One of the things I was most interested in when we were planning this trip to Okinawa was its historical and current relationship with the US. I knew that the US had bases on Okinawa, and that it had been a major part of the WWII offense against the Japanese. I was curious to see what sentiment remained today around Americans, and also what remained of the history from that era.
We got to learn more about that when we visited the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum on our second day. It was a wonderfully detailed museum with plenty of English captioning, and we spent a long time watching videos, checking out some amazing audio-visual exhibits, and being absolutely amazed by the wealth and the breadth of history covered here. There was a stunning projector display of the weather patterns around the Ryukyu Islands (of which Okinawa is the biggest), as to where typhoons typically go, and currents which have guided historical trading patterns with the Chinese and the Japanese. The more traditional exhibits didn’t disappoint either, with a lot of detail about how Chinese influence led to imperial adoption of dragons and similar architecture, and Japanese influence led to imposing a feudal samurai-and-peasant structure. Continue reading Finding America in Okinawa.→
Written on the Carnival Valor Sailing between St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Maarten
Evening, December 19, 2014
Today was an interesting day of firsts! I saw my first squid, played my first games of blackjack (I know!) and roulette, and visited my first Taiwanese restaurant in the Caribbean (!!!!!). St. Kitts is a beautiful long island with rolling green hills and crags that look very much like what we saw of Edinburgh and Scotland, on Holyrood Hill. It’s gorgeous, and not very settled. The island is long and to the south is a smaller island called Nevis, and together they make up the island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis. I definitely thought it was one of the more beautiful places that we’ve seen on this trip. St. Lucia and St. Kitts and Nevis are both up there, I think.
This morning, we met up with a large group of people for a Catamaran Fan-ta-sea and Nevis Beach excursion (this entire name was made up by Carnival, NOT me). We walked off the ship and to the very nearby pier where we got on a large catamaran run by a few fun guys. Every time I see people who work in this industry, I think about Rob at Spicythai Backpacker Hostel in Chiang Mai, and how every day is like Groundhog Day. How many times did he lead a group up the mountain to the temple? Honestly. I think what really made me think about it was hearing Bob Marley being played on our way out. I think about how many times they must’ve heard this song by now – hell, I’ve heard it five or six times already on this cruise – and I just wince.
Written on the Carnival Valor
Sailing from Barbados to St. Lucia, the Caribbean Evening, December 17, 2014
Tonight, I’m writing from my seat on the balcony. It’s dark out here. I turned out the light, but it’s still lit by the window and room behind me. I wanted to come out here to enjoy the balcony because it’s very soothing. The sky tonight is a little cloudy, so only a few stars are out here in the velvety warm blackness. We are sailing north once again, having reached our southernmost point, Barbados, today. So being on the port side, our view is simply of the empty expanse of the dark Caribbean sea at night. It is a darkness so complete that it seems like it’s possible to just step off the boat and become enveloped in it.
This morning, we woke up early (or so it felt to me) before 8 am to explore Barbados. The shore excursions that Carnival were offering for snorkeling all seemed to be at this one location that cost too much (like $100) for too little (just an hour of snorkeling and swimming). We also figured out that it was possible to simply swim to the snorkeling location from the beach, as was recommended in the reviews, so that’s what we did. We took a group taxi to Carlisle Bay with other people from the ship, and walked past the resort place they initially dropped us off at to the public access part of the beach. And the beach was really gorgeous. Mama came to really admire it because the sand is so silky white, and the water crystal clear. Unfortunately, the sun was already strong in the morning. We applied sunscreen and headed out for two spots where we had identified boats dropping off other snorkelers barely 100 yards from the shore: one with sea turtles and the other with boatwrecks. Both were great! We saw five turtles on our first trip out, and it was amazing how close they came. We figured out that some of the shore operators drop pieces of bread in the ocean for the turtles to come near, and the turtles know these shenanigans pretty well. Some were fairly small, but one was really pretty giant, more than 50 pounds for sure. They came incredibly close to us, and it felt like I could actually reach out and touch one at one point. We also came to the shipwrecks, which took longer to swim out to. They were about 40-50 feet down in the water, and while not very big (there were three ships about 150-200 feet in length), they were interestingly overgrown with a fair bit of coral and there were lots of fish swimming around there. We even saw a guide dive in one door and out another in one wreck. It was impressive, even if it wasn’t huge, and attracted some pretty gorgeous looking fauna.
Connie and I went snorkeling last week. It was the first time for me. Leading up to it, I felt two ways about snorkeling: I was both looking forward to it and dreading it. On the one hand, it’s snorkeling in a tropical sea—it should be totally manageable, and totally full of wonders. On the other hand, the thought of being in deep water without support (no boat, no life jacket, no swimmies) is sometimes terrifying. And the ocean is dark and full of terrors, like this one.
This morning, the next-to-last morning in Koh Samui, we woke up and by mutual unspoken agreement, we brushed our teeth, put on contacts, and trotted out with our e-readers to the restaurant by the beach, which is just a hundred feet away, for our breakfast (Steve’s opinion) or lunch (my opinion).
It is gorgeous every morning, in a delicate way. The sun has not yet warmed to its peak, and so the air is light and breezy. The tide is high so that each crashing wave (the water is far more turbulent here than on Koh Phangan) swirls around the bottom of the stone steps that lead up to the restaurant. The long swing that is tied to the tallest palm tree swings over the sea as well as the sand, and yesterday, we spent a while jumping at the apex of the swing into the sea. It was only about three feet deep at that point, and Steve teasingly told me that I looked ungraceful crashing into the water, and then diving forward.
Today, near sunset, Steve and I stepped off the ferry at Haad Rin Harbor onto Koh Phangan, an island in southern Thailand, widely known as a backpacker haven and the home of the infamous Full Moon Party. We boarded a dusty blue truck (songthaew) with a few other travelers, and rode the dipping, screeching truck for almost half an hour over the hilly island before spilling onto Haad Yao in the northwest corner of the island where we were staying. Upon first impressions, Koh Phangan is gorgeous. Our songthaew took us over a dozen hills and valleys at breakneck pace, and at times, we could catch a glimpse of the sun setting over a glittering ocean. When we got into our room, the first thing we did was change into bathing suits and run down the road for the beach.
And it was endlessly gorgeous. Haad Yao is a long sandy beach that curves to face west, and we walked the length of it in the ankle-length water, savoring the sunset. The sun had just disappeared behind the low cloud cover on the horizon, but it lit up everything else. We kept looking up as we walked, as the sunset changed by the minute, tinting the delicate, thin clouds at first a dusty pink and lavender and then changing to saffron, orange, and red. I couldn’t get over how incredibly wide that sky was above us. I didn’t bring my camera because I deliberately wanted to absorb that first sunset, but even if I did, I wouldn’t have known where to begin taking pictures. I wished that I had a large enough lens to capture the entire horizon of the sunset, because you have to see the full spectrum of that sky, from the silhouette of tall palms against that muted blue all the way to the fiery red that underlined the horizon, to appreciate what an amazing view it was.