At the edge of the horizon

At the edge of the horizon
At the edge of Japan

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

We Climbed a Mountain (part of the Golden Week series)

On May 5th, one of my last Golden Week holiday days off, I and several other friends landed on Iriomote island with the goal of kayaking and visiting the Pinaisara waterfall.  This waterfall is the highest in all of Okinawa prefecture and it has a stunning 55m drop that you can see from a long distance.  It's been a goal of mine to kayak and see parts of Iriomote island that aren't accessible via car.  Iriomote is the island I wrote about that looks like a land before time with dense jungle and tall mountains (though the tallest mountain in Okinawa prefecture is actually on Ishigaki island, and yes, I've climbed it).  Iriomote is one of my favorite islands in Yaeyama and I'm planning on going back for another tour, next time to snorkel and sea kayak in the Funauki area. 

The gang, on our way up the mountain
The day started out after our guide picked us up at the Uehara port.  (You need a guide to take you into Iriomote.  About 7 or 8 years ago, a young Japanese adventurer went hiking into Iriomote and never came out.   There are posters of him and his details at the ports on the island, warning travelers that they need to report their travel plans to officials if they plan to go inland without a guide.    So, if you plan to go into the jungle, don't go by yourself.  It's a very big island with no one around for many, many miles.  There are dangerous animals that live on the island and the jungle is very thick.  It's easy to become disoriented.) 

Our guide, the owner of Iriomote Osanpo Kibun, was really awesome and knowledgeable about the area and the animals and other wildlife that live on Iriomote.  He also impressively and skillfully climbed a slick mountain in flip flops carrying our lunch, large amounts of water, a canteen of hot tea, a grill, butane and a first aid kit on his back.  Kudos to him!

We set off from the starting point and traveled from the sea up the Hinai river towards the falls.  The area we kayaked through was a mangrove swamp teeming with life.  Luckily the weather was nice the day we went, neither too sunny/humid, nor rainy.  A bit overcast, but it was actually nice as it wasn't too intense.

When we successfully parked our kayaks at the beginning of the mountain path (and it's not really much of a path, by the way, it's very wild), our guide told us about the history and ecology of the area (it's an eco-tour) and we then set off climbing the path. I'd say it was an upper beginner/low-intermediate level climb, but I'm not a mountain climber.  It was more adventurous than any of us had expected, that's for certain. 

It had rained and the mountain was slick.  危ないよ but also fun!

Yeah, it did get more intense the farther up the mountain we went.

Climbing straight up via a rope.
After a 30-45 minute climb, we reached the area where the river drops over the side of the mountain and forms the Pinaisara waterfall.  Pinaisara means White Beard because it looks like an old man's white beard from a distance.   Everyone in the group took photos near the edge, though a few of us were too frightened to get too close.  I decided that taking photos with the zoom lens was close enough, though I did put my camera over the edge to take a few photos of how high up we were.  I still cannot believe we climbed up that high, though it was a rather rapid ascent that we made.

Pinaisara Falls with a view of the Hinai River (which we kayaked)

A little bit closer to the edge.

Still closer...

That's the drop from the mountain edge (we swam in the water at the bottom)
Just a bit closer...

The view from the mountain of the North coast of Iriomote was exceptional.  Iriomote never fails to fascinate me.  The fact that this island that seems so remote and so otherworldly in many ways, is also apart of the same nation that is famous for its Shibuya Crossing, extremely crowded Tokyo subways and the ubiquitous shinkansen, is a wonderful indicator for those who think they know Japan, that they probably don't know Japan at all, especially if they only think of it as a place of high technology and ultra-urbanization.

View of the Iriomote Northern coast.

After climbing the mountain and daring to step as close to the edge and peer over the waterfall, we sauntered upstream to where our guide had gone to cook us lunch.  I nearly fell on my face a couple of times due to the slick rocks in the region.

Soba lunch at the waterfall (I ate onigiri since I can't eat Okinawa soba noodles)

The waterfall from below

Upon descending the mountain, we had to climb up a bit again to where the waterfall fell into a pool of cool, refreshing water.  And after all that climbing and feeling absolutely dirty, sweaty and waterlogged (our feet were wet the entire way down after wading across the river at the top of the mountain and I wasn't the only one who had mud all over me as it was so easy to slip on our way down), a nice, long dip in this pool of water was the perfect way to relax.  We were also able to put our heads under a part of the falls and feel how intense the pressure was.  Afterwards, we had some hot tea and cookies before returning to our kayaks. 

Here we are, the super seven (eight with our guide) and the Pinaisara waterfall in the background.  I have to admit that both Climb Every Mountain and Mountain Song were in my head the entire time.  Yes, simultaneously.  I dare you to try that re-mix.  I also found out that one of my students was also climbing with his family up to the waterfall as he told me and the entire class that he had seen my friends and I. Yaeyama is a small world and us ALTs, we be infamous.

Don't fall in

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