Zip-a-dee-doo-dah: Onna’s Forest Adventure Zip Line Park

Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-A, My oh my, what a wonderful day! Plenty of sunshine heading my way, Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-A!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, entering the Forest Adventure Park in Onna Okinawa

Not just for thrill seekers, Forest Adventure (“Mori No Bouken”) Park in Onna, Okinawa, promises wholesome fun and a bit of exercise too, all among the scenic hillsides near Cape Maeda. Billed as an adventure sports park coexisting with Okinawan nature, the park involves ten substantial zip lines over and through a sample of Okinawa’s lush greenery, but also includes many “adventure” obstacles, such as cargo net climbs, narrow vertical “apple-picker” ladders, and hard to navigate swing rope and wooden bridges!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody ready to tumble

Print ads don't mention the snakes!

Print ads don’t mention the snakes!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Kevin on a shaky wooden bridge in the jungleIn a classic “lost in translation” from native Japanese, a description online loosely reads, “The nature coexisting adventure sports & park of Okinawa nature Japanese version “Mori No Bouken” (Forest Adventure). This is the same famous forest adventure in Europe which lets you swing from tree to tree using their exclusive harness (life rope). Take a skywalk looking down the East Asia Sea from 30m high sky. There are 33 activities which challenges (sic) your courage and let you have a thrilling time. The nervousness you feel as a action hero does will change to a feeling of accomplishment after you get across from one tree to another. It is the 4th oldest and located on the southernmost in Japan. Forest Adventure in Onna is the largest adventure sports & park of natural symbiosis style in Japan in terms of width, length and height of facilities….”

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, managing the early beginner obstacles

While one literally doesn’t swing from tree to tree – the obstacle and zip line platforms are all mounted on steel trunks artificially placed in jungle-cleared ground, and the “life rope” are all actually all steel cable and carabiners, one can take in amazing views of the East China Sea while flying through the air as a de facto action hero!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, zipline backwards landing in the wood chips

The park’s main office is located just off Route 6, well past the Renaissance Hotel (~3km), and a few hundred meters past the turnoff for Maeda Point. Stop here first for paperwork and payment, then continue on to the business’ parking lot, where a bus will pick you up for further transport up to the actual Forest Adventure site.

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody coming in for a zipline landing!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Adventure Course net bridgeOkinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody survives the Tarzan Swing but now has to do the Scramble NetReservations are required to confirm a time and your slot, as are closed-toe athletic shoes. You’ll get dirty on this course, particularly during the zip line landings, so wear light athletic clothing and bring a change of clothes! Personally, I recommend long pants, although plenty of people there were successfully navigating the course in shorts. Oh, use the bathroom before you leave the office; the facilities at the park are, well in a word, rustic. Thankfully for us it was mostly cloudy during our adventure, which helped to moderate what could be a rather steamy time in the jungle.

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Kevin and Jody in the hills of Onna Village

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, harnesses (impact B&W)Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody's thread of life while on the courseAt the park itself you’ll have a chance to stow your personal belongings in lockers which cost ¥100. Cold drinks are also served for a small fee. The staff will fit you into a harness; don’t be shy about your junk at this point – the harnesses are no joke and will squeeze, squash and otherwise spill your business in maybe some rather awkward ways. Let’s just say there are no camel toes indigenous to Okinawa, and I prefer to reserve my personal circumcision status for a more intimate audience.

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Kevin away on a zipline!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, gettting schooled in Japanese!Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody tops out on a rope ladderOnce properly adjusted, the staff will show you basic hook and clip operation, then after a short walk to a proving course, will provide a short brief (most likely in very broken English), and then you’ll have a chance to demonstrate your prowess by completing a “test” climb and zip line before being turned loose on the course…ALONE. Yeah, that’s right – you move through the course on your own, at your own pace, which is one of the best things about this park. This type of freedom, and dare I say “trust” in others’ own personal responsibility is really a refreshing relief from the “it must be someone else’s fault” overly litigious society back home. While there is a staff member at one particular point on the course (for which you’ll just have to figure out why), we only saw one or two other staffers along the course, no doubt helping to ensure safety and rule following.

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody likes steep and narrow ladders

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, rules and rocksOkinawa Forest Adventure 2014, many dangersSpeaking of rules, some of the rather pathetic rules the park has – and I’m sure because they have to deal with ugly (drunk) Americans behaving in such ugly ways – if you appear intoxicated you will be subjected to being breathalyzed, and after a warning the first time you take your shirt off, you be expelled on the 2nd such offense…. Unfortunately, we happened to butt up against a Marine Unit outing, which I simply could not tolerate their brazenly bad language. Although I didn’t want to, I felt it necessary to confront these rather poor examples of American citizenry, out of respect for the elder (civilian) couple in our group, let along the Japanese National couple traveling through the course with us.

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, taking the Log Swing after enjoying the Trazan Swing

Midway through the course is a complimentary cold drink case, where we got to choose between orange or grape soda – 1 per customer, please! This was a nice touch, although we drank up quickly to keep ahead of our rather Neanderthal North American cousins who were hot on our heels.

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Tarzan Swing into a cargo (scramble) net

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, pussies need not attempt!Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, zipline landing for JodyThe last section of the park is a giant-sized multi-level jungle gym for adults, complete with swinging board bridges, swaying rings, and the final zip line of the day. There’s a special surprise here, one I’ll not spoil, but let’s just say that if you can’t jump within 3 minutes, GET THE HECK OUT OF THE WAY! This entire part of the park is a hoot!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody and Kevin GOAL!!

After reaching your “GOAL,” you’ll be offered an opportunity to travel back through the course. It seems if the park is not busy, this is a rather standard thing, which adds a tremendous amount of value to the $35/person (¥3500) entrance fee. We, however, elected to pass, partly due to the company we would choose NOT to keep, but more so because we had a lunch date at a terrific restaurant in Onna called Casa la Tida, worthy of its own blog in the near future!

Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-A, Wonderful feeling, Wonderful day!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Onna's forest adventure map


Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, map to the parkReservations: 098-963-0088

Open: all year 9:00-18:00, summer season 8:30-Sunset; the park will close for bad weather!

Must be over 140cm/55inches tall, and under 130kg/286lbs weight

Tuesdays and Thursdays are “Lady’s Days,” where women get a ¥500 discount; under 18 is ¥2,500, family of three is ¥8,000, family of four is ¥9,500, and family of 5 is ¥11,000. Yen Only!!


Hiji Ōtaki, The Great Falls of Okinawa

“Many a calm river begins as a turbulent waterfall, yet none hurtles and foams all the way to the sea.” ~ Mikhail Lermontov

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Waterfall, the falls at the destination 2

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, boardwalk through the jungleOkinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, tall and lonely stairwayThe dense tangle of exotic jungle canopy covering Okinawa may not inspire thoughts of peaceful relaxation in some, but after trekking to Hiji Falls, one might change their mind! No need to grab a machete and hack your way through the undergrowth in search of nature’s bounty Indiana Jones style. One of the most accessible and famous nature trails on Okinawa leads to a treasure, Hiji Ōtaki (Great) Falls (比地大滝).

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, nature-walk


Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, Kevin shooting during his nature-huntOkinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, peaceful jungle waterfallHiji waterfall is located in the northern Yambaru area of Okinawa, where there are fewer people and the land remains covered by natural forests, largely unexploited. Human encroachment has yet to take hold in this part of Okinawa, and thank goodness. The natural surrounds here are a welcome change from the urban sprawl of the south.

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, future butterfly

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, Otaki means big waterfallOkinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, Selfie on the suspension bridge, the halfway pointThe modifier Ōtaki in the Japanese language is composed of three kanji characters: the first, ō (大) meaning “large,” the second ta (多) meaning “many,” and the third ki (喜) meaning “happiness.” However, in loosely translated local vernacular English, the falls are generally referred to as “Hiji Great Falls.”

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, Jody poses at Hiji Giant Falls

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, selfie at the fallsOkinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, tree fleur de lisThe trailhead, where an entrance fee (¥500) must be paid, is a little over a mile inland from the island’s western coast. From this starting point, where restrooms, a restaurant, and plentiful parking can be found, a casual walk to the falls is about a mile and a modern and attractive nature trail and boardwalk, taking about 40 minutes one-way. On the way you’ll pass a dam that’s been recently rebuilt, now cleverly disguised to resemble a much more natural rock facade and waterfall spillway.

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, paper tickets

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, Kevin shoots back!Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, Great Falls guide mapAlthough at first you may worry about all the amenities and concrete which initially line the path, after passing the dam the sidewalk quickly gives way to dirt, and the natural beauty of Okinawa begins to slowly unfold all around with each and every step. The trail and boardwalk are well maintained, but be forewarned: there are quite a few steep sections with many stairs along the way. One of the trail’s highlights is crossing a suspension bridge that spans the Hiji River valley over 60 feet below! And once across, you are wholly enveloped by the jungle, surrounded by tall, swaying bamboo, fanned by massive ferns and ancient-looking trees, complete with trunk-twisting vines.

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, Okinawan shrine and tomb along the way

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, grasshopper along the wayOkinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, suspension bridge at the halfway pointThis is not a serene or silent stroll, however. Mother Nature here is abuzz with all-things life: song birds, the ever-present chirping of the cicadas, and the growing rush of the Hiji River compose a cacophony befitting the soundtrack to such a Far-Eastern adventure. Finally, after traveling up and down staircases and across bridges, the crashing water of the falls dominates, best consumed from a wooden viewing platform at the terminus of the trail. Here the 85 foot tall “Great” falls is found, nestled remotely in the forest and cascading into a pool-like clearing rift with rocks and boulders of all sizes, far removed from even a hint of the ubiquitous urbanization that seems ever-present elsewhere on Okinawa. Given this scene, one can almost sense the presence of Kijimuna, the mischievous Okinawan fairies of folklore (see my related blog here).

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, Okinawa's highest falls

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, lost in translation it doesn't say anything aobut crossing the ropeOkinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, sunlit nature walkAlthough the water seems to beckon out for a swim, there are barriers all along the trail stating that swimming is forbidden and that the pool at the base of the falls has been the site of numerous injuries. However, there is a river trek to another lesser-known falls on Okinawa, something we have been saving for more hot and humid weather this summer. Stay tuned for that flirtation of our Far East Fling soon! Regardless, The Great Falls of Hiji can provide a much-needed calming respite to what can otherwise be, for many of us, a hurtling, turbulent, rather foamy life, sometimes, all the way to the sea.

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, couple's selfie at the falls

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, Kevin on one of the many staircases

There are no bathrooms, either!

There are no bathrooms, either!

Not only does this outing provide for a wonderful morning drive up the Okinawan coast along Highway 58, this particular place is easy to find – a rarity on Okinawa. Instead of turning left at Okuma’s intersection, turn right and follow the signs to the falls. Campground facilities are available for overnight stays of about 2,000 yen/night (~$20), offering picnic tables and elevated wooden decks for tent set-up. Finally, there are a few things to know before you go: there is no water along the trail, and bringing fluids in the summer is a MUST. The trail is largely shielded from the sun, but in the summer the humidity will be HIGH. Most importantly, be prepared for stairs, quite a few of them, and please note there are many uphill portions in BOTH directions!


Typhoons: A Divinely Okinawan Experience

A "Rishi" Calling up a Divine Storm

A “Rishi” Calling up a Divine Storm

Divine Wind destroying the Mongrels in the 13th Century

Divine Wind destroying the Mongols in the 13th Century

Kamikaze (神風):  literally, “God wind,” but more commonly translated as “Divine wind.”  Kami is the Japanese word for “god,” “spirit,” or “divinity,” and kaze translates as “wind.”  The word kamikaze originated as the name of major typhoons in 1274 and 1281 that dispersed and destroyed Mongolian invasion fleets under Kublai Khan which otherwise would have most likely defeated Japan at that time.  However, Kamikaze has been forever negatively morphed in meaning due to the incomprehensibly suicidal Japanese actions against the Allies in World War II, many of which occurred right here in Okinawa.  But this latter context certainly doesn’t apply to our current-day experience with typhoons and their still-divine winds in Okinawa.

Crimson Typhoon - Not a Threat to Okinawa

Crimson Typhoon – Not a Threat to Okinawa, but to Godzilla!

The word typhoon comes from the Cantonese word tai feng, meaning “great wind” and when pronounced sounds very close to “typhoon.”  A typhoon is defined as a tropical cyclone in the western Pacific, where these storms generally track in a westward and northern direction and occur most frequently in the western Pacific region of East Asia that includes the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, southern China, South Korea, southern Japan, Guam, the Marianas Islands and parts of Micronesia.  It is essentially the same thing as a hurricane occurring in the west Atlantic and the eastern Pacific.  Similar storms in the Indian Ocean are called tropical cyclones.  Ones that strike Australia are NOT called willy willies contrary to popular belief (and I hate to burst your and my bubbles), which are nothing more than a small dust devils that often occur in parts down-under.  Cyclone is a catch-all phrase which describes all low-pressure systems over tropical waters and includes typhoons and hurricanes.

Typhoon Alley; hitting Okinawa is considered a Strike for Mother Nature

Typhoon Alley; hitting Okinawa is considered a Strike for Mother Nature. She has come close to rolling a Turkey this year so far….

Massive Storm Earlier this Summer

Massive Storm Earlier this Summer

The typhoon season here is very similar to that back home and lasts from the early summer to early autumn (June to November), often coinciding with the monsoon season in Southeast Asia and the wet season in eastern Japan.  An average of 2.6 typhoons make landfall on the four major islands of Japan annually since record-keeping began in 1951, while on average 10.3 approach within 180 miles of the coast each year.  Twelve named typhoons in this part of the Pacific are considered “many,” while eight or less is considered “few.”  Rarely is there a year without landfall, with a record 10 making landfall in 2004.  Landfall on the relatively tiny island of Okinawa occurs at three times the rate of any other prefecture of Japan!  In fact, Okinawa lies right in the heart of “Typhoon Alley.”  It gets hit by an average of seven typhoons a year.  It is customary that the finances of the families of Okinawan fishermen are in the name of the wife in case the fisherman go out to sea and don’t return, historically a common occurrence, but a seldom modern occurrence due to modern weather-forecasting and storm warning.

The Japanese can find a sexy Manga Character in Anything!

The Japanese can find a sexy Manga Character in Anything!

Japanese Fetish: Umbrella use during Typhoons!

Japanese Fetish: Umbrella use during Typhoons!

Living with typhoons on Okinawa is a completely difference experience than surviving storms back home.  Often there are literally back-to-back storms threatening the coast, and Category 3, 4, and even 5 “super typhoons” are more common and commonly encountered here.  We have lost track of the number of named storms we’ve dealt with in just the eight weeks we’ve been on-island; we are either at seven or eight, with the next due here this week sometime on Wednesday or Thursday.  Oh, and there is another depression out there just waiting to be named….

Wipha 3

Really, what's with the umbrellas and storms??

Really, what’s with the umbrellas and storms??

BUT, given this what Americans would consider a threat, the reaction of the Okinawans is calm and subdued to that of America; even the military here doesn’t “panic” over a strong storm barreling down on their people and bases like they do back home.  Here there simply does not exist the pervasive culture of fear and the media-driven frenzied-panic to which Americans mindlessly prescribe and react without any critical thought.  The Okinawans learned long ago that they must learn to live with the furious side of nature, rather than react to threats and the effects of such storms.

Yikes!  It actually wasn't bad at all....

Yikes! It actually wasn’t bad at all….


Pre-Strom American Runs Deplete Shoppette Supplies of Ramen!

Pre-Strom American Runs Deplete Shoppette Supplies of Ramen!

While the Okinawans utilize a wide variety of talisman to help ward off evil and offer protections from damaging typhoons, they also utilize construction techniques that have, for centuries, offered much better shelter than that of many areas of the modern west.  Starting in the mid-19th century, culturally centered construction customs helped to defeat the threat of such storms, and still today include heartily tiled roofs adorned with protective shisa statues (lion-like dog creatures that ward off evil spirits and are omnipresent in Okinawa), and a stone wall and high deeply rooted trees for protection against damaging winds.

Nkamurake Home - Nearly Typhoon-Proof

Nkamurake Home – Nearly Typhoon-Proof

More modern construction codes here are deceiving; while structures look bland and unappealing, it is only because they are designed to withstand both earthquakes and typhoons at the same time.  This means that structures are poured concrete with rebar reinforcement attached to strong, deep foundations.  Modern roofs are flat concrete slabs.  Windows are generally barred, not to defeat crime, but for protection from wind-borne missile hazards.  And, by law, homes are required to have a certain capacity of roof-mounted gravity-fed water storage, which provides for families even when water and power are not available from the authorities.  And due to the harsh climate here and proximity to wind-driven salt-laden air, painting becomes a secondary concern, giving many homes and apartment buildings a rather dingy external appearance.  They are, however, every bit as nice on this inside as we would expect to find anywhere in middleclass American.

Do you sense a recurring theme here??

Do you sense a recurring theme here??

However, unlike back home, in Japan and Okinawa more damage is almost always caused by heavy rains (and resulting floods and landslides) than by the winds or storm surge.  This, in relation to huge swaths of the America eastern seaboard and gulf coast, is opposite in experience and effect. Japanese-centric flood prevention measures, improved planning and construction and storm and flood warning that began in earnest in the 1960s have dramatically reduced the number of people killed in typhoons.  Even the most destructive storms today – including Super-Typhoons (Category 5) – rarely kill more than a dozen people.  By contrast, typhoons even in America still can take hundreds of lives.  There is an obvious and blatant lesson to be learned here….

Two Typhoons and a Tropical Storm.  Can you even image this back home?

Two Typhoons and a Tropical Storm. Can you even image this back home?

The most interesting result of these types of construction practices?  Our sizeable condo building – at 5 floors situated not 20 meters from the East China Sea coastline – actually moves when strong typhoon winds strike just right.  That’s right – glasses rattle, and the floor literally moves.  The building is actually on rollers or tracks to help defeat the transmission of earthquake energy.  It is an eerie feeling indeed to have such a large structure shift beneath your feet!

Strom Survival Kits are the Same World-Round

Strom Survival Kits are the Same World-Round.  But with gas, we can continue to cook gourmet meals!  In other words, the Ramen is wholly optional….

Okay, maybe it's a sport.  He's probably bragging about his attempted umbrella use!

Okay, maybe it’s a sport. He’s probably bragging about his attempted umbrella use!

I wish our friends and family could see the rationale and grounded approach to nature that is part and parcel of the culture in Okinawa.  Acknowledge nature, respect her, and learn to live more in harmony with your surroundings.  But do not FEAR nature.  I’m convinced it’s part of the Okinawan secret to enhanced longevity (and to their less stressful quality of life); not just because they in large part survive storms relatively unscathed, but that they fail to freak like the American populace does at the slightest perceived threat from inclement weather.

The primary drawback of tiny Asian cars!!

The primary drawback of tiny Asian cars!!

Change your longitude next summer, and come visit us in Typhoon Alley.  You’ll go home with a much-improved disposition about life.  And perhaps, just maybe, you’ll see the beauty of the divine wind inherent in such magnificent machinery of nature, especially if Mother Nature decides to bowl a Turkey!

Nostalgic Okinawa

Japanese Style Nostalgia - The Colonel is HUGE Here!

Japanese Style Nostalgia – The Colonel is HUGE Here!

“You can’t have a better tomorrow if you are thinking about yesterday all the time.” ~Charles F. Ketting “Nostalgia, a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.” ~Adapted from Everybody’s Free (to wear sunscreen), by Mary Schmich

Trust me on the Sunscreen

Trust me on the Sunscreen

We now are firmly planted on Sunabe Seawall, with roots just now reaching out to grasp the soul-enriching nutrients of the sea which blankets us with life.  This is where I desire and desired to be, and which I longer for Jody to experience and understand, for countless, assorted and wondrous reasons which only commence making sense when savored firsthand.  While this fraction of Okinawa – the Miyagi neighborhood of the town of Chatan Cho (as much as I can determine how property parcels here are arranged) – remains magical in numerous ways, it has also changed…as all things do.  Better in some regards and at a nostalgic loss in others profound.

Sunabe Seawall...of Yesteryear

Sunabe Seawall…of Yesteryear

SpongeBob on Sunabe Seawall

SpongeBob on Sunabe Seawall

Graffiti in Okinawa is of an utterly different sort, basis, and aim than that which I would think most people would associate with and within the United States.  At many locations on Okinawa, in widely dispersed locales, graffiti is frankly not frowned upon by the resident peoples nor the controlling authorities.  Although I’m not convinced it is directly or openly encouraged, nonetheless it is abundant and displayed proudly, mostly along the large seawalls that can be found bordering the island’s lengthy intersection with the sea. For example, in the northern city of Nago, there are numerous pleas and portrayals of the return of dolphins, which in the past were brutally slaughtered to near localized extinction.  On the way to Mama-san beach on the east side of the Island, there is a large array of happy and colorful graffiti along the seawalls there.  And, of course, there is Sunabe, which in the past had the most eclectic if not eccentric collection of painted public art that could be seen island-wide.

Dolphins aren't the only things Nago apparently wants back....

Dolphins aren’t the only things Nago apparently wants back….

What’s peculiar about these particular paintings is that having lived on the seawall previously for almost two years, and before that having spent an awful lot of time along the seawall, primarily diving, many times late at night (midnight dives under full moons are creepily amazing here!), I never once saw painting-in-progress, or even a single person with a spray-paint can loitering about the area.  And believe me, while the canvas was permanent, the artistic displays changed often, especially with peoples of all backgrounds celebrating birthdays graphically on concrete and stone every week of the year.  The idea of spontaneous art appearing randomly made every walk or run along the seawall something of a joyous anticipation:  what new glyph would have to be deciphered since as it does in Japan so many concepts are lost-in-translation?  I always cherished this element of the Sunabe Seawall, and looked forward to my return here to act in part sociologist and in part archaeologist, ready to intervene with my own personalized understanding of the marked messages left for all to consider.

Dudes Open for Interpretation

Dudes Open for Interpretation

But then there is also the ocean.  Or, more appropriately, the East China Sea (the Pacific abuts the island on its eastern side, the side where I am not residing).  Graffiti is only one dimension of the seawall which makes it so exclusively unique.

Surfer Awaiting His Wave

Surfer Awaiting His Wave

Okinawa lacks, in almost all regions, sand beaches that make places like Pensacola or Miami so wonderful to so many people.  I’m not sure many people ever stop and think about this, but why is this so?  The reasoning is especially important to scuba divers and fishermen because it involves the presence and health of coral reefs.

Mama-san Beach - reefs and rural directions

Mama-san Beach – reefs and rural directions

South Florida has terrific beaches, with coarse, large-grain sand.  The main drawback is that the nature and makeup of this sand – crushed shells primarily – make it an extremely efficient heat-sink, and it gets brutally hot in the summertime.  The west coast and panhandle of Florida have very fine while sand made mostly of silica, much described as “sugar.”  But why is there sand on the beaches in Miami and Pensacola, and NOT in the Florida Keys?  Reefs.  The present of a coral reef acts as a wave-break, diminishing the aquatic power of the ocean long before it reaches the shoreline.  And without wave action to grind rock and shell, sand cannot and is not produced.  The areas of the Florida Keys with terrific offshore reefs therefore lack, in large part, any semblance of nice, sandy beaches.  However, the contrary is true for much of the rest of Florida peninsula, especially on its west coast and up into its panhandle.  There is little to no reef in these whereabouts, and what reef is there is sparse and low-profile soft corals growing on simple limestone ledges.  This limited underwater relief allows the energy embedded in waves to break upon shore, where it acts to grind large bites into ever smaller bits, resulting in a sandy refuge for pale-white, overweight Canadians.  No offense intended ‘eh; I dated a Canadian…ONCE.

Sea Creatures Adorned the Sunable Seawall

Sea Creatures Adorned the Sunable Seawall

The vast majority of Okinawa is ringed by coral reef, located almost immediately off the shoreline.  This is exactly the case at Sunabe, which makes this particular place one of the premier dive sites on the island, second in popularity only to a place called Maeda Point.  Stay tuned for detailed blogs on the island’s individual dive sites – once the weather allows for my return to the seas here (3rd tropical storm in as many weeks so far)!  The entry points along the seawall are eased by stairs and protected by breakwaters, and the reef at high tide is easily within 10-25 yards from shore.  In probably 100 yards, you find yourself in 70-80 feet of water, with a high-profile shelf-reef running generally north and south, and islands of life found more distant in the sand.  Found here are many of the sea critters topping most divers’ bucket lists:  night stand table-sized anemones with multiples of resident clown fish; cuttlefish displaying their tentacle-enhanced light shows in the day but mostly by night; territorial lionfish

Fire Fish in Okinawa's Blue

Fire Fish in Okinawa’s Blue

that seem to hover gracefully in the water, only consciously moving when a camera is stuck in their face; large octopi hunting just after sundown; eels of all kinds, along with the similar-looking but air-breathing reptiles the sea snakes; slipper and spiny lobster; along with a wide assortment of nudibranchs, sea slugs, flamingo tongues, scorpion fish, cone shells, and even a somewhat rare frogfish or two!

Tidal Pools of Okinawa's Sunabe Seawall

Tidal Pools of Okinawa’s Sunabe Seawall

One of my favorite nostalgic memories of Sunabe involves my daughter Naomi.  In 2004 my family settled a block off the seawall in a 3rd floor apartment, just a block or two from where I presently live.  Her bedroom had a window from which she could spy the sea, an earthly element she had taken to, as they say, like a fish takes to water.  At the time she was almost 12, her brother already 16.  I had no qualms about them heading off on adventures in the sea, secure both in their ability to swim, coupled with well-taught sound judgment and well-informed decision-making skills (or so every parent hopes).  Although I had been ordered on a no-notice, eight month deployment to Iraq, I was able to spend an early birthday with my daughter, which centered to a large extent on explorations of the sea.  As such, she received a medium size specimen tank, along with some accoutrements large and small that could be employed to secure sea creatures for humane capture and temporary display. I turned my children loose on nature.  Okinawa offers perhaps the safest environment for childrearing…at least in terms of terrestrial threat, and certainly that of fellow man.  And although the seas carry their own inherent dangers here, I had no issue with their examination of the tidal pools on fair-weather days.  What did I expect her to bring home?  Perhaps if she was lucky a fish or two; more likely, however, she would capture a sea cucumber, starfish, or one of the similarly slower moving creatures.

Tidal pools Implore Exploration

Tidal pools Implore Exploration

I was shocked one afternoon when Naomi arrives excitedly back at home with a creature in her carrying tank.  What was they grayish mass filling a full third of the portable habitat?  An octopus, mind you, and a sizeable one at that! “Dad, look what I caught!” Naomi excitedly proclaims.

Okay, this isn't the one she caught...but she saw it in the Tampa Aquarium!

Okay, this isn’t the one she caught…but she saw it in the Tampa Aquarium!

I was really speechless.  “You’re kidding!” was about all I could respond with at the time. I’m sure we were both equally amazed at our new pet, although not as much as our cat Tora was (she was entranced, albeit for quite different reasons!).  While I was astonished that she was merely able to capture such an elusive and intelligent cephalopod, I’m sure my daughter was equally surprised at her opportunity to bind so closely with such an elusive marine biological contingent of nature.  Octopi are one of the more extraordinary creatures undersea; I like to think of them as the cats of the water-world, for all the same reasons cats have been held in such high esteem throughout culture and through time. “Can we keep him?” she asks quizzically. “Well, only for the afternoon, Honey.  That guy needs oxygen to breath, and I’m not sure how much is in that tank.  Besides, he has hardly anything to hide in or behind, and he’s probably very stressed being here.  But let’s enjoy him now, and then we all can return him to his home tonight after dinner.”

Old Sunabe Seawall

Old Sunabe Seawall

We took many photos of her catch, but alas they are not in my digital photo-stream, most likely a victim of my divorce and division of property split and lost.  I yearn for those pictures as I write, and I won’t lie:  I lament their demise, along with moments shared with my children such as these….  I, like many, nostalgically long for the past, the version of what once was but is no longer.  This idea of tying the past, perhaps more idolized, to the present, perhaps in hopes of easing our way, is at the very nature of the human condition.  Recycling the past is almost impossible to avoid as we live our lives and constantly are forced to leave the past behind and create, hopefully, a better, fuller, richer and more satisfying future.

I do have photos of Naomi receiving her gifts!

I do have photos of Naomi receiving her gifts!

Non-Evil Birthday Graffiti

Non-Evil Birthday Graffiti

The seawall has grown, changed, and become modernized, directly analogous to all the personal changes we all experience in the passage of time.  Left behind are the fond memories of my children exploring this oceanic playground, along with the graffiti which one adorned this place.  The seawall’s very structure, like the basic underlying foundation of my person, has been rebuilt and strengthened, able to withstand better the tests of time and stormy conditions.  Esthetically, the seawall is much improved, offering far better amenities, accessibility, and general appearance.  I would like to think of both of us as aging gracefully with time.

Fish Clowning Around on the Sunabe Seawall

Fish Clowning Around on the Sunabe Seawall

Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson:  You find the present tense and the past perfect.  Impossible to avoid, it is however neither harmful when embraced appropriately.  The loving and fond reminiscences of this bygone space can easily be retrieved from disposed memory, wiped off, painted over and recycled to embrace once again anew.  And although the Sunabe Seawall can never be overvalued, I will attempt to do just that starting today, writing as I will so often, surveying the seawall and its constant neighbor the sea from the looking glass of nostalgic soul and contemporary home. The Sunabe Seawall is dead…. Long live the Sunabe Seawall!

The Recycled Seawall; Still Worth It

The Recycled Seawall; Still Worth It