Oh… an unexpected blue sky and tropical sunshine… that’s a promising start.
Ishigaki is one of the most popular diving sites in Japan and famous for manta watching. Philippe had high hopes to see a manta or two : ) but April is not the prime manta season but they are still seen once every other dive.
Our friendly and efficient B&B host recommended a good dive shop which was available for a dive with only two of us.
The first dive was offshore from the Yonehara 米原 beach. Yesterday I did snorkeling at that same beach and the water was so crystal-clear that I could see butterflyfish and other colorful tropical fish just few meters off the beach.
After managing a back-roll-entry from the boat (no problem for Philippe but a little challenging for me), there was lots of fish hovering over the tennis court sized “Ginger corals”. Our guide pointed out tiny, adorable and transparent 5 clownfish babies.
On Ishigaki there are two Manta viewing sites, “Manta City” and “Manta Scramble”. On our second dive the boat headed for Manta City. There was a bit of queuing as not more than five boats are allowed to dive at the same time not to disturb mantas.
Under the maximum 25-meter deep water are several small and large coral hills and narrow channels in between. Manta usually appears on the top of these hills to “clean their bodies” and divers wait at the bottom. It was a complex geological underwater formation and interesting to dive around, a bit like hiking in the water.
While waiting, we dived around these hills and watched marine animals hovering and hiding in narrow channels. We also sighted a beautiful tortoise resting on the seafloor. It let us watch for a while and then swam away gracefully into to the deep blue.
Time is up and our guide signaled us to surface. No Manta today : (
Once we got on the boat and dropped our tank, our guide who was still in the water suddenly popped his head and shouted to us, “Manta is there!”
Philippe and I quickly grabbed our snorkel and jumped back into the water. And there it was… a large manta (around 3 meter) is gliding away not far from our boat. Magnificent!
Philippe was all smiles on the way back : )
So here we go again. After many noodle meals in Okinawa already, Yasuko came up with one more “impossible to leave this island without sampling these noodles” restaurant.
It has won prices and is all over the social networks galaxy. A must. It opens at 11 in the morning and the queue easily grows to a one-hour game of patience.
To avoid a queue and make sure to get on the first round, one recommends to get there half an hour before the opening time. So we were at 10:35 in front of this local, rather unexciting and non-descriptive noodle joint, beating all other noodle-crazy Japanese : ) Philippe secured the first seats outside this eating place and noted down our names at the top of the waiting list. Yes!
While waiting, cars and mini-vans appeared from all directions into this tiny village with otherwise no attraction – a fascinating spectacle. After all theses years of visiting Japan, it is still amazing, heart warming and surprising to see how (good) food drives a nation…
At exactly 11:00 we were promptly ushered into a simply-decorated restaurant and we made our order which we could study to the details while waiting. There are only around five menu options : )
Philippe’s choice was Soki soba, an Okinawa speciality consisting of noodles with fatty pork cooked so long that the pork melts in the mouth. All of served in a fantastic pork broth.
Yasuko ordered vegetable soba with salt soup base, which came with a mountain of cooked cabbage.
The total bill for both of us was 14 USD. We did not linger in the place because we felt obligated to free up space for over 20 people waiting outside in the heat….
Our second hike on the Ishigaki Island: Mt. Maapee.
It has a modest height of 230m with two hiking paths to the top: the longer one takes 45 minutes and the shorter one just 15 minutes! Sounds more like a stroll in the park. The local recommended the short one because the longer path is not clearly marked.
Its distinctive rocky peak is visible from far and we wondered how we can get up there in mere 15 min….
After missing the first sign, we reoriented ourselves and arrived at the real trailhead via a dense forest management road curiously observed by a wild pheasant.
From the beginning it was quite a climb in the dense forest and bamboo bushes but with the ropes we got up easily. Soon, we found ourselves getting out of the forest and on the rocky top.
From here there is a breathtaking 360-degree view of Ishigaki Island! The dense green forest flows down to the emerald blue water and the peninsula stretches out to the north. Several hikers came and went, and we stayed on a long time, perked on the rock gazing at the mesmerizing panorama.
This intricate emerald-blue bay surrounded by the white sand beach is in every Okinawa brochure, poster and on gazillions of FB and Instagram posts (and now on ours). We were a bit skeptical but once we looked down the bay, we both uttered oh, wow, sugoi, kirei, like all the others.
This amazingly blue and green bay attracts lots of tourists and glass-bottom boats are leaving every few minutes, loaded with people who wish to see underwater corals and animals without getting wet.
We gazed at the bay, watching the current streaming in and out and Philippe closely observing boats maneuvering around. We look forward to our next dive just beyond this Kabira Bay which is famous for manta sighting….
I know that Okinawa is a water sports activity destination, but a passionate hiker like myself can always find a place to hike up to : ) So today we have decided to go up to the top of Okinawa, Mt. Omoto at an impressive 525m！
When we started walking, a young Japanese man came down and warned us that it was a lot steeper than expected. After a short while, we started climbing up in the dense, humid tropical forest, which reminded us of Bali as well as Yakushima. Beautiful butterflies, trees tangling with other plants, enormous ferns…
Combing through the low bushy bamboo was a bit of work and Philippe was somewhat annoyed by catching all the cobwebs above 180cm which the slightly smaller Japanese hikers before us kindly left behind.
After around one hour, we arrived at the top of Mt. Omoto, 525m. Despite this modest height it is the highest peak in the entire Okinawa!
From the top we had a sweeping view of the long stretch of the Ishigaki island and the turquoise blue bay of Kabira. Amazing!
Kiyoko-san, originally from Sado Island, hosted us for five nights. Full of energy and willingness to help her guests, she is like sunshine on Iriomote!
We enjoyed her family-style meals, ate countless small but richly tasted bananas directly harvested from the garden. She felt sorry for her guests who were stuck on the rainy and unusually cold day and fed us with her tasty home-made Okinawa doughnuts.
Thanks to her, our memory for Iriomote is special and heart-warming.