I’m staring at the large rump of a water buffalo and questioning why I’d wanted the front seat in the big cart. I’m on the little island of Taketomi, just 10 minutes by a fast ferry from Ishigaki, way down south in the prefecture of Okinawa but still a 50-minute flight from it. This is what people come to the island for, to ride in cart pulled by a water buffalo through a scenic village of glowing white sand streets and dusky gray coral-cobble walls. Tourists also come for the nice beaches and some good snorkeling. There’s no dive shop, says a hotel clerk, but there is a guy who rents out his equipment. We pass a few tanks standing up inside someone’s yard.
Our cart driver speaks no English so my guide Hiromi has to translate his stories. Akiko is our water buffalo today, and she is 18 years old in human years (6 in water buffalo years). She just had a baby and we see her over one of the walls as we pass a sort of stables/yard. That’s one enormous baby.
Akiko is a natural, says the driver. He doesn’t even have to direct her; she knows the route. And she’s never bumped one of the coral walls despite the length of the cart behind her and the narrow spaces at intersections. Pretty impressive as she digs in and makes a wide farmer’s turn to make it without a scratch.
And most of the view out the front is her massive rear end.
We are cart #2. There are perhaps 10 from this company, and another company besides. We crisscross through the maze of sandy roads and occasionally there is a sort of traffic jam.
Hiromi interrupts my thoughts: “He is trying to catch #1” Right away, my inner 6th grader thinks of the numbered tasks of the toilet, and then I look ahead to see another cart. Perhaps cart number 1. Ah, but no. Our driver has leaned over the side for a bucket and he holds it strategically to catch what Hiromi calls Number 1 and Americans would categorize as Number 2. It’s OK. They drive on the left side of the road too. Perhaps the reversals of systems are related. I’m surprised they know about the numbers game anyway.
Travel companion/photographer Michel is amazed at what he just saw, while my reaction is better described as disgusted. “How did he know that was about to happen?”
Hiromi just shrugs, “Many years on the job.” She waits a moment and then addresses the driver in Japanese. Everyone on the cart is also listening attentively to our sensei for the answer. Oh good lord, are we really all discussing the water buffalo’s direct deposit??
Yes. Yes, we are. Hiromi turns to me and says “When she has to … um, poo? Poop? Poop? Is it … eh, poo? She lifts her tail. But when she …. er… pee pee? You know, pee pee? She just stands with her legs apart.”
And there was great rejoicing. The driver pulls out a three-stringed instrument and starts singing a song and the whole cart joins in except the two foreigners.
Yes, another educational day of travel. Watch for the lifting tail and steer clear. Got it. The world is a book and those who do not travel… will likely never read the chapter on the bowel habits of buffalo.