thought I was folowing Ebi-kun only to walk into the wall!

The photos really don't do it justice...

You get a better idea with the video...

When you come out you change out of the flip flops and they give you a bag so you get to keep them! I think that you *have* to buy new ones so that the floor doesn't get scratched. It turned out to be a good investment for us as we used them a lot over the following days. 

There is a great collection of glass to buy too but also it would be easy to break things and some of it is VERY expensive, not the place for kids to be running around or clumsy adults!

We checked the weather and it seemed too be improving in the afternoon so we booked a tour to the Blue Cave the went to lunch. The Tipi Cafe looked interesting and it's right on the beach.

We had Tipi Tacos, which were fun there was actually just two options on the menu, these and soba crepes. In fact the whole time we were in Okinawa there was limit choice with meals and you'd be buggered if you were vegetarian/gluten free/had any dietary requirements. I imagine the big hotels have that kind of thing covered but that's not really our scene.

After lunch we messed around for a bit then headed to Blue Ocean Tours where we had booked a tour to the Blue Cave.

Anyone who knows me will know that I have a fear of drowning, I can actually swim but I nearly drowned twice as a kid and that fear has stuck with me, so to go out in a boat and snorkel in the ocean is a BIG thing for me. According to their advertising, even a 5 year old can do it, so I figured I'd be OK.

We had to get changed into wet suits - everything is provided, snorkels, towels etc. And had a quick lesson on how to use the snorkel. Then it was off to the boat...

We were in small groups, 6 people with one instructor, we all got life jackets too and the instructor used an inflatable ring so we could hold on if we (me) were feeling nervous.

At first we were told the water was too choppy to go into the Blue Cave but once we got there, they changed their minds.

Due to the cave shape and the way the light comes through, the water is this incredible blue colour inside. The boat drops you off and you have to swim in, it's not too far and the instructor pulls the ring along so it's not hard at all.

Apparently the morning had been crazy busy and there were over 200 people in the cave! It wasn't that big so I can't imagine what kind of chaos that was. There were just 3 small groups when were were there and a group of scuba divers.

Even if water isn't really your thing, it's worth the trip. We did see some fish but I think they were all full from the morning session so non of them were interested in being fed.

We did have a couple of mis-haps, the first was my snorkel was broken and let in water as soon as I put my face in the sea - yes, the girl with the fear of drowning gets the broken snorkel! We were also using their free camera rental but had out own SD card in it but the camera malfunctioned. We though we had lost everything but luckily the guys at the rental place managed to recover the data.

The tour is about 2 hours all included and after you get to use the shower (which was crap). We got dressed and headed back to our cabin and had a decent shower. Then we walked down to the local beach to watch the sunset and have a paddle.

Lots of broken coral on the beach, not many shells.

Of course, Ebi-kun was loving it and din't want to leave for dinner, we eventually bribed hm away with the promise of pig ears. Now there is something I never thought I'd hear myself say!

We ended up going back to the Retro place for dinner, trying out a couple of other delights on the menu and ordering pretty much everything from the night before too! Good times!

Handy Links:

Maze of mirrors HERE
Tipi Cafe HERE
Blue Ocean Blue Cave Tours HERE

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Our epic Okinawa adventure

Hello There!
We are back from our Golden Week trip to Okinawa and for a person who hates water, sand and sun, I have to say, we had a great time!

I've just about got all the photos loaded up, let the blogging begin...

We actually 'cheated' a bit and booked a day extra on each end of the trip, this meant that we had a decent amount of time for the trip and we missed the high traffic Golden Week jams - virtually everyone in Japan takes a holiday at the same time so it is good to skip the rush!

We arrived in torrential rain - just what you want on a sun filled holiday! Picked up a car at the airport and drove to Onna where I had booked a cabin. The cabin itself was oldish but had been completely refurbished inside and was super clean and lovely. The only bad thing I have to say is that the sofa and beds were not the most comfortable in the world!


DH tried book a rental car a few weeks before we we due to fly but everything was booked out. so Tip #1, book well in advance. Tip #2 try looking at the English sites, when I googles for a car I found several and even though the Japanese side of the site was fully booked we were able to book on on the English side - same company!

7 minutes walk to the main road and we found the local convenience store and 4 restaurants. The first was booked up, the second was extremely expensive, the third also booked up so we went down to the last one with our fingers crossed that it would have a table free - Lucky!

It actually turned out to be great! The staff were super friendly, the atmosphere was 'retro' (although I suspect some of it was actually original from when it opened! and the food and drinks great.

It was funny that the owner tried to show Ebi-kun the 'kids' menu, sausages, chicken nuggets, chips - usual kids fare but he wasn't having any of it and was there ordering pigs ears and sea grapes!

Sea Grapes - Ume Budo is a type of seaweed, you dip it in ponzu and eat it, it's what I imagine eating salty bubble wrap would be like. It's a very strange sensation and I can't decide if I liked it or not, I had to keep trying it though! The boy of course loved it.

It was a fascinating place to be in, all kinds of retro stuff dotted around, I really felt like I was on holiday, in Japan in the 1970s, except when we came to pay the bill then we were swiftly returned to 2017

Oh yes, and they had picked snake is sake too - Habu Sake. I have tried this before, it's the kind of stuff that strips the lining from your innards. 

I was told years ago by one of my adult students (so who knows how much truth is in it) that the snake is caught and placed in the jar alive, then they fill it up with sake and the snake drowns, totally pissed! It then ferments for 6 months or more before some daft bint tries to drink it, and yes, habu are extremely venomous. 

Fancy some?

Just in case you are interested, this is the cabin we stayed in, Sea Breeze. Super clean, lovely inside, lots of space, nice deck and seating area upstairs. The own speaks some English and credit cards are accepted.

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