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.
With rice crops that seemed to be at different growth length. 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 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 respondsto 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
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. We come across a Dragon boat.
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.
Osaka – Taiji – September 2-5, 2015
The alarm on my cell phone keeps ringing and I don’t hear it, a knock on the door .-its Kery, they are waiting for me. Some how over slept, throw some clothes on and splash water on my face, brush teeth, quickly run down the stairs. Cars are waiting I jump in with Tim, I see Ric. My heart is happy, I smile and wave and give a thumbs up. We head toward the Taiji Harbor, the boats will set out to hunt today, the weather was perfect.
As we drive in lot there are many cars, media, they are all here to get a story. Paparazzi time! To spin a story about Ric. This would not be so bad if they would tell the truth. Guessing some of it gets lost in translation or as we know the media is very filtered in Japan. Its funny, if he walked down away from us a bit, all cameras are on him. With all the eyes on you the feeling is surreal. Now I understood what famous people feel with media surrounding them. Although these kept their distance and being Japanese they were polite. All eyes are on us along with the Taiji police.
Took a 360° video just to count.. 30 reporters more of less from different media outlets camera & crews. This is all so surreal for me. We watch the boats depart for the open sea.
We wait around and some media did manage to speak to Terran. Tim takes me to the Taiji Police box. All activists need to register with the police. My passport is copied and was given instructions to read as to the do’s and don’ts. Carry your passport and driver’s license at all times on you, was informed.
We head out to the Tomyosaki Point to keep a look out on the banger boats.
More media following us, between police, undercover and others we head out to the promontory point. An ancient look out point used by Japanese whalers in the past.
The banger boats come back empty handed and we celebrate with our first “Cove Blue Dance”. The energy of having Vicki Kiely and her children along with Ashley, Maria and the Korean delegation made the days at the cove interesting. children understood what captivity is about. We head to the cove as it is still running blue and we take PSA pictures. Nothing that can be written here can explain the feeling of the being at the beach of the Cove.
Your mind wonders as you look towards the entrance of the killing cove. You hear the birds just as you heard it in the documentary. You don’t hear the dolphins screaming but you feel the energy of the lost lives that still linger there. Even in a great sunny day as this day. It’s still a somber day.
As I begin a blessing of the cove, asking the almighty Goddess Yemaya and Olokun, powerful goddesses and Orishas of the oceans to continue to protect those that come to fight for the dolphins and to keep all of her children, the angels of the sea away from the shores of Japan. As her daughter, an Orisha myself, asked for the permission of all the guardian angels that protect all of the humans present at this time as holy water was splashed at the center of the cove in front of a small cave. Prayers and thanks were also sent to my daughter; Hollis-Rae whose ashes are in the ocean and for the spirit of Susan Mabe whose ashes rest at the Cove. “May there be peace at the cove, may these atrocities continue to be reported by all media. It’s time for the Cove to be Forever Blue! It’s time for the slaughters to end. Namaste, Amen, Ache! ”
My mind starts to think again, thoughts of Susan, my daughter and the dolphins present and past those that may lose their lives here in the future. (This very spot is where that Risso dolphin came to strand in front of Ric.)
Generally, our days consisted of getting up early to be at the pier by 5am, watch the boats go out, but before heading to the point we went to the Circle-K and we purchased coffee and breakfast. Black car waits at the parking lot daily Black car follows us every where in Taiji. After a while it does not matter anymore if the police are following you, they are there for your safety. We did find out Nationals were in Taiji, personally never saw them or heard them.
After the boats came in empty during my stay in Taiji, we would dance to take away the worry, tension of waiting at look out point. We meet a group of activist from Korea, they are the delegation of the” Hot Pink Dolphins”. Amazing group and we hit it off well. We are all in the same team fighting for liberation of dolphins.
Language is no barrier, when love is in our hearts. We all took photos with their hats!
We proceeded to go and explore Japan on the Cove blue days; The Hashigui-iwa rocks were beautiful their little souvenir store sold whale meat in a can and dolphin meat in a vacuum sealed bag.
We also visited Nachi Falls and the Kumano Hongū Taisha Shinto temple, prayed for the cove to be forever blue and the slaughters to end. We gave our donation and lit a bundle of incense but not before we clean our hands and mouth prior to entering the temple.
We, Kery and I give our alms and ring this huge gong.
We also visit Shingu with their modern large stores of all kinds’ food and domestic product and awesome Curry Restaurant.
Day 6 – A visit to the Taiji Whale Museum.
After paying entrance fee, proceeded upstairs and went through the room where all the dolphin specimens are kept in large vials full of formaldehyde. My heart was beating fast, I knew what to expect and didn’t want to take to many pictures. My heart broke when I saw the dolphin fetus in a large flask he was a boy, umbilical cord still attached. My mind races, was he removed from a mom that was slaughtered at a drive? Was he still-born in prison? I told my brain to stop thinking. The feeling was entering a “Dante’s Inferno” where the souls of many dolphins continued to linger trying to find a restful everlasting sleep.
My walk through the museum was fast as Vicki and the children were trying to record PSA’s at the outside dolphin pens. I took a quick walk to the show pool where people sit in an outside stadium to watch the dolphin show. The pools had dolphins that were restless and I searched for Hope and Faith, a pantropical pair of dolphins that were kept prisoner in the world’s smallest tank.
I wait anxiously to see a dolphin’s head pop up thru the surface. I search the pool, my heart aching as I knew that this was all in vain. They were no longer there. Did they die or were they sold? My heart knew the truth, pantropical are pelagic dolphins that don’t do well in captivity. Their stay in that horrible little tank destroyed their soul and will to live. I leave with a hole in my heart as I now walk towards the sea pens.
The sea pens contain the pilot whales and the pied and albino Rissos. I couldn’t see them; my attention was caught by dolphins with their heads out of the water, and mouths open begging for food from the tourist. I feel my legs weaken in that wobbly rickety floating cat walk. I just looked at the dolphins and try to speak, the only words spoken; I am so sorry. Needing to leave that area before losing my step as many other tourists wanting to feed and see the dolphins, I made my way out from the sea pens. Shaken, biting my lips fighting to hold back the tears.
Heading toward what was the building where Angel and the rest of the dolphins are kept; there is a small shallow concrete pool by the door. Peering in there is a sting ray with the tail in bad shape, raw skin and bloodied. Wondering, how it got here and what was his/her story?
Entering the building I can see straight ahead the glass tunnel, I look for Angel. There she is! She passes by me with one eye closed. Poor girl is sleeping. In her slumber she just goes around and around in that awfully small pool. Green algae on the walls, in tow other dolphins. Her skin looks good I noticed, no one is bullying her or raking her. She is a matriarch now in her young age as she seems to lead the others.
There are two dolphins playing and wanting to engage in sexual courtship. They just go around and around I don’t want to lose sight of them; I too go around. Deciding to go up top and watch them from the topside walking by aquariums full of jelly fish and a lonely puffer fish.
Reaching the top, the pool has a dome cover I also see Mole and the motley crew of dolphins and of course Angel. I call out to them and to Angel.. Hi Angel! Angel proceeds to do a head stand and gives a fluke salute, half of her peduncle is out of the water. Amazed and heartbroken I shut off the camera and proceed to compose myself. Not wanting to let anyone to see me cry I look out toward the sea pens. Wipe my tears and continue. As we head out I say my good byes to the captives with apologies that we are trying to stop the heinous drives that brought them there. Passing through the building that housed the world’s smallest dolphin aquarium it is now closed. A great victory is felt, thanks to Enson Innoue that was able with his stardom to move Hope and Faith out to an outside bigger tank.
Rushing to get out I happen to notice a whale skeleton that is the gateway to the dolphin pens. Today was Maria Nangle’s last day in Japan and she needs to catch her train. We enter the car I proceed to have my cry. Taiji Whale Museum is filled with the souls of dolphins past and the souls of dolphins present crying out to feel freedom again. Tomorrow I too leave for home.
If you visit a dolphins show, your money and your cute family pictures with captive dolphins, is what continues to feed this giant.
We proceed to a quick visit Dolphin Base pens but the rains obstructed our views. Heavy rains are predicted during the day and for most nights in Japan. We huddle under a staircase, noticing the rain, coming in sideways from the coast. We decide to head back to the car. Dolphin Base was at the bottom of the hill and we had parked uphill. We race back up hill as water washed down we all got soaked to the bone. May there be more rainy days to come in Taiji.
The people of Japan are kind, helpful, and always ready to help foreigners. As I get ready to leave Taiji, on my 7th day after another blue cove in Taiji, Ric O’Barry takes me for a quick visit to the caves and hot springs at the Uroshima Hotel. The Uroshima Hotel is where Ric stays as it’s a peaceful place and the room are ryokan and he visits the hot springs often. It holds the record for having the longest escalator that takes you to the top on the mountain where a temple resides.
Heading back to the hotel, catch the last boat before they break for lunch bidding goodbye to my friend and mentor. He stays at the Uroshima.
At the train station platform, we wait for my train that is soon to arrive giving one last hug to Terran, Tim, Kery, trying to hold back the tears we say goodbye. You build a special bond with those that you meet in Taiji. Terran and Tim took great care of all of the monitors visiting this trip and I’m very grateful for this, we laughed and kidded around feeling great acts of comrade.
Now I understand the sadness that all monitors feel when they leave this town and the people. Have we done enough? We will, when we get back to our respective homes. We will continue to stand up and speak out on behalf of the dolphins.
The beauty of Japan and her citizens stole a piece of my heart and my soul.
Barbara Napoles, Cove Monitor