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Tales of a Weekend at Zamami Island

By: Sheila J. Vaughen

Date Posted: 2000-10-06

Fantastic fish stories, postcard beaches and good friends packed into small places. These are a few of the top elements of my recent weekend excursion to Zamami Island, the largest of the Kerama Islands near Okinawa.

It is a bit ironic that although we live on the picturesque island of Okinawa, there is still the thrill of adventure that comes when making the short trip to a neighboring island. While on the two-hour ferry ride over, from Tomari Port, I imagined describing the trip to friends back in the states in terms they could best understand: “And the beaches looked just like the ones featured on the “Survivor” show.”

The rebuttal in my imaginary mental conversation was, “yes, and so does the island where you live.” This is true provided you seek out a remote, quiet beach on Okinawa where the turquoise ocean view from your beach chair is not marred by sights of local civilization. While these places can still be found here, the search is far easier from one of the peaceful, natural Kerama Islands.

On a clear day, the islands can be seen vividly from the southeastern side of Okinawa that looks out to the East China Sea. This far off view however is deceptive in that one does not realize that there are actually seven relatively large islands surrounded by scores of tiny land masses. These small islands jut out of the water in dome shapes or sharply angled cliffs. Passing by them on the ferry, I believe many people fantasize as I did, what it would be like to claim one as your own private, primitive paradise.

Of course, our reservation at a Japanese-style cabin with a bathroom and electricity awaited, negating the need to conquer any wild territories. Two other couples came along with my family for our two night stay. The cabin was one of six identical units located at Kuzirasato Whale Village, one of the islands tourist-friendly areas. Reservations can be made there by calling 987-3259. The grounds also feature camping, kayaks, a tennis court and a swimming pool accented by a big whale slide. Unfortunately for my group, especially my two young sons, the pool was drained because we were there after the oddly brief, two-month summer season.

While this was the second visit for my husband and I, neither of the other two couples had made the trip before. This probably explained the expression of one of my female friends when she saw that the cabin’s six promised “beds” were single-sized tatami mat beds, stacked bunk style, with three on top and three on bottom. An air conditioning unit, located in the tiny bunk area, was only capable of creating any real coolness when the bunk area’s accordion room divider was tightly closed, thereby leaving the rest of the cabin to the breezes from open windows.

This is one reason I would recommend making such a trip, as we did, in the pleasant spring or fall months. However, when staying in Okinawan-Japanese quarters, minor adjustments such as these are not only to be expected, but relished as part of the whole experience.

The whole experience was, as everyone in my group agreed, wonderful. The top-ranked wonder had to be the big, beautiful tropical fish that have kindly agreed to live a mere twenty feet or so from the waters edge of Zamami’s best beach called Huruzamami.

Also accommodating was the public bus that was called at our request by our camp site hostess to pick us up and retrieve us at the times of our choosing. (Imagine trying to get an urban bus in the States to do that.)

The fish were truly fantastic as were the coral beds that surround the Kerama Islands. All in my group spent the best times of our weekend snorkeling and enjoying the beauty of the marine life. Even my three-year old was able to get his first real snorkeling experience there.

Two fish stories that topped the personal accounts were the “giant sea turtle” seen by a friend, and the “barracuda” that surprised my husband when it cruised past his head at an uncomfortably close distance.

The giant sea turtle was first spotted by my friend on one of his solo trips out. “It was as big as one of us,” said this six-foot, three-inch, large man on his first report. “Well, okay, maybe not that big, but a big one,” he later revised. His account inspired a series of hunts for the really-big turtle that we all took part in over the course of the weekend.

The turtle was indeed big, as I can personally attest after finally seeing it for myself just hours before we headed back home. The sea turtle was found in what seemed to be his home turf waters at our whale village beach. This long stretch of quiet beach is also where our group found acres of colorful coral including bright blues and purple hues accentuating the typical yellow, orange, and shades of beige.

To clarify for future travelers, the other beach, Huruzamami Beach, is where the fish hang out in groups for the viewing pleasure of all. This is one beach not to be missed when traveling to Zamami. The fish, up to 18 inches long, are truly just a few feet from the shore and will even swarm for your attention when enticed with a little fish food. The treats we provided for them included Fritos, bagel chips and, appropriately, goldfish crackers.

Overall the weekend was a great time, and there are several options for visitors to Zamami including a western-style hotel, Japanese minshuku motels and camping. Regardless of the accommodations and the details, the best memories are sure to be those always- exaggerated fish stories. “Well, maybe it wasn’t actually a barracuda,” recanted my husband. “But I don’t even want to tell how big those teeth were.”

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