Okinawa: a much-needed tropical tonic

Maybe it was the warm air that hit us as soon as we stepped off the plane. Or the bright orchids that smiled from the windows at the airport. Or the airport staff who wore floral shirts. Whatever it was, as soon as we landed at Naha on the main island of Okinawa, it felt like we’d arrived in Hawaii. And then we arrived, tired and bedraggled at our guesthouse, Ma-Blue in Motobo a couple of hours later, and it turned out to be Hawaiian themed. The room had hammocks and bright prints, and the restaurant was kitted out like a beach shack, with a straw roof, surfboard pictures and road signs for Hawaiian destinations. Plus Hawaiian souvenirs you could buy: Hawaiian T shirts, mugs, coasters, coffee beans and trinkets. It was a bit of a mind-trip: as we ate American style pancakes with cream and pineapples, and listened to the Beach boys with the baseball on TV, it was difficult to remember we were in Japan.

We stayed in north western town of Motobu which at first glance, seemed a bit of an odd decision. The guesthouse advertised itself as having a private beach and a pool. The pool was empty. The beach was a scrap of sand that only emerged once a day at low tide and was covered in plastic. Emerald Beach, only 5 minutes’ drive away looked promising at first, with white sand and gorgeous turquoise water. Little hearts leapt. Except swimming was forbidden due to not one, not two but four different types of dangerous jellyfish and fish in the area. And then there was a tannoy on the beach, blaring out Japanese elevator music interspersed with adverts in four languages. Most odd.

But we made it work. We paddled, made sandcastles, hunted for pretty shells and crabs and paddled some more. By the end of it, we were sun kissed and wind swept and the small disappointments of the day didn’t matter anymore.

And that was how the rest of the week turned out. We didn’t get to learn much about the history or visit many important historical sights. But we did what we could manage and that mainly consisted of driving and discovering places and enjoying what we found. Like Minna Island, a tiny island no more than 4km circumference and only 15 mins away by boat. The closest thing to a tropical paradise I’ve ever been to. Only a handful of people visited that day, so we had the place to ourselves to wander around and absorb. It was magical and re-set our batteries just so.

The Ocean Expo Park was a big hit. An aquarium, a dolphin theatre, and an adventure playground which we went to most days. And the most unexpectedly enchanting hot-house plants/gardens called the Tropical Dream Centre. Big M loved spotting different tropical fruit trees, feeding the fish, touching huge stag beetles and running up a shell-like tower. We had the place to ourselves which added to our sense of wonder. It felt like we were discovering the place.

I think that’s what made our week on Okinawa. We barely touched the recommended sights of the guidebooks. But we found little independent coffee shops and wine bars on Kouri island, and watched the sun go down under a bridge on Sesuko Island. We swam off deserted beaches (for my part, quite hastily. Turns out I prefer my seas cold and lifeless) and went for ‘jungle’ walks, finding huge purple hermit crabs and ‘techno’ bugs. We imagined vast palaces at castle ruins and ate noodles whilst watching sumo wrestling on TV in the castle cafe. We danced on the decking as the sun rose and had huge bubble baths. Big M even rode a goat.

It wasn’t planned, there were places we were gutted not to see and I don’t know if I’d recommend staying where we did. But as we landed back in a greyer, cooler Osaka I looked at myself in the mirror and realised I had freckles, was smiling and had a tropical flower in my hair. Okinawa was just the tonic we needed.

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