Sunday, February 11, 2007

Going Captain Ahab for a day

I told you that I would attempt to do something blogworthy over my three day weekend. And that's how I found myself on a boat yesterday with about 25 other camera-toting tourists (Japanese) on a wild search for whales. It was a fantastically gorgeous day and we were essentially guaranteed that we would spot some of the famous humpback whales that inhabit Okinawan waters during this time each year. They migrate down from Alaska to breed in the waters of the Kerama Islands. According to an AFN commercial Bridgit and I heard on the way to our adventure, whale-watching is a must-do while in Okinawa (along with Free Willy music).

One of my English teachers helped us to book a tour that began in Onna Village, a resorty area north of Chatan. (I tried to book it, but after my "Do you understand English" in Japanese failed, I realized I had no clue how to say, "Does anyone speak English?") We got a bit lost trying to find the "red flag in the sand" at the harbor, but thanks to some quick kanji reading found the parking lot and "the red arrow." Arrow. Flag. Same thing. They happened to have a young man working that lived in Okinawa, but has an American stepdad and spoke excellent English. He was in charge of taking us and a Guatemalan woman aside to tell us all about the boat. He begins by telling us, "This boat is about 18 meters. A whale is about 16 meters. This boat weighs about 20 tons. A whale weighs about 20-30 tons." I made a comment about how we probably shouldn't pick a fight and then he goes on to tell us about our lifejackets and how the back end is completely open. "Don't fall out." And that there is a black switch in the main cabin, and do not, under any circumstances, flip that switch. Which, of course, made me desperately want to throw it and see what happens. (I wish I would have taken a picture.) The Japanese tourists, of which two were Okinawan and the first locals of the season, were apparently getting instructions on how to navigate the waters and man the ship solo. Finally, we boarded the boat and Bridgit and I got separated. We were also warned numerous times that the water was very rough and that they would give us bags once we got onboard. As a major motion sickness sufferer, I has already popped two Equate Motion Sickness pills (free plug for the generic brand of Wal-mart, which works great and is a lot cheaper than Dramamine), and was prepared to put every trick I knew into place. Hence, no picture of the switch, as I focused on the horizon for the entire trip.

Bridgit and I thought that this boat would be tugging along on the way to the Keramas. Little did we know, that we had boarded a speed boat and that we would be attacking White Squall waves head on. The spray was massive and the folks in the back were squealing with glee every time we got a huge wave (this went on for about 30 minutes and then they were just soaked and cold). I was feeling pretty well considering the wave size, but a guy to our left was looking dramatically green and stumbled (literally) his way into the bathroom where he remained for the majority of the ride. No one could stand up without being tossed to the other side of the boat. I just kept staring at the horizon. And shockingly, I felt absolutely fine. Until we slowed down. And started bobbing, and turning, and swaying. But even then, I was only feeling queasy. We reached the Keramas after about an hour of quick moving and then started our whale-watching hunt. Some went to the front of the boat, while the rest, including me, headed to the top deck.

Every time I go on one of these whale, seal, dolphin tours, I expect to be able to pet whatever we are chasing. I expect to be close and to see them like in a zoo. Of course, I am disappointed every single time (and would probably be suicidal after an African safari). This tour wasn't any different and every time everyone yelled, "oooh!!!!" I missed what they were looking at. With that said, I did begin to spot the whales, usually by the spray of water thrown up. They would appear in clusters and would magically appear and vanish just as quickly. They are pretty majestic creatures. I thought my size would finally be an advantage with all of these shorter folks (dressed in their skirts and high heels...mainlanders. *sigh*), but I struggled to see around the crowd. Also, there was a girl who spent the entire time making retching noises into a plastic bag on the top deck. And it was freezing. All too soon, it was time to head back down to return to Onna Village. Unfortunately, the movement of going down stairs and stumbling my way back to my seat gave me my first serious spell of motion sickness. Despite my three pills by this point, I had to grab for the bag. Thankfully, my horizon-watching paid off after about five minutes and I was fine, although chilled to the bone and with my head in some weird, pill-induced world.

Unfortunately, no whales got close enough for a shot like this:

We zipped (literally) back to the harbor and finally Bridgit and I could talk and assess our time on the Seafox III... The verdict? Seeing whales was nice, but going really fast over the waves was the icing on the cake.


Carly said...

Never been on a boat with 25 camera toting Japanese tourists.

But I have been on that REALLY narrow but extremely high and LONG bridge spanning a gorge overlooking Neuschwanstein Castle when it was flooded (I cannot describe how many) camera toting Japanese tourists. I couldn't get off the bridge and I imagined it to soon plummet to the ground by the weight of all these people(even though collectively, I think they weighed 28 pounds). Kimi was a wuss and didn't even go on it. But I have better pictures :)

Rachel said...

I have been on that bridge, although I'm not sure if there were camera-toting Japanese tourists with me or not. I remember someone losing a shoe for some reason. Was that a dream? Laura? Kelli? Remember? Kimi, SHAME. You shouldn't be a wuss. You'll never go back, you know. :)

But, yes, they are something else, that's for sure. They don't really use their legs. They just sort of swarm around you and it appears they don't have eyes either...just shutters clicking and flashes.

Kimi said...

hey now, that's not fair. I did get some pretty nice pictures from my vantage point ON SOLID GROUND! Or maybe those were pictures that I stole from Carly. 0:)

At least you got to see whales on your trip. We took a "whale watching cruise" from Honolulu and didn't see a thing. It was incredibly windy, you had to yell to be heard by the person standing right in front of your face (the flags were whipping right along), and the white caps made it impossible to spot any glimpse that we might have gotten of a whale. Fortunately, we were fed a nice buffet lunch and there were touristy Hawaiian activities to do on-board: lei making, learn to hula, etc. The cruise guaranteed a whale-spotting and we even got a rain-check to come back for another try, but ended up not using it. Oh well... next time we're on the islands. :)