By Barbara Napoles

I Stand With Ric As A Cove Monitor

After watching the Cove in 2009 I was moved to start spreading awareness of the plight of the Taiji dolphins. For the last 5 years promoting the great work of Ric O’Barry and Dolphin Project the opportunity presented for me to go to Taiji, Japan came true.

On August 29 the adventure begins starting at Tampa International Airport to board a plane towards Japan to become a Cove Monitor. Landing in Hawaii was my first leg of the trip. A reservation was made at Waikiki Hilton overnight, thanks to a great friend this layover in Hawaii was so needed after a full day of flight, from Tampa to Ft. Worth, then LA to Honolulu. Traveling back in time and jumping a day forward somewhere!

Not wanting to waste any time in Hawaii, I woke up early with excitement, who could sleep?  Looking out the window and walking out to the balcony I could see native Hawaiian canoes heading out over the reef. Donned on my bathing suit and headed down to the beach. The water temperature was tolerable and beckons me to enter as Diamond Head watch from a distance. The reefs in front broke some of the swells.  The water felt wonderful not as cold as I expected, wading  in and diving under a small wave to wet my hair, the visibility was clear. The water seemed saltier than the Atlantic Ocean. I walked out and sat down  for a bit, meditated, communing with Mother Ocean and thank her and my daughter for a safe trip so far.

Flight to Osaka Japan was pressuring me to get back to the hotel, shower and get ready for my trip to the airport. At the lobby of the hotel, checked in with a shuttle company and purchased my fare to the airport, hoping to catch some of the views of Hawaii. No time for sightseeing, flight would depart at 2:25pm to Osaka, 2nd leg of the trip.

Honolulu to Osaka- August 30- 31, 2015

My flight on Hawaiian air was long.  A young child sitting behind me that kept hitting my seat and playing with the drop down table. The stewardess asks that we all close the curtains on the windows which made it so much nicer and it brings a restful atmosphere. I prayed that the little one will soon settle down. Everyone did finally rest after dinner.  Nine hours later we land in Osaka, Japan. After filling out immigration and custom forms and going through customs I finally exhaled a big breath of relief. Japan welcomes me. Let the adventure begin!
After exchanging my dollars to yen, I took a shuttle train to the mainland and anxiously I walk toward the Washington Hotel in Osaka. Arriving at 6:15pm  missing the last train to Kii-Katsuura, no more trains running for today, a reservation was made to spend the night in Osaka prior to my landing in Japan.

My 9th story room was small but clean. I proceeded to drop my luggage and head back downstairs. I had notice a small store where I could buy bottled water. I was so exhausted and excited I could not eat. Proceeded to shower, relax, touch base with family in US and inform everyone that I was well. My ankles and right knee were swollen and while Skyping with friends I happen to put them up on wall. Oh, the joys of flying! Having to catch the earliest train to Katsuura I shut down and slept well in the small cozy room. Morning comes fast.

Osaka to Kii-Katsuura – September 1, 2015

Walking at a fast pace to the train station from the Washington Hotel, I wanted to purchase my train ticket. “Reserved seat – right side of train, window seat.” I kept remembering this as Terran and Tim had informed me to experience the coastal side of the trip. I’m anxious to get to my destination. My team would be heading to the Cove for opening day ceremony; I would be arriving late!

The train stations in Japan are all bilingual and all the conductors speak minimal English but are kind and helpful. Train transfer from local to express was supposed to switch trains in Wakayama from local to express. I didn’t. The conductor sees that I am still in the train and requests my ticket. I kindly show it to him and he mentions, must run, wrong train and catch the express which was at another track.

He calls out to the office at the station and I guess they communicate with the express train via radio as he proceeds to pick up my luggage and we start running down the stairs. Through a walk way tunnel, no time for elevator! As we run up the stairs he starts to struggle with my luggage. I say to him not knowing if he understood; “Yes I also packed a bathtub in there!” always trying to make light of a tough situation, picked up the back of the luggage. Suddenly feeling my self being pulled; I have to do my best to keep up.

He puts me at the door of the train and I compose myself, thank goodness that train was empty, I find my seat in front what seemed to be two business man speaking and laughing in Japanese.

I made myself comfortable and relaxed for a 3 hour trip. But wait I forgot breakfast! Pulling out an energy health bar only to find out it was full of all kinds of seeds of which I ate only half. This should keep me going until I get to Katsuura.

Japan’s coast line is so breathtaking, pictures don’t do it justice. The hills full of bamboo and trees and the shore line lined with big rocks protruding out a small distance from the shore looking like a fine piece of art. Breathtaking!

We continue to ride through little towns with homes filled quaint Japanese architecture and manicured trees. Some properties had gardens, some fruit trees, many had rice paddies. Japan has many tunnels we ride through, Japan is full of hills and mountains. No wonder they rely on the ocean for food. Not much flat land to plant crops and I did see some on some hills but wondered about the raining season and landslides.

As we start to get closer to Taiji, a large wind turbine appears. Not only one but several giants are slowly spinning producing wind energy. This too caught my eye. It showed that some of Japan is progressing to wind energy and maybe one day the nuclear plants will be obsolete. Fukushima comes to mind, watching the coast line and seeing lots of wreckage of trees that have fallen and maybe even could it be that this may be remnants of the tsunami? My heart aches knowing that this wonderful ocean came in and destroy thousands of lives. I shake those sad feeling and blues away and I kept saying to myself, “You need to do this; you have to continue this pilgrimage you started.”

I watch the electronic sign that tells you what is the next station as the conductor speaks in to the train car speaker and announces in Japanese, the next station. Taiji!

Taiji? Am I not staying in Taiji? I start to wonder but the next station after that is Katsuura, my destination. I watch in amazement as we pass by the Taiji station. There are murals of dolphins and whales announcing what would be the Taiji Whale Museum or Dolphin Resort. I stayed on the train. My destination waits.

Kii-Katsuura next station comes over the speakers. Once again I start feeling excitement, my friends will be there waiting for me. Can’t wait to finally meet Vickie Kiely, her kids,  Wendy  Baylor, Maria Nangle, Kery Shaw, I already knew Tim Burn and Terran. The trains stops at the station  walking towards the exit, waiting to hear Vicki’s voice but I don’t hear or see her.  Where is everyone? Something was not right! Asking one of the conductors how to get to the Charmant Hotel? They point and tell me in Japanese where it is. Following the direction The Charmant Hotel appears.Its just a few steps ( half a block) from the train station.

The Charmant HotelThe Charmant Hotel has a quaint little yellow front entrance having seen pictures, its half way down on the left on the main street that ends at the station. There is no one at the check-in desk; check in time is at 3pm. There are lockers and Wi-Fi available the signs says with password too! Yes! WI-FI!! Proceeding to store my luggage and start trying to communicate with the team. The rooms are either western or ryokan. I preferred a western room.

Finally Vicki Kiely responds to my text! Seems that some of the team was arrested! Ric was arrested and she and Maria Nangle were being interrogated.  She tells me to go and walk down the street toward the water there is a ferry boat, get on it and go to the Uroshima Hotel where Wendy & Terran Baylor and  she with the kids are staying.

As I head towards the pier I see the ferry boats. I started to shake my head and wonder, if this is the ferry to take? Just as the Cove movie. The turtle and the Whale! Knowing from watching the Cove, again, I ask for directions. There is a man cleaning the floating dock and an arrow that says this side (left) for Uroshima Hotel.

After a half  hour wait finally my boat comes in, we go across the bay to Uroshima Hotel. The water is so beautiful and I pass by a small temple with miniature pagoda.

Wendy comes down along with Vicki’s children, Imogen, Charlie and Ashley. Ashley came back from last year’s season as a mini-cove monitor. Feels like family although just meeting for the first time, Wendy and I hug,  embracing the children and enjoy talking with them we entertain ourselves doing the Cup song, Ashley  sings like an angel.

We sit and hang out at the lobby. Free WiFi again!  We wait for a while and hunger pangs are now hitting me bad I ask if there is anywhere we can get something to eat, as I was starving! We catch the ferry back and we head toward Dericious/Delicious. Tiny restaurant quaint with amazing food; Mushroom Pilaf and French Fries, the fries get a 10 from me.

After lunch we head back to the Charmant Hotel which is right around the corner and we sit there and wait to hear something from the Team. The team from Phuket Natasha Eldred and Khun My: Thareeya, Khun Tuk: Suthasinee comes to meet and greet and so grateful that we are all here to spread the message of Taiji. Kery Shaw also comes from her room.

We continue to wait at the Charmant, 3pm comes and I check in, drop my bags in room. Tim and Terran come back from the Police box and Tim helps to get my room air condition going. (the remote was all written in Japanese!)  My cozy little room was a bit stuffy and we head downstairs and head back to the ferry boat. Heading back to Uroshima Hotel.

We meet a young man, Tom Oosako at the pier. A Japanese student from Osaka, he wants to write articles about vegan style living as we wait at the Uroshima lobby to see what happens with the rest of the team. The rest of the team comes back from the Police in Shingu. They all have been put through the ringer but were safe. Ric was set up I’m told, he had passed the alcohol breathalyzer. He didn’t have his medications and after many hours of interrogation he asked to go to the hospital.  I worry for my friend.

The kids and I go into the temple at the door of the Uroshima. We give our alms and we write on the burning sticks that the monks burn in a ceremony. The kids and I pray for a safe and fast return of Ric.

It’s night time, we head for dinner at the Chinese Restaurant. They have these plates that are called “Vegan Set” and we sit down for dinner. We finished dinner and after a tiring day, we head to our rooms, shower and relax.

Tomorrow and 4am comes quickly.  My second winds come in and I can’t sleep. Strange room, wondering about Ric and the rest of the team and what awaits us come morning. Funny Japanese show on TV relaxes me. We get word that Ric is released and I am less worried. Decided to pray and do some relaxation exercises and finally with the help of a sleeping aid. Sleep finally takes over. Deep slumber from a very exhausting day.
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