Military space-a (space available) travel is always an adventure, you never know what you’re going to get. Such was our recent trip from Anchorage to Tokyo, with a quick twenty-four hour pit stop in beautiful Okinawa. The first leg was fairly uneventful, but then the waiting game began. Would we get our connection to Yokota Air Base? If not, how many days would pass before another opportunity was available?
I was actually excited for the layover, as Okinawa was a place I had yet to visit. A tiny island 1,000 miles south of Tokyo, Okinawa has a population of about 1.3 million, (including thirty-two U.S. military bases), and also happens to be the (fictional) home of the Karate Kid’s Mr. Miyagi. (If you’re old enough to understand the reference!)
After a nine hour flight, a one hour wait for a customs stamp, and a thirty minute midnight ride to the hotel, we awoke in the tropics, ready to explore.
A stuffed character in the hotel lobby for photo ops? Yep. We were definitely back in Japan!
As luck would have it, our hotel happened to be walking distance from the famed Kokusai Street, a popular shopping district. (Also known as the “Miracle Mile” due to the quick post-war rebuilding of the area.)
Coming from Alaska, we felt just like the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz. “Melting, melting, meeeeelting.”
Souvenirs of every kind were available along Kokusai, including; teapots, meticulously crafted pottery,
and tanned frog-skin purses? Ella was in love.
But the one thing we could all agree on? The need for Japanese food. Real Japanese food.
Ahhh, ramen…with perfectly cooked soft-boiled egg. It had been a long time.
I didn’t realize we ordered tsukemen, until the ramen arrived with no broth. When eating tsukemen, you dip the noodles into the broth first, and then eat. And ALWAYS slurp your noodles in Japan. (Though I haven’t quite figured out how to shield myself from the inevitable shower of broth.)
Luckily, the kind hostess came running over with a “how to” instructional card. The girls both scolded me for accepting it, apparently they already knew what to do.
Yes, it was good to be back, indeed.
Since we were trying to fly space-a the following morning, I decided to move to the hotel on Kadena Air Base, for easier access to the terminal. Upon check-in, I was told that the power was out and there was no guarantee that it would be fixed until the following day. What?! No power also meant no air conditioning. In the tropics!
After much contemplation of our predicament, and wishing to avoid the $50/ 30 minute cab ride back to the other hotel, we decided to stay in the power-less hotel and do our best. Besides, I reminded the girls that people have endured worse suffering and we can’t always choose our circumstances but we can choose how to respond. So we went to the beach.
The sand and surf is always a good idea….
But not so fast- the girls hadn’t even been in the water ten minutes when there was a loud announcement (in Japanese) to exit the water. The beach was closed. (Don’t let their smiles fool you!)
Since we wanted to kill as much time as possible before going back to the stifling hotel room, ice cream was the perfect diversion.
The sunset wasn’t too bad, either.
No more stalling, it was time to face the sweltering room and try our best to get some rest before competing for our flight the following day.
As the weight of jet lag settled over me like a blanket, I prayed, “Lord, I have made peace with the fact that we will be hot, sweaty and uncomfortable for the next twelve hours, but please give us rest. Amen.”
We showered by the light of my quickly fading phone, and blindly got ready for bed. (Where was the midnight sun when we needed it?) But the very moment my head hit the pillow, the lights came blazing back to life. And the air conditioner. And the dehumidifier. And not a moment too soon, as the room was at a stifling 86% humidity. Thank you Lord!
We did not get selected for the first flight to Yokota Air Base, so we had a few hours to kill. While in the gas station buying snacks, we ran right into an old neighbor from our time in Tokyo. He brought Kiera back to hang with us at the terminal and it was a joyous reunion! (Also, bunny ears are still alive and well.)
The second roll-call came around and we were the first called! We made the flight, but it was difficult to say goodbye to beautiful Okinawa, and we hope to return soon.
The C-130 would be our ride, and the seating was already less desirable than the C-5. Good thing the flight was only a little over two hours.
But the leg room was ample,
and the water station, adequate.
The toilet situation needed some work, however. I held it.
There is also never a worry about lost luggage.
We sat on the runway for close to an hour, which felt like sitting in a tin can in purgatory. But, the price was right, right?
And finally, lift-off. The C-130 is mainly responsible for transporting troops. Also, since it can handle much lower altitudes due to the propellers, it’s the perfect plane to drop supplies out the back end. And it even had a window!
And finally, after forty-eight hours, two flights, two hotels, and many hours of “patiently” waiting, we arrived at Yokota Air Base, our final destination. You never know what you’re going to get with space-a travel, and horror stories abound, but for an adventurous soul, it’s well worth the gamble.