Saturday, November 29, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
For some reason I was surprised at how built-up Okinawa was, although I'd read in the past about Marines crashing helicopters into heavily populated areas. Everywhere I went on the island in the two days we were there was very developed. A fair number of motorcycles/scooters being ridden about, generally by young people with open-face helmets. A young girl on a motor scooter actually drove by a group of us several times doing wheelies as we walked around the "American Village". That will catch your attention. The Japanese certainly know how to do neon, many of the signs were printed in English even in the areas that weren't adjacent to one of the many military bases still on the island.
The sushi restaurant we went to had a sink in the small lobby for washing your hands on the way in. Seems like a good idea to me. The sushi comes by on a small conveyor belt and you just grab what you want as you're sitting at your table. The table also had a hot water spigot built into it for refilling your green tea. You know the price of the sushi based upon the color of the plate. Those plates must've also had some kind of microchip in them because when it was time to ring up the bill, the waitress just ran her little wand over the plates and a check was printed out the other side of the wand system. Handy system as the five of us had probably 70 plates stacked up all over the table by the time we finished (generally only two pieces of sushi per plate). No tax or tip so the meals really aren't too expensive. Many places also don't take credit cards or if they do they charge a large fee, which is suppose is a little surprising given the Japanese affinity for technology, but in any case I prefer that way...makes things simpler and cheaper for everyone on the whole without Visa taking their fat cut. All in all, an efficient and tasty experience.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Getting to Afghanistan from Okinawa is to involve a lengthy series flights. Or it may be better described as a series of lengthy flights. At any rate, leaving Okinawa we flew down to Utapao International Airport in Thailand. I'm not a hundred percent sure where it is, but I think I remember it being a few hours southeast of Bangkok. I considered flying there last year on a military space available flight when I was traveling SE Asia, but after some research realized you could only get there on military orders, not on vacation. At any rate, we only stayed there a couple hours while the plane refueled and weren't permitted outside the airport. Unfortunately, no massage parlor was on the premises.
After Thailand it was west to Dubai, a flight of some seven hours. Again we were only stopping to refuel...this time we were not even allowed off the plane as it sat there for two hours. Dubai is one of the few places in the Middle East I'd like to visit. Saw some wide highways, well kept looking neighborhoods, and a very impressive skyline from the plane. Next time....
From Dubai it was on to Kyrgyzstan, another seven-hour flight. I think a lot of these flights are longer than they need to be because a lot of countries won't let us fly over them with troops...including India. The flight must've taken us directly over Afghanistan, but we couldn't go there since we were on a civilian charter. We landed here at Manas Air Base, run by the US Air Force, which means the accommodations and facilities are relatively nice - good food, plenty of internet and phone facilities, and even personnel in the weight room enforcing stupid rules. Manas apparently is about 40 miles from a Russian military base, Kyrgyzstan being the only country with US and Russian bases on its soil. In fact, the Russians are probably intercepting this transmission as I write it, lol. The base here has massive and beautiful mountain range in the distance called the Tien Shan, one of the highest in the world with peaks over 24,000 feet.
We'll be here a few days, but I won't be permitted to get out into town and see the country at all. The locals here working on the base have a swarthy, oriental appearance...not surprising, China is not far. They seem friendly enough. This is my first time in a former Soviet-bloc country...almost had a feeling of being here before as we rolled past the stark buildings and Cyrillic lettering here on base. I guess all the movies, books, and video games dealing with the USSR that I've been exposed to over the years gave me that feeling. I don't know.K
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
On Sunday, I had the opportunity to go deep sea fishing with a friend of a friend. I had plenty of other things to do given that it was my second to last day of freedom in the great United States of America but couldn't pass up the chance given that I'd never done it.
And so the five of us took off at 0530 in the owner's 28 foot boat. I had gotten home from the festivities the previous night at about 0130 so I wasn't well rested to start with but I was pretty excited to get out on the water. The plan was to to trawl along at about 10 knots with five lines in the water until we reached a buoy about 30 miles north of our starting point. I'll mention now that I knew nothing at all about deep-sea fishing coming in and don't know much about normal fishing either. I usually catch nothing when I go fishing and one of the only good memories I have of fishing is of a friend of mine in Tucson taking a fish he had caught earlier out of the bucket, putting it back on the hook and casting it back out into the water so I could get the "sensation" of reeling one in before the owners of the private pond we had snuck into caught on to the fact that we weren't the nephews of "the gentleman in that house over there yonder".
Anyway, so it's five or six lines in the water at once and you keep moving along at from 5 to 10 knots depending on what type of fish you're looking to catch. We used outriggers to spread out the lines so they wouldn't get in each others' way. The outriggers are 20-foot poles that you put out at about a 45 degree angle from the water. The fishing line runs from the pole near the rear of the boat, up to the end of the outrigger, and then out into the water some 500 meters away.
So on the way out, we caught absolutely nothing, unless you count the two surfboards we found: one nine-foot longboard in great condition and another six-foot "tow-in board" as they're called. Tow-in boards are the boards the crazies use to try to catch the really big waves up on the north shore. Gigantic waves move too fast for someone to paddle and catch them, so the surfers hang onto a line and get "towed in" by a jetski so they can ride the wave in. You know it's a tow-in board when it's got little foot handles bolted into the board. At any rate, what we thought were large dead fish floating on top of the water both times turned out to be surfboards upon closer inspection. No sign of their owners.
Our strategy, as I suppose you would call it, was to look for groups of birds circling and then trawl right through that area. I sat up top in the little crow's nest and was the spotter for birds for quite a while, but we never had much luck with the flocks I found or that anyone else found for that matter. In fact, the first 15 of the 17 fish we caught were all caught as we trawled the area around a buoy that was placed in the water specifically to encourage fishing tourism. The buoy and connecting chain encourage an entire ecosystem to develop in the immediate area...and somewhere in that ecosystem are the ahi tuna we wanted and ended up catching. The buoy is located about 18 miles off the northeastern coast of Oahu. At that distance from shore the water is roughly 6000 feet in depth as these volcanic islands tend to drop off really quickly, which is part of what leads to the monstrous waves you'll find out here from time to time. Luckily, it was supposed to be a fairly "flat" day, or so they said. I don't know if what we actually got would be considered flat here or not, but flat for the Hawaiian islands, located in the middle of the Pacific with absolutely no other landmass nearby to break up those swells, is not, well, flat. Suffice to say, the waves got pretty big, and the boat was rocking and rolling all day, and yes, I puked...twice. I was the only one to do this, but the other guys were all very experienced. I felt a little queasy all day actually.
Seasickness, not a good feeling at all, but I'd say I deserved a taste of seasickness since it was only about two weeks ago that I was laughing and surreptitiously taking pictures of old ladies puking (just couldn't help it, they literally looked like they were on the verge of death) on an evening cruise to the NaPali Coast of Kauai I took with my girlfriend. After the voiding, however, I felt reasonably decent and was able to keep helping with the fishing, although the others certainly did most of the work. I think if it hadn't been such a long day, 12 hours on the water in total, I would've managed a little better since I didn't get sick till about the 7-hour mark. I did reel in a few fish, including a 35 lb ono we caught on the way back.
As for the catching of the fish, I know when I thought of deep-sea fishing before I always envisioned an epic struggle between man and fish. I wouldn't say I saw anything like this, although I'm sure with a very large fish like a marlin it would be a battle. We pretty much left the rod and reel in the little holder that you set it in and reeled it from there...just keep cranking till someone can gaff the fish with the mean looking gaff hooks we had onboard. All in all, we caught two ono and about 15 ahi tuna. The biggest ahi was probably about 40 lbs. Got to have a taste of the ahi tonight as it was prepared by my good friend here in town...seared to perfection.