Sea Snakes, Shisa, and Sweet Potato Snacks

Attention Everyone! I did it! I was able to complete not one, but TWO (lol) open water dives. REAL dives, that were fun, not in freezing water, and from a boat! After my initial certification, not gonna lie, I was a bit nervous doing a real dive from a boat. I had in my head that when you dive from a boat, you go super far out and then just jump in and go straight down (but slow and controlled, two things that were difficult during my cert dives—I was dropping right to the bottom!). I knew there’d be a rope (sometimes, but sometimes there isn’t if there isn’t a spot to anchor), but I kept thinking, “how the heck am I going to descend slowly when I barely know how to control my buoyancy??” But it turns out that going from the boat is way easier than shore diving, especially if the boat is anchored. You literally sit on the edge, fall backwards into the water (see video, sound on lol), and then use the rope to guide you down as you slowly let air out of your BCD. And there was no “drop off” where we were, just tons of coral that we “hopped” around. AND still somewhat of a sloping surface; we started at about 5 meters, then slowly made our way down to 18 meters. It’s amazing how much easier it is when you’re properly weighted, hah. Before this dive, just thinking about being that deep gave me a stomach-ache, but you really don’t notice yourself getting deeper. I guess that’s why it’s critical to keep checking your dive computer! I checked it periodically, but I was still amazed at how quickly we went from 8m to 12m to 16m! 

Alex and I had initially planned to go to Australia for the holiday break, but due to some scheduling conflicts with work, we decided to postpone that trip for when we can take more time and when it’ll be less stressful at work. But we still wanted to do something, so I suggested taking four days to either Okinawa or Guam. Both are on our lists of places to go (more me, Alex had already gone to Okinawa), so I did some research on which is a better dive spot. I still want to check out Guam, there are some cool wrecks, but Okinawa seemed better for beginner divers and it’s only a two-hour flight versus five.

Okinawa—first of all please don’t call it Japan; That’s like saying “America” when you’re referring to Hawaii—is BEAUTIFUL. Okinawans are super friendly and helpful, and we loved the relaxed atmosphere of Island Life. The only thing we’ll have to plan better for next time is getting our international driver permits so we can rent a car, because public transportation really just consists of taxis and that got expensive.

Anyway, back to the dive, I went through a dive shop called Aloha Divers Okinawa (https://www.alohadiversokinawa.com/). It’s ran by an amazing couple, Andréa and Pedro, who together have over 8,000 (!!!!) dives, hold multiple additional diving certifications, and speak 4 languages (Portuguese, English, Spanish, and Japanese). So you’re definitely in good hands. I reached out to them, let them know my limited experience and that Alex would be coming along to snorkel only so I’d need a dive partner. We ended up being the only ones diving with them (there was another family on the boat who did snorkeling, and another couple divers but I think they were doing sciency-type stuff), so I dove with Pedro and Alex snorkeled with Andréa. I know I don’t have a large fan base but I seriously recommend these two even if you just want to snorkel. Pedro was super patient with me being such a beginner, we got to see some really awesome critters including many sea snakes, moray eels, clownfish, crazy coral, and so many plants I wouldn’t even know how to describe them or look them up to find out what they were!

My favorite plant was this bush-type that was all by itself on the bottom (the deepest we went was about 18m; I think 17.5 to be exact). We got close to it and Pedro motioned for me to touch it. I was a bit confused because I didn’t know what it was and didn’t want to scare any fish that might be inside, but he motioned again so I did. And IT SHRIVELED UP. It’s so hard to describe but it was like it got cold and shrunk a little!! It caught me so off guard I laughed and had to hold onto my mask! But then Pedro touched it again, and FWOOMP! IT SHRUNK AGAIN AND THEN SWOOSHED (??) INTO THE GROUND. COMPLETELY DISAPPEARED. This time I laughed so hard I broke the seal of my mask, flooding it lol, and had to hang onto my regulator to keep it from flying out of my mouth!! I need to find out which plant it was because it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.** And despite the stress I went through with clearing my mask during my open water cert, I’m glad I was able to finally clear my freaking mask because turns out it’s a skill you will have to do if you find yourself cracking up under water (and you will).

Alex had a great time snorkeling and to my delight, he has now decided he wants to get certified as well! (even though he’s still nervous about sharks). Another super cool thing about our experience that sets this shop apart from others is that both Pedro and Andréa will take amazing photos of your adventure and send them all to you FOR FREE. Like, what?? Ugh. So cool.

For me, the big adventure of this trip was the diving. But we still had two full days (third was traveling back) so we filled it with a few mini adventures:

First, we biked 10 miles to a lighthouse (Cape Zanpa) and found a handful of lighthouse kitties (I was chosen by one and couldn’t move for 30 minutes). Along the way we made a game of “spot the Shisa.” These are little guardian creatures that are placed outside of EVERYTHING: homes, businesses, schools, even the Starbucks had them. They come in pairs, the one on the left side has its mouth closed to hold in good luck and protect from disasters, while the right side has its mouth open to let out all the negative energy and bad spirits. Some are more ominous looking, and some are very cute and playful, and they look like a dog mixed with a lion. I kept shouting “lion dog!” before we found out what they were actually called.

Second, we checked out Kokusai Dori shopping street, where you can find all kinds of cool souvenirs and snacks. One of my favorite things to do when traveling is hunt out the vegan cafes (they are popping up everywhere!), especially if they incorporate the local cuisine. So we found all things Beni Imo! Beni Imo is a type of Okinawa sweet potato, very similar to Ube and seems to be used in everything from curry to ice cream. The one vegan place I really wanted to try (Ukishima Garden) was closed when we went (poor planning on my part!) but I’ll just have to make sure to prioritize it for my next visit.

Third and last, we visited the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum. We knew this would be a somber activity, but my little historian heart can’t pass up museums, especially ones that remind us who is actually affected by war. I think the biggest takeaway was the sickening senselessness of the entire battle. There were over 200,000 causalities—of which 150,000 were CIVILIANS. And to think Okinawans (or rather, Ryukyuans) were just minding their own business, then BAM Japan took over, and then BAM giant war, and then BAM most of their population wiped out, and now back under Japanese control (with a million US military bases). I’ve obviously glossed over the history for the sake of brevity but I do think it’s something most people either don’t know about or haven’t bothered to look into even when visiting the island.

Although Okinawa isn’t terribly huge, we only experienced a fraction of what it has to offer. We can’t wait to visit again and are hoping to make a second trip this summer.

’til next time, dudes!

 

**edit: I found a video from youtube: https://youtu.be/KFaPXvHaGp0 …still have no idea what it is though! Possibly a type of sea worm/cucumber??

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seconds before I flooded my mask from laughter
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Swim through it, not over!
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my bbs.

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Alex looking cool

 

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A brain

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shrimp!

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Alex looking cool again
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shrimp again, he was cute!

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These little Clownfish had hearts on their backs! And about 30 of them lived in this one anemone, by itself, about 18m deep!
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HEY THERE LITTLE GUY
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I found Gary
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What did one eel say to the other eel after school? See you TOMORAY. 
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NO STEPPY ON SNEK
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Lionfish!

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Nudibranch! A type of sea slug 😀 
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Alex looking cool, part III
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View from our hotel
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Santa Shisa!
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Talk about an office with a view!

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The lighthouse! (Cape Zanpa)
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One of the lighthouse kitties!

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Spot the Shisa!
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Hello my people!

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Does it want the bird or ice-cream??
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I guess you can come inside, but leave your food and beverages with me.
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Beni-Imo and ice-cream cat
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Five-Star grooming service
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Issa big one
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Vegan tacos and vegan mac
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We ate here almost everyday.
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Vegan nachos. That cheese was absolutely ridiculous.
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My favorite. Seaweed wrapped rice roll!
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Of course, vegan ramen
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Giant ass castle wall (Zakimi Castle Ruins)
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More of the Zakimi Castle Ruins
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Start (or end?) of Kokusai Dori

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Giant ass tug-of-war rope. And kitty.
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Tsuboya Ufu Shisa, one of the two shisa which guard this area.
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Saion Ufu Shisa, the other one (although both have their mouths open so, ??)

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Starbucks Santa Shisa!
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This is Michan. Read his bio below.
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I love the love that Okinawans and Japanese have for street kitties.
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Peace Memorial Museum
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Giant Peace Buddha (12m x 8m). The artist, Shinzan Yamada, began it at age 72, it took 18 years to complete, and was created using lacquer and a specific technique called “tsuikin.”
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Peace rocks from all over the world

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The names of known casualties written on the walls

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