Day 3- Oranges and the blue lagoon...
Day 3 was bright, sunny and warm. A perfect day to head to the beach!
Maki picked us up at one of the monorail stops in town and we headed to Nago. Towards the northern end of the island, Nago is the home of Meio University (I hope that's right....) where Elena went to school for a year. It was a gorgeous day for a drive and we passed lush mountain valleys and drove along the western coast of Okinawa. It had been 5 years since Elena had been here and I could tell she was excited to see a familiar place. In Nago, we went to Maki's in-laws house to pick up her hubby- but he was still asleep from the night before (a little male bonding session!!), so we headed out without him.
Leaving the baby with the in-laws we headed to obachan/ojjichan's house (grandma/grandpa). Maki's in-laws' parents own a huge parcel of land in the mountains that includes a mikan grove. (mikan are like mandarin/tangerines). Anyway as soon as we got there, obachan put us right to work!! And I guess I'm not such a good picker because I got a little talking to about which are the good ones to pick!! After filling a large bucket, we were done- and after eating a few along the way!! They were so sweet and delicious!! It was so beautiful out and the scenery was great so it wasn't that much of a chore!! Afterwards, the in-laws showed up with lunch. A lovely picnic of onigiri and KFC!! We ate outside and it was perfect. Obachan and ojichan were so cute and nice! They live in an old farmhouse, which was really just one huge tatami room- it was so interesting to be able to see.
After the farm, the three of us headed to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Ocean Expo Park. It's this HUGE complex on the China Sea. There is a ginormous aquarium, dolphin and whale shows, gardens and a beautiful beach called Emerald Beach. We immediately headed for the sand and surf. The sand was a little rough on the feet but the sea was this vivid shade of green/blue- you could see where the beach gets it's name. Just off the shore, in the hazy distance you could see Ie Island. This is the island where famed war correspondent and photographer Ernie Pyle perished just before the end of WWII.
Elena & I had brought our suits to Okinawa, but we didn't bring them to the beach because we didn't think the water would be warm enough. We were wrong- bummer! As it turned out, it was perfect for a dip- and the many high school groups that were there were having fun in the surf! But we did get to wade into the China Sea and it was so clear!! Considering that back in Mito people were still wearing winter coats, we were pretty lucky!
Having explored the beach- and seeing a Japanese guy playing beach volleyball in his skivvies!!- we headed to the Aquarium. It was massive!! Nurtured by the "Kuroshio" , or black current and having two deep sea areas off the coast- there is a multitude of sea life to experience in Okinawa. Brightly colored fish and interesting little creatures abound. Then there is the HUGE mega tank that had schools of manta rays floating through it and giant whale sharks. It was amazing! I loved watching the rays fly through the water- beautiful and serene. Although, I have to admit that the movie Finding Nemo may have ruined my true appreciation because I kept thinking that the manta rays were singing school teachers and the sharks were swimming on their way to a support group meeting- Fish are friends not food!! Haha! And I love the fact that aquariums always have their restaurants by the big fish tanks- come eat our "fresh catch of the day"! It's like fish torture! Ha! After hitting the souvenir shop (of course) we headed back to Nago.
Back in Nago, we went to the Nago Pineapple Park. This massive tourist trap...er, I mean botanical park..specializes in, what else?, pineapples. But we didn't actually go into the park, we just went to the gift shop. And hit up all the free samples!! Pineapple juice, wine, vinegar, cake, cookies, you name it we ate it!! And loads of fresh pineapple!! Yum Yum! And of course I bought some omiyage for the teachers at school.
When Elena was at school in Nago, she had several friends who were stationed at the bases on Okinawa, and one of them still happened to be there. And he agreed to take us around, so we headed to Okinawa City and Kadena Base. We met up with him at the Starbucks (of course) at the American Village. Unfortunately, it was too late for us to make it on base- so no Taco Bell for me!!- but he did take us to Tony Roma's for dinner. It was so weird to be around all these Americans, and still be in Japan!! Plus, they were all soooo young- babies!! Dinner at Tony roma's was excellent- I stuffed myself with potato skins, ribs, chicken and baked potato!!! Elena's friend couldn't have been any nicer- a gentlemen really! He ended up driving us back to Naha at the end of the night. Both of us were so stuffed that we decided to call it a night and head back to the hotel though.
It was a great day in Okinawa- the beach, the sun, the fish and the ribs! perfect!