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Okinawa 2023 Day 4 - Kunigami to Daisekirinzan, Oku, Higashi

I crawled out of my cubby hole when I could no longer ignore the spear of light stabbing through the window, and stuffed my personal effects back into my bags. I retrieved my bike from the lobby and hit the road. The night before, I asked the sushi chef if he had any recommendations for 絶景, zekkei, must-see things. He thought for a moment and said "Kayauchi Banta," an overlook point high above the Ginama Fish Harbor. As it turned out, it shared the same turn off the oceanside highway as Daisekirinzan, my real goal for the morning. As I rode along the 331, I occasionally glanced at the mountains to my right, thankful for every meter of flat road that lay ahead of me. All that ended when I turned off for Kayauchi Banta and Daisekirinzan.


The climb turned a healthy sheen of exertion into a swim uphill through my own sweat. The sun beat down mercilessly with not even a modest cover of clouds, so reaching the vantage point felt like a great victory, peering back down at the ocean that I could have dipped my toes in not long before. Fortunately, Daisekirinzan was only another kilometer or two up the road, so I got to switch things up and walk for a change. Daisekirinzan has a pretty nifty geological exhibit explaining the formation of the Okinawan island chain, with examples of rocks from all over the territory. I scored a ticket and hopped onto the shuttle bus headed for the trailheads above. Motor vehicles, what a novelty!


I ended up doing the "full course" trail that threaded through the jungle past various limestone formations. As a rock climber, it was all very tempting to try my hand at bouldering a little, but the karst was remarkably sharp and I had on the thinnest sandals known to man, and I wasn't too keen on injuring myself out in the wilds of northern Okinawa, halfway through a multi-day tour. I also was a little than more worried that someone would see me and think I was somehow behaving disrespectfully or inappropriately, since we were on private land, and many of the rocks had actually been named.

Alas, they took a similar tact as other geological attractions and caves I've visited in other countries, making a big deal of pointing out the rocks that can conceivably look like something else, like "the camel," "the rhino," "the dragon," etc. Humans are funny creatures, and we sure do love seeing stuff in unrelated natural formations... it's called pareidolia, the reason we see stuff in cloud formations... OK, there was one that got me: High up on the ridge, there was a little sign saying "if you look up through the trees, you'll see a cat perched on the very top of the rock, sitting vigilantly, looking out over the ocean." By golly, they found my only weakness. It DID kind of look like a kitty!
see? there's a kitty up there!!

20230905_113117-gajumaru.jpgI dropped back down to the shuttle area and decided to jog down through the banyan tree forest and see the big seven "gajumaru" trees on the way back down. The last one was by far the most impressive, a sprawling web of vines draping down until they hit soil, becoming additional mini trunks for the massive tree.

I wove through the wooden tangles and returned to my trusty steed, ready to hit the road again. Having climbed so much to get to the stone forest, I figured that I had a nice long downhill ride ahead of me, but of course I was wrong! Much more climbing before I could finally enjoy the fruits of my labor. Over an hour of swearing later, I unceremoniously crested a hill and began to sail all the way back to sea level, landing in the small village of Oku, ready for a delicious set lunch of Soba, tempura, and an assortment of side dishes at a tiny adorable little spot called Satsukimaru.

Resurrected by the power of delicious food, I braced myself to relive the climb I had just done that morning, and tackled the north coast. Aside from the occasional side road that looks like overgrown driveways, a couple viewpoints, and a small "parlor" settlement offering cheap campsites, there was little except for the aggressive jungle closing in on the roadway.

I had heard a lot about the endangered flightless bird, the Kuina, so I bought a t-shirt at Daisekirinzan with its image on it. I wanted to see one for myself, and an image of a kuina is on pretty much every "look out for wildlife on the roadway" sign, but there were none to be found! It had been such a long day, I nearly passed on the chance to drop in to the Yanbaru Kuina Ecological Exhibition and Learning Facility merely because I would have had to give up a couple hundred feet of elevation, and then claw it back on the way out

Ultimately, I decided to go for it because when else am I going to be biking around this area? This line of thinking is sure to get me in trouble, but it was worth it to go see "Hitter," one of the cutest and most inquisitive little ground birds I've seen. There's just one 5 year-old Kuina at the exhibition, but the guy told me that they were soon expecting a new hatchling to join the party. The Kuina may be endangered, but it has a lot of people working to keep it from slipping into extinction.

Back on the road again, I grit my teeth and ground out the remaining mileage, sometimes climbing, other times zipping down the mountain roads, and finally arriving at Higashi no Ozu at the south end of Higashi village, a full 80 kilometers and over 1400 meters (3300 feet) of climbing under my belt for the day.

Tour Day 3 Stats:
Distance: 80.29km
Elevation gain: 1441m
Moving time: 5:38
Calories burned: 3,452


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Very impressive stats and a lot of calories burned! :) 👍
I don't know what to expect of myself, it felt like I was crawling most of the way. My watch tells me I lost over 6 liters of sweat though, so I got that going for me

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nice gaijin
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