There had been thunder. I had heard it, stirred in my sleep, awoken just enough to recognize it and drifted off again. In the morning the sky had that look of having had a tirade and was resting a moment before letting loose with the second volley. It was as if the Rain God was severely agitated for having been kept away for so long. This was after all, His/Her island.
Day Five of our Yakushima shooting and all our objectives had been met. Mr. Hatanaka had arranged for the final day – morning and early afternoon – to be something fun: we were going kayaking on the Anbo River!
As had been discussed way back in June, there might be a need for me to get wet, and even though the skies were a troubled grey the air was still warm and humid. I put on a hiking T-shirt and swim trunks and wore my boots only because I had brought no other footwear. I was ready to get wet and it was a good thing too.
Our taxi van driver took us to a bridge over the river. To demonstrate how high it was, he stopped on the way up and plucked some ferns from the edge of the road, which he then flung over the rail as we stood overlooking the river. The ferns sailed and turned like paper airplanes, drifting down before finally landing gently on the water’s surface.
Here on the bridge I was asked to deliver a brief monologue summarizing my impressions of Yakushima. I had thought about it the day before and was ready. I talked about how I was left with an important impression of how people used to live on the island – revering gods in the mountains but cutting the ancient Yakusugi and eating the eggs of the sea turtles. Now the belief of mountain-dwelling deities was only a tradition upheld in festivals and Shinto practices. However, the trees had become protected as had the sea turtles. Mythological belief had been supplanted by practical ecological thinking. Mr. Hatanaka said it was good but asked me to make it shorter. My second delivery was awkward as I tried to think of where to cut out ideas but still keep to the theme. In the end, my monologue was edited even further and on the TV program I feel it totally lost its meaning.
The skies had warned us with booms of thunder over the mountains and then the clouds had swallowed the scenery. We parked near the kayak rental place and sat inside the taxi as a downpour ensued outside. After a half hour or so the rain eased off, and people began to appear. I exchanged my boots for rubber sandals and soon we were seated in plastic kayaks (though different from my image of a kayak which is likely a sea kayak) and heading upstream. My personal guide was a woman about thirty-ish name Seiko. Mr. Hatanaka paddled on his own; Mr. Sasaki was holding the camera while Mr. Uzui paddled; and Mr. Ohkawa was on his own too. Two men who looked to be in their fifties accompanied us as guides.
At first the sailing went smoothly. The mountains were enveloped in mists and Seiko told me this was the view on Yakushima she loved best. She had only moved here from Saga Prefecture less than two years ago. Then the next downpour came. The river surface was alive with dancing water. I got completely drenched through and through but I didn’t care. I was dressed to get wet and the cool rain felt nice in the humid air. I said to Seiko that it was so nice to be able to enjoy a good dousing. Normally one doesn’t appreciate getting soaked in one’s clothes in day to day life.
The rain passed and we reached a narrow in the river where the water turned white. Here we went ashore and hot coffee, fresh passion fruit and Oreo cookies were served. Two pairs of snorkel and goggles had been brought along and we took turns swimming in the river. I chased after some fish while Mr. Sasaki and Mr. Ohkawa used an underwater camera to record my sub-fluvial adventure.
On the way back we reached a rock from where I was to jump. I climbed up the smooth wet surface, careful not to slip. All eyes turned to me as I leapt into the air and hit the water feet first with a splash that sank me down to warmer water flowing below the surface. The ocean water came this far in! When I surfaced Mr. Hatanaka said he had been expecting me to dive. With a life jacket on?
Next I had to get back in my craft. I was told to grab onto the bow and hoist myself over it. However, it was much easier to sink under the bow, I found. Each time I tried to get my chest over the bow, the tug of my arms pulled the bow over the bulk of my lifejacket and I hung from the bow like an ornament. At last I gave up and just floated downstream, clinging onto the bow and hanging on with my feet as well. “Peter-san,” called out Mr. Sasaki, “Chotto hen!” – That’s a bit strange. With some assistance from one of the older guides, I was able to get back in my kayak by climbing up onto the rocks first.
The final stretch saw us enjoying another good soaking of rain. A stream from the side was rushing into the river. We tried to paddle into it and get ourselves pushed away. I was not satisfied with my attempt and turned around to try again. But just as I reached the flush of turbulent water, Mr. Hatanaka came in a few metres away. My kayak was shoved forcefully toward his. We collided hull to hull but the water continued to push at my kayak and with Mr. Hatanaka’s kayak blocking mine, I was capsized and presently found myself one sandal less and bobbing in the river with an overturned kayak floating nearby. I was fine and found it quite amusing if not a little humiliating. The older guides rushed in to help me and once again I had to move to the shore to get back in the boat. Unfortunately, no cameras were running to record the comical incident.
Thus our kayak trip soon came to an end. We went off to a hotspring which was far too hot to enjoy on a very warm and uncomfortably humid day. Then we stopped by some souvenir shops to pick up some things to take home for our families and colleagues, and at last we were back at the airport. News reports had told of horrendous weather on Kyushu and there was some concern that our flight might be delayed. However, all went rather smoothly and my extremely enjoyable five days on Yakushima came to a close.