MY PARADISE: Okinawa -- SAY WHAT?!
Editor’s Note: Folks, stop what you are doing and read this. It’s quite an adventure, one that many of us can probably relate to. Jeff, thanks for sharing your story. We’d love to hear from others.
It was a dark and stormy night when the Anderson's finally left their home in Camp Zama, Japan, to travel to Yokota Air Base, Japan, (It really was dark when we left and it was raining, so the opening line can be used with a fair sense of not embellishing the story).
We should have seen the signs that everything was not to go our way. The first of many was the fact that we didn't forget anything at the house. We had it all in our car nicely packed and easily carried.
The second sign being that of no traffic and making it to Yokota in a record-breaking 50 minutes instead of the usual 2 hours. The last, and most obvious, sign was the fact we all got up early and out the door for the air terminal 10 minutes early. We never leave early for anything!
Some may say these little signs should show that everything is going our way. Not for the Anderson's. If there is no havoc, you can rest assured turbulent waters are ahead.
Upon departing the hotel on Yokota at 3:15 in the morning, we made our way through the dark toward the space-available air terminal to sign up for the flight to Singapore. And there we waited for 45 minutes in 50 degree weather with rain puddles everywhere and no other soul in sight. We had lost hope and were about ready to pound down the doors when other would-be passengers joined our plight.
Another 30 minutes passed with no sign of life around the terminal when a lone shadow started to walk through the morning mists. He was clothed in the Air Force tiger patterned camouflage battle dress, boots laced up tight, and a high school back pack slung casually across one shoulder. Our hero of the moment. All who were gathered cheered his approach.
And low, this hero in blue stopped a few feet from the gathering throng of passengers (six people), and opened his mouth to utter glad tidings of great joy! Our hopes were indeed high as the need for the toilet rang clear and true in some of our minds. Others were anxious to be granted the chance to sit in one of those amazingly comfortable airport lounge chairs, mocking us with their soft padded seats through the windows. Still others were simply staring in humbled awe as this great man, nay hero, came forward as if chosen by the powers that be on Yokota's misty morning fields.
He paused, one hand casually holding his black nylon backpack, and opened his mouth. All hushed to hear the greatness come from the lips of our savior.
"So, what is everyone doing here? Don't' you know we won't open until 0500? Oh, and if you're here for the flight to Singapore you should have checked our Facebook site. The flight was cancelled because a vital crew member has a cold."
And thus the signs fell neatly before us, showing us the error of our ways. We had ample warning that some force was preparing us for this moment, but did we listen? Nay. we have much yet to learn in this life. And thus began our scramble for what to do for the rest of our vacation? But wait, the same man who had fallen from grace in our sight came back to us with some other news.
The flight was cancelled, not only for today, but for tomorrow as well. But, if so desired we could board a different flight to Okinawa, the land of mischief and tropical paradise. And so we put forth our names and were among the select few who were able to get seats for the flight. We were overjoyed! The vacation was saved!
The young Air Force representative, having partially gained back his status among us, led the way to the ticket counter where he handed us three golden boarding passes that seemed to shine with other worldly light. We quickly boarded buses to take us to the great mammoth of a plane, a C-17 cargo air transport. A chariot of the sky's! A masterful work of engineering! A piece of equipment that had been made by the lowest bidding contractor ... And while on the bus we were told by other Air Force representatives (they all looked alike) that mechanical issues had arisen ...
Mechanical issues? On a government aircraft? Oh, wait. Never mind. That's normal.
As we returned to our room of waiting the again diminished Air Force man slowly edged away fearing a revolt of unsurpassed proportions from the four children on the flight. Their looks were of the meanest sort, causing the airman to run screaming for cover. All because he didn't want to play tag.
And so, we waited. For 8 hours we waited, and finally the aircraft was fixed and we were off ... To wait on the flight line for another hour ... I hear that fallen hero's taste like chicken, and we were all getting fairly hungry by this point. The only thing that sustained us were Emily's magnificent pumpkin chocolate chip cookies that were supposed to keep us content for the week. (Don't tell my wife, I've hidden two of them, that's all that’s left.)
We finally arrived in Okinawa on a flight that took three hours, not the promised two. But again, I digress. We arrived to a COLD Okinawa. Come on, really!?! A tropical Island? No. Can't be. These Palm trees all around us are lying. Because it is COLD.
And so we arrived in Okinawa, a land to be remembered. As we took a space-available flight our first priority was to find a place to stay. Our first evening was spent on Kadena Air Base. At first we were joyful to have such luxurious old-fashioned accommodations. The following morning it became apparent by the critters protesting in the bathroom that we were not welcome within their home. And thus we left, quick and in a hurry. (Note: I’ve stayed at Kadena many times, and their lodging is top notch. We just got lucky that night to have guests in the room).
Not to worry though. Here in Okinawa there are many accommodations that are highly advertised via the local MWR. Nothing could possibly spoil our vacation, especially one on the tropical island of Okinawa.
Thus, we checked our MWR nifty coupon guide and took off to Torii Station and their famous beach cabins. We had a date with some ocean kayaks and snorkeling at the beach and nothing was going to get in our way! The cabins would be a perfect place to sit and watch the waves, have fresh ocean air and great aquatic adventures.
With our spirits high, we rounded the corner and turned onto Torii Station and viewed the cabin that was to be our home for the next four days. Did I forget to mention that a typhoon had come through Okinawa three short weeks prior to our arrival? Didn’t seem important at first. But as we laid our eyes on our home it we couldn’t help but notice they were missing something.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until my daughter asked, “Dad, where are the roofs?”
At that point I could have cried until my wife casually mentioned, “At least they’re well ventilated.” Ummm, yea. Ok. Well ventilated. We can work with that – or not.
The Torii Station attendant was very accommodating and aided us in making reservations with Camp Foster lodging shortly after that. But before we left the beach we were bound a determined to have an awesome beach day! And so we marched back to the kind Torii Station attendant and asked if we could rent one of the Kayaks on the beach. We were about to head out on an adventure!
“I’m sorry sir,” she replied. “We are closed for the winter season.”
So that explains why it is so cold. I believe at this point I did cry. No beach party, no kayaking, no snorkeling. Yes, I’m pretty sure I was crying at this point. And yes, it was cold. We were packed and ready to go to Singapore, and were not prepared for this weather. Sigh!
And so we drove our shattered hearts to Camp Foster where we drowned our sorrows at Macaroni Grill in their cheesecake and endless supply of warm Italian bread. (The dinner was awesome). Our hopes for a good vacation were further bolstered when we checked into lodging. Camp Foster has some amazing accommodations. We snuggled down for the night all prepared to sleep in late!
At this point in time I would like to refer you to the typhoon that hit Okinawa three weeks prior to our arrival. Did you know that it can tear off roof tiles as easily as a kid blows out candles on a birthday cake? We didn’t either. At 8 a.m. sharp a loud squealing noise started to come from multiple locations throughout the entire building. What a wakeup call!
Sorry young readers, I can’t write what came from my wife’s lips. If you haven’t guessed yet the entire building was under repairs from the typhoon and when I called down to the lobby asking how long the noise would continue I was told it would be all day for the foreseeable future.
At this point tears did come. My wife was about to do unspeakable things to the next cheerful person to cross her path, and my daughter was still asking how the beach could be closed on a tropical Island. Best vacation ever! Oh wait. Scratch that. That’s what I would say if we had come one month earlier when the beaches were still open and a pesky typhoon hadn’t torn apart the countryside.
We slowly gathered our things and limped defeated back to Kadena, hoping we could escape. Everything had been a disaster. But we Anderson’s are made of sterner stuff. So what if I cried! Most grown men cry. Don’t they? Ok, I digress yet again.
Upon reaching Kadena we were introduced to IACE Travel. They are responsible for saving our vacation! The first thing they sent us to was Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. AWESOME!!! Upon arrival our entire family was skeptical to say the least.
We had been hit every step of the way. We walked the short distance to the aquarium and had to take a detour to the free ropes course that covers at least a half-acre of ground! This course was awesome and my daughter played for over an hour. Best part, it was FREE! (Did I mention free?) Second pick me up: The turning point for our time in Okinawa, was the dolphin show. My daughter was loath to leave the ropes course, but once she heard dolphin we couldn’t keep her from the show.
When we approached the separate building we quickly sought out the ticket counter looking for the cost. There was no booth, counter, attendant, or other person asking for money. Why? Because it too was FREE! Not only free, an amazing performance! We laughed, smiled, and made the requisite “oooohs” and “awww’s” that were expected (no crying, promise). And then off to the sea turtle displays. Again FREE.
Then we walked into the actual aquarium. That is a most-hallowed place. We walked into a different land where the oceans of the world were opened to us. My daughters eyes were as large as small saucers everywhere we went.
And the last tank held not one, not two, but three whale sharks! Not to mention devil rays, sharks, and other amazing creatures of the deep. We sat for an hour just watching them swim around. And as we got up to leave something else took place. The giant whale sharks turned upwards towards the surface as workers started throwing in food! Feeding time for these majestic creatures was amazing! We didn’t want to leave and stayed as long as we could.
When we had nowhere else to go, we headed south again to find our latest accommodations. IACE made reservations for us at the Rizzan Hotel, not too far north of Kadena and Torri Station. We were scared to find out what lay ahead. Immediately upon entering the hotel, all our bags were whisked into the arms of an attendant and our keys given to us.
We were then escorted to a room that could only be described as luxurious with nothing but ocean views. The best part of all was when we opened two sliding doors onto the patio we heard nothing but waves crashing. Peace. Tears were shed. Sleep was long. And the food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – amazing!
Thank you, IACE. Thank you. Thank you.
PS: After that, everything went perfect. We even caught a space-A flight home at the exact time we planned, with no issues. Even got some great shots of Mount Fuji!