Tonaki Island…

Hello Everybody!

Well, this weekend my wanderlust was calling and I decided to answer. Who am I kidding, I always answer! So, it was a heck of a week, between trainings on child maltreatment and a few tough cases, I was ready to go find a quiet place.

traditional-style-house
Traditional Okinawan -style house

I was originally headed to camp overnight on Zamami but I wasn’t sure what time the ferry was leaving, so I got to the port early. I saw some sign about waiting to sign up  for the Zamami ferry and one sad -looking Caucasian standing in line. I had a decision to make. I could wait there and see if they would be running or go for a sure thing, Tonaki Island.

rocks-on-the-beach
I am always amazed when I travel throughout Okinawa that I almost always have these breathtaking beaches to myself…well, the crabs are always there.

I had taken the Kumejima ferry and there was a  stop was at Tonaki. I had thought at the time that it looked very small but picturesque and that I would like to go there sometime. I decided that it was time. I bought a ticket for myself and my scooter when a helpful young man  let me know the times of return.

bird-and-mountain
That’s a real bird at Tida Square. It was looking so regal I had to take the photo.

So onto the ferry and as we approached the island, I went below to look at the island better. There was a little crowd of people I assumed were getting off  ferry at Tonaki, there were four Japanese women, probably around my age and they were clearly friends. They were getting all their gear ready, another Japanese man moved next to me on the rail to get photos. Then the young man, Omar, who was helpful at the port came up and said hello. It turns out he lives there, is an English teacher  and was surprised anyone was coming to stay on the island, not because it was not gorgeous, but people don’t seem to stop there.

room-205
My tatami room and futon

I asked him if he knew of any housing or hotels I could stay at for the night. He asked someone he knew as soon as we got on land and found a place for me. I stayed at Guesthouse Muranaka not far from the ferry landing. For about $60 I had a nice room  with a small tv and toilet and two meals. I thought that was a good deal, so I booked it.  I ended up having lunch with Omar as he filled me in on Tonaki. What a great tourism director he would make! Youth, enthusiasm and his Japanese was out of this world. I made a friend.

After lunch, he went his way and I went mine, which was to explore the island on my intrepid little scooter. Of course on an island that has mountains, you need to go explore, habus be damned. I climbed up a trail and found some interesting bugs along the way and kept my eye out for snakes. I was the only person on the trail and these Okinawans do not play when they create trails. You’d better be in decent shape or you’re not going to the top.

view-from-above
A view from one of the trails, it’s so lush and green and wonderful!

Of course you are rewarded along the way with views like this. At the top, I found a sacred place, Sato Utaki where rituals are performed every two years. This trail was pretty steep but I’m sure the locals climb it with no problem as they give thanks for their life. They have a lot to be thankful for, this island is a paradise.

shrine
Sato Utaki shrine at the top of the hill – A sacred place where the ritual shimanoshi is performed every two years.

After I climbed back down, I decided to go through some of the little roads that wend through the residential section. I kept noticing all these rakes in boxes. Now I’ve been learning a little katakana and hiragana, which is very helpful. Unfortunately, many of the signs are in kanji, which I have not even begun. Anyway, I was wondering what those rakes were for. The roads are all made of sand, and when I was walking back to the room later that night, it felt as if they were manicured. I got up early in the morning and saw that the rakes were for the homeowners to rake the sand in front of their homes. How wonderful!

grooming-the-streets
Raking, manicuring the streets. I just noticed the cat in the right hand side of the picture!
tough-life
This little neko was appreciating the soft sandy road…there’s not a lot of traffic in Tonaki.

So I fell in love with the little streets and I was amazed to find that in a place so small, I could still manage to get lost. My little scooter, normally so quiet, here seemed to be very loud.

tunnel-of-trees-beautiful
Tunnel of Trees – These Fukugi trees are about two hundred years ago and serve as a natural windblock, their leaves are very dense.
lighted-walkway
Footlight road – At night they light up the streets with little lights, a lovely experience.

I don’t know if I’ve talked about the size of the island in terms of people…there are about 450 residents and they all seemed to know who the visitors were. As I went through the town I was greeted with smiles and ‘konichiwa’ all day. Everyone that went by had a sunny smile for me, what a pleasant experience!

I drove down to Tida Square, a park that can be seen from the ferry. It looked welcoming from the boat, so I wanted to explore down there. Many of the locals, birds that is, were present and accounted for.

white-crane
A white crane – There is a nice little park by the port, Tida Square,  all the locals hang out there.
piper-looking-bird
I am being eyed with suspicion!

 

rainbow
Tonaki is full of rainbows and unicorns…well, sea turtles anyway!

I noticed a sea turtle when I was coming in on the ferry when I took my trip to Kumejima. I consulted with Omar and he said, indeed there are sea turtles, so off I went to find some.  I was not disappointed, in that lovely green water they would stick their heads up, grab some air and then dive back down. I was watching them, fascinated for quite a while when I looked down and saw this giant fish go gliding by under where I was sitting. It was amazing! I still don’t know what it was, but wow! I ran into the ladies from the ferry and we chatted for a little while as we watched the turtles.

You know, I am in love with Okinawa and I am constantly surprised at what it has to offer. Whenever I think I’ve seen all it has to show me, something else arrives and lets me know I have so much more to learn, see and explore.

sea-trutle
Coming up for air, one of the many sea turtles I watched on Saturday.
seaweed-turtle
This big boy was filling up on seaweed.
close-up-turtle
I like his little teeth!
what-the-heck-sakana
Okay, I have no idea…there was something called a shija on a poster but I can’t find what that is. It was about six feet long and went gliding by me when I was watching sea turtles!

I went up and around the island on my scooter and had a 360 degree view that supposedly shows Kumejima and Aguni, but there were clouds. It was fine by me, I was just happy to look down on all that greenery. As I drove back down, I stopped at one point, just to look at everything and was surrounded by dragonflies. It was magical, I always find dragonflies to be ethereal and I sat there while they danced around me.

I headed back down to a beach and just walked the sand for the longest time, knees in the water, finding bits of sea glass, looking at shells and watching the many varieties of crabs.

many-valved-shells
The shape of my heart…
sand-cr
Sand crab
crab-fight
They appeared to be scrapping it out over a bigger shell…someone wanted a new house. Once the biggest one won, he abandoned it and walked away. I guess he was just in the mood for a fight.

I made my way back for dinner at the guesthouse, a lovely tofu and tripe soup, fresh sashimi, rice, some sort of champuru and a little seaweed salad, with hot Jasmine tea. I made up my bed, watched a little television and decided to go for a walk in the night.

mountains
A gratuitous photo of the fields and mountains.
roof-shisa
Shisa on a traditional roof.

I was headed toward Tida Square when Omar came out of his house to warn me about habu! Thank goodness, I was headed right where they tend to be. We chatted and enjoyed the stars and the milky way.

As I walked back to my room along the footlight road, I just enjoyed the sounds of the wind caught in the fukugi leaves and the soft light thrown by the footlights. I went back to my room and slept very soundly on my little futon.

In the morning I went out for a little walk around the village and had a conversation with a lady who was determined to take me sightseeing. I was trying to explain that I had to get back to go to breakfast, and finally the lady who ran the guest house explained it to her.

I got down to the ferry and saw many of the local people just sort of hanging out there. I was joined by Omar and the Japanese ladies I had met the day before. The lady who tried to take me sightseeing came in to apologize and make sure I had my breakfast! Is this a great place or what? I told her next time I come I will find her and we will go.  It was a great experience and I will definitely be headed back there. I feel like I was welcomed by the island and I want to go back and be part of that again!

omar-and-me
My new friend Omar Sensei! I feel so fortunate that I met him, he made the experience of Tonaki a very well informed and friendly one!
new-frieds
Omar and his Okinawan (Tonaki) father, I will be back!

The website for Tonaki Island is http://www.vill.tonaki.okinawa.jp

So that’s all for me this week! I hope everyone has a great week and I’ll write soon!!