Monday, March 26, 2007

Part Two - Getting Wet in Kumejima

Getting Wet in Kumejima

Breakfast is included at our resort hotel, so at 9:00 A.M. we enter the dining room. The elaborate buffet is an array of many types of pork and bacon, French fries, cold spaghetti, cold tamago, an assortment of seaweeds, pickled vegetables, a salad bar with grated vegetables, miso soup, rice, cereal and rolls. John is not thrilled with his options, but chooses the one cereal offered and eats a few pieces of bacon. Self serve, hot coffee, tea and juice are also available. After breakfast, we head out to the beach immediately, and at high the beach looks much more inviting. I have hopes of taking a boat out to the Hateno Sand Bar, but we have a late start.

I glance up, surprised to see Art making a call on his cell phone. He is calling Yuko and tells me that Yuko and Tadaou are taking a trip to the sand bar this morning. Art informs Yuko that we will try to catch up and join them, but there is not a single taxi or pedestrian on this beach resort street so we begin walking in the direction of the dock. We stop to pick up a few rice triangles, water and sunscreen along the way. I see a bicycle coming towards us and am surprised and confused to see Tadaou. He tells us that Yuko has already left for the Hateno Sand Bar, but he needed to take a driving lesson and couldn’t go with her; he would like to go now. We have already checked out of our resort hotel with the "virtual" swimming pool and have no place to spend the night. Tadaou tells us that there is room at his minshuku (guest house) and agrees to bicycle back, reserve us a room and meet us at the dock. We continue walking the mile to the dock and wait for Tadaou.

Eventually, at 12:30, the 4 of us depart to the sand bar on a small motor boat. The agreed upon price is 3,500 yen per person and we are handed purple waterproof windbreakers to protect us from the ocean spray as we speed out across the choppy waves. The trip takes 20 minutes. A lone motor launch is leaving the sand bar as our boat eases up onto the sandy beach. We wade ashore to a pristine and deserted sand bar and carry our belongings to a simple shelter constructed high up on the beach. We have until 3:00 P.M. to snorkel and walk along this sand bar. John finds a surfboard from behind the shelter and immediately begins to construct a coral anchor weight for the board so that he can snorkel on top of the board and not worry about the current. The sand is a pristine white, the water a calm delicious turquoise and Art and I set off to explore the perimeters of our island. It’s only when we reach the tip of the sand spit that trash begins to appear and as we round the point to the other side, choppy waves agitate the remains of the coral reef, slick with velvety green seaweed.

There is a light afternoon cloud cover, but the sun breaks through frequently bathing the ocean and beach in magical island sunlight. I join John briefly to snorkel and watch colorful trigger fish take bread from his hand; one bites his finger and my mask continually fogs. I’m glad to be witnessing this underwater world of white sand and small schools of tropical fish, but it is void of living coral and I retreat to the shore to sit and warm myself in the fading afternoon sunlight. Promptly at 3:00 P.M. we return to Kumejima as clouds darken and the choppy waves change to indigo.

On shore, sandy and salty, and in an area with no taxis, we begin walking to the Bade-haus. It is across a lengthy bridge, roughly a kilometer away and adjacent to the Tatami Stones. Tadaou is peddling slowly beside us when a mini pick up truck pulls along side. Within seconds, the three of us are in the truck bed, bouncing along to the Bade-hause. We thank our driver, wait for Tadaou to catch up, and enter a contemporary upscale spa. Entrance is 2,000.Yen per person for unlimited day use of the facilities. We check our shoes into special shoe lockers, are handed bags with plush towels and given a wrist band with key, for yet another locker. My three men depart for their changing room leaving me on my own to navigate the woman’s facilities alone. I eventually emerge into a naturally lit rotunda with an immense circular pool and am relieved to spot Art and John at station #1 & #2. Light streams in from floor to ceiling windows that open out onto the ocean beyond. Art spots me and motions me towards the gradual steps entering the pool and I wade down to join him in the warm saline water. Numbered stations around the perimeter of the pool blast powerful jets of warm, (not hot) water out at various heights and intensity. John is already into the swing of things and is holding tight to the bars at his station and allowing the jets of water to massage his back and spine. I soon understand the intended rhythm and float from station to station relaxing into the pulsating water jets. Art pulls me aside to join him in the wet sauna and together we enter a room thick with fog and the rich aromas of burning mochi. I sit beside him on a tiled bench completely invisible in the mist as my sweat trickles down onto the tile floor beneath me. All three of us soak outside in the hot tub and John tries to persuade me to join him in a cold plunge. I decline, but retreat to the woman’s facilities to shower and dress.

Yuko picks all of us up and drives us to the minshuku, a 20 minute walk to the beach. The Japanese style rooms are sparkling clean and the price is a bargain at only 2,000 yen per person. The bath is shared but John has a room of his own. We have become friends with Yuko and Tadaou and invite them to join us for dinner. We walk together in the dark, following unlit rural dirt roads and when we arrive at the beach we choose an izakaya for dinner. It’s a relief to have someone else to help “order” and our new friends are gracious and careful in their selections. We share a dozen small plates, a bottle of awamori and walk back to our minshuku in the village. The three hour feast for the 5 of us, all inclusive is around $80.00. It is raining lightly as we retrace our steps. We sleep reasonably well, Japanese style as torrents of rain pummel the roof.

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