Glowing Mushrooms, Fighting Bats, and the Milky Way, all in a day

Technically this is covering day one and two.  The actual day one started at 6am meeting at the train station to take the hour and a half train ride to Takeshiba pier, where our boat would leave from.  We started early, because even though we booked our boat ride through a travel agent, we only got a dummy ticket that insure we would be on the boat and had to fight for a seat that wasn’t in the bowel of the boat by getting there early and waiting in a ridiculously long line.  

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(mind you, this is just in front of us)

 

So we wait our time and are one of the first to make it on to the boat, and because we got the basic seats we are sleeping on mats thinner than a typical futon on the floor of the boat.  Thankfully because we got there so early, we were able to choose the c-deck, the highest of all the poor people decks. This ultimately meant less movement.  

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So, I, trumped up on the bravado of never experiencing sea sickness despite several boat rides, think, of course I’ll be fine, and for the first 6 hours, I am.  Mind you, this is a 26 hour boat ride, so 6 hours is a very short time.  All I’d eaten was a cup of instant ramen, so I didn’t feel too much like pain the first time I vomited, but as time went on, the dry heaving became worse and worse and I was downright afraid to even take a sip of water because I knew what would become of me.  

 
At this point, my personal pride in my strong stomach had deflated more than a burst balloon and I took a motion sickness pill.  However, keep this firmly in mind for all your future boat trips.  It DOES NOT work if you take it when you’re already sick.  I suppose it’s similar to taking birth control when you’re already three months pregnant.  But at that point I was desperate and would try anything short of throwing myself off the boat.  It didn’t work and I remained sick throughout the rest of the trip aside from when I was sleeping, which was a lot.  When we disembarked the boat, it felt like heaven was throwing its arms open and welcoming me home.  I could have kissed the ground I was so happy, but I still had my sanity, so I just walked firmly and without swaying.  
 
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After all this, the pleasant parts of my vacation began.  Well, after lunch.  It had occurred to me that all I ate on the 26 hour ferry through hell was ramen that came back up, and then some.  I was dehydrated and famished, my mood was in the toilet and I honestly felt faint.  We checked in to our hotel, the Bamboo Inn. http://www.k4.dion.ne.jp/~bamboo/ (only in Japanese). It’s a sweet little inn, they offer meals, but we’re on a budget so we actually brought and bought some food to cook in the kitchenette.
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It’s a 2 minute walk from the beach, 3 minute walk from 2 grocery stores, adjacent to the bar district (in the lightest of all possible interpretations of that phrase. The street is two short blocks lined with restaurants and a few bars.  However, it totally adds to the slow island feel.  The hotel was minimal and neat and most importsntly, comfortable.  
 
After checking in, we walked to the visitors center. It’s a nice place with island information in plenty of languages.  They offer a 30 minute free tour explaining some of the things that make the island unique. For instance, a flower that blooms in the morning a pale yellow and changes color in the afternoon to a vivid red. Now, the tour is only in Japanese, but it’s free and a good way to start your first day off, no complaints from me.  
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The visitor center tour guide with the flower that turns from Yellow to Red
 
After the short tour we changed into our swimsuit, rented snorkels and fins and went snorkeling at the beach.  The water was clear enough, but there weren’t too many types of fish to see.
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Honestly, I was prepared to say I couldn’t find any fish until I saw this guy emerge out of the water, snorkel on his forehead, spear in one hand and flopping fish in the other.  My jaw actually dropped. It seemed like a joke, not something the locals actually did. I suppose that’s a testament to the fact that as much as Ogasawara is for tourist, it is really a home to the locals who go out in the afternoon and catch their dinner.  Later, the man pulled out a knife and sitting right next to the ocean proceeded to cut and clean his fish, throwing the discard right back into the ocean.  First, I had an urge to be disgusted, but I realized that this was life at its most simplistic and sustainable form. While I certainly could never be that way, I undoubtedly knew that his life was awesome. 
 
We snorkeled for 2 hours, practicing taking pictures underwater, which was a tough feat considering my goggles kept filling with burning salt water. After we dropped off our snorkel gear stopped by a supermarket and picked up some food for dinner we moved back towards the hotel.  This all felt so laid-back because everything was within a 5 minute walk so no task felt like it required much planning.  There is something to be said about the convenience of island life. 
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At 7pm we set out for out night tour.  Just about every tour company on the island offers one of two tours. One is a star gazing tour, you go a night swim, see the stars, and use some kind of super-powered telescope. The other tour takes you to see bioluminescent plankton, special native crabs, glowing mushrooms, local bats and the stars.  We chose the second tour, which despite it sounding so much cooler, also happened to be the cheaper of the two.  First we drove to Kaminato beach, maybe 15 to 30 minutes from our hotel.  Before we reached the beach, each pair of people on the tour was given one flashlight. We stepped out of the van into the pitch blackness, everyone clicks on their flashlights instinctively, and the tour guide instructs us to turn them off, and when we did we looked up to see the most majestic night sky I’ve ever seen outside of a photograph.
 
That is not to be taken lightly considering that the night sky over the desert in Arizona or over the Grand Canyon is quite a sight. But the stars over Ogasawara sparkle brightly, and running down the middle of the sky was a hazy purplish-white streak that just looked like infinity. In this complete darkness we could look at the milky way with the naked eye. I could have stared at it for hours.  Our guide pointed out constellations, and a few people tried to snap pictures as if a basic digital camera could ever convey to beauty of what was in front of us. This is why I have no pictures to show, you’ll just have to take my word for it, or one day go to see it for yourself.  
 
From this area we walked down towards the beach, while walking the guide stops and shows us this unusual shell, he shines a low red light on it, and to my amazement two little legs poke out of the shell and finally the crab emerges and begins to scramble away from the light. On Ogasawara crabs have evolved and the shells take unique shapes. As we continue to walk one we see loads of these little crabs littered along the walkway.  
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By the time we reach the sand the guide asks us to drag our feet gently in the sand so that we can brush any crabs away as opposed to walking and potentially steppinng on one of them.  At this point, we cannot turn on our flashlights because this is a special beach where sea turtles and crabs move from land to the sea at night, and the lights could scare them off.  We walk down to the water.  Apparently another thing that makes this beach special (besides the sea turtles and one-of-kind crabs) is that this is home to a bioluminescent plankton.  You can’t see it until you move the ground.  So we walked along the beach swiping our feet across the sand to find them.  Sadly, the plankton were shy that night, so not a single plankton lit up for us, but could I really complain when I cold just look up a the sky and see the milky way.  
 
From the beach we headed down towards a wooded area. Still in the darkness I could make out another tour group standing around.  Their tour guide turned away from them hopped over a fence and walked into the blackness. Moments later he returned holding a plank of wood. On the plank were a handful of small mushrooms.
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Each glowed a bright shade of electric green. He flashed on his flashlight to show us the tan mushroom and turned it off to show the illuminated shroom.  People rushed in taking pictures, some with the flash washing out the green luminescence. These little guys were impressive, but honestly, after the stars, the mushrooms paled in comparison, we stared at them for maybe 15 minutes, I could have done without the second 10 minutes of it.  
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But once all the cameras were finished and flashlights turned off, we could tiny green flecks popping out of the forest behind the guide.  They told us it was actually unusual for this many mushrooms to glow at once.  Lastly, we packed back into the van and drove five minutes towards another dark street. Our last stop was to see the fox bat eating.  We could not get very close, we stood on one side of the street as the guide shined the low red light on them, we could see two to three bats hanging at the top of bread trees eating the fruit.  One unique thing about this bat, other than a face that looks uncannily like a fox, is that their screeches sound like monkeys.  They ate and wailed from time to time. But we were far enough away that I really couldn’t see more than their form and hear them decimating the tree of its fruit.  But some excitement did show up when a bat challenged another for his food.  It was hard to really make out what happened next, all we heard was loud monkey-like screeches and see a blur of black bats with the crazy flapping of wings as they fought.  The fight lasted an impressive 3 minutes when one bat finally flew away with its proverbial tail between it’s legs. 
 
After all this excitement, the night tour was finished and we were dropped off at our hotel. The tour was definitely worth the ¥3,000. It was only 9, and after sleeping the majority of the ferry ride we both still had energy, so we walked down the ‘bar street’ and walked into one at random. Our main goal for this was to drink a passion fruit liquer and rum cocktail. Both are specialties of the island, a brewing company bottles both on the island.  So we had our cocktail on the side of a fruit pizza. A pizza topped with cheese, tomatoe sauce, papaya, banana and passion fruit. It sounds strange and it was, but it was also really good. I was timid to try it, but what is vacation for if not to experience new things.
 
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From here we went back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.  It was a great opening day, and it definitely set the bar high for the rest of the vacation.
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