Memoirs from a Kayak

In a week of champions, Day 3 might have just been the best of them all. There was the ocean, there was kayaking, there was snorkeling (there was no hiking) and probably most impressively, there was Jiro.

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Day 3 consisted of seven-hour kayaking expedition with stops for snorkeling in some terribly remote beaches.  This was my first time kayaking, and there is an art to navigating a kayak, especially if there are two people paddling. It’s quite a basic idea, if you are going forward and want to turn left, you paddle on the right. If you want to turn right, you paddle to the left. If you need to slow down, go back, or turn while doing either of those, you paddle backwards in the direction you want to turn. For instance, go back and to the right, paddle back and on your right. And while the idea is so basic, making your body do it is a challenge. I see we are veering left, I call out turn right, and my muscles instinctively put the paddle in on the right.  It’s moments that I notice that we are still going forward, ready to plunge into the rocks that I look behind me and see my kayak-mates paddles rowing to the other side. Well, oops, good thing we have this trial run.  

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But I’m ahead of myself. The tour started at 8am and the actual kayaking probably didn’t begin until about 9, at least. This is not a bad thing. We met at his office, which was directly across from the port and a 3 minute-walk from our hotel. We got our equipment for the day; a snorkel, a life vest, and a water proof bag to protect our belongings. From there we drove towards the starting point.  It was the beach from the night tour two nights before.  In the day, the area where we had seen the milky way was a conundrum.  It was halfway a lush green country-side with random goats hanging on the side of the hills enjoying the vegetation.  The other half was a bit swampy.  We walked down towards the beach and did our introductions.

 

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This is one of those times when I severely wished I had been slightly more vigilant in learning Japanese.  When I first arrived in Japan, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could possibly live in Japan without learning Japanese quickly and not-too-painfully.  However, in a job that doesn’t necessarily encourage using Japanese, I find that I have learned just enough to get by in everything I do, but not a bit more. If it’s life and death, somehow I understand and will pull some random vocab out of thin air. If you want to have a conversation about the weather or how long I have been in Japan, you could be speaking a dead language and I would have the same understanding of your words. I guess it’s just one of those situations where I have to be disappointed in myself. And then that disappointment needs to turn to discontent, and that discontent needs to fester until its all-out-shame and maybe then I’ll drag myself back to Japanese lessons, but I digress. 

So, our tour guide introduces himself. He is an amiable guy named Jiro. From the time we met him, first thing in the morning, all the way through kayaking and into the end of the day, he never wore a shirt. It’s like if he were a ken doll, he comes with skin so tan that it’s actually my shade (in the summer, after I’ve done days of outdoors activities) and ridiculous muscles.  He spends his days paddling and carrying kayaks, and it showed.  He had an out of this world six-pack and seriously built shoulders. I find that its important to distinguish it wasn’t body-builder mass, but an actual athletic form. I was utterly impressed, and if I was him, I would probably wouldn’t bother with trivial objects like the top half of a wardrobe either. Now, an age description is tricky. Because people in Japan tend to look younger than their American counterparts, I always overcompensate when guessing their ages and choose something ridiculously high. But there is no getting around it, the Japanese people tend to be well-preserved, so this guy without a strand of gray hair on his head could have been in the later part of his 50’s.  Or maybe because his skin is so damaged from never having seen the inside of a shirt, he was in his late 20’s dealing with the oppression of sun-damage. 

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All physical descriptions aside, what really stuck out about Jiro is that he seemed like an honest-to-god good person.  Honestly, I just don’t think you run into people that often where you can say that. I felt like I could have asked him why he had such great customer service and he would have said something cheesy like he just really enjoys people and wants to help them have a good time. What’s crazier is that I would totally believe it. Granted, this conversation logistically probably wouldn’t happen considering my aforementioned poor Japanese, and the fact that Jiro spoke very little English. 

Nevertheless, Jiro introduced himself, and had us all do the same. We were to give our name, where we were from, and a hobby. Unsurprisingly, over half of the group listed travel as their hobby. His was also travel, he mentioned to me that last year he had visited Las Vegas after I told him it was my hometown. From introductions we moved on to practicing our paddling. After a ten minute trial-run, we were running smoother, if not entirely smoothly. 

At this point, the group was ready to move to the open sea.  I sat in the front of the kayak, the easier of the two positions.  The person who sits in the back must push the kayak off the sand and jump into the back kind of like a bob-sled. I’d like to think the person in the front has the unique responsibility of checking the trajectory of the kayak and that I worked hard too, but who knows. We had a preliminary conversation about, if you feel tired don’t stop paddling, one person shouldn’t shoulder all the responsibility. But once we started going I had no intention of ever stopping my paddle. This is when my competitive side kicked in and I felt like Ricky Bobby yelling out of the kayak, if you’re not first, you’re last. I found myself worried when one of our fellow tourers would inch up beside us, I probably would have tried to make us overtake Jiro had I not thought that some major accident would befall us. 

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It’s also worth a mention that we sat on the kayaks with our legs totally exposed.  I was okay, but my friend’s legs had already turned primrose pink the day before, this foray out into the sun was pushing them closer to fuchsia. I had decided against buying a hat, and found myself tying a towel to my head so I looked like one of the construction workers that is typical see in Japan. We kayaked in the ocean maybe 200-meters away from the shore as we headed to Jenny Beach.  

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Jenny Beach is a beautiful sand beach backed by a cliff so rough and rocky that the only way to reach the beach is by way of sea. It was a long kayak ride, but I enjoyed every minute of feeling the water sway beneath us, pulling to go forward.

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Once we got to Jenny beach, we had lunch, Jiro supplied the lunches, and then went snorkeling. It would appear that in Japan the myth does not exist to wait at least 30 minutes after eating before going swimming.  We went right into the water for a snorkel.  It was beautiful, there were fish aplenty and the coral reed was so interesting.  

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The most amazing sight was seeing the massive school of minuscule fish making their way through the water like an army on a battle field.  They landed on a rock and the sea flood and weren’t too skittish when people got close to them.

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We got out of the water and back into the kayaks for a trek to John beach, located next to Jenny beach but separated by some rather tall coral rock protrusions.  Despite being next door neighbors, the beaches looked entirely different.  Jenny because was idyllic and sandy with bright blue water.  The water around John beach seemed darker, like it had more depth.  It was a pebble beach, and by pebble I mean sharp gravel laced with kelp. And I admit with some shame that kelp, still to this day, makes me want to vomit when it grazes me.  It the kelp’s contact with my skin last for a few seconds I kind of just want to rid myself of that piece of skin I’m so disgusted. 

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But John because is beautiful in it’s own right, just with a whole different aesthetic.  I know that with all the floating seaweed I can’t bear to snorkel again, so I just to a short walking tour to examine the rocks of the beach.  Jiro, leads a few of us to this area of rocky cliffs.  We examine the rocks, some so soft that it crumbles under a gentle touch.  Some rock translucent and beautiful.  Later, I find out that John because has a lot more fish, which given the added seaweed is entirely plausible.  The coral reef in this section was probably more ornate, but for the sake of my sanity and need to not self-mutilate, I remain happy that I did not snorkel.  Finally, we leave John Beach and begin to snorkel back to our starting point. 

This last leg of the trip is exhausting, but I still want to be first, so that gung-ho parts of myself take over, and I have to remind myself that I am not on my own and need to think about how others, particularly those rowing with me might be feeling. We finally get back to Kaminato, tired and sweaty, and as we bring the boats onto the sand, the rain starts. It’s a warm rain and the sun is still shining bright as ever.  Its a welcome rain. It cooled me down, and since I was already soaked from head to toe, I had no reason to get diva-ish. We put the kayaks back and then were presented with souvenirs of the tour. Jiro had hand-painted rocks for everyone to take back. The mot important thing to mention is that for the entire days tour, lunch and all equipment, the entire thing cost 7,000 yen. (Roughly $80). This was a solid day of the sea kayaking and snorkeling.  It reminded me that I love islands, because it’s not a matter of taking your money and then their job is done. Jiro worked hard to make sure every person on the tour enjoyed themselves. 

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Amazingly, after this awesome 7 hours in the kayak, if you think that our day was done, you haven’t heard the half of it.  There was more in store.

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