Sunday, September 26, 2010

Nagasaki Penguine Aquarium!

I just got back from an awesome fall break in Kyushu! I spent a lot of time debating when and where to go exactly, and unfortunately I wasn`t able to visit my friend Charley like last year, but I got to see my Bible study pal Diana! Usually we meet over skype, so this was only my second time to see her face-to-face.

So last year there was silver week, a week of national holidays that all lined up. All we had to do was take off two days and we had a total of nine days off, including the weekends! This year it didn`t line up quite so nice, but we had Monday and Thursday off, so we had a three day weekend, and then for a four day weekend we could take off Friday. I was just going to do that, but last minute I decided to take off Wednesday too, since I didn`t have any classes that week due to testing. I`m kind of glad I did, because I took the night bus, which was extremely uncomfortable, and I was so exhausted when I arrived in Nagasaki on Wednesday morning! If I had taken it a day later, I probably wouldn`t have had any fun at Mt. Aso. (I thought I already learned the night bus lesson, but apparently not. This time I thought it would be better because I paid a little extra for the “relax” seat, but all that affords you is a small pillow and visor. The seat only reclines slightly more than a normal seat.) It was less than half the price of a shinkansen (bullet train) though, so I guess you get what you pay for. Train cost (including shinkansen) from Osaka station to Nagasaki station is about $170 one way on the slower bullet and express trains ($200 on the fastest) and takes from 4-6 hours, while the night bus is about $60 and takes about 12 hours, just to give you an idea. Had I known earlier, I would have left Wednesday night so as not to take Wednesday off (and thus not annoy my supervisor), spent some extra (about $100 and 13 hours) and taken the extremely comfortable and luxurious (at least for me) overnight ferry from Osaka to Kyushu, which is what I did for the way back. But more on that later!

So, I arrived at Nagasaki station at 7:30 on Wednesday morning very groggy and disoriented. And believe it or not, my camera broke on the train from Nabari to Osaka to catch the bus! The lens just refused to retract…so I was stuck with my I-phone for most of the trip. Dang. I had printed out my schedule and which buses to take before hand, so I thought I was good, but I`m glad I checked in with the tourist information center first. The bus route had changed from the information online! So I got a bit of a late start to Nagasaki penguin aquarium, arriving about 10:00. It really is, like the website says, an undiscovered treasure of Nagasaki. It boasts being the first aquarium in Japan to have penguins, and to this day possesses more kinds than any other Japanese aquarium, eight of the eighteen species. Besides the penguins, you can see some very interesting and unique fish up close. Here`s the sea horse:



OK, so not terribly interesting, but what about this crab that looks like a sea anemone:



And the “armored tanks” (look like dinosaurs to me):



And here`s the tropical display:



But of course, being a penguin aquarium, our fine feathered friends were the stars. Here`s a happy little rock hopper:



A little blue, the smallest species:



And, something I`ve never seen before, a parent feeding a baby. Here`s the two of them together:



I couldn`t tell if it was the mom or the dad, because both parents care for the eggs and offspring. They feed it by retching up vomit, or “penguin milk.” It sounds disgusting, but it really doesn’t look that way. It looks like they`re kissing. I didn`t get a very good picture of that because everyone was crowded around causing reflections in the glass, but this is pretty close:



Several school groups were visiting, including a school for the handicapped. One little girl in a wheel chair decided to practice her English by reading the English text. The teachers asked me to help with her pronunciation. In Japan, I`m always on duty. I can never fully get away from my job! But I don`t mind. It`s fun to see the kids get all excited about talking to a native speaker.

After I hung out with the kids and penguins for three hours, I laid on the small “penguin encounter” beach next to the aquarium. No swimming allowed due to the jelly fish, but a nice view of the sea:



I had fun walking around the small harbor. Kyushu is a subtropical area. Check out the huge palm trees:



But I dropped my huge water bottle into the bay! Oops...

There was also a nature center in the vicinity filled with all kinds of subtropical plants and wild forest crabs running around. Cute little fellows:



While nice, it`s a small aquarium and surrounding area, so I was done by about 2:00 (and this from a person who likes to linger). I`m glad for it, though, because I got an early train to Diana`s town down in Ueki near Kumamoto, arriving about 6:15pm. We had homemade spaghetti at her place, chatted, and went to bed early. It`s a good thing, too, because the next morning we got up early to head for Mt. Aso caldera (caldera is Spanish for "cauldron," a volcano filled with water)!

Stay tuned next time for toxic gas-spewing monstrosities and horseback rides through misty mountains!

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