Some days you wake up and just feel like being a tourist.
More often than not, I like to feel my way into a place when I’m traveling. I’m not all that keen on sights and would always prefer to get the leisurely first hand tour from a local. Secret coffeeshops and favorite walking spots, front porches and afternoon drives always tell me far more about a place than monuments and historic temples. Guidebooks begone! Just dump me in a local grocery store, and I’ll see you in a few hours. Schedule, schmedule, map, schmap. Let’s hop on the bus and see where it takes us.
But every once in awhile, after many days of living life among the locals, it is time to strap on the fanny pack and set out with a clear destination in mind.
This past Saturday, we drove to the north part of Okinawa to visit the Orion Beer Brewery. I do love beer and was on board one hundred percent, but what had really put a sparkle in my eye was the nearby Nago Pineapple Park, which I had discovered on our tourist map. I am not exactly sure why I was so taken with the idea of a Pineapple Park, but it was hard to stop the visions of an exotic tropical paradise of fresh pineapples and pineapple-related foodstuffs and pineapple paraphernalia. I mean, true, brewery tours include beer, but let’s face it: that is the best part of a brewery tour. It was obvious to me that at a Pineapple Park there would be singing, angels probably, and that perhaps there would be elves running the place, like at Santa’s or Willy Wonka’s.
It wasn’t exactly as I’d imagined, but I am pleased to inform you that it was much, much better than that. After a great deal of pleading, a beer buzz furthering my efforts, my wish came true as a giant plastic pineapple emerged in the distance. And I was right. There was singing; lots of it. But it wasn’t angels. Instead, choruses of Japanese children sang to us about the virtues of the pineapple. Driven by a small pineapple-shaped cart, we toured the gardens admiring the teeny, baby pineapples while learning all about the 100 varieties of this heavenly fruit. There was a lot of fast-clapping-hands on my part, I’ll admit.
In the enormous gift shop, we sampled three varieties of pineapple wine, pineapple vinegar, pineapple chiffon cake, pineapple pound cake, pineapple cookies, pineapple chocolate, dried pineapple, fresh pineapple, pineapple tea, pineapple sorbet parfait and then I threw up. Well, almost. I mean, do you even realize how sweet pineapple is? Probably not until you visit a Pineapple Park.
After a good night’s rest and a thorough tooth-brushing, we decided on a decidedly quieter Sunday, involving less sugar and fewer loudspeakers. We drove for three leisurely hours to the southeastern tip of the island, through farmland and tiny towns along the winding hills of the southern coast. At sunset, we landed at a restaurant perched high on the hillside, looking down through the mist at the turquoise ocean below. We navigated with shoddy map, no real destination or schedule in mind. Fields of sunflowers rolling out our path until the sun went down for the night.
Nago Pineapple Park in Okinawa.