This is going to be silly, but I'd forgotten how utterly phenomenal the expressway rest stops are here.
Number one requirement of a rest stop: bathrooms.
Optional: really awesome space age super clean bathrooms (blue lights mean vacant, red lights mean occupied, squat toilets are on the right and western-style toilets are on the left, there is a child-sized adapter hanging on the wall in case a toddler is the one that needs to go)...
...in a spacious facility (sit-down restaurants are on the second floor, food court is on the first floor along with the sunglasses shop and book/dvd store)...
...offering monthly live jazz concerts...
...with a waffle stand just outside...
...and a picturesque area for dog walking...
...and a race car in the gift shop.
Okay, American car culture. Your move.
The drive itself was uneventful and only took a couple of hours. Passing through a local town near Osezaki, we saw Joyland. I can identify bowling and golf, maybe gambling. I'm not sure about the movie camera icon or what any of that has to do with a dude in a suit and hat lying in that position.
Locally, the roads get pretty interesting in that they are constantly changing width. I took a lot of video (about 7 minutes), but you don't need to watch all of it unless you want to pretend you're on a road trip with us. If you want to skip to the juicy bits, the highlights are:
2:50 we pass an old dude on a bike
4:00 we're following a tourist bus and the road gets really skinny, then we pass a car. We spend the next two minutes talking about it and giggling a little nervously.
5:40 you can see the top of Mount Fuji if you really look for it
6:23 a prayer is made
6:28 the aforementioned prayer is not answered
6:40 Fuji-san is more obvious
We got to the inn just before the sun set, so we walked around while we waited for someone else we knew to arrive.
This sign is part of the tsunami evacuation system (someone who can read, please correct me if I'm wrong).
We didn't get a chance to eat here, but this is the sign of a cafe part way around the bay.
I admit, I didn't go into the weekend with the best possible attitude. After panicking in the pool the previous weekend (mask came off, water up the nose, then throat closed a bit and I couldn't breathe = effing scary = significantly less desire to repeat the experience) and then coming down with a head cold and not sleeping well for most of the week, I was cranky and generally unpleasant.
Unhappy or no, I still felt that I had to at least give the diving a try. I needed to give each exercise my best effort in order to objectively evaluate whether or not I should continue after the course. I was afraid of a couple things. One, that my mask would come off (something that is entirely reasonable to expect) and I'd panic again (have I mentioned that was extremely unpleasant?). Two, that breathing the very dry air of the tank would make me cough constantly. I was already doing that instead of sleeping.
Saturday morning did not start well. I had less than three hours of sleep and the cough was just as bad as it had been all week. Fortunately, because we were there a night earlier than everyone else, we were able to get our first dive in before they arrived, just Husband and me and the instructor. Unfortunately, the mask didn't fit properly, leaked constantly, and as much as I tried to take care of it and move on, it ultimately resulted in that whole panic/not being able to breathe thing and we made an emergency ascent and cut the dive short.
At that point quitting did cross my mind.
What happened instead was the rest of the class arriving and the instructor taking everyone but me on a dive, then doing another with just me. I felt bad causing the disruption to the flow of events, but once I got a mask that fit properly, that ended up being a good thing. He was very patient with me and I think that dive went a long way toward improving my comfort level. I got some water in my mask when I smiled at a fish, but it was fixable. There are some neat critters down there!
Like goatfish. They look like normal brightly-colored fish, but they've got two twiddly things coming out of their face. And they come in a few different color combinations like red with blue twiddlies and blue with yellow twiddlies.
This video probably isn't exactly the same kind of goatfish, but it gives you an idea of what I'm talking about:
The next few photos were taken in Osezaki over the last several years by a photographer I met briefly. (See his photos on Flickr)
These might be some sort of rockfish, they were not afraid of divers and generally spent their time hanging out on some rocks, presumably waiting for something delicious to swim by.
And a couple of these guys, camouflaged as they were:
And I didn't see the little yellow boxfish, but the sea urchins are the size of basketballs. I've never seen them so big. ("I'm in space." Portal 2, anyone?)
I realized when I got out of the water that I hadn't coughed a single time during the dive. Between dives I was still full of head cold, but in the water seemed to be okay. Thank goodness for small favors. Or big favors, considering how bad I was afraid it would be.
Between dives we ate lunch, switched our tanks, and filled out our log books to record our dives and keep track of our nitrogen levels.
Saturday night we took the written test and had a barbeque. I asked Husband to get a video sweep of the area to show you, my lovely readers, a little of the bay and beach where we spent all this time. It's a very good place to learn, I think.
Sunday morning the instructor suggested dunking yesterday's wet suits in the hot water tub or putting them on in the showers so it wouldn't feel like putting on a cold, wet slug. It was excellent advice. Then we started the dives with skill exercises. We did some navigation, diver towing (if someone has a leg cramp, another person can effectively tow them to shore), rescue breathing, and emergency ascents.
To perform this emergency ascent, we went to a depth of 15 meters and at the instructor's cue took a breath to prepare and exhaled the whole way to the surface, controlling speed and breath so that the breath didn't run out and we didn't move faster than the surrounding bubbles (not that anyone in a real emergency would give a crap how fast they were going as long as they got back to the surface). The last step was to manually inflate the buoyancy control. I was particularly offended at my buoyancy control when I hit the button on the manual inflate to open the valve to blow into it, took a breath, and was rewarded with a jet of salt water to the back of the throat. I don't know if you know this, but ocean water is not delicious.
We even did some practice air sharing, which has been somewhat problematic for me because opening my mouth to remove or replace the regulator causes the seal on my mask to be compromised and water rushes in. Makes me bloody nervous. Just something about the feel of water rushing up my nose, I guess. But I did okay and kept things under control. Then we did some mask removal and replacement under water and somehow I kept myself together and didn't panic. Yay!
After that we did one more dive that we planned ourselves (time, depth, tracking remaining air, where to go and what to see, although followed by the instructor or one of the dive masters), and for the most part that went really well.
I like eels. This one is a dragon eel. I saw two of them.
We also saw something between some rocks that I didn't get a good look at, but it might have been one of these (image taken from the Picasa gallery of someone I've never met named Max, taken in Belize, so it's probably not the same sort of critter, but it looks pretty close):
For our precautionary 3-meter-depth, 3-minute decompression stop, perhaps a forest of kelp wasn't the best location. I got tangled in one and either I or Husband ended up pretty much destroying the plant to get me free, and I'm sure the instructor was just cringing at my lack of coordination and the needless ruination of sea life. I know I was. But then my bottom lip went all stingy, so I guess karma visited me in the form of a random piece of jellyfish. (I still feel guilty.) The sting wasn't bad, it was a little red for a while and then looked normal, although I could feel it until we got home that night.
But we completed the course! We are now both certified divers. The instructor's advice is to go diving again within a month so we don't forget what we learned. We haven't worked out if we're going to be able to do that, but we've been running around like crazy this week and haven't really had a chance to talk about it.
Anyway, the drive home had us pass by this. We decided was a little gaudy even for a pachinko parlor. It's even a little more ghastly in person.
And we stopped at Baskin Robbins for ice cream. Maybe excessive ice cream, but it was an intense weekend and we felt justified. The flavors are different here than in the US, but if you ever get a chance to try peach melba, do it. It's very nearly a zen experience.
We had heard good things about the rest stop in Ebina (different than the stop on the way down). The ladies' room is apparently much more posh than the mens', with separate rooms for makeup application and baby changing, plus wood paneling, lights indicating states of occupancy or vacancy, the ambient noise of water running (to mask personal sound effects and hopefully the excessively loud sound of my phone taking a picture), an illuminated shelf for purses and bags, an antibacterial cleanser dispenser for cleaning the toilet seat (heated, with robot friend, of course), next to a holder intended to keep the handle of rolling luggage upright. And, on the door, instructions on how to use the toilet.
The Ebina rest stop may be impressive, but it was also really busy. Not surprising, being Sunday evening, probably the busiest time of the week for them. But it wasn't as nice as the one documented earlier.
This concludes the report of our weekend trip.