Frankie and Egg

IMG_2649

We have a problem – A problem that many parents of young children have:

Our kids want a pet.

This all started when we were in Okinawa and we saw some pretty big and dangerous looking spiders in the bushes (see photo above).

To make them appear less scary for the kids, my husband and I suggested that we should give them names. The kids named the first one as Frankie. A couple of days later we discovered another whopper a few metres away from Frankie. The kids assumed it was Frankie’s brother, and called him Egg. This was regardless of the fact that it didn’t look like a particularly well-fed spider, nor did it smell bad.

Having seen the size of Okinawan spiders, and having been warned that there were some habu, i.e. poisonous snakes, in Okinawa, we were a little bit worried when we decided to hang out on empty beaches

IMG_2816

or discovered secret caves

 

IMG_2932

or even when we just tried to battle our way through the snake-infested bushes to get to the beach.

 

The path to the beach

 

But I am glad to tell you that apart from Frankie and Egg, we didn’t see anything that looked dangerous during our holiday… well, apart from (a) Frankie and Egg’s little sister that we found in a restaurant toilet (see photo below) and (b) my cave woman appearance and behaviour in the mornings after downing a bottle of white wine the night before.

 

IMG_2642

No-one got bitten or attached to by anything even though the kids, as most parents would expect, disobeyed our command to not go off and explore the bushes and caves.

IMG_2921

The punch line is that our Okinawan holiday resulted in our kids wanting a pet, and to my husband’s horror I’ve gone and promised that we’ll buy a dog when we move back to England. My husband is now trying to convince the kids that a hamster might make a better pet – or that, in fact, Tamagotchi would be even better.

 

The only Westerners on the Island

Yurigahama5

 

Yesterday, we visited Yurigahama, a sandbank about 1 km from the shore of Yoron Island. Yurigahama is peculiar in that it is only exposed for a couple of hours during the low tide, after which it is hidden under water again. The island guide leaflet says that one can only visit it a couple of times a month and only if it is your destiny!

For several days before our trip, the boats that run between Yurigahama and the coast of Yoron were pulled out of the water due to a typhoon warning. It must have been our destiny because they were running the day we visited.

Yurigahama

My aim here is not to make you Brits and Finns reading this feel bad and think ‘We won’t see the sun again until next June and you bastard brag about the sunshine’ but Yurigahama was amazing! I can’t possibly put it into words how beautiful it was. Maybe the photos above and below give you a feel for what it was like instead (and maybe you can go and visit sometime). There was clear turquoise water and white sand, turtles and colourful fish swimming in the corals, a fabulous location very close to the far edge of the reef where you can see the dangerous waters beyond the reef (but are yet in the safe, shallow, waters of the reef), and importantly, a lack of German tourists hogging all the sun loungers, Brits boozing their way through the day, Americans acting like they own the beach and Finns looking as miserable as the sharks on the other side of the reef.

What might make you feel better, is the knowledge that when we got to Yurigahama, I noticed that my husband had forgotten our towels. When going swimming, one might consider forgetting towels a bit of a disaster, but not my husband. His plan was to use his spare boxer shorts as a towel. You can’t but love a man that thinks outside his wife’s comfort zone.

IMG_3122

IMG_3132

Yurigahama2

As, throughout our Yoron holiday overall, we were the only Westerners on Yurigahama. Yoron seems very much a Japanese holiday-makers’ paradise – and there weren’t even that many Japanese around.

On our way back from Yurigahama on a small glass bottom boat, a Japanese lady from Tokyo asked where we were from and said that she was amazed to see any Westerners on the island. She was baffled as to how we had even heard about Yoron, let alone managed to book the holiday via non-Japanese booking websites. She was convinced we were the only Westerners on the island. For some reason it made my holiday.

 

IMG_3119

 

IMG_3295

Emergency rations

Pre-typhoon clouds

Pre-typhoon clouds

If you read my previous post, you know that we are currently on Yoron Island (near Okinawa) on holiday, and you also know that yesterday we bought some emergency rations (chocolate, biscuits, crisps, pot noodles and wine) for our holiday cottage so that we could survive through super typhoon Dujuan, which was heading towards Okinawa.

Dujuan however missed Yoron and headed to Taiwan instead. I was relieved that we didn’t have to experience a super typhoon whilst in our holiday cottage by a beach on a tiny, relatively remote, Pacific island. However, my husband, whose mindset is that of a 16-year old’s, was disappointed. He wanted to experience a proper typhoon – something that a year and a half in Osaka hasn’t been able to deliver.

You see, in terms of Typhoons, Osaka seems to be ideally positioned. Many times there has been an emergency warning for Osaka, and we’ve stocked up on food and bottled water, filled the bathtub with water (to flush the toilet if electricity goes), brought the washing line and our kids’ paddling pools in from the balcony, and expected a front row view from our 24th floor apartment of the wind, rain and airborne 7-Eleven staff, who are expected to go to work even in emergency weather conditions. But the typhoons have always changed their course and battered other places, most commonly Okinawa, and we’ve yet to experience a flying 7-Eleven cashier.

Anyway, today was a new day, and no sign of Dujuan.

Like most mornings, our son and daughter got up earlier than my husband and I. They went downstairs to the living area of our holiday cottage, discovered the chocolate and crisp wrappings and an empty bottle of white wine that my husband and I had polished off after the kids had gone to bed (and Dujuan had changed its course), and with disgust, my son goes:

‘Look! They’ve been pigging out again.’

Pre-typhoon clouds

Pre-typhoon clouds

A series of unfortunate/fortunate events

 

IMG_2249

 

 

We are currently on holiday on Yoron Island, which is just north of the Pacific Japanese islands of Okinawa. This is a beautiful island, with amazing beaches and great underwater scenes and sea life for scuba diving.

 

Yoron

 

IMG_2668

 

I will, however, be spending most of my time on the beach building sandcastles, snorkeling in 30cm deep water, drinking Yoron blue cocktails and observing the Japanese sunbathers dressed up for the sun. Most Japanese women like suntan as much as Western women like cellulite, and whilst women like me might do lunges to avoid getting any wobbly mountains and valleys on my thighs, when they go on the beach, Japanese ladies wear long sleeved sports tops, capri trousers and 1970-style, extremely unflattering sun hats, that make even a 6-year old look like she needs a zimmer frame.

 

IMG_2673

 

But somehow, as seems typical with us, getting to the beaches here didn’t go quite as planned.

Even though I am a control freak, for once I left husband in charge of booking the flights. In fact, this time, I abandoned my Monica Geller persona so much so that I didn’t even know what time our flight was until two days before our departure. You see, my husband, who was in England until 24 hours before our flight to Okinawa, rang me to warn me that he had noticed that our connecting flight from Naha (the biggest town on the Okinawa main island) to Yoron was a bit tight: 50 minutes. In Japan, things work even better than in places like Germany, so in theory 50 minutes should be plenty of time to get our connecting flight especially as we thought Naha airport would be pretty small and you don’t have any ‘get there 3 hours before your flight’ type warning that you have at Heathrow. However, even in Japan things can sometimes go more like in Russia/Heathrow than in Germany/Helsinki.

Things started to go wrong already the night before our flight. We were to leave our apartment around 8am but around 9.30pm the previous night my husband rang me from Kansai Airport in Osaka to which he had just landed to tell me that his luggage, including all his Okinawa holiday clothes, were still in Hong Kong, where he had taken his connecting flight from London to Osaka. Luckily, when we got to the airport to fly out to Okinawa the following morning, my husband’s luggage had arrived and so I didn’t need to share my bikini and summer dresses with him during our holiday (despite his protestations). Instead, we just transferred some of his stuff from his Hong Kong luggage to our Yoron luggage in the corner of the terminal and left the Hong Kong luggage with the ground staff to deliver it to our home in Osaka that evening.

The first leg of our flight was with Peach airlines, which is the Japanese version of Easyjet or Ryanair, i.e. non-glam, plain rude, ‘your-luggage-weighs-150-grams-over-the-limit’ -airline. Recall that we finished our packing in the corner of the Kansai Airport terminal (in about one minute with a member of the Cathay Pacific staff standing next to us waiting for us to return my husband’s Hong Kong luggage for home delivery), and so we had no idea what our luggage weighed.

We had to take some of our stuff out of the luggage, and wear it, which is not exactly ideal when it is 30 degrees outside, but anyway, the Peach ground staff were eventually happy with the weight of our luggage. I’m glad they didn’t weigh us as well! I’ve heard that some airlines do weigh their passengers, and to be honest, my post-England cider and pub grub holiday /pre-Okinawa get-in-your-new-green-bikini-holiday diet didn’t go quite as well as planned and if 150 grams is a big deal for them, they wouldn’t have liked what they saw had I jumped on the scales.

Very non-typically for Japan, the non-glam flight took off about 30 minutes behind schedule. Maybe Peach trains their staff in Ireland… although, typically for Japan, Peach did provide free umbrellas for people walking from the terminal to the aircraft in the rain. Michael O’Leary would of course charge a pound or two for that kind of luxury.

 

IMG_2112

 

When we got to Naha we were amazed to see that our luggage seemed to be the first off the plane – we might just make it! However, we then realized that, like most budget airlines, Peach had its own terminal, a shed/warehouse type thing, next to the actual Naha terminal. We had to make a 10 min bus journey to the main terminal and managed to get to the departure counter 5 minutes after the scheduled take-off time of our connecting Japan Airlines flight. We had the distressed JAL ground staff ringing the departure gate to see whether we could still make it, but no, in punctual Japanese style, the flight was already on its way. That was the last flight of the day. I stayed surprisingly calm. I think it was the fact that my husband had cleverly rang me and warned me that this might happen. But the bottom line was that we were not getting to our paradise island that day, and I wasn’t a happy bunny (or more accurately: an old hare).

What saved the day was the amazing Japanese customer service (for the sake of simplicity, let’s exclude Peach staff from this generalization).

There we were at the JAL counter, had missed our (£400) flights, and were expecting to pay another £400 for our flights for the following day. But when we explained to them that our Peach flight had landed 30 minutes behind the schedule, they went off for 15 minutes making phone calls. I presume they were calling the shed/warehouse-terminal, to verify that our Peach flight had indeed been delayed (the Japanese are not only punctual, they are also precise and never use guesswork).

In the meanwhile, I rang the hotel on Yoron Island to let them know that we would not be arriving there that day after all. The receptionist didn’t speak English. I tried to explain in my pidgin Japanese that we were still in Naha and would not be arriving at the hotel that day: Watashitachi wa Naha ni imasu. Yoron no kuukoo ni imasen. The receptionist didn’t understand what I was on about. She asked me to ring back a couple of hours later when there was someone there who spoke English.

Once the helpful JAL ground staff got a verification of our delayed connecting flight with someone’s hanko (kind of like a signature in a form or a stamp) on a piece of paper, they offered us flights for the following day for free. Hooray!

Now all we had to do was to find a hotel in Naha for one night. We went to the airport’s information counter. No English speakers. I didn’t want to give it another go with my Japanese comparable to a drunken Glaswegian’s English. So we just stood there like lemons until they directed us two floors down to another information counter where someone did speak English.

The English speaker was very helpful. Not only did she book us a hotel in Naha, she also rang our hotel in Yoron to let them know that due to a delayed flight we would not be arriving until the following day. And can you believe it, the hotel offered to refund the night we had to spend in Naha. Hooray!

So, all in all, we actually saved about £100 due to the fact that we had missed our connecting flight (our hotel in Naha was much cheaper than our hotel in Yoron). My husband of course took credit for this and said that this was his plan all along. Maybe he should start writing a ‘money saving’ blog with all his well thought-out thrifty ideas.

In any case, we got to spend a night in Naha where my husband got confused as to why the monorail driver seemed to be missing (see photo below) and we flew out to Yoron the following day.

The end of the line

The end of the line

 

We are here safe and sound, although typhoon Dujuan is approaching and is likely to hit this area this evening. We’ve stocked up on emergency rations – but I am getting through the chocolate and crisps as we speak while sitting on the sofa and writing this blog. Maybe I should start writing a survival blog…

 

PS. More Yoron news and photos to follow (unless the typhoon knocks out our chocolate and crisp shop).

IMG_2320