Flying into Typhoon Guchol in Okinawa Japan
Would you fly into an island that is just about to be ravished by a monster typhoon?
I know what you are thinking….. You are probably the adventurous kind and you rub your hands together and with an expectant smile you say: “Sure,… Bring it on!”
Well….we did just that.
We left New Zealand on JetStar airline.
It was a very comfortable flight from Auckland to Tokyo, connecting in Brisbane on the Gold Coast of Australia.
I was seated next to a lovely man.
He was flying to Brisbane to run in the annual marathon.
We chatted about running, about skiing, about swimming, about traveling and living a healthy and examined life.
We both shared our dislikes of traveling in cruise ships and tour groups, and we both agreed about the joys of independent traveling, utilizing your wits and wisdom to get around, and staying in traditional guest houses as a way to meet the locals and to get a real taste of the culture and landscape around you.
JetStar airline sent us an email offering us to upgrade to business class on our flight from Brisbane to Tokyo, for little money.
After a deliberation among ourselves debating if it is worth it to spend the extra money for a flight of nine hours, we accepted their offer.
It was such an awesome treat!
The plane was almost new, so the leather chairs in business class were cushiony and spacious, the food was good and the service was superb.
Because we knew that we will be landing in Tokyo late in the evening, we made reservations to spend the night at Haneda airport from which most of the domestic flights take off.
We planned to fly early the next day to Okinawa island.
The Haneda Excel hotel is a comfortable oasis in the middle of a fabulous airport.
The attendant took our luggage to the room, insisted on hanging our clothes in the closet, and as always in Japan, she refused a tip.
When we checked our emails, we got an email from the guest house that we booked in Okinawa, saying that we must have heard of the monster typhoon that is about to hit Okinawa island, and that they fully understand if we decide to change our plans and not to come to Okinawa after all…
They said that they will not apply the normal cancelation fee, as this is a dangerous typhoon situation…
We spoke about it and pondered what to do…
My first gut reaction was: “Why did we have to make plans for the whole six weeks… if only we traveled spontaneously as I like to do, we would have been able to go north now, and later when the weather improves, to go south to the islands…”
But I knew I was wrong….
I felt that my thoughts were laced with anger which is ALWAYS an indication that the way I was thinking was wrong…. Anger is a sure sign that my ego, and not my a higher Self is in control of my thinking…
We tried to track down the typhoon path online, and we found that it was named Monster Typhoon Guchol, (reduced from Uber- Monster Typhoon Guchol) and that it already claimed 22 lives as it passed through the Philippines.
We mulled over our options….we could stay in Tokyo another day or two…. We could cancel our visit to the islands all together and instead go north or go and explore the Kyushu island area…
Every option had its own set of pluses and minuses….
We were groggy and tired and could not come to a definite conclusion.
We really wanted to visit the islands and we knew that it is the wet season in the tropics, and that cyclones and typhoon were a seasonal phenomena, yet we still wanted to visit the area…. So what do we do now?…
We decided to go to eat dinner and to go to sleep, maybe in the morning we will feel clearer and be inspired with a decision…
After a wonderful room service meal, that could easily top any Japanese restaurant in New York, we took long showers and curled into bed.
We were asleep before you could say nighty night….
In the morning the Haneda airport was buzzing with activity.
The Japan Airline website was showing only one early morning flight leaving toward Okinawa, all the other flights including the one we’ve booked, had a red star next to them, indicating that they will be canceled or delayed because of the Typhoon.
The Japan Airline counter was manned by a pretty Japanese girl, who spoke very little english.
She checked our bags on the earlier flight and told us to hurry up because our flight was schedule to leave in ten minutes.
Still unsure if we were doing something smart by flying into the eye of the hurricane…. We found ourselves minutes later sitting in our plane, which was almost empty, and was speeding on the runway, taking off into the big blue sky….
When we approached Okinawa, the pilot announced that the Typhoon is expected to hit Okinawa this very evening, and that the wind had already picked up, and that there is a chance that we will not be able to land, but instead he will turn the plane around and return to Tokyo…the pilot reassured us that we have enough petrol for the return flight.
I closed my eyes and said a prayer, that we will be able to land.
In my mind’s eye, I saw images of hurricanes and typhoons, as they flooded the coast of Florida in which I spent years of my life.
When hurricane warnings were in effect, the city utterly closed down, people barricaded their stores and glass windows, and the waves pounded upon the shores, stripping the palms and coconut trees of all fronds, leaving nothing but the bare barks….
I pushed those past images out of my mind, trusting that if our divine spiritual guides allowed us to fly into a danger zone, they must also watch over us and protect us from all harm….
Despite high winds, my prayer was accepted and we landed in Naha. (Okinawa’s biggest city)
The wheels of our plane touched the runway, and the swirling winds sent the plane violently tilting from the right to the left, swinging stronger than a gigolo with an unbutton shirt and gold jewelry, in the sixties…
But soon enough we straightened our course and disembarked through a corridor filled with beautiful fresh orchids.
Okinawa is fully tropical and stunning orchids as well as sugar cane and all tropical fruit, grow here in great abundance,
The process of getting our car rental was friendly and easy, and done in a very efficient way.
Our English speaking navigation system, requires only that we put the phone number of each place we wish to drive to, and viola…. A polite woman’s voice guides us there…
She does not get upset when we mess up her instructions, and she quickly recalculate a new route for us.
We decided to go and see Naha, instead of driving to the guest house that we booked.
It was still early in the day and the weather was drizzly, but not yet stormy.
We thoughts that it might be best to see the streets of Naha, just in case the whole city would be boarded up because of the storm in the next few days.
Kokusai Dori, is the main street in Naha.
It is lined with gift shops, restaurants, cafes and places selling beachwear, souvenirs, traditional Okinawan sweets, ice cream shops and fruit stalls.
Heiwa Dori, is a cross street that leads into a great market, filled with fresh produce, fish, meat and used or vintage clothing.
Historically, Heiwa Dori and the market area, were established by the widows of Okinawa.
The Okinawa battle in 1945, was a deadly war between the Americans and the Japanese, leaving a terrible blood trail on both sides.
Left destitute after the death of their husbands in the Okinawa battle, those widows started small businesses by bringing cooked food or vegetables from their gardens to sell in the market, trying to earn a living.
Some were seamstresses, and their market stalls were nothing more than a few samples of garments, as a demo of what they can do…
Even today we saw some small market stores that were not larger than a nook in the wall, barely big enough to fit the old lady siting inside with her foot operated sewing machine.
There are many American navy and air force bases around Okinawa and rumors are that after many years, the troops will be vacating Okinawa.
Regardless of the bloody history, American Culture is fully celebrated in Okinawa today, with ice cream shops selling American classics…. Stores selling American icons like Elvis and Marilyn Monroe dolls and life size figures, along with many American cartoon figures and vintage toys.
We had a lovely lunch which featured some of the specialities of Okinawa.
We tasted the famous Okinawan bitter gourd, and some local seaweed which looks like green fish eggs.
I had a taste of a local creamy tofu dish which was made from peanuts instead of soy beans and was served with a thick soy sauce with a touch of sweet flavor.
We also tasted some local sweet purple tart and other local sweets.
At the market place I saw some tiny onions that looked like a cross between garlic and shallots.
I also noticed that many of the local restaurants offered these onions cooked as a vegetable dish.
In the market, we tasted these local onions pickled, and I accepted another taste of a pickle from a friendly merchant.
She handed me her chopsticks with some unrecognizable white pickles on them.
I usually recognize what things are, since we travel in Japan and around Asia very often, but this time I could not tell what it was…
When she handed a taste of that pickle to Jules, he asked her what it was…
She said it was pickled pig’s ears…
Needles to say, Jules spat it out into his napkin, and I apologized profusely for his rudeness, but she put me at ease as she and everyone else around us burst into laughter…
They did not expect the Gaijins (Japanese for foreigners) to be able to enjoy this local speciality…
We drove north to Akachichi Guest house where we will be staying for the next two nights, before we will switch into another guest house on the island.
Kenny, the owner of the Akachichi Guest House, is an American with a long ancestry link to Okinawa.
He and his wife Komaki, prepared for us a lovely basket of “Typhoon Treats.”
He left us a flashlight in case we will lose power, a lot of free snacks and drinks, a lantern, some cards to play games and some great Japanese tea.
Akachichi guest house is a small enterprise with only two guest rooms, but it is very stylish and charming.
Our room is a detached cottage with plenty of space, and lots of light and air.
Tonight as I put down the first log details of our trip, Typhoon Guchol is howling outside my window.
It is causing high winds and heavy rains over Okinawa tonight.
It is a fast moving typhoon, and so by tomorrow morning, it is expected to have moved north east of Okinawa.
As I reflect on the lovely day we had, and how upset I initially felt over the fact that we made so many plans, I have to laugh… The weather forecast for the typhoon had changed since we decided to fly into the typhoon zone, and now it is expected to move into the areas we would have diverted our trip to, if we haven’t made prior arrangements… Funny aye?….
Making plans is indeed an attempt to minimize mishap and to have some measure of control over the future, but trying to predict and run away from danger, is just as foolish….
So remember the question I started with…. Would you fly into an area that is about to be ravished by a typhoon?
If you thought I were crazy… You would be wrong… A typhoon can change its course… Or move really fast through the area….
Of course as I close the light and go to sleep hearing the howling winds and the rain still pounding heavily outside, I am fully aware that I might wake up in the morning and half of the island would be in chaos, with broken trees and old wooden houses without roofs…
But strangely I feel no fear at all….
Silly me… But I feel I had a fabulous day… I feel SO blessed…