Hitchhiking Okinawa: Backpacking Across Okinawa on a Budget

Okinawa was a hitchhiking paradise. Not only did a wonderful ice cream man drive us around Kumejima, we hade some AMAZING luck hitchhiking Okinawa itself. If you want to backpack Okinawa on a budget, hitchhiking is your best option!

After about 5 minutes we had an American expat pick us up. Apparently he was a wanted criminal in the US, having fled the continent in hopes of a clean slate. I didn't think it terribly appropriate to ask what the crime was, though I crossed my fingers it wasn't for murdering hitchhiking strangers. He was the talkative type, and went on and on about how great Japan was- with specific reference to the women. Of course, he was married...but he also had a few girlfriends on the side, because “Japanese girls love Westeners!" He went on and on. "You would find a girl here like that- probably even bunch, man!”  He seemed to keep forgetting that my then partner was sitting right beside me as he continually made reference to the women of Japan, I guess in hopes of convincing me to just drop everything and stay there. I politely side-stepped his sexist and derogatory comments, and before long he had to drop us of. He was only going to the edge of the city. And so after our farewells, having not been murdered, we were back on the road, thumbs out.

Perhaps 10 minutes went by before we were picked up by a young Japanese man who worked for Coca-Cola. He didn't speak english, but when we conveyed that we were going all the way to the tip of the island he was visually shocked. He actually looked a bit uncomfortable since he was not going that far and thus couldn't help us in our entirety. He nevertheless took us much further than he planned, and graciously left us with a couple bottles of coke before doing a U-turn and driving back to wherever he was heading before his cross-cultural detour.

Backpacking Okinawa. 

We had to walk for about an hour before our next ride, but it was well worth the wait. A small car pulled up beside us, with 4 people already in the car- three generations of Japanese women opened their car door and invited us to cram in with them. We did. I took the front seat, and awkwardly held the smallest kid partly on my lap as we sped along. My partner took the back, wedged between the grandma and a 12 year old, who acted as our translator. We did a polite small-talk session, asking and answering questions about our families, jobs, homes, and all that jazz. They were even kind enough to buy us lunch- a traditional Japanese food known as the hamburger! It was super kind of them, though we couldn't convey that we both didn't eat meat without offending their generosity. To keep up appearances we just subtlety removed the meat and ate the some of the bun, stuffing the meat away in the wrapper and hiding it when no one seemed to be looking.

Backpacking Okinawa. 

They dropped us off on the outskirts of Nago, where were had our eyes set on the local tourist trap: Pineapple Park. It was a cheezy little park where you could ride pineapple rides and gorge on as much pineapple as your stomach can stand. It was a fun change of pace and a nice way to spend a couple hours before we looked for our hostel. In the grand tradition of pretty much all my travels, though, we couldn't find it. While walking around we were picked up by an older Japanese man in a van, who offered us some oranges and said he knew where we were going. Unfortunately, he didn't. He headed back out of the city, and a little bit of worry started to blossom in my gut. After about 10 minutes we told him to just pull over. He was really confused, but the whole thing didn't feel right. Embracing with my intuition, we quickly thanked him for the ride and the oranges and got out, trekking back toward to city.

A young couple picked us up next, and sought to help us find our hostel. They had their baby in the car with them, strapped into a bulky carseat, though that didn't stop them from picking up two backpackers AND offering those backpackers some of their kids digestive cookies. How could we say no? Unfortunately the couple didn't have much luck finding our hostel, though they spent about 25 minutes driving us around looking for it, up and down the narrow streets that potentially held our destination. They even got out of the car numerous times to ask for directions at stores and gas stations, leaving us in their running vehicle WITH their baby. If that isn't trust, I don't know what it.

Backpacking Okinawa. 

In the end, we found the hostel tucked away on a quiet, empty beach. It was about as stereotypically 'chill' as you can get, with hammocks hanging everywhere while surfboards littered the sun-baked sand. We had a relaxing, reflective night as we watched the sun set over the ocean, and gave thanks to all the strangers who had helped us get to where we were.

 

Continuing our adventure the next day, we were picked up by a woman and her curious child. After buying us some lunch (friend chicken!) they took us all the way to the tip of the island where we watched the waves crash against the cliffs of the northern tip of Okinawa. It was incredibly beautiful and serene, a far cry from the hectic and bloody events that engulfed the island only 65 years prior. We had ourselves a little picnic on the cliff, overlooking the grey-blue ocean as the sound of roaring waves kept time in the background. We took the opportunity to launch our chicken into the sea, paying forward the kindness by feeding the fish.

Backpacking Okinawa. 

The very same woman and child who dropped us off ALSO picked us up on our way home, too. They drove us to meet their family, inviting us into their home for polite exchanges before taking us back to our hostel- 45 minutes out of their way.

 

In short, I can only sum that trip up as magical. Of course, the destination was perfectly picturesque but the journey was by far the most memorable part. As usual.

Backpacking Okinawa.