I spent the entire day today on the island of Ie Shima with my friends Valerie and Murphy. It is about a thirty-minute ferryboat ride from Okinawa.
Ie Shima is relatively small, containing one town, a U.S. Marine Corps training area, lots of farmland, and one tall mountain that looks very incongruent on the flat island. The primary crop appears to be peanuts, and huffing and wheezing up the mountain is certainly one of the more popular entertainments.
We met Valerie's friend, Atsuko, on the ferry and followed her to the community center where she teaches little children to speak English. We interacted with the children for an hour or so and had just as much fun as the kids did!
Our next stop was at the memorial that marks the spot where journalist Ernie Pyle was killed by a sniper during the Battle of Okinawa. I had read several of Pyle's war dispatches this morning on the long ride to the port at Motubu, including the last one that he filed from Okinawa, and I found the combination of those readings coupled with actually being on the spot where he was killed to be a very moving experience.
We had lunch and walked along the beach at the YYY Resort. This is their slow season so we basically had the place to ourselves. Valerie and I managed to gather a pocketful of sea glass.
This afternoon Valerie and I climbed Mount Gusuku while Murphy stayed in the car and tried to sleep off the motion sickness meds that he took for the boat ride over. We were able to drive halfway up the mountain and then park at the gift shop. The rest was conquered by marching up a long series of zigzagging cement steps that went all the way to the summit. Valerie said there were 298 steps, but it felt like a million! We were the only two on the summit for a few minutes, but then a busload of Japanese students began showing up. By the time we headed down, twenty or thirty of the healthy teens had gathered on the peak!
The rest of the afternoon was spent driving around the island while we waited on the 4:00 p.m. ferry to show up to take us back to Okinawa. (Valerie was chauffeuring us in a rental car.) As we were coming down a narrow street in the town, Murphy spotted a group of kids gathered around a fence taking pictures, and he was certain that he had seen some giant tortoises on the inside of the fence. Valerie quickly cut her 48th illegal u-turn of the day, and we headed back to see if our friend was hallucinating on his motion sickness meds.
But those extra-big turtles had not been hallucinations. There were at least nineteen giant tortoises roaming around a large fenced-in area eating greens that had been cut and strewn into their enclosure. It was an amazing sight. I haven't researched them yet, but they were approximately two feet in height, and more than three feet in length. They had to be Galapagos tortoises - which I have heard are disappearing. There were no signs or any indication of this being a commercial activity - just some private collector hoarding an endangered species. They did appear to be healthy and well cared for.
That was our day. It was a long one.