I held my arm out across the highway, my thumb pointing upwards, facing the sky. Would this even work in Japan? I remember reading somewhere that hitching in Japan was either extremely rare or culturally taboo; I hoped it was the former, at least we had a chance then.
Even then, the chance of someone pulling over that speaks English seemed rather thin.
We had just walked down for OIST towards Tancha beach, with the vague idea of going somewhere north (Nago, perhaps, or even Pineapple Park). Yet without access to a car or public transport, we were pretty pessimistic. So we set off with a fuzzy plan; start walking north to Onna, and just see what happens.
Pondering our options and checking distances on Tancha beach
Earlier Tania had suggested hitchhiking and I'd half-jokingly agreed. But as we walked up the steep incline along the beach, I started to wonder - why not try it and see if it works?
One by one the cars passed by. Mostly accompanied by strange looks from the drivers and ridiculously wide berths (almost into the oncoming lane). I'd resigned myself to standing here for a while - Michael had walked on ahead, and the incline suddenly looked a lot more imposing - but I remained somewhat cynical.
Suddenly one of the cars began to slow down, stopping a couple of meters in front of us.
Oh crap! I remember saying to Tania, slightly alarmed.
This wasn't meant to have worked, we hadn't even properly discussed where we were going. Plus, the language barrier would likely be impossible to bridge. We wondered if singing the Pineapple Park song would be a sufficient mode of communication (Pa, pa, pa, pa, pa, pa, pa, pa, pa, pineapple!).
The car began to reverse, whilst the window slowly receded into the door. I was all but ready to burst into song right there on the side of the road, when suddenly, in perfect English,
"Where are you guys wanting to go?"
I managed to suppress my increasingly growing urge to start singing (that song is just too catchy).
"Um, Pineapple Park?"
"Pineapple Park?!" she couldn't help but laugh. "Sure, I'm on my way to Nago now. Get in!"
We were dumbfounded, but at the same time so appreciative.
Oh shit. Where'd Michael go?
"Oh by the way, our friend has walked over the top of this hill. Do you mind if we pick him up on the way?"
We approached Michael, but he was walking forward with such purpose that he didn't seem to see us. I called out his name, and his eyes widened.
"Hey! Want to go to Pineapple Park?"
"You guys hitchhiked?"
"Yep. Get in if you want to come."
"But how will we get back?"
He had a fair point. Nago was a 45 minute drive from OIST, more if you include peak hour traffic.
But screw it. I'm not bypassing an opportunity to go to the mythical Pineapple Park.
"Easy. We'll hitchhike back!"
Michael hesitatingly got in the car, and off we went.
The woman who picked us up was so friendly (and not to mention amazingly kind). I'm still kicking myself that none of us managed to catch her name - we all just assumed that the others had. It turns out she worked as an English teacher up in Nago - hence her fluency in English, which she told us she perfected whilst working in Canada - and was just returning from visiting her parents down in Naha.
Here are some highlights of the conversation on the way to Nago:
What's there to do here? Hmm, you might have arrived at the wrong time of the year. Come back in summer and go to the beach and do some snorkeling! It's actually quite funny, the beach is filled mostly with tourists - us Okinawans don't tend to like going to the beach!
It can reach 45 degrees in summer?! - after discussing Perth summer in comparison
There's this one Australian food I know... it's green and you put it on toast. Ettoo... I don't remember. Oh that's right, vegemite!
Tania later remarked what a shame it was none of us happened to have vegemite on us (although to be fair the chances we would were quite slim). She was so kind, even offering to drop us right inside Pineapple Park.
We had no idea what we were in store for.
Its reputation precedes it; there was a constant onslaught of tourist buses
Do you know the roots of the word pineapple? Well, pine comes from the pine tree, and apple comes from apple! - not only fun, it was informative as well
Pineapple Park was glorious. It was everything I expected and more, for a theme park dedicated to Pineapples.
No theme park will ever compare.
The entrance to Pineapple Park
The surprising introduction of pineapples to Okinawa
PINEAPPLES AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE
ARE THOSE PINEAPPLE BUGGYS?!
OH MY GOD THEY ARE
We could hardly contain our excitement
MUST TOUCH THE PINEAPPLES
It was here things really took an unexpected turn.
Ooh there is a pineapple museum. Wait, there's also pineapple wine tasting?!
His main achievement, obviously
PINEAPPLE WINE AND CHAMPAGNE (surprisingly tasty)
PINEAPPLE JAM. PINEAPPLE CAKE. PINEAPPLE PIE.
WHY YES. THAT IS PINEAPPLE PERFUME.
OH AND DID I MENTION THERE WAS PINEAPPLE?
...and that was just a small selection. There was also pineapple curry, pineapple sorbet, pineapple ice cream, pineapple cream puffs, pineapple handcream, pineapple soap, pineapple charcoal, pineapple vinegar, pineapple t-shirts, and various other pineapple related merchandise.
Strangely enough, the only flavour of KitKat they sold was sweet potato.
After exploring every inch of Pineapple Park (although we later found out we had somehow missed the even more out of place Shell Museum section), we decided to walk back down to the center of Nago and highway 58, and try our luck once again in hitching a ride back to OIST.
We made a slight detour - couldn't resist some A&W
This time, we didn't seem to have quite the same luck. Whilst it only took about 5 minutes to hitch a ride on the way up, the highway in Nago had significantly worse pedestrian access, making it almost impossible for cars to stop safely.
Hitchhiking along the 58
I was ready to admit defeat; in fact, I had the Nago bus station loaded on my phone and was readily thinking of alternatives (a bus meant a 1.5-2 hour transit though, ugh).
Then, out of nowhere, a guy approached us on the footpath.
'Hey, are you guys hitchhiking?'
'Um... yes?' Shit, hitchhiking isn't illegal in Japan is it?
'Oh okay, I saw you and turned off the highway. We're driving to Naha if you want a lift.'
We couldn't believe our luck.
Oh, and guess what? He learnt English during a working holiday in Canada.
- May January
- Mon 29 December 2014Temples, shrines, and Irish pubs (oops)
- Sun 28 December 2014Temple run and too much sake
- Fri 26 December 2014Hiroshima
- Wed 24 December 2014Things I've noticed since coming to regular Japan
- Mon 22 December 2014Last day in Okinawa
- Mon 22 December 2014A very Okinawan Hanukkah
- Sun 21 December 2014Onna Industrial Festival
- Sun 21 December 2014Last week at OIST
- Tue 16 December 2014A surprisingly good time to go to Russia
- Mon 15 December 2014Cape Hedo and Hiji Falls
- Mon 15 December 2014Vires Acquirit Eundo
- Mon 15 December 2014Chicken skin (and other assorted delights)
- Sun 14 December 2014Bread 1.0
- Sun 14 December 2014More things I've noticed since arriving in Okinawa
- Tue 09 December 2014The Heart Attack Murder Burger
- Tue 09 December 2014Spongebob and the birthday pig
- Mon 08 December 2014Kourijima
- Mon 08 December 2014Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
- Sun 07 December 2014Americana teppanyaki
- Sun 07 December 2014Searching for yeast on a Friday night
- Mon 01 December 2014Pineapple Park
- Sun 30 November 2014Castles, pancakes, Naha and more
- Fri 28 November 2014Attempted drive to Ishikawa
- Thu 27 November 2014Walk through Tancha
- Tue 25 November 2014Things I've discovered since arriving in Okinawa
- Tue 25 November 2014Settling in at OIST
- Mon 24 November 2014Accidental business class
- Sun 23 November 2014Delayed in Hong Kong
- Sun 16 November 2014A Siberian adventure