To keep up with our tradition, we wanted to take a trip for Nate's birthday. We decided on Ishigaki island (and it's surrounding islands), which is a short 45 minute flight away from Okinawa, and part of the Ryukyu Island chain that Okinawa is a part of.
Once we arrived at the Ishigaki Airport, we took a short bus ride to the Ferry terminal, and hopped on a ferry to the less populated Iriomote-jima (jima is Japanese for 'island').
Iriomote (西表) is the largest island of the Yaeyama Islands (a group of 19 tropical islands southwest of Okinawa). It has a population of only 2,000 people and more than 90% of the island is covered in dense tropical jungles and mangrove forests - which makes it a great spot for outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking! Iriomote has only one main road connecting the two large towns (and ports), Ohara in the south, and Uehara in the north.
Due to sea conditions, ferries were only running to the south port of Ohara. Once we arrived on the island, we were able to rent a car and head to our hotel, La Teada, located next to Haemida Beach. We dropped off our bags and then headed off exploring.
Our first stop: Yubu Island
Yubu island is a tiny island very close to Iriomote. The water separating the two islands is very shallow, therefore you can cross between the two by water buffalo ;) #everybodywantsawaterbuffalo #veggiestales #anyone?? Yubu island is only 2 km around, so it's easily explored on foot or by bicycle. Back in the day over 100 people used to live on the island but most the people were forced to evacuate due to typhoons and floods except for 3 families. Nowadays, the island has a sub-tropical botanical garden, exotic species of plants, a restaurant, coffee shop, butterfly garden, and some animals hanging out. Not being one who wants to miss out on a water buffalo ride, we decided to check it out.
(Side note: Nate lost his phone on the island, and therefore pictures from the first few days of our trip. Found some pics online of Yubu island from above and some flowers/greenery on the island since all our pics actually on the island were on his phone. More on Nate losing his phone later...)
Video of our driver playing some good ol' fashion Okinawa music on the sanshin (traditional okinawan instrument) on our way back from Yubu.
Since it was later in the afternoon, we headed back to our hotel so we could relax a bit. Near our hotel, we found a little neighborhood bar called, Haemi. We were the only customers in there, and our bartender spoke a little English but if you know Nate and I, we made it work ;) We joked around with her and drank some local Awamori (Okinawa's sake (but much stronger) liquor).
In the pics below you'll see an interesting shaped sake holder.... apparently this was a gift to her from mainland Japan and if you drank the sake from it, it helped with fertility. #lovethedesign And all the Awamori bottles lined up on the wall all belong to a local on the island. They purchase a bottle, write their name on it, and then can drink from it whenever they come in. Pretty legit system if you ask me.
After our happy hour, we headed back to our hotel for a traditional Okinawan 6 course meal. Unfortunately, all our pics of our local foods were lost on Nate's phone (except the two from my phone below.... who can read our menu in Japanese?)..... But it was pretty tasty and nice to indulge into some local specialties.
After dinner, we walked back to the little local bar and found it a bit more crowded! But we were welcomed back with open arms from the bartender, and met some of her local friends who we socialized with for a while. One of them even recognizing us from the port when we came in to rent a car #smallisland! Even though not much English was spoken by most of the locals, we tried, and they tried. Smiles, cheers(ing??) of drinks, and hand gestures go a long way. Even with the language barrier, we all had a great time and it's one of the many things I love about Japan and the people who live here :)
The next morning, we got up early, ate breakfast, and then started our hour drive to the north part of the island by Uehara port where we were meeting our guide for a kayaking and hiking tour.
The drive through Iriomote was beautiful and did not disappoint.
The main reason we wanted to stay on Iriomote was to do a hiking/kayak tour to Pinaisara-no-taki (taki in Japanese means 'waterfall'). Pinai means hige (beard) and sara means 'something hanging down' - so literally translates to beard hanging down #seemsaccurate Pinaisara is the Okinawan island's largest waterfall at 180 ft (55 meters).
We met our tour guide for the day, Naoya, who equipped us and took us through the mangroves to the kayak jumping off point. Here, we kayaked down the Mare river where it met up with the Hinai river. We then hiked about 30 minutes to the base of the waterfall. It was beautiful all around, surrounded with so much green! Our guide was very knowledgeable and educated us on different plants and flowers along the way. And since Iriomote is still relatively untouched, they are able to eat wild boar sashimi there since the animal has remained pure (and not mixed with other species) #funfact
After the base of the waterfall, we hiked up to the very top of the waterfall where we had lunch. Naoya cooked us Okinawa soba at the top and we got to eat while sitting on the rocks of the river overlooking Pinaisara's top. #luckyducks We then hiked down to the bottom where our kayaks were waiting for us.
On our kayak back to the starting point, Naoya took us over to a little sandbar to see if we could find any signal crabs. Instead we found heitai gani (soldier crabs). These crabs were tiny, only about 1 cm in length and were super sensitive. You could see many of them on the beach, but as soon as we started walking over they would disappear! They can sense humans (or animals) about 10 meters away, and they bury themselves in the sand to hide. (see pics below of the crab burying itself). Once we got to them, we stood still and quietly for about 2-3 minutes an they slowly started coming out again.
We were on the hunt for 'signal crabs' - which you can see in the video below. The male has one very large claw that he appears to 'wave'. We did actually get to see a few tiny ones of these at the very end but they were too tiny to film from where we were. (see youtube video below)
Once we docked, we realized Nate no longer had his phone.... We knew he took pictures with it at the top of the waterfall so it was somewhere between there and where the kayaks were. Our tour guide went above and beyond trying to find it for us. Nate and I tried to search the little island of burrowing crabs, while our guide paddled all the way back to the waterfall and hiked up it quickly (he does it on the daily so was able to do it quickly!) looking for it.
Unfortunately, no such luck. BUT this is Japan, and if you are going to lose something, this is the place to do it since you have a very high probability of seeing it again since people turn shit in around here. Our guide kept our contact info and he went out looking for it the next day and emailed all the other guides to keep an eye out for it. There was no signal where we were hiking so we weren't able to use the 'where's my iphone app'. We never did find it - so we lost some pictures from our first day or two of the trip - but we were thoroughly impressed with the service and concern our guide provided in the matter #japanneverceasestoimpressme
After our tour, our guide dropped us off at the northern port of Uehara. The water was still bad so we had to take a bus down to the sourthern port and board the ferry back to Ishigaki for the rest of our trip.
Iriomote was beautiful, and wild, filled with friendly locals, and we thoroughly enjoyed it (even if we did lose a phone!). Tune in for more on the rest of our trip to the Yaeyama islands ;)
Follow in our Footsteps:
Ferry to Iriomote
2 ports: Ohara and Uehara
Time: 25 mins
Price: ¥1540 (one way)
Service: 26-28 times/day
Time: 40 mins
Price: ¥2000 (one way)
Service: 16-17 times/day
La Teada Hotel
Taketomi, Yaeyama District, Okinawa Prececture 907-1432
Price: W/Water buffalo ride 1400 yen (adults), 700 yen (children) On foot - no water buffalo 600 yen (adults), 300 yen (children)
Haemi Restaurant and Bar
508-51 Haemi, Taketomi-chō, Yaeyama-gun, Okinawa-ken 907-1434
Iriomote Tour - Pinaisara Waterfalls (fantastic tour! Naoya was awesome!)
Uehara, 竹富町 Taketomi, Yaeyama District, Okinawa Prefecture 907-1541
Megan Bond - AUTHOR
Just a girl raised in California and loved exploring Southeast Asia with my husband! We're back in the States but still exploring the world as much as we can!