Thursday, July 8, 2010

Iriomote: A Walk on the Wild Side of Japan

Iriomote is Japan's wildest island (which isn't saying much). A paved road only goes half way around the island, and there are supposedly no roads into the interior.
We stayed in a budget hostel, where we had to pay $1 an hour for air conditioning. After a sleepless night of doing without, we caved in and got a stack of $1 coins to feed the ac. Although the room was hot, there was a nice breeze from the ocean on the rooftop patio, and we could see owls and big fruit bats flying around at night.
We rented a car from the owner for cheap. When we asked about insurance, he said we didn't need it. I guess there's nothing to hit on the island. Anyway, it's pretty laid back there.
Next to the hostel, there were these pineapples set out on someone's front porch. These mini pineapples are grown on the island, incredibly tasty and only 50 cents each.
Tiger Heron in our back yard.

The big thing to do there is to take a boat ride up the river through the national park and hike to a couple of waterfalls.

The family was really excited to be along for the ride.
The river was flanked with dense greenery.
Eventually it gets too rocky for the boat and you have to get out and walk.

We did see a lot of wildlife on the hike, like this tortoise.
This long skinny green lizard was an agile climber.
Buttressed tree roots.
The first set of falls. We really wanted to jump in the water. 
We saw these neon blue tailed skinks everywhere, sunning themselves along the trail.
This skink wasn't too lucky, but the snake was.
Slurping up the tail like a noodle.
We could actually go down to the second group of waterfalls in the eroded sandstone riverbed.
It was painful looking at all that water in the dizzying heat, but they didn't allow swimming, so all we could do is wade.
Sandstone rock formations. You can hike from here to the other side of the island, and we saw some people doing it. The sandstone was slippery, and I saw them falling down with their huge packs. It didn't look like too much fun, especially in the heat. I thought about doing it as a day hike. Maybe in the winter.

A puddle of tadpoles.
Big spider.
The tide had gone out in the afternoon, and the water was only a foot or so deep in places for the ride back. We had to go really slowly to navigate the narrow channel.
The most famous resident of Iriomote is the little mountain cat, found only on this island. They estimate that there are 99 of these cats. You see images of the cat everywhere on signs. It's a cute little cat, maybe a little bigger than a housecat. At the wildlife center they have one that was injured as a kitten and has lived there for 13 years. They don't let you see it, but they do have a live video feed so that you can watch it on tv. I guess they don't want it to get used to people, so that they can observe the natural behavior of a cat that's been captive in a cage its whole life. At the center they had stuffed cats, skeletal cats, cat tracks, and best of all, cat poo.
From observing this natural behavior, researchers have learned fascinating character traits. For example, like most cats, it sleeps most of the time.
After all the hype, we felt lucky to actually see the silhouette of a cat cross the road as we were driving home in the dark. 
The wildlife of Iriomote.

No comments: