Sunday, March 27, 2016

Playtime in Okinawa

An Easter Egg hunt in Okinawa. Not sure what the gardeners will think when they find the one's the kids missed. 
Conner with his haul. 
Quinn and I pretend we're having tea at an exclusive hotel.
I would love to do this every night of my life.
The waters in Okinawa are incredibly clear.
It's futile trying to keep up with the grandkids. That's Quinn way up ahead. 
We took two glass bottom boat rides, it was that fun.
On the way back, right in front of the dock in about six feet of water, we saw a pod of dangerous yellow and black banded sea snakes.

On March 29th we went to the Nago Pineapple Park. 
The Japanese can take "cute" to a whole new level. If you are familiar with "Hello Kitty" you know what I mean. 
We let Conner drive . . . kind of. 
The have really, really good ice cream in Japan.
Another day, another cool playground. 
These vinyl covered domes are all over the place. There is a central tunnel made out of net rope where the kids can climb up to the top. The vinyl is very strong and bouncy. A great place to burn off the energy levels of your kids.

She has her mother's (the gymnast, the diver, the rock climber) balance.

Christa is an incredible health freak. Really.
Mimi and Quinn making sushi.
Like mother, like daughter.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Day at the Aquarium

Okinawa hosts the largest aquarium in Asia, The Okinawa Churaumi.  We were ready for the aquarium and dolphins but not the incredible playground. Okinawa has some of the most innovative playgrounds I've seen anywhere in the world. The kids were in heaven.

While all the Japanese kids were quietly enjoying their breakfast, our grandkids were literally climbing the walls. The are very spirited kids who keep us on our toes.
Amazingly you are looking at only 1/6 of the total area of this "net playground."
A kiss for mom after a tough day at the playground. 
Conner is still working on his "photo op" skills.
This is about one half the aquarium property.
Quinn and Conner got "up close and personal" with the dolphins.
The sight of these 90 ft. long whale sharks slowing gliding by is absolutely breathtaking. These sharks, thank God, eat plankton that they filter through baleen in their mouths.

My favorite fish, the cute cuttlefish.
My least favorite fish, the highly poisonous lionfish. They destroy reefs by eating everything in sight. Luckily they are very good to eat, so are being hunted by spear fishers worldwide.
If you are from Florida you know what this is, the lovable manatee.
Probably one of the most incredible places to eat lunch. We just couldn't bring ourselves to order fish, however. It just didn't seem right.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Great Days with the Grandkids

Our daughter’s family was scheduled to arrive later on March 24rd so we took a taxi from the Chatan Hilton to The Busena Terrace located near the town of Kise, about an hour and twenty minutes north.  We were certainly living the high life, from one luxury resort to another (remember we live on a tiny boat).

The resort is located on a peninsula that juts out into the Sea of Japan. Again, the weather was unseasonable cold so no beach days but still a beautiful location. We got a text message from our daughter that the airline had lost some of their luggage so they were running a little late. We finally gave up and went to dinner, only to have them walk in the dinning room about thirty minutes later. It was so great to see the grandkids after eight months, along with our daughter and her husband, Nash. Christa and Nash have done so many thoughtful and wonderful things for us it felt good to give back, even if it was small gifts. We are certainly blessed with both of our children and their families.

We went down to their ground floor room and got caught up and gave belated Christmas/birthday presents to everyone. Nash got a hand-carved rosewood ukulele from Hiva Oa and Christa got a beautiful set of black pearl necklace and ear rings from Roria in the Tuamotus.

Rather than write lots of narrative about our visit, we’ll let the photos and captions tell the story.

Okinawa is Japan's "Hawaii." In a couple of months these beaches (with warmer weather) will be packed with tourists.
Alas, this beautiful pool was scheduled to open the day we left to head back to Tahiti.
We had been looking for the "perfect gift" for Nash for a long time. This hand carved Pacific Rosewood ukulele fit the bill.
When you go on vacation with Christa, prepared to be active. There were bike trails along many of the major roads. We took this one to a neat local restaurant for lunch.
I don't think Conner could walk for a couple days after this ride.
Miss Quinn.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

A Trip to Okinawa

Ever since we’ve lived on the boat our hope has been to get our two children and their kids on board for a visit. We got close when our daughter, who lives in Hong Kong, agreed to visit us in Nuku Hiva this Easter. But after looking at the sparse flight schedule we all had to agree that three days of travel with overnights was a little too much to ask, especially when you have a very active 3-year-old and 5-year-old. So Plan B came into effect, Meryl and I would fly to Okinawa (only a two hour flight from Hong Kong) and meet them for a 10-day vacation.

For Meryl and I the chance to get off the boat and see the grandkids, plus the opportunity to experience hotels with hot showers, flush toilets (more about that later), and dining rooms, was too much to pass up. While we are seasoned travelers, however, we didn’t realize how arduous it would be to get from Nuku Hiva, essentially the furthest place from land in the world, to Okinawa in Japan.

The airport waiting room in Nuku Hiva is a little downscale from SeaTac Airport.
At least we're color coordinated with the plane.
We cleaned and prepared the boat for it’s two-week vacation from us, arranged for a local guy to look after it, and took a one-hour cab ride over the beautiful lush green mountains of Nuku Hiva to the airport on the far side of the island. Four and one-half hours later we were landing in Papeete, a place that’s beginning to feel like a second home to us. 

We stayed at the nearby Airport Hotel since we had to get up at 2:40 am for the check in for the 5:30 am departure. We went to a local Chinese place for dinner, then down to the local Champion grocery store to get breakfast goodies for the next morning. 

At o’dark thirty we walked down the hill to the airport. Two large tour buses had just pulled up full of Japanese tourists  and the line snaked out into the parking area. When they say show up two hours before your flight they are not kidding. 

We boarded a near full Air Tahiti Nui Airbus 380 and sat back and relaxed, enjoying the great food and service (and watching four movies apiece) on the 12-hour flight to Tokyo.  When you live on a boat even the cramped airline seats seem like luxury. And having people serve you food and drink, pure joy!

We crossed the International Date Line — losing a day — and landed at a very cold Narita airport around 11:30 am the next day. We opted to walk over to Terminal 2, almost freezing to death in the process (I was in shorts, naturally). We did enjoy some of the best tonkatsu I’ve ever had at an airport fast food place and got ready for the check-in on our cut-rate JetStar flight to Okinawa.  Want to know how they can offer tickets so cheap?  They absolutely kill you on the excess baggage fees. We only had two small roll-aboards and a near empty duffel but we got hit with over $40 in excess baggage fees. Since we were flying back on the same airline, and those two duffels would be full of food and boat parts, we cringed at the cost.

The flight and service, however, was very good and soon we were circling over Okinawa Airport in preparation for landing. Okinawa is about two-hours flight time south from Tokyo, and played a key role in World War II as the Allies needed to capture Okinawa since it’s airports put US bombers within flying distance of mainland Japan. More about that later.

We were supposed to have a driver meeting us as the airport holding a sign, but we couldn’t find him anywhere. There was a cab driver with a sign with our flight number on it, but everything was written in Japanese. After about 20 minutes of searching around (and Meryl had asked this guy if he was our driver but he spoke no English) we decided to convince him we were his fare just to get a ride. When we got in the cab we saw our name prominently displayed on his in-dash computer system. And so it goes.

The Hilton Okinawa Chatan, quite a step up from our 44 ft. sailboat.
Ironically the pool was scheduled to open a week after we left.
You don't know how much we appreciate a room like this after the close quarters on the boat for the last eight months.
Since our daughter wasn’t arriving for three more days, we stayed at the brand new Hilton Chatan hotel. Because of the screw-up with the cab driver, the manager offered us an upgrade for a minimal amount of money. We took it . . . and what a grand room it was with a view out over the Sea of Japan to the west. Service at the hotel was excellent, and even though the outdoor pools where not open yet, we did enjoy a refreshing swim in the indoor pool, complete with a new sauna to relax in. One of the highlights (remember we live on a boat) was the computerized toilet. While it was all in Japanese a little experimentation with the buttons brought many surprises. The heated toilet seat alone was a joy.

While this looks great, we found an even better "serve your own frozen yogurt" place upstairs. 
A large department store called Anon had an amazing selection of stuff, including this grocery section where we bought many of our meals (I mean, who can afford to eat in a Hilton?) and took them back to the hotel.
Okinawa has about 35,000 Air Force, Marines, Navy, and Army troops stationed at three major bases, and along with their defendants there are over 85,000 Americans on the island. The area we were in was close to the huge Kadena Air Force base so it wasn’t difficult getting people to understand us as we shopped and explored the Chatan “America Town” area. It’s full of huge Pachinko parlors (kind of like a vertical pinball game), restaurants, and movie theaters. Meryl found a good place to get a haircut and I found a wonderful hardware store where I bought a bunch of odd and ends (like brass bottle brushes that are impossible to find in the US …. we use them to clean the thru-hulls in the boat). 

We met an American serviceman’s wife (he was a para-rescue diver for the Navy SEALs, talk about a macho job) who gave us all sorts of info on things to do with kids on Okinawa, including a ranked list of the most amazing playgrounds.

We assumed this little restaurant specialized in fish.
Japan seems a lot more advanced than the US in a number of ways. These indentations are in the sidewalks in all the major areas. I assume they are for visually impaired people who can guide themselves.
We spent the next few days literally downloading hundreds of programs (think of what would happen if your computer couldn’t reach the Internet for eight months). We also had to download huge electronic chart sets for Fiji, Tong, and New Zealand, our next destinations. We took long walks everyday and found some great restaurants. Okinawa had never been on our “must see” travel destinations list, but it was starting to grow on us.

I had just finished a book call The Battle for Okinawa and was trying to identify landmarks and key hills where battles took place. The fighting in Okinawa was some of the bloodiest of World War II as the Japanese Army was firmly entrenched in a network of limestone caves all over the island. The thousands of tons of bomb dropped on them had little effect, and the fighting resorted to hand-to-hand combat for each yard gained using flamethrowers and hand grenades to wrest the Japanese from the caves. Ironically the Okinawan’s did not identify with the Japanese, who used them mainly to go outside the caves to get food and supplies (at which point they were gunned down by the Americans). The Japanese honor was such that they fought to the death, thousands committing suicide in the caves as the Americans took over the island. It was also the first effective use of kamikaze fighter planes and ships in the war. I had hoped to secure a guide to tour the battle sites but they only worked on weekends and were fully booked. Our generation has to have a lot of admiration for the sacrifices made by our fathers (and mothers home holding down the fort) during World War II, it was a incredible time in our history.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Daniel's Bay: Lunch with Monet & Matthias

At some of the smaller villages the islanders will invite cruisers into their homes for traditional Marquesasan meals, usually a luncheon for a nominal price of less than $10. We had been wanting to do this at other islands but the timing never seemed to work out.  Dave and Kim on Maluhia  joined us for a hike over to Hakaui Bay to check out the situation.  Unfortunately, that family we'd been told about was over in Taiohae Bay for the week, but we found another couple, Monet and Matthias at home and set up a date for a1:00 pm lunch the next day.  It makes such a difference when someone can communicate in French and both Kim and Dave can "parlez" French very well.  We also invited another boat, Irene, with Tapio & Eva from Finland so we are six altogether.

Dave and Kim from Maluhia 
This is a former "royal road" that leads all the way up the valley to the waterfall.
Gorgeous Bird of Paradise.
The next day, we dinghied over to the beach at Daniel's Bay and walked the 20-minute trail along the peninsula that separates the two bays. As you neared the village the trail was lined with Bougainvillea, Red Ginger, Bird of Paradise and Tei plants. We did have to ford a small river to get to the other side.

We soon found ourselves in Monet and Matthias’ lovely manicured tropical garden.  We were warmly welcomed to an inviting table set with all the many traditional dishes already placed on the table for us to enjoy.

Left to right,  Walter, Eva and Tapio (Irene), Kim and Dave (Maluhia)
We all sat down and Monet started serving up some wonderful dishes, chicken with soy, poisson de cru, green papaya salad with vinaigrette dressing, rice, three different breadfruit dishes, poi, and fried plantains.  Monet had also fixed a delicious lime drink which was chilled and very refreshing. it must of had a cup of sugar in it because Walter loved it.

We loved all the dishes especially the soy chicken and poisson de cru (fresh tuna marinated in lime juice and coconut milk),  fried plantains, and the green papaya salad was so delicious.

Once again, Kim and Dave interpreted and helped us all communicate with Monet and Matthias during our meal.  They spoke a little English but Kim and Dave smoothed things out considerably for us all as Tapio and Eva do not speak French.  We learned about their family of four children, two boys and two girls, all grown now with families of their own in Taiohae.  The kids come to help with the copra harvest  and they travel by boat occasionally back and forth to Taiohae to visit.  Like all proud parents they had photos on the wall of their kids on past sports teams, riding horses, and of course, the multitude of grandkids.  We loved sharing and learning more about them.

Matthias explaining something to David.
Proud parents and grandparents.
Eva on Irene is a doctor and learned of Matthias’ gout problem with chronic joint pain near his ankles.  She had some medicines back on the boat and promised to return the next day to help him with his problem. Eva has been able to help a number of villagers in the Marquesas with some of their health issues and enjoys the interaction with the local people.  A great gift to share.

Following our wonderful luncheon we headed out into the garden to harvest some fruit to take back with us.  Monet picked some pamplemous (deliciously sweet grapefruit), some limes, and we shared a stock of green bananas for future use.  I can imagine what a treat to have all the fruit you could possibly want right outside your home.  We petted the dogs and cats, took some photos, and Monet gave us all some of the flowers off the table to take back with us.  We all left with a smile on our faces and a warm feeling of Marquesan hospitality.

Pamplemousse to die for.
I'll take three please.
This should last us for awhile.
Drying copra brings income for the Marquesans.
Matteus and Monet.
Left to right, Eva, Matthias, Monet, Tapio, and Kim taking the picture.
Kim's very beautiful tattoo done by Fatu on Tahuata
Tapio admiring the friendly cat.