Today was day one of touring Okinawa with Evan and Rachel as my guides.
We started off the day with breakfast in. Pancakes, eggs, and some good ol’ crispy bacon. A pleasing change, to be sure. Afterwards, we headed out and got an extended pass so I can continue to be on base, then we hit the road. Along the way we passed
Our first stop for the day was the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, which is nestled in a larger park complex. Most of the tanks in the beginning of the aquarium were the usual fare- colorful fish and corals endemic to the area. Some of the notable critters: a coconut crab, garden eels, a rather active spotted moray eel, a pair of mantis shrimp, and some moon jellyfish. Next up was the main tank, 7,500 cubic meters referred to as the Kuroshio Sea. This beautiful open ocean tank holds some huge fish, including tuna and sharks. There were also some manta rays in the tank, which are amazingly huge. Especially when you’re used to the little ones that can be found in touch-tanks back in the States. Then there were the ones I really wanted to see- whale sharks. There were three of the huge fish swimming in the tank, and the only thing that’d be better would be to get up close and personal with them. Unfortunately, I’ll have to settle for viewing them through the aquariums 27 x 74 foot viewing window, which is a gorgeous view and totally acceptable. We headed down to the cafe and grabbed a table by the tank so we could watch and relax. I snagged an iced chai. From there, we went through the deep sea tanks, where they had some pretty cool critters. The most exciting for me to see was the Japanese spider crab, largest of the crabs. From there, we left through the gift shop (of course) and headed out to the outdoor tanks. They had a few manatee which were gifted to the park by Mexico, various sea turtles, and a series of dolphin tanks, with a handful of different species. We stuck around for a dolphin show, which did not disappoint. Some flying sea mammals, and what probably would have been an informative speech had I understood a word of it. After the show, we headed out. More to see!
Our next stop was the Nakijin Castle ruins. The huge stone walls are about the only thing left of the castle, and very little restoration has been done to the area. That said, they were still mightily impressive. We walked along the paths through the castle grounds, and there were some maintained gardens that were quite lovely. The most striking thing, however, came at the top of the hill, where there were gorgeous views of the surrounding area. A beautiful gorge was on one side, and you could look down the valley and see the sea down the way. You can definitely see why they had built where they did.
From there, we headed out to Nago Pineapple Park. The attraction fits ‘tourist trap’ to a T, and features an automated cart ride through a garden of pineapples and tropical plants. The tour was conducted in understandable but slightly broken English, which was charming. I think the most informative it got was letting us know that the term pineapple came from ‘pine’ because they resemble pinecones, and ‘apple’ because of the sweet taste. After the tour, we passed through a gift shop and were able to get a taste of fresh pineapple from the park. Next we stopped at the small restaurant, which had stopped serving lunch, but we were able to order a gorgeously prepared pineapple ice cream sundae. I assure you it tasted as good as it looked! From there, we walked through a seashell museum, which had some really cool shells. There was also a collection of crab shells, which was pretty awesome to see. Beyond that, there was the pineapple winery, where we were able to taste the wines and juices, and further along, baked goods and sweets, all for sale of course.
After we finished up at the park, we headed back towards base. We made a quick stop at the hardware store so Evan could pick up a couple things, then we stopped for dinner at a sushi-go-round. It was certainly a novel experience. Free green tea to drink, the process of grabbing plates of whatever looks good was fun. I mostly played it safe on my sushi choices. I can’t say I’m terribly adventurous. I decided I had to at least step away from my safe zone and grabbed what was a slice of tentacle. I’m not sure if it was squid or octopus. It didn’t taste much of anything, but it was terribly chewy. I can’t say it was something I’d go after again. I was particularly impressed with the check-out process. They scan the color-coded plates with a scanner, double check that it counted them all, and it totals the cost automatically. They then scan it to an electronic card, which is placed on the counter at the register and provides your bill to the computer there. Fancy and efficient!
After dinner, we headed back to base. Tomorrow, I’m not entirely sure what’s going on. I’m sure I’ll find out, though!