Once back at the guesthouse, I hit the showers and noticed a strange black leaf stuck to the top of my foot. “That’s no leaf”, I screamed, running towards the common room to find the staff. After dashing my foot with disinfectant, the leech eventually stopped feasting on my blood and shriveled under the intense heat of the cigarette lighter. Despite all of my numerous hikes and climbs, leeches were a first for me.
The next step after cleansing was to try to dry out my camera. Again, the staff at Mariudo rose up to the task, hooking up a dehumidifier to slowly extract the moisture from the inside of my camera. Would it do the trick? The next day I opted for some snorkeling to get my mind off of the jungle, and my trusty guide took care of all of the underwater photography, leaving an extra day of drying time for my camera.The coral reefs surrounding Iriomote Island are top notch, and we had the entire place to ourselves thanks in large part to the frigid waters.
The following day, it was back into the jungle to not only test out my camera, but to also test my navigational abilities, for I was attempting to do part of the Iriomote Grand Traverse. The tourist boat departed from Urauchi port at preciously 9:30am, where it sailed alongside the dense mangroves of Iriomote’s largest river. I could have done without the minute explanations and the deliberate slowing of the vessel to please eager camera wielding tourists. Just get me to the trailhead, and fast!
Once off at the boat landing, the boat operator informed me that I’d best return on the 12:40pm boat, as there were unlikely to be any boats operating later. You see, in the off season, visitors are few and far between. I had exactly 2 hours and 40 minutes to make it as far upstream as I could in order to check out trail conditions for others attempting the full traverse. The things that I put myself through just to maintain a website that is little more than an obsession.
Concrete and stone framed out the initial start of the approach, and the large swaths of exposed topsoil further on clearly showed the immense popularity of this path in the busier summer months. I was glad not to be sharing the path with any other souls, for I’d quickly passed the half a dozen other elderly strollers as soon as I disembarked. Even though the map times said to allow 45 minutes to reach Mariyudou waterfall, I was sitting at the overlook in a little over 15 minutes. Sweat trickled down my brow, mixing awkwardly with the sticky remnants of spider webs I’d severed on the hurried stroll. Just past the lookout, I was shocked to see the path down the falls roped off. Perhaps this was a temporary thing in the slow winter months? I made a mental note to double check the path on the return trip to the boat landing and continued up to Kanbire falls.
Kanbire is an impressive roar of gushing water, tainted somewhat by the careless graffiti carved into the boulders of the lookout. From here the path immediately became treacherous. While the route was clearly marked with red tape, the wet, moss-covered rocks made hiking on an ice rink seem easy. I grabbed a downed tree branch from the underbrush, moulding it into a makeshift hiking stick and carefully picked my way though the maze of slick mush. Several times I found myself airborne, only to be saved by my quick reflexes. Eventually the path flattened out and crossed a tributary of the main river, where a rope was sturdily slung across the chilled waters.
Once clearly above the waterfall, all signs of civilization quickly vanished and I found a magical wilderness of crystalline waters, perfect potholes carved into the flats as if by some extraterrestrial force, and the sounds of the jungle. Further upstream, it became apparent that I’d have to enter the jungle in order to proceed further. Low and behold, stuck to a nondescript branch lie a tattered red ribbon. I’d successfully found the start of the traverse.
Time check: 10:45. I’d need to turn around by 11:15 if I had any chance of guaranteeing myself a ticket back to civilization. Surprisingly, the trail was incredibly easy to follow, for every 200 meters there stood a numbered trailmarker with distances and destinations clearly labeled. I continued upstream in the dense but sunny jungle, halfway contemplating whether I should actually do the full traverse or not. Two things stopped me. One, I had not registered my intentions with the police nor anyone for that matter.
Two, last year one hiker became lost, and the resulting search party failed to locate the missing individual. Instead, they came across the bones of another man who’d gone missing nearly 10 years earlier. The jungles are clearly not a good place to tempt fate, so I did the only logical thing and turned back at preciously 11:15. Once back at the river bank, I took my first break of the entire hike. Out came the tuna and crackers, followed by a handful of cashew nuts. A fearless crow crept precariously close to my dining table, threatening to run off with my provisions. The crows in the Yaeyama archipelago have a reputation for opening unattended bags and making off with anything in a plastic bag, food or not. A friend of mine lost a cell phone in this manner on a snorkeling mission. Beware not of human thieves.
On the return walk the crowds swelled five-fold, meaning there’d surely be a later ferry than the one I was aiming for. Oh well, too late to continue into the jungle. Back at the Mariyudou junction, I slipped under the roped off section, took 3 steps and landed firmly on my backside. Surely this was the reason for the trail closure, I quickly surmised. Unfazed, I continued down the hugely overgrown path and ended up at the river’s edge, above the waterfall. Surely, someone must have either seriously injured themselves by falling down the stairs, or perhaps ventured a little too close to the fall’s edge and was swept downstream. Trails in Japan simply don’t close unless there’s been a fatal or near fatal accident.
I made the 12:40 ferry with 30 seconds to spare, collapsing on the plastic seat and reflecting on my marathon effort. I really need to slow down this lightning speed or else I may end up with some permanent muscle damage. As for the camera, I quickly adjusted to the decreased functionality enough to sufficiently document the scenery. A day off was certainly in order though.
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