Is there a paradise on earth


The program looked nice: three nights in a good hotel, transfer from and to the airport, one day on an uninhabited island, and the flight from Tokyo to Naha, on Okinawa's main island. For a short family trip, I thought it was the cheapest and the best choice by far.
We had the first afternoon and evening to explore the city of Naha by ourselves. The next day, on a bright morning, we boarded a shuttle-bus with many other travellers to head for the "uninhabited island". As we approached it from the boat, I was really moved when I saw the pure white sand and the pristine waters. It sounds like a cliché or an advertisement, but it was a real paradisiacal landscape, the one I always dream of during the heart of winter! We all disembarked on a small pier and the paradise instantly disappeared. The people who shared the same bus were all brought to a narrow beach full of parasols and beach chairs with loud-speakers all around. So, that was the "uninhabited island". I thought it would be hard to play the Robinson, but anyway, we were not here for that, but for the sea. Looking at it, broad, emerald and blue with absolute clear water, I tried to forget the crowded beach. Then, I noticed a very narrow space marked by buoys , maybe just ten meters from the beach , and a second one behind, maybe seven meters large. By that time, I felt tears of disappointment and frustration coming to my eyes. Were we going to swim there, in a place smaller than a swimming pool? Nevertheless, I joined my husband and my six year old daughter to do some snorkelling since Okinawa's waters are world famous for their beautiful wildlife. Yes, we had many beautiful tropical fishes bathing with us (the water level was too low to be able to swim) but also even more numerous were the people wading in the same space. I decided to go beyond the first rank of buoys, a little bit deeper. After a short while, my husband called me saying a lifeguard was yelling at me and that I had to get out there! WHY? "It is forbidden to swim there without a life-jacket, if you want to go there, you have to rent one from the office," the young, tanned guard explained. I had water up to my knees (and I'm quite short, not to say tiny!) and I needed a lifejacket! I went back to the over-crowded beach, wondering what kind of tour we paid for ; it was really inflated. I was told a life-jacket costs 1000 yen (about 12$) for two hours. Looking at the sea again, I noticed that people were indeed wearing lifejackets, with water up to their calves! That was the uninhabited, paradisiacal island advertised in the brochure. I could not bear it anymore and I decided to leave my small family and "escape" from our allocated beach to go on the other side of the islet, where it seemed there was nobody. I observed the lifeguard who was sitting on his tall chair, scrutinizing the beach with his binoculars, a loudspeaker on his side, ready to yell at people who would adventure out of the limits. I run away when he was not looking in my direction. I reached the other side in a few minutes, feeling the joy of a prisoner who just rediscovers what freedom is. Then, I jumped into the water, absolutely alone, free, without a lifejacket. Another disappointment was awaiting me: there were no fish at all! How come all the beautiful fish were all living on the other side ? How come they preferred to swim with hundreds of lifejacket clad human beings? I couldn't believe it! That travel company not only controlled the grounds of the island but also the waters! Unbelievable. I went back to my husband and daughter, contrite, and waited for the bus to take us back to the hotel. Once on the shuttle bus, I noticed that the other tourists did not seem so upset; they talked happily and looked satisfied. I wondered who was "wrong": them or me? Or maybe we did not share the same vision of what paradise should be….



I Despert-Okumura

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