Be safe when you're hiking on Okinawa

by Arlene Castro
The Guam Guide

Hiking in a small tropical island definitely has its benefits, especially when many destinations are not that far off or treacherously dangerous.  There are always risks to this activity, but what proves beneficial is preparing well for it, mentally, physically and materially.

Through over twenty years of hiking experience, bringing small and large groups and taking them on easy to difficult hikes, I can safely say I’ve seen many things happen. I have tended to injuries, thankfully minor, like a scraped knee against jagged limestone, pushed forward crying kids — some adults — who feared never seeing civilization again, took a shortcut that took longer than the regular route, watched a drowning victim get airlifted (he swam at a section of the beach where currents were strong, while we were snorkeling at a nearby lagoon), had a glow-in-the-dark critter crawl up my leg, slipped and slid, and even watched a friend flatten tall grass by laying his back on it.

The wilderness can be unforgiving, and that is why it is important to review detailed information about what to expect and what to take, going as far as making a “pre-hike” and “post-hike” checklist. Below, are some general information that may be beneficial for hikers to consider.

Clothing

Outer layer: When hiking through the jungle or grassy trails, always wear outer garments that have long-sleeves, and wear full-length pants to protect skin from the sakati (sword grass). Any skin on a forearm or leg exposed will not leave the jungle unscathed where sakati is found. The grass seems harmless but the leaves can inflict undetectable scratches until you feel the stinging when your skin makes contact with water. The scratches become apparent the next day and may leave scars if not treated with a topical antibiotic ointment. Although the scratches are small enough to be nothing more than a boo boo, you will be sporting unsightly scrapes for a week or so. By wearing light outer layers (top and bottom) you can regulate your body temperature, protect your skin from grass and sun exposure.

Inner layer: Swimming clothes, tank top, or quick-dries (shirts & shorts). By wearing inner clothing, you now have the option of removing the long sleeve garment when you feel the temperature increasing — yours or the environment — to prevent overheating. Many people wear what they will be swimming in and make the hike back out in their wet outer layer clothing. Not only will that increase the chances of catching a cough and cold the next day, it just makes the trek back a muggy and sloshy experience.   You will find that after a swim, having inner and dry outer clothing layers provides a brief refreshing feel that’ll help you bare the hot, steep and long trek back out of the jungle.

Headcover: Use a baseball cap, or a hat with a brim that can fasten under your chin.
When your head gets hot, you feel hotter, and sunscreen can only do so much to protect your nose and neck. For girls with long hair, wearing a hat can keep it from obstructing your view as you tread on windy and uneven terrain.

Eyewear: Wearing sunglasses can help you to enjoy the scenery without squinting the whole day. More importantly, it serves as protection from dust or loose dirt that tends to drift into the air if there are hikers walking before you or if a sudden draft should come upon
the land.

Shoes: Wear shoes with rubber soles that have good traction like running shoes.  Wear dry socks and tighten shoe laces to prevent blisters from forming. If you find yourself on a muddy trail make sure you make frequent effort to rub or stomp the mud off the soles of your shoes against a rock or by using a stick. If not, the mud will pack on more weight, and cover the traction you need to keep from slipping. For beach hikes, use tabbies. There are jagged rocks, and loose coral that make it difficult to tread in the waters with bare feet. And tabbies are versatile in the water and on land.

Food

What to pack: Packing a sandwich or two usually suffices as a meal that can hold you off for a few hours. Make effort to bring natural foods such as fruits and pre-cut vegetables. Apples, oranges, or carrot sticks. Healthy snacks like trail mixes have high fiber content which helps the body feel satisfied longer than junk food.
Put all food in a re-sealable bag or container, and when you’re done, place any left-overs and trash back in the re-sealable bag or a plastic bag and tie it tightly.
Bring water! How much depends on the duration of the hike. For hikes on island, 4 liters or 4 quartz is the usual recommendation. Do not drink in big gulps while walking as you may get stomach cramps, or finish your supply before you get to the destination. Drink enough to wet the insides of your mouth and throat. The beautiful scenery can distract a person from drinking and there have been times when hikers become light-headed as a result. So have stops to remind the group to drink. Waiting in your car, after the hike, should be a small cooler with extra water, fruits and other healthy packaged snacks.

What NOT to pack: Make sure not to pack too much food, and if you are with a group, evenly distribute the food you plan to bring by packing it in separate backpacks. Onions absorb bacteria at a fast rate, so try to avoid foods that contain ingredients that are known to spoil easily like an egg salad or tuna sandwich. Avoid foods that will look unappetizing, get all smashed up, and crumby as it shifts in the backpack during the hike. Super salty and sweet snacks will make you thirstier than necessary.
Do not eat while walking the trail. You may attract unwanted guests on your hike from ants, flies, bees to wild pigs. Have a designated eating spot with the group. Do not drink the water directly from the rivers and streams. Harmful microbes may be present in untreated water and may cause serious illness.

Skin Protection

Sunblock lotion: Apply sunscreen as early on as possible. The longer the sunscreen has been on the skin, the more it is absorbed and the more effective it becomes. Before getting dressed for the hike, apply sunscreen on skin areas you know will be exposed to the sun. Reapply sunscreen as needed, if you are sweating profusely on the hike, and if you have spent more than 30 minutes in the water.  Don’t let an overcast sky fool you. The UV rays are still just as strong, and 15 minutes out on a clear sunny day can easily bring on a sunburn.

First aid kit, travel-size antibacterial gel, baby wipes & insect repellent: Small first aid kits will come in handy for small nicks and scratches along the way. Before eating, use an antibacterial gel or baby wipes to remove grime from your hands.  Bring insect repellent if you’re susceptible to getting bitten by mosquitoes. Consider bringing allergy medication just in case an attack may arise from bee stings or other factors common in the outdoors.

The Guam Guide

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