Nori seemed too relaxed the next morning. She wasn’t rushing the boys at all.
“Do you still plan on catching the 9:20 ferry to Kuro?” I asked.
“No!? I thought you said we could catch the 10:30?” she replied, perturbed.
“No, I didn’t. I said that there is a 10:30 service, but only on Tuesdays and Fridays – see?” I unfolded the ferry schedule and pointed to the timetable.
“What? I can’t believe it!” We had twenty minutes to pack our bags, rush to the ferry terminal (again), buy our tickets and get on board. This would be difficult as a couple. It was Herculean with four young boys, one of whom was complaining that ‘my stomach is hot!’
Every weekend leading up to the trip, I had spent hours with Drake and Kiva in our condo’s airless parking lot, teaching them how to ride ‘big boy’ bikes. I knew that several of the islands in the Yaeyamas had bicycle rentals, and the idea of biking with my entire family down traffic-free lanes was motivating. But it was exhausting work: running bent over in the Bangkok heat, lunging to catch them when they lost balance, first Drake and then Kiva.
Moments after we disembarked at Kuro Island, Drake vomited into the water. He upchucked again a few moments later. Nobody looks as miserable as Drake does when he’s sick, so I felt terrible trying to get him on a bicycle. Grandma Joan hadn’t been on a bike in 20 years. But I didn’t really have a choice! If any of us couldn’t ride – nobody could! Thankfully, the rental shop up the road from the ferry terminal had a good selection of children’s bikes, as well as adult bikes with baskets for holding our backpacks and food.
Kuro means ‘black’ in Japanese, but this vaguely heart-shaped island was green, rural and flat. That made it perfect for Drake and Kiva’s first bicycle journey. There were a few crashes (Joan’s the most spectacular), but there were many more delightful moments of watching all four boys weave left and right with pure joy. Or giggling with mock fear as they dodged an oncoming tractor carrying hay bales.
Halfway down the western coast we stopped for a few hours at Nakamoto Beach. The tide was the out, turning the lagoon into a giant fish-filled pool. The coral was in excellent shape and Nori spotted a brown moray that we were able to show to the boys. I wanted to explore beyond the reef but the waves were big enough to dissuade me.
At the southern tip of the island, we parked our bikes and walked up a short trail to the lighthouse. But the lower part of the access ladder had been removed, so there was no way to the top.
“Can’t you just lift us up there?” Logan asked.
So that’s what I did. Using the same ‘cheerleader lift’ skill I use to launch the kids high above the water, I raised first Logan, and then Tai, to the top of the roof. From there they climbed the the ladder to the top of the tower. I had given my camera and clear instructions to Tai, but despite that he came back with only a series hilarious ‘Loganoramas’ of the surrounding countryside and cliffs.
You can’t get very lost on an island as small as Kuro, but we nearly achieved that on the way back to the port. We also hadn’t brought enough water and were cycling into a headwind, so the boys were starting to whine. Even Grandma was shooting me nasty looks. Everybody was tired after a long day under the sun. I also noticed that my bike seat was chafing me badly. When we got home, I was shocked to find my boxer shorts soaked with blood.
I now have black mark on my left buttock that will always remind me, appropriately, of Kuro Island.
It was our final day in the Yaeyamas, and it was raining. Unlike the other islands we had visited, Kohama had a little town near the port – a cafe, a burger joint and a car rental shop. But no bicycles. So we walked down the road and followed the coast until we reached a nice beach. Despite the proximity of one the most famous resorts in the Yaeyamas (we could see the Allamanda’s tiled rooftops), there was no one on the beach except a crew of workers and an excavator gathering old fishing ropes, nets and buoys.
The snorkelling wasn’t great: just clumps of seagrass and a few timid fish. Then I saw a ribbon twisting in the light surge – a thin, black and white ribbon. Strange. I tilted my head to get a better view through the blurry goggle lens and got a jolt. It was a banded sea krait, one of the most poisonous snakes in the world!
I leapt out of the water. “Get out of here! GO! GO!” At first the boys thought that I was joking but then they saw my frightened face and reacted, sprint-wading to shore.
Once the boys were safe, I returned to watch. It was a small snake, maybe a meter long and very thin. It acted neither threatened nor threatening, idly investigating the sea grass with the nonchalance of a creature that feared very little. One by one, I brought the boys close enough to watch it slither, and they were amazed to be so near a dangerous animal.
There are actually a lot of things to do on Kohama: great snorkelling, a famous stretch of road through sugarcane plantations and beautiful offshore islands. But the rain didn’t look like it was going to stop. So we returned to the port and enjoyed a famous Teriyaki Burger (the sauce is made with local brown sugar) at Bob’s Cafe before catching the next ferry back to Ishigaki.