Saturday, August 22, 2009

Amami o Shima, part 2

So there was a little bit of a delay before part two has materialised, but hey, I've been romping around the Icelandic countryside with wonderful friends and exploring this spectacular country, so bad luck ;) I'm still a few weeks behind in my blogging - this one should rightly be about Iceland - but I'll get there.

The day of the eclipse was fast approaching. After the local Amami festival it became apparent that my Japanese friends were planning to watch the eclipse from Tomori beach and not the festival venue. A bit of a shame, since I really wanted to watch it with them, but it seemed alright - Alexander was keen to go wherever I went and I really wanted to see it with him also. So although it was a shame that we wouldn't be with the rest of the festival-goers and the energy that goes along with such a group viewing, I didn't mind being away from it all - the last two eclipses I saw were with the festival massive.

After yet another day bumbling around the beach I decided to head up to the tipi up on the hill to watch the sun go down. It afforded a great view over the festival site and turned out to be a great decision. Shortly after I arrived a group of drummers made their way up the hill to play as the sun was setting.

That evening as we came closer to eclipse time, Alexander decided he wanted to be at the festival with all the wonderful people we had met. I can't fault him for that - I understood. We said our farewells and I got a lift back to Tomori beach with my friends the night before and crashed in Achi's tent.

I awoke around 7am on the day of the eclipse to a less-than-favourable weather situation. Although it wasn't raining, the sky was overcast and some ominous storm clouds were hovering on the horizon just a short way from the beach. Thankfully they were passing to the side of us, but nevertheless they threatened our ability to see the eclipse.

I loitered around on the beach, reading a book, swimming and generally observing the weather. The clouds were slowly starting to clear up and things were looking a bit better. More and more people were gathering on the beach to prepare for the spectacle and my friends were slowly arising in dribs and drabs.

Soon enough we were able to see the moon start to edge in front of the sun. At this stage it was still overcast, but there were a few areas of clearer looking sky in various locations around us, though sadly not in the spot we were most hoping for. Cameras were setup, beers were opened, excitement was shared - but as the time of totality neared the clouds got darker and darker, obscuring our view of the sun when using eclipse glasses.

The moment of totality was beginning, the sky slowly starting to dim as the sun was hidden away by the shape of the moon. Regardless of the weather, nothing can prevent the amazing feeling that comes with an eclipse - a moment of the universe in motion, aligning in a perfect way that turns day to night and fills you with the elation of being alive and there to witness it.

The whole beach was dark, the clouds out to sea a palette of sunset colours in stark contrast to the grey and black surrounding us, the ecstatic smiles and yahoos of onlookers portraying the happiness and joy in this moment.

A few minutes of magic later and it was all over. The sun emerged from behind the moon (although we couldn't really see it) and it became lighter again. We could just barely see the totality through the cloud layers, but it wasn't very obvious or easy to see. Unfortunately weather is part of the risk you take when travelling to see an eclipse, and even from the beginning the predictions weren't good for Amami. Regardless of the weather it was still a cosmic event worth witnessing, and the feeling of magic and joy in life from being there can't be greyed by any cloud cover.

The barbecue was sparked up and we shared some okra, fish and corn before they went all out with the meat. I hung out with them for a few hours more, swam around in the water for a bit and eventually decided to make my way back to the festival. It didn't seem like any of them were keen to head back for a while, so I decided to hitchhike. After walking for 15 or 20 minutes I was finally picked up and got a ride back to the festival with an old Amami man and his son and daughter-in-law. They were fun to chat to, even though the Amami dialect made things very difficult.

The next few days were much the same as the ones preceding them - more fun in the sun, bludging on the beach, drinking beer and generally sharing the post-eclipse bliss with others around me. We only had a few more days before we had to leave and every second of them was enjoyed.

When the time came to pack up, catch the bus and head back to Naze for our ferry ride home, we were ready to escape the humidity, despite how wonderful it was being at the beach after so long in Tokyo. Alexander, Brian and I packed our gear and headed up to the bus stop. There were some amazing clouds that day - something to focus on while we sat in the ridiculous heat to await the bus' arrival.

In Naze we met up with the three Portugese doctors we had befriended at the festival, along with an Italian guy who Brian had met. The group of us wanted to find a beer, but ended up finding a coffee shop instead and then hanging out in their hotel room, during which time we were to find ourselves in the middle of an earthquake. It wasn't too large, however.

My friend Kenju was also going to be on the same ferry as us that evening, so we met up with my Japanese friends at the departure terminal for a goodbye. We got a few photos, and it was suggested that we get a 'Habu' shot. The resulting image is below.

As the boat was taking off they put on a fireworks show for us. I was a little over taking photos at that stage, so I have no pictures of it, but it was the best sendoff I've had anywhere, and lots of fun.

We were all completely buggered and had an early night on the stuffed-to-the-brim ferry. The next morning we said farewell to Kenju and stayed once again at the accommodation we were at the previous week. Energy levels were low that weekend - all of it had been sapped by the relentless humidity - so we took it fairly easy. Alexander slept the afternoon away while I went off to a nearby net cafe to catch up on some email and chat to Alex.

Before we went to Amami we had planned to perhaps do some hiking in Kagoshima, but the heat and our tired bodies both spoke against that idea. The weather was also rainy, not terribly conducive to trudging around mountainous regions. We decided to at least take a ferry over to nearby Sakura-jima and check out an amazing looking onsen there.

The onsen here is beside the ocean, but unfortunately I have no pictures. It was mixed bathing, so we had to wear yukata to cover up. If the weather was nicer it would have afforded a wonderful view of the ocean, but it was still good in the overcast weather. The onsen itself stretched out beneath the roots of a large tree, and buried a little further in was a shrine to a dragon god. It was the best onsen I have been to in Japan, and a great way to end our holiday.

After that final night Alexander and I said our goodbyes. We would be seeing each other again in Iceland soon enough, but it was still sad to say farewell and head in our respective directions. He was leaving Tokyo for a journey through China, Russia and Europe, to end up in Iceland before further travelling, while I was heading back to Tokyo. I caught my flight and ended up at home that evening, tired but feeling very relaxed, rejuvenated and happy to have been able to experience such a wondrous place and event with such great friends, new and old.

You can see the complete set of photos here, here and here.

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