Sunday, July 20, 2014

22 Hours of Travel

Well, we arrived in Miyakojima, at about 10 AM Sunday, "just" 22 hours after taking off from SFO. I hardly slept during this interval; actually none of us slept well.  It was obvious from our foul moods on Sunday. Our breaths likely matched our moods.  Sam and I actually took a shower (not together) at 4 AM in the International Terminal at Haneda while Em was busy reading her book, and Connie was sprawled across several terminal chairs in the Arrival Lobby. The shower was invigorating, but this was only temporary.

Haneda has three terminals (International, and two Domestic), and only the International terminal is open 24/7.  Many were "camped out" across the chairs throughout several floors of the building.  It actually took a bit of time to find adjacent benches at 1 in the AM, so that we could also "camp out."

The trans-Pacific leg was actually 'OK."  We flew on JAL, non stop, on the new "Dreamliner," or B787.  This is a plastic plane, and because of the composites using in its manufacture, more humidity can be used in the air.  Also, there is a higher cabin pressure than other airliners.  Supposedly, this makes for a more comfortable trip; however, JAL puts more passengers into this plane than ideal. I felt that the legroom was not good, and you all know that I require less of that than most.

However, the food on board was good.  Katsu curry (sort of mushy), a nice salad (why did they use Ranch dressing???), Miso soup from a pitcher served in a paper cup, Zaru Soba, and smoked salmon on top of potato salad. Connie was impressed. But, there was free alcohol.  So, I ordered a whisky (that's how they spell it just like the Scots), neat, with a bottle of water. No choice, but I didn't ask, and they gave me a rather generous pour of Chivas for our snack accompaniment. Nice.  I decided to order another, with dinner, since I wasn't going to drive, and I wanted to get a little shut eye.  The nice attendant gives me a huge pour!

It didn't help me sleep though.  I felt like I needed to stretch my legs out beyond the row of seats three in front of me.

Also, JAL puts a USB port just to the left of the tray table on the seat back in front of the passenger.  I had read in Seat Guru that JAL also puts a Universal AC port on each seat.  It took me an hour of searching to find it.  Actually, Sammie, found it.  Right under the front of the seat. Nice touch from JAL.

Connie lost her Jade earring during the flight.  It had likely come off when she was using the JAL over-the-ear headset for the in-flight entertainment (which was quite good). We couldn't locate it during the flight.  Upon landing, since we had no quick connection to make, we were the last to disembark, and we were on our hands and knees, looking for it.  Two attendants were wondering what was up, obviously, so they started tearing up the seats, and helped us look.  Finally, one of the attendants yells "atta!"  Relief.

Since we were so late getting off the plane, and because Connie had some mishaps in the restroom in the airport immediately upon disembarkation, by the time we finished Immigration and arrived in Baggage Claim, there was no one there. But our four bags were already neatly placed in a luggage cart adjacent to the baggage carousel!  How do these things seem to happen in Japan?

Anyway, about 445 AM Sunday, we begin the second leg of the day. We mosey on out to the free shuttle to the domestic terminals, where we're to catch the 655 AM flight to Miyakojima. We used the  Oneworld Yokoso fare ($100 per domestic flight anywhere in Japan), the four of us got our HND <-> MMY fares for about $800+.  Not bad, considering these flights are usually triple that cost.

Checking in to Japan Transocean Air (a domestic airline in Japan, but not one of the LCC's, half owned by JAL), was interesting.  We didn't do web check in, since the website wouldn't allow me (either cuz I'm illiterate in Japanese or because I'm a gaijin). I give them our printed ticket receipt and the airline rep issues four boarding passes.  No ID check.  We could have been four random, other, people.  Maybe we "looked" ok.  We got on board, and arrived without anyone knowing who we were.

Here I am, holding Connie's Kuuko-ben in my lap.

Anyway, the B737 that took us to Miyakojima had way way more legroom than the B787.  I was much more comfortable.  What was really nice was that we got a really clear view of Fuji-san on our Starboard side.

This photo really doesn't do justice to how imposing Fuji looks. We were really close. I've actually seen this view before, from the air, it's cool to see the peak rising above the cloud layer.

Anyway, Miyakojima reminds me of one of the outer islands of Hawaii.  Tropical air, warm and moist (but not really icky). It is part of Okinawa Prefecture. The airport is small, maybe just one or two gates.  Two baggage claim carousels.  A single large room with about 10 check in stations, with crowds of recent-arrivees inching for elbow room at the rental car booths (Forget trying to use public transport here). Anyway, it looks all foreign to me, and I'm at a loss, since I can't find my Rental Car agency booth. Turns out there isn't a booth for ours.  Just a lady standing outside Baggage Claim, carrying a sign that said, "Times Car Rental."  I simply say my last name, and she nods, as if in understanding. I call to Connie, Sammie, and Emily to come to me, and follow her to her small van.  There are about three or four other groups to get into this van, and since we're the last to get there, there's only room for the three of us!  I get to sit on the floor, next to the door. It's only a short drive to the rental car place, about 2 km from the airport.

Once we get there, the lady points to a Nissan Note, which I think is a kind of Versa? "That's your car," she says (the Japanese are really efficient).  As soon as I get out of the van, she says I can just put our luggage right into the hatch. I was worried that we wouldn't have room for our luggage, but turns out that unlike the van that got us there, our car had plenty of room. Once I walk into the cramped agency office, a man, with very good English skills, calls my name, and we finish the paperwork.  Connie and I both got International Driving Permits, and I'll note later why that was a great idea.

Driving on the left, or wrong, side of the road just doesn't make sense.  Good thing it was a quiet Sunday morning, because I made numerous mistakes right off.  Turn signal wand is on the right, or wrong, side of the steering column.  So, every time I want to turn, the windshield wipers go... The GPS works well, which the Times guy reprogrammed to English.  However, one time I push some erroneous buttons on the Navigation menu, and I guess I punched "Go Home."  I thought this was to the home part of the menu of the GPS.  Nooo, the GPS now wants to navigate to "home," which is programmed to the Times agency location!  I still haven't figured out how to fix this, and the annoying lady on the GPS keeps telling us to turn left or right to get back to the airport.  I can't even figure out how to turn the volume of the lady's voice down or off.  I guess I have to call them to help me figure this out.  

I decide to use the maps app in my iphone to navigate.  I have my pocket wifi to avoid roaming charges with data downloads.  The maps app (not the google map app) easily caches map data (uses vector data rather than bitmaps like google), so I can actually be offline (there is no cell coverage for the pocket wifi all over Miyakojima) and still navigate.  But, I can't really do this and drive at the same time (let alone drive on the wrong side). Connie kept telling me not to drive so close to the curb. She laughs when the wipers come on with each turn.

So, Connie gets to drive and I'm her wingman. She does a great job with driving. 

Only, now I get to tell her not to drive so close to the curb.  And I get to laugh with the wipers.

We drive across "Ikema-bashi" to Ikemajima, an island just north of Miyakojima.  The water looks crystal clear.  Here's Sam.

I wanted to go to a place called Ikema Island Drive In, which got some good reviews in Tripadvisor, for lunch, but it looked too cheesy.  There were a whole bunch of tourists there too.  But I couldn't figure out why.  Turned back and then roamed around Hirara (the main city on the island), but we didn't find anywhere to eat.  The town looked pretty dead (Sunday).  We decided to go to our hotel, the Breeze Bay Marina, and along the way, I spied a Max Valu (sic) store. I remember reading that this was the main supermarket on the island.  We bought a bunch of bento boxes and sat there to lunch.

I got a box of Sushi for about ¥500.  Em makes her own bento box with four different ingredients for minimal ¥.  Connie got a bento with bitter melon and rice, with a small piece of Chicken Karaage.  Not bad.

The drive from the airport or downtown to our hotel is about 20 to 25 minutes, I would estimate.  Not because of the distance, which is short, but because the speed limit on most of the roads.  40 kmh. Easy to go 65 in a 40 zone. Gotta be careful.

We were able to check in to our hotel after that.  We got two rooms on the 9th floor next to each other with superb views (which we haven't photographed yet).  Here are a couple of "real time" photos taken minutes ago from our balcony as I write this while sleep deprived. 

After a "relaxing afternoon," sorting out internet connections in our hotel, as well as pool, snorkeling details, the kids and Connie go to the pool and beach.  There is scattered debris on the sand, possibly from the typhoon?  The sand on the beach on the property is very rocky.  But the water is very clear, fortunately.

Last night, we have our usual discussions about where to eat!  Miyakojima isn't a foodie destination, by any stretch.  But I do my usual research, and find, on Tripadvisor, that the #1 of 99 restaurants is close by to us.  Called Hirochan Shokudo, it is an unusual local hangout, with primarily Okinawan cuisine.

We start with the local beer, Orion.  Local, as in Okinawa, since it brewed on the island of Okinawa, not Miyakojima. But I make the mistake of ordering the "special" Orion, not the usual Nama-biru. It is the draft, mixed with Papaya juice over ice in a frosty mug.  It wasn't too good. Then, Edamame and Umi-budou.  The edamame was simple but satisfying.  The umi-budou is crunchy, not unlike the texture of tobiko.  The flavor is somewhat fishy and marine-like, which is not surprising, given its provenance.  We all really like it.  Em gets a Green Papaya Champyo, which is like a vegetable stir fry.  Connie gets an Zaru Udon dish with very chewy (that's good, by the way) noodles.  I get a Tonkatsu set, which was quite good with a bowl of udon.  Flaky, and not oily, but the pork was kind of dry (in a not bad or good way).  We had a hard time ordering due to the language barrier, and only later, back in the hotel room, I read one of the reviews that states "with an English menu for those of us..."  How come the waitress didn't realize this and offer us the English menu?  This was the way the service was.  However, the quality of the food was such that we'll likely go back.

Anyway, off to plan our Monday a bit more...

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