The Okinawan Detour


Just recently I remarked to a newcomer that the jam-up American traffic jam does not occur here on Okinawa. I went on to say that traffic moves slowly at times, but I had never seen it come to a total halt. I had an adventure this week which led me to revise my thinking on Okinawan traffic. It’s called the “Okinawan detour.”

Riding along a busy four lane recently, I spotted flashing signs and vigorously waving people ahead of me. As there was a barricade across the road, I correctly jumped to the conclusion that I was to detour to the left. I immediately and al­most automatically followed the two cars in front of me. As they turned right, I turned-onto an itty-bitty paved road. I hesitated a little and then said, “Oh, but of course, they know where they’re going!”

Catching sight of the leader’s license plates a few minutes later, I gulped and moaned, “Oops, he’s American, too! Oh, well, big deal, I’ve got time. Let’s see where he’s going.” Bare seconds later, the lead car stopped, looking over an incline. (“That should take us right back to the same road we were on, shouldn’t it?.”) His hesitation became understandable when I reached the edge. No more paved road, no more smooth road. Would you believe a road divided in two by a ravine!?

Keep reading. If you believe that, there’s more to come!

The lead car decided to use one half the road and the ravine. I giggled hysterically watching him ride down a near 60 degree angle. The second car (an Okinawan – why in the world he followed the American, I’ll never figure out.) straddled the ravine and inched his way down.

Intelligent me, I say, “Hey that looks better!” forgetting the narrow width of my minicar. That ravine kept getting wider and wider and just as I thought I was going to lose my whole car in that ravine, the road leveled out.

“Whew! Oh, no, where’s the road?” I don’t know when that “road” was last traveled certainly not since the last flood anyway. The lead car mired down in some red mud (I thought I had left Georgia) and I said no more! Making a full reverse and turn, I proceeded back up into the ravine, when, around the bend, four more cars were coming down! Another fast reverse and subsequent turn and wham, seven cars parked at four different angles.

Now I call that a traffic jam!

Chuckling, I shut off my motor and waited. A heave ho loosened the lead car and he bounced out of sight. Two cars and a van did their turns jumping over the water and rock bed.  The pickup now in front goes leap and lands beautifully, spinning tires, in a hole.

My helpful nature demands the offer of muscles, but he only muttered in Japanese and set to work on his stuck tire.

More cars behind me an American crawls out of his car, “what in the world? what kind of detour is this?” We both survey the terrain making comments as to problem holes, routes, etc. I busy myself placing chunks of cement in a water hole.

Three Okinawan men race up just as the pickup truck owner raises his sunken tire by way of his jack. (What is this fellow doing, I wonder) while he’s filling his hole with rocks, the other Okinawans are moving in circles making the identical comments my friend and I have just finished with (only in Japanese) . The youngest came to the same decision as I, and picked up this enormous cement block and dumps it in my hole! it only stands 5 Inches above the “roadway”! “Oh, grief,” I mutter. The pickup on his new road of rocks spurts ahead with the owner returning to check his road building talents, adding a rock here and a rock there.

This story ends here for I gaily bounced through our makeshift road back onto the road we had detoured off. We were some 100 yards beyond that detour barricade!  I kept laughing as then I could see there was no reason for the detour in the first place.

No traffic jams, no normal detours, Mama, just adventure around every turn!

Sayonara from the land of improvised roads and high tropical adventure.