I rise at dawn for Yonna Deep Breathing, a yoga course on the beach that begins as the sun cautiously peers out over the horizon. Senses freshened, I fuel myself at the Hoshinoya restaurant with an inventive farmer’s breakfast, comprising a zesty pot-au-feu, pig trotters and marinated tuna, after which I hastily head for the harbor.
On my return to port, I trade land for water, navigating through mangroves using a kayak and an oar, which local hotels are only too keen to provide. Among entwined roots and thickets, I encounter the odd paddling passerby, greeting them with the obligatory konnichiwa (good day).
It’s in darkness, though, that this dense jungle island truly inspires the intrepid. I replace my sandals with Wellingtons, trade my tank top for long sleeves and bear a heavy-duty flashlight. A good 80 percent of the land here is protected, and its inhabitants attempt to reclaim the remainder once the sun’s gaze is turned elsewhere. Roads become thoroughfares for palm-tree crabs and snakes, one of which, the habu, is venomous, with a fatality rate of around 3 percent. I, however, am out on a cat-watching mission. The Iriomote wildcat (known locally as the yamaneko) is the island’s most eminent resident. With only about 100 of the small leopard subspecies remaining, the gray-and-brown feline is critically endangered. It takes luck and judgment to catch a glimpse.