Many of you may have heard a rumor of a "tropical paradise island getaway" that Aubrey and I may or may not have undertaken this past weekend.
I am here to tell you that such rumors are categorically untrue. Said getaway actually occurred on a SUB-tropical paradise island. Sorry to disappoint.
All joking aside (not really, but for now, I mean), Aubrey was gone to Kagoshima City all week for a Japanese-learning conference. She reported abject boredom while there - apparently there was little to do there and she was like the only one who didn't drink (and I'm not talking tea, and I'm not really talking "social drinking" either). Sounds like a recipe for blowing through about 5 good (and long) books over the course of the week. Alas, 5 good (and long) boox were not in her possession, so she was a bit on the idle-time-on-my-hands side. But she made it thru OK and boarded the all-night ferry from Kagoshima to Amamioshima along with a fellow JET named Erica, who lives in Kagoshima. A friend hooked them up with a more-or-less private room w/ bunk beds and curtains that you can draw across the bed to shut out the light. Nice deal - and it usually costs quite a bit more. So they got some sleep before their 5 am arrival. I, meanwhile, boarded a similar ferry at 5 am in Kikai and arrived in Amami at like 7:40 am. Our 1st move was to our hotel in Naze (the ferry also docks in Naze), which we found w/ little difficulty thanks to Erica's Japanese skill. Before the weekend was out, we would owe a lot to Erica's Japanese skill. Quite thankful for it.
Anyway, once we dropped off most of our stuff at the hotel front desk (check-in wasn't until 2 pm) and got some breakfast, we took an hour-long (and quite scenic) bus ride to a beach on the extreme south of the island (Naze being at the north edge). The bus dropped us off at a hotel and they rented us each a pair of swimming fins, a snorkel, and a mask.
The beach was very pretty and the water was perfect. Blue, clear, not too cold, not too hot. Like Baby Bear's porridge, it was. Mmmm, porridge.
Anyway, we got all lathered up w/ sunscreen and walked slowly across the rocky rocks (which really hurt our feet) to a depth appropriate for snorkeling. If we put our fins on, it hurt less but was harder to walk.
It seems that a lot of the beaches on Kikai and Amami have a lagoon-type setup to them b/c of the coral growth. You'll see shallow water (with lots of coral patches, if it's not all coral) for about 50-60 meters, and then waves breaking on a secondary and barely visible "beach" of coral at the edge, at which open ocean begins. This beach was no different. So we had to try to be careful where we stepped, but besides the pain of walking on rocks, had no mishaps. And once the snorkeling began, it was awesome!
We saw lots of really interesting fish. We saw a couple of clown fish scratching their bellies on and hiding in a sea anemone. I saw one that was chubby, w/ white spots on a black background on his back, and then orange spots on a purple bkgrd on his sides; each time another fish would pass by him he would spin around them once and then continue on his way. Except then once a fish of the same species approached him and they spun around really fast like 12 times before continuing on their way.
Most of the fish we saw I don't have names for. We didn't see any stryper fish or any deep-sea fangly fish, but I'd say it was still really rewarding. On the sea floor we saw weird blue starfish and some sea slug-looking things as well as alot of crabs and different kinds of coral.
My big mistake was not wearing a T-shirt while swimming. We were out for at least 2.5 hours, and the sunscreen didn't hold up. My back is now pretty red and I've had to sleep on my stomach and side for 4 days. It's pretty unpleasant, yes. Thanks for asking. Never go snorkeling w/o a T-shirt on or at least applying sunscreen to your back once per hour.
My other mistake was wearing my nice Teva sandals in the water out to a patch of rocks that were above water, about 30 meters from shore. I left them on these rocks since they were above water and continued snorkeling. But then the tide came in, and when we were finished snorkeling, I couldn't find my sandals or the rocks where I had left them. I was really bummed and so flailed around in the water for about 20 minutes before getting really tired and deciding to follow the waves to shore to see if they had been carried there. Praise God! I knew that my sandals float, but along the rocky shore I was easily able to find them. Very thankfully, I put them back on and trudged back to shore. We were really sore, thirsty, hungry, and a bit sunburned (my back turned out to be the worst of us three) but we had a great time.
The next day we relaxed a bit and tried kayaking in the mangrove park, among the famous mangroves. It was fun but neither very challenging nor very long, so we were a bit disappointed. We went to an Italian restaurant that night, which tasted good but was a bit more expensive than I would have liked.
Monday, a national holiday in Japan, we got up early, left the hotel, and took the bus to another hotel/resort, where we hung out on the beach and wake-boarded mostly. That was pretty fun indeed. Neither Erica nor I had ever wakeboarded, so it took a while to get to a standing position on the board while the Sea-Doo was pulling us, but Erica managed it more quickly than I did. I fell down like 8 times before catching on, and I was the one who had gone water-skiing before! But at least I made it up, and once I did it was really fun. I could see the coral patches gliding past me under the clear water in the coral lagoon, so it was a little scary but invigorating. Aubrey handled it like a pro and so spent the longest time on the wakeboard. But she paid for it - she is the most sore of us today. She said she fell one time just b/c her leg was getting so tired that she needed to rest.
After doing all the wakeboarding we could handle, we took our flight back to Kikai. The flight to Kikai, by the way, is all of 10 minutes - it's the shortest commercial flight in the world.
So that was our vacation. Great time, pretty expensive really, but we learned alot about traveling in Japan and managed to avoid any huge disasters.