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Okinawa Day 5 - Higashi village to Okinawa City

I awoke with a growing frog in my throat; the nights with only air conditioners to keep my cool had taken its toll on my airways, worsening a mild but persistent cough that I'm especially self-conscious about considering the recent uptick in covid cases. I've actually seen a remarkable number of people walking by themselves down the road, wearing a mask. I can't judge anyone without knowing their specific circumstances, but that seems like it would make the already unbearable heat and humidity that much worse, without providing any protection for your or people around you (since there aren't any). But who knows, it seems like some folks have simply grown accustomed to wearing masks all the time.

I hung around with The friendly owner of 東のオズ, the Oz of the East (or of East Village, as the area is called) the night before and we chatted about a range of topics from his obsession with fishing, his frustrations trying to learn hougen to appease the villagers before giving up, the local water authority, his various business ideas, and his secret fountain of youth: collagen supplements. To be fair, he said he was 76 and looked to be in his early 60's, betrayed only be his greying hair, so when he stuffed some sachets into my hand I didn't argue. He warned me about the road that lay ahead, and that while I may have suffered through a fair bit to reach the east coast, my struggles were far from over.

I rolled around in bed a bit, rubbing my sore, sunburnt legs and trying to work up the courage to face today's ride. I finally found my footing and went down to say my goodbyes. Mr. Oz laughed as he reminded me about how much he expected the day to suck. "Some people think taking the switchback road that runs underneath the long straight climb is preferable, but trust me, just take the straight climb and grit your teeth through it. It'll all be over eventually; the switchbacks will seem to go on forever, and drive you insane. Also, you might want to backtrack a little bit to get a bento, there is literally nothing for a long while.

taking his advice, I powered up with some fruit and a donburi at the local "hanbaiten," saving some rice balls for later, and hit the road. Initially, it was actually a beautiful ride along the shoreline, with only a slightly grueling climb past a coffee farm before dropping back down to the oceanside. I stopped on a seawall at 10am to jump on a zoom meeting for one of my clients in Tokyo. "Whoa, we're in very different worlds right now!" they remarked. Yes, indeed. I wish there were some shade, but I just sat blinking in the sunlight wishing I could jump in the water.

20230906_134342.jpgAfter I got off the call, I turned back to the road and did something I'd been itching to do since I rode up the west coast: I rode along the top of the narrow sea wall, a silly stunt that I had to do just once while I still had the courage, before I knew I would climb up and away from the water. As soon as I rounded the next bend and passed over the Yutsu river, the road began its unrelenting incline, not letting up until I was over 400 feet above sea level before I luged down the other side of the mountain, cursing every foot I dropped because it meant another foot I'd have to gain back. This give and take repeated itself throughout the day until I had nearly matched my previous record, with over 3,300 ft (just over 1,000m) in total elevation climbed.

Just after the point where the national highway that cuts across the island to head straight to Nago meets the 331, I came across a demonstration against the construction (or operations) of the American military base right off the highway road. In response, a line of stern-looking guards in blue uniforms and white helmets literally standing shoulder to shoulder across the main entrance. I had unknowingly bumbled right past what felt like a tense situation in the moment. Across the street, the protestors had set up makeshift shelters and seating areas, chatting amongst themselves as sounds of the Okinawan Sanshin floated through the air, cutting the tension emanating from the row of stonefaced guards.

Finally, I arrived not at a michi no eki (road station, a fancy version of what we would call a "rest area" in the states), but a "yama no eki," mountain station, instead! I took a break to enjoy frozen balls of fruit and cold drinks while I gave my heart a chance to slow down, chatting up the store worker as locals filtered in to buy bags of eggs.

20230906_143034.jpgAt my next pitstop, I made the mistake of not putting my lens cover back on my 360 camera, and after buying more drinks I cam out to find my bike had faceplanted right onto one of the lenses and scratched the hell out of it. Ahh it was bound to happen sometime.

My bad luck followed me into Okinawa cit, as Google kept redirecting me in ways that increasedy elevation gain. Less than a kilometer from the hotel, I had to pick up my bike and carry it up stairs.

I finally arrived as a sweaty mess at the Okinawa City Hotel. "Can I see your passport?" asked the guy behind the counter. And as soon as I took out my pouch, I realized something was wrong. "Hmm, it's supposed to be in here, hold on a second" I said as I started going through my scant luggage, already knowing I wouldn't find it. There's only one place it's supposed to be, and it's not there.

20230906_201011.jpgI quickly ran through my mind to the last time I remember having it in hand, and it was two days ago at the hostel in Kunigami when they copied my passport. We tried calling them and the restaurant next door with no luck, so I wandered down to the nearest police box, which was empty except for a phone that told me I'd have to come to the station to fill out some paperwork.

I walked home and collapsed in frustration. For a number of reasons, today was the hardest by far.
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Ditto! And hats off to your bicycle stunts! I guess your bike's a bit heavier than standard carbon road bikes.
Yeah - need to know the part 2 of the passport and sore throat. Hoping by now that both have been resolved and you are able to continue your journey in relative peace.

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nice gaijin
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