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Doggie workaway and sailing the Solarblue – 21st Dec to 9th Feb

Friday 21st December

A flight back to Phuket and Diana kindly offers to pick me up and then it’s back to the doggie hotel.  Fortunately I remember all the dogs except the Christmas borders. It’s a full house with Bolle, Max, Minie, Flecky, Chiva, Katie and Perry, Paris and Archie.  

It’s great to be back and there’s plenty to do with so many dogs staying.

 

Thursday 27th December

Diana’s workaway, Thalang

Well it has been a busy time.  Besides the usual dog chores of grooming, washing, feeding and picking up dog poo,  there’s also been painting, Facebook postings, vaccinations to check and various other random jobs Diana wants completed.

We’ve also been out for some lovely meals.

  On Christmas Eve we went out with Gustee and Mai to a German restaurant and Christmas Day we went out with Gift and Kit (Diana’s Thai employees) to my favourite restaurant for a fabulous meal.

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And the dogs have had some great treats too.  Yummy Christmas dinner with duck mince and raw chicken feet – that’s for the dogs not me!

 

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There’s also been time for shit TV, Professional Masterchef, The Apprentice, Homeland and some movies. Sadly I’ve failed to follow my intended regime of yoga and meditation but I guess there’s always tomorrow?

 

Tuesday 1st January

Diana’s workaway, Thalang

Another year done.  And so much already pencilled in for 2019 – surfing, sailing, UK visit, China, Mongolia, Taiwan and Hong Kong.  Wow it tires me out just looking at the list and I’m its creator – perhaps I need something less ambitious. Last night Diana and I went to Layan Beach where we met Gustee and Mai.  We’d stopped to buy dinner en route so we had a beach picnic. My first ever beach picnic and particularly special because it was on New Year’s Eve. It was obviously a popular pastime because there were hundreds of others there,  mostly Thais, doing the same thing. And there were fireworks and Chinese lanterns to enhance the atmosphere. A great way to see in the New Year, 2019 here I come!

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Over the last few days I’ve continued to be busy, looking after all the dogs and posting promotional material on Facebook for Diana.   Word seems to be spreading because Diana’s had about 5 new potential doggie customers that she had to decline because of insufficient space.  

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And Little and Large – well Max and Minie.

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My new sleeping companion.  Poopy!  Better company than the last one and lets me have the remote .

 

Sadly over the next few days we’re losing a number of dogs; Archie, Katie and Perry, Max and Minie and Sugar and Pela. Gosh it’s going to be so quiet with so many leaving.

Despite being busy with all the dogs I did find time to publish my Mindfulness Project blog and edit some videos.  I was absolutely blown away by the response. I didn’t realise how many people actually read my inane ramblings but to receive such overwhelmingly positive and supportive comments was truly touching.  Thank you everyone. And whilst my planned yoga sessions and surfing exercises remain unfulfilled I have started meditating first thing in the morning and I’m currently using guided sessions with Joe Dispenza, which are pretty cool.

Tuesday 8th January

Diana’s workaway, Thalang

Today is my last day at Diana’s and tonight I fly to Penang and then tomorrow to Bali.  Many dogs have returned home over the last week but one of my favourites, Paris, is still here and I always make sure I set aside time to give her loads of cuddles.  

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We’ve also been joined by a travel dog, Jamie, who initially was terrified of everybody and everything but over only a few days has transformed into a waggy tailed mass of playfulness and affection.  Ahhh so sweet. She’s come from the Government pound so she isn’t used to the space, the big rooms or all the attention. At the pound other dogs bullied and attacked her but here they all get along well and if any dog misbehaves or is too aggressive Diana soon lets them know that such behaviour is unacceptable.   Watching Diana work with these packs and integrating new dogs has been very interesting. It’s taught me a lot on how to deal with bad behaviour in a dog and how to illicit the behaviour I want. We’ve also had a few unpleasant experiences in the last week. One of our short stay borders was poorly during his visit and subsequently died.  One of our travel dogs, Lisa, seems to have lost the interest of her owner who is now back in Germany so God knows how that will end and whether Lisa will fly to Germany as originally planned or end up in the local Government pound. We also had a beautiful young husky pup stay with us briefly but she appeared to have no strength in her rear end and legs and if she ran and jumped her rear end / legs would flop as they gave way.   It was painful to watch and we thought it was painfully obvious all was not well and yet her owners had never noticed anything wrong. Most peculiar.

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In addition to dog care I’ve had an epic run on shit TV, primarily BBC Iplayer. I have a SIM with unlimited data and a VPN so I’ve enjoyed a Luther rerun. Bloody fantastic. And then the occasional episode of First Dates. The bad news was my shit TV preoccupation meant I skipped a few dinner outings with Diana but my farewell meal at my most favourite restaurant was fantastic and just thinking about the spicy mango salad and soft shelled crabs we ate still makes my mouth water like crazy.  

What a feast!

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I will miss all the great food I’ve had in Phuket and having my own personal restaurant guide and translator.  Thank you Diana!

 

Wednesday 9th January

Last night I flew to Penang and slept in a coffin.  Actually they’re called capsules. I’d always steered clear of these concerned that I’d feel too claustrophobic to sleep but actually it was ace.  

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My own TV, reading lights, aircon and total privacy once I locked myself in. Today I head back to Penang Airport for my flight to Denpasar, Bali via Kuala Lumpur.  In Bali I’m staying at Kimasurf, Seminyak and I’m going to learn to surf. They even provide free airport transfers so once I’ve landed I just need some local currency and then it’s simply a case of finding my lift.  A period of low grade panic ensues as I walk up and down looking for someone holding the piece of paper with my name on it. My eyesight is such that it’s some time before I’m convinced that there definitely isn’t a sign and I’m happy to venture further from the arrivals Hall.  I feel a huge wave of relief when I finally spot my name. There’s only me and the driver and it’s gone 11pm when I’m finally shown to my 8 man dorm. Time to sleep before the surfing adventure begins.

 

Friday 18th January

Kimasurf, Bali

For the last 9 days I’ve been learning to surf.  

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For the first 3 days I was enrolled in surf school.  Surf school includes 3 lessons on the waves and one in the pool.  There were 3 other girls in surf school when I started but because they were on day 2 and I was on day 1 I had my own personal surf coach.  Initially I did really well and with 2 days of 1 on 1 tuition I was feeling really chuffed with my success. Unfortunately it seems my technique wasn’t actually that good and from day 3 onwards I really start to struggle.  Basically I can’t bring my front foot far enough forward and it gets stuck in various places (always the wrong place, facing the wrong way) and I constantly struggle to adjust it and invariably fall off the board. As a result I decide this sport is stupidly tough and exhausting.   After several days my problem is finally disagnosed by my surf coaches and now I simply need to learn a new ‘popping’ up technique but by this stage I’m so confused and so tired that joining each lesson is a huge motivational hurdle. I’ve also been joining the daily yoga sessions with Hanu, a Finnish guy.  I’ve done an Astanga session and several Hatha sessions and already I can see a significant improvement from my start point at the beginning of December. Unfortunately my new love affair with yoga is almost completely decimated after a Yin session. In theory it sounds like a slow paced, relaxing session where poses are held considerably longer than in the other disciplines to target the fascia and connective tissue.  The aim in yoga is to relax into each position so in each new pose we adopt I try to breathe deeply and relax and deepen the stretch. So far so good. It’s only when I need to move into the next pose that I discover I’m almost totally locked into this one and that unlocking myself is incredibly painful. Ninety minutes later and it’s over; the relief is immense but so is the pain. So much for a relaxing session. By the following morning my body feels as if I’ve been hit by a truck.  I head to the beach with my board but soon realise my body is too exhausted to do this class justice and I decide to head back for breakfast. Later I tell my instructors the problem and they suggest a massage. Off I go to seek some relief. But of course I’m a mass of sore and aching muscles and my 60 minute body massage is more pain than pleasure. I can’t believe this is a holiday pursuit, it feels more like a punishment camp!! Everything I do leads to pain and more pain.  But there’s been a brief reprieve some some sightseeing.

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Today is my last day here.   Tomorrow I’m leaving Bali and heading back to Krabi in Thailand for a 3 week sailing experience.   I’m really looking forward to it because I’m hoping it’ll be a doddle after this camp. But of course my last sailing adventure was a total disaster so perhaps I’m being over optimistic !

 

Sunday 20th January

I left Kimasurf yesterday at 9am but it has taken almost 36hours to reach Krabi.  Actually the 2 flights I needed from Denpasar to Kuala Lumpur and from KL to Penang were short but the connection times were dreadful – I don’t know what I was thinking when I chose these flights. I spent 10 hours at Kuala Lumpur airport  and then 5 hours in Penang before heading off for my 5.45am bus to Yat Hai. This journey includes the border crossing into Thailand where passing through Immigration takes several hours. From Yat Hai I have a few hours to wait until my Krabi bus and I’m told I’m at the wrong bus terminal.   I get a lift to the other bus terminal and again the ticket staff phone my bus company but they want to send me back to the first bus terminal. Arggghhh. Finally they tell me to walk down the road and wait outside the 7/11 and I’ll be picked up at 1pm. I have my doubts so I’m totally relieved when I do get picked up.  

Finally I arrive in Krabi. It’s been 36 hours with only a few hours sleep so I’m happy to be staying in a lovely hostel in town tonight.

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A hot shower, a fabulously comfortable bed and air conditioning.

Wednesday 23rd January

After a relaxing night at the hostel I’m in no rush to go anywhere.   I’ve spoken to my new skipper and he’s going to be busy today restocking the boat so there’s no rush.  Eventually I make my way to Krabi Marina, find the boat, Solarblue, and my 2 crewmates. They’re Ben (French) and Ann (French Canadian) from Montreal and they’ve already been on the boat for a week.  We chat for the next few hours over a beer. These guys are travelling for 6 months but their first stop was travelling by 4×4 pickup with rooftop tent in Botswana and Namibia. Their stories and experiences sound so great that this is definitely going on my bucket list.

Late afternoon I meet John (Australian) and Tassy (Thai), the skipper and his wife.  

They’ve been busy shopping for food and fuel and they’re pretty pooped so for a relaxing evening they take us to the nearby night market for dinner.  My first night aboard is uneventful but by 10am we’re catching the tide out of Krabi Marina and we actually sail to our first island, Koh Poda (so already this trip is outperforming the trimaran) . The winds are light but we set both the jib and main sail.  Tassy and Ann cook Pad Thai for lunch and once we’ve dropped anchor there’s time for snorkeling. For dinner I help Tassy prepare a green curry which is so simple to make yet so delicious. Only one day done and it’s already so different from my last ‘sailing’ trip.  This morning we were up and sailing by 6.30am because we have quite a long leg to Koh Lanta and the wind and tide aren’t going to be in our favour.

For the majority of this leg we set both main and jib and only need motoring back up at the end. We drop anchor in the bay and then Ann and Ben paddle us ashore in the kayak and we have a few beers on the beach.  My crew mates are fabulous company. Ann is hilarious because she pulls such animated faces when she’s telling a story and Ben sounds exactly like Fred from First Dates, the head of house, super sexy Frenchman.

 

Thursday 24th January

Last night’s mooring left us quite exposed and so there was a lot of boat movement and noise and we’re up by 5.30am to hit our dive site in Koh Ha on time.  Unfortunately we’ve managed to jam the main sail so no sailing for us this morning instead we have to motor. Koh Ha is a collection of 5 islands or 5 big rocks.  This is supposed to be a great dive site but whilst Ben and Ann wait for their dive boat I’m content to snorkel. It’s a little rough but the waters are incredibly clear and there’s so much to see: Angel fish, Clown Fish, Parrot and Puffer fish just to name a few!

Later we head to Maya Bay, location of The Beach (remember the film with Leonardo Decaprio?), and moor up for the night.  Unfortunately tourists are no longer allowed to set foot upon The Beach. We have another snorkeling session and then watch the sunset.  When we arrived this place was jammed with tourist boats but by 8pm we’ve got the place to ourselves. It’s a lovely peaceful night.

 

Friday 25th January

This morning it’s a nice relaxed start but eventually we move off before the Park Rangers grab us and make us buy a ticket.   We head to Koh Bida Nok where we have the most fantastic snorkeling: Moray eels, Black tip reef sharks, Angel fish and so many others.   The visibility is incredible. Later we sail along Koh Phraya Nak and John anchors so we can go and explore a popular bay and see Viking’s Cave.  

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John has spotted another popular dive site along this island so we head off for our last snorkeling session of the day.

 

Saturday 26th January

Today we head to Koh Poda.  Unfortunately John hasn’t been able to unjam the main sail so we’re only able to set the jib and use the motor for additional speed.  We snorkel and paddle round the island in search of beer. Unfortunately this island is now a park and drinking is banned but we find a party boat and they sell us a few cans on the proviso we hide it and take it back to our boat.

 In addition to finding beer we also see the double billed Toucan which apparently is very rare.

Sunday 27th January

Krabi Marina

Today we head back to Krabi Marina.   We have a change of crew. Ben and Ann are leaving and we’re getting two new crew members, Jane the Canadian and Oleg from the Ukraine.   

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I’m really going to miss Ben and Ann. We got on so well and had a great time learning to sail and exploring Thai Islands together.   They’re heading off to Nepal next and I’m sure they’ll have a great time.

Monday 28th to Saturday 9th February

So what an experience this turned out to be.  Oleg’s a free diver and enjoys diving down to 20metres just so he can stalk a scuba dive group and scare the bejesus out of them.

He had hundreds of extraordinary travel tales often involving police, alcohol or drugs and usually all 3.  When he’s not with his wife and kids, he travels with his special Ukrainian gang of male buddies.  Possibly they’re all suffering from some sort of mid life crisis hence all the trouble they get in.  Plus their holiday destinations seem to be chosen by searching where not to go and what not to do and then doing that.  For example: hiring a self drive car and driving hundreds of miles in Nicaragua along a mountain road without a guide (and speaking no Spanish) and then drinking copious quantities of vodka and wondering why the check posts were such an issue.

Then there’s Nurse Jane from Canada who appears to suffer from tourettes and likes a drink or 20 .  She’s also the least nurse like person I’ve ever met.  Any injury and she suggests it’s bathed in salt water whilst having a beer.  So perhaps you’re getting the picture: a crazy mix!

Together we explored the sea caves and Hongs (hollow lagoons in the centre of islands) and studied the strange Karst features created by the dissolution of limestone islands.

Our kayak paddling adventures were often emotional as we were sent off to explore caves for bats (Jane and I hate bats) or to find access to the Hongs along dark and claustrophobic tunnels.

In addition to the exploring, there was sailing, enjoying the incredible scenery and eating the fabulous meals cooked by Tassy.

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So this adventure finally came to an end.

Clearly a goodbye celebration was in order so we visited the Krabi night market to eat, drink and watch the entertainment.   The following day I headed off to Sungai Petani and despite having no bus tickets or any real plan I actually made it with a combination of bus rides and hitching.  Definitely thanks to Oleg getting me to the bus station.  Result.

Scooter ride to bus station

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I only had to wait ten minutes for the bus to Hat Yai.  But at Hat Yai I was reduced to full on panic when I lost my phone.  I’d left it at the ticket booth.  Walking through the Thai and Malay border at 6pm was a bit bizarre.  No-one else seemed to be doing it.  But just outside the Malay border and I got a lift.  It only took ten minutes and the lovely couple fed and watered me for the entire trip.

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Final note:

For those observant ones out there you might have noticed that Darren no longer features in my blog.  This is because we are no longer a couple/travelling companions.

 

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Cycling again, the end of Japan 9 Aug – 31 Aug

Friday 10th August

Mimasaka to Kori

Daily Total 58.22 km

Trip Total 23376.92 km

And we’re back on the trikes, cycling again. It’s been a fab workaway but time to move on.

It’s an uneventful ride as we retrace our previous tracks back towards the coast. However we do make one slight detour. Remember the nice man who picked us up outside Okayama one night, took pity on us and drove us all the way back to Mimasaka?  Well we dropped off a small thank you gift on his doorstep. We were overwhelmed by his generosity and kindness and wanted to let him know that we really appreciated his help. For us it was a 42km ride from Crip’s house, so for him an 84km round trip to help out 2 stranded Brits!. Unfortunately there was no-one home so we dropped it off on his doorstep with a thank you note. Job done we cycle back to the same camping spot we used on the way up, with the added bonus of finding a porta-shower at a nearby building! Good news my new rear shock means I’m not bouncing up and down like Zebedee!   Bad news – today I snapped my right brake cable.

Sunday 12th August

Kori to Takamatsu

Daily Total 35.18 km

Trip Total 23412.1 km

Yesterday we stayed in our park.  We had a shower and relative comfort and our Takamatsu Festival doesn’t start until this afternoon.  So better to stay here where we know we won’t be moved on. Our ride to Takamatsu along the lanes beside the river is pleasant and we stop to watch the fishing nets being raised.  Sadly only tiddlers in the net which is really disappointing because we’ve seen some large fish hurling themselves out of the water to catch insects.

We continue to Uno and catch the ferry to Takamatsu – I think this is our third visit.  Our first stop is the Garlic festival where we watch some musical artistes. They’re pretty crap but it’s entertaining.

Then we head to Chuo Park and the ‘real festival’. This is more like it. It’s packed with people, food stalls and there’s some performances.   We watch Miss Takamatsu – unfortunately lacking somewhat when we don’t understand any of the judges’ questions but we can assume it revolves around world peace and saving the planet. We move on to some performing dance groups and then a singer who really has the crowd going.

 Finally we decide to call it a night and head to our designated camp spot. We’re camping on a bit of parkland out on a spit, west of the ferry harbour. We’re setting up and notice people taping down tarpaulins along the promenade facing the Seto sea. They’re marking their territory for tomorrow’s fireworks display.   Apparently it’s Numero Uno display on Shikoku – one of one perhaps????? But purportedly 8000 fireworks!

Monday 13th August

Takamatsu

This morning we’re driven from our tent by 7am.  It’s already unbelievably hot and we’ve had a pretty tough night dealing with the heat and mosquitoes.   We wake up in the early hours (2, 3 and 4am) drenched in sweat. It’s relentless. This morning the promenade is busy with people marking their territory for tonight’s fireworks so we do the same!  Daz uses our tent groundsheet and duct tape to fix our spot!

We spend the morning trying to sleep on the benches in the park shelter and whilst I have some success Daz is too busy chatting to anyone that even happens to glance at our trikes.  

At 11am I grudgingly leave the shelter to watch the arrival of the huge cruise ship MS Asuka II. A welcome committee has been arranged with several dance routines. An odd way to greet a cruise ship but we enjoy it. In the afternoon Daz forces me out of my shelter again.  

I’m only going because I need food. My sensitive skin that’s been hidden by full coverage coveralls for the last 5 weeks is punishing me for my sunblock oversight. Day 2 of cycling and I burnt my legs and 30 minutes out in the searing sunshine watching the cruise ship and I’m paying the penalty of wearing a T-shirt.   Apart from food we also find a great bike shop where both my brake cables are replaced. The right cable had frayed so badly it had snapped whilst the left brake cable sheath had split preventing smooth running of the cable. This explains why my brakes needed the strength of 10 men to apply but had minimal stopping power.  

When we return to our shelter and the promenade it’s already filling up with the crowds.  There are 2 hours still to wait until the fireworks display but we decide to sit with the crowds and enjoy some quality people watching.  Just off the promenade there are 2 barges at anchor loaded with the 8000 fireworks. And as we wait various pleasure boats anchor a safe distance from the barges to enjoy the display.

 At last it’s time for the display to start. For the next 50 minutes we watch an absolutely incredible display. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed such a long display. And the crowd goes crazy with their expressions of awe.  

 After the display we sit around, after all this is our camping spot. The crowds start to disperse religiously picking up their rubbish. In the UK we think it would be left for the council to pick up! We wander over to last night’s campspot.  Unfortunately it’s still overrun by people but also totally illuminated by the moored cruise liner. We decide to recce another park and when we find it’s dark, has toilets and no people we pitch our tent. Our big oversight – there’s absolutely no breeze and there’s swarms of mosquitoes.   We zip ourselves into our tent and proceed to lose our bodyweight in sweat. Another rough night is brought to a premature close when I hear shuffling and look out my window to meet the gaze of some itinerant bag-man who proceeds to shuffle around the tent looking in and muttering to himself.  Freaky! He even picks up our flag for closer examination. He’s happy to examine us in our tent but when we get up he stays in the far corner of the park with his bike and numerous bags. I reckon a few more years and we’ll look like him!

Tuesday 14th August

Takamatsu

So after a few horrendous nights I decide it’s time to find a hotel.  With the festival in town there aren’t many rooms available but we finally find something reasonable – well £70 with breakfast. (Hotels are expensive in Japan!) Fortunately it’s a relatively early check in – 2 pm but we turn up at 12.30pm and he lets us into our rooms.  OMG air-conditioning and a bathroom. At last I can stop sweating. Time for a nap and laundry. Over the last few days we’ve been overwhelmed by our sour stench. When you can smell yourself and it’s enough to turn your stomach the situation has hit an all time low. This is the first time on our trip (yup 4 years) that we’ve produced this vile odour and it coincided with our workaway.   The only reasonable theory I can think of is that the washing powder / water at Crip’s reacts with our sweat to produce this vomit inducing smell. Within minutes of donning a freshly laundered article of clothing and sweating, we produce this noxious odour. And so not only do we smell bad but so does our tent because of our pillow cases and our liner sheet as we sweat into it copiously during the hot nights.

As evening approaches we head out to watch the dancing element of the Festival.   The main street has been closed off and 75 dance groups parade passed us, entertaining us with their dance routines.  Most of the routines are pretty basic and it’s not the impressive display of the top Festival in Tokoshima but it’s fun nonetheless.

  After 2 hours all the groups are done and it’s time for the prize giving. Those awarded a prize do a second routine on stage, more sophisticated than their street dance.  Award ceremony over and it’s time for bed.

Wednesday 15th August

Takamatsu to Oonohara

Daily Total 67.83 km

Trip Total 23479.93 km

Well our hotel was great.  We’re well rested and smell much better and we even have the opportunity to stuff our faces at the buffet breakfast.   Then it’s time to hit the road and another treat is in store. The temperature had dropped by over 10 degrees and it’s only 27 deg C. It’s overcast and soon the rain comes.  The rain remains all day but I’m perfectly content to cycle in the warm rain. The route is uninspiring but we find a free campsite for the night with a sheltered area we can pitch the tent and coin operated showers.  

Thursday 16th August

Oonohara to Saijo

Daily Total 53.44 km

Trip Total 23533.37 km

Disappointingly when I went for my shower the shower block was locked so it was another bucket wash.  We were joined in our shelter by 2 Japanese motorcyclists. I took great delight in watching them erect their tent, it took 2 of them about triple the time it takes me to put up ours. Bizarrely they’d laid a ground sheet and then placed the tent so it wasn’t sitting entirely on the sheet – I can only assume they were trainee tent pitchers!  They were also up until 2 am and then up at 7am – definitely NOT the neighbours I need. Today another pretty uninspiring day but being so long out of the saddle it’s tough summoning the energy for a day’s cycling. We were expecting rain today but the torrential downpour didn’t materialise until our last hour so once again we’re completely soaked.  Our campsite tonight is on a sports park. Unfortunately there’s only covered seating area but not enough cover for our tent so we’re forced to use the fly so it’ll be another swelteringly hot night.

Friday 17th August

Saijo to Shitadami

Setouchi Shimanami Cycleway.

Daily Total 43.39 km

Trip Total 23576.76 km

 

Well it rained quite a bit throughout the night but cleverly I pitched the tent so the front door was sheltered by the covered seating area so although the rain fell on the back of the tent we could still have the front door open to get some breeze.

We cycle up towards Imabari, the town before the start of the Setouchi Shimanami Cycleway. The cycleway connects Imabari on Shikoku to Onomichi on Honshu via 6 islands, 6 bridges and 1 ferry crossing (the last bridge isn’t open to cycle traffic). With stunning views of the islands, the Seto Sea and the bridges themselves it’s purported to be one of the world’s most beautiful cycling routes and one of the top cycle destinations in Japan.

Not much happens enroute to Imabari although I do witness my first car accident which was probably caused by us! One car rear ended another car which had slowed because it was waiting to overtake Daz and was probably watching me and not the car infront.  Oh dear I feel dreadful but I don’t hang around to see what happens. We also see our first example of the rice harvest! Mini combine harvesters darting around the small dried paddy fields and unloading into tiny trucks. It’s like harvesting on a toy scale!

We can see the first bridge as we get closer. It’s Kurushima-Kaikyo bridge which is actually 3 joined suspension bridges measuring 4,105 m in length. It’s very high up, but the ingenious Japanese have built a separate ramp which spirals up just for cyclists and pedestrians making it a slow but easy climb to bridge level.  The views from the bridge are gorgeous. The blue seas and green island masses juxtaposed against the backdrop of a setting sun in a cloudless sky! Brilliant.

We drop down another ramp on the otherside to the first island, Oshima. There’s a Michi-no-eki just around the corner. Sitting on the coast looking back towards the bridge it’s an ideal camping spot for the night.

Saturday 18th August

Shitadami to Setado Sunset Beach

Daily Total 34.19 km

Trip Total 23610.95 km

Last night’s camping spot was a real treat.  As night fell we could see the impressive suspension bridge illuminated and set against a clear moonlit night.  And we also had a good wash down with the hosepipe left in the handicapped toilets but we were wary to disturbing the huge spider that was living there.

 This morning we cycle across Oshima Island, cross Hakata-Oshima Bridge – another suspension bridge 1,165m long, to Hakatajima Island.

We stop at the Dolphin farm.  There are numerous visitors paying £35 to swim with the dolphins. I was expecting huge pools and an exciting swimming experience but these poor guys are in such small enclosures and one poor Narwhale looks really depressed!  

Our next bridge is Omishima Bridge, a short 328m arch bridge crossing to Omishima Island. We could take the advanced route around this island but we settle for the shortened recommended route to Tatara Bridge, a 1,480m cable stayed bridge.   We’ve just crossed the bridge to Ikuchima Island and stop for a drink when we spot a touring cyclist, Maria, from Switzerland. We stop and chat. She’s an incredible young lady. Five years ago she cycled from her home across Europe, Central Asia to her destination which was a volunteer job with a family in a Tibetan village in Nepal.  This time her destination is The Himalayan High mountain trail (a 5 month trek) but before that there’s 11 months cycling – her warm up!!!

We chat for ages and we decide we might as well find a campsite. Just 2 kms down the road there’s Setado Sunset Beach and there’s a festival and fireworks. So we settle down to enjoy the festivities, swapping stories and comparing notes.   Maria is a cycling marvel – she’s knocking out over 100km a day and once when all her gear was soaking wet pushed out a mammoth 230km to reach a hostel in Sapporo so she could dry out. After the fireworks we proceed to find somewhere to pitch our tents.

We thought this would be so simple. First we’re told by a festival official that we can’t camp. Eventually he relents but he wants 1000 yen per tent.  We pack our tents away – we’re not paying that! But it’s after 10pm and dark and we’re not prepared to cycle off to find another spot. Instead we simply put out our bed mats and sleeping bags. No tent, no fee – well that’s our logic.

Sunday 19th August

Setado Sunset Beach to Mukaishima and return to Tatara Bridge rest area.

Daily Total 53.76 km

Trip Total 23664.71 km

This morning we’re up by 7am.  Without a tent there’s absolutely no barrier to the bright sunlight or the nosey locals so there’s no chance of a lie-in.  After a coffee we’re driven away by the festival official who didn’t want us here last night.

We cycle the remainder of Ikuchima Island cross to Innoshima Island via the cable stayed Ikuchi Bridge. We’re still cycling with Maria and I’m enjoying a good natter.  She’s a radio DJ back in Switzerland and has been working hard these past 4 years saving for her trip. As we near the end of Innoshima Island we decide to stop for breakfast at a beach. We’ve stumbled across a training session of huge rowing boats, there’s maybe 14 rowers,  2 abreast and one guy on a drum beating the time. At times they go hell for leather and practically skim across the water, very impressive.

We’re at the last bridge, over to Mukaishima island, this is another suspended bridge but this time the cycleway is underneath the main road. It’s here that we say farewell to Maria, she’s continuing on to Hiroshima, before heading to Kagoshima and a ferry to Okinawa. We’ve had a fab time with her, she so upbeat, and we are amazed by her feats. We hope to see her again sometime in the future.

Meanwhile Daz and I are heading back across the bridge and retracing our steps. We’re going to explore the island parts that we missed on the way over.  We obtained a great map at the beginning, and it shows the recommended, Intermediate and advanced routes. So we will be trying some of the other routes out. It still means we end up crossing all the bridges again! By the time we’ve crossed Innoshima and Ikuchijima island we’re ready to call it a day. We climb up to cross Tatara Bridge and just before the span there’s a view point with a waterfountain, camping spot found. Daz still has energy and proceeds to wash some of our stinking clothes before preparing dinner of sauted potatoes with onion and fried Goyza dumplings… yum!

 

Monday 20th August

Tatara Bridge rest area to Shitadami Michi-no-eki

Daily Total 48.32 km

Trip Total 23713.03 km

Today we cross Tatara Bridge and then take a longer route around Omishima Island and see Oyamazumi Shrine.  Then it’s back over Omishima Bridge and Hakata-Oshima Bridge and we return to the Michi-no-eki at Shitadami where we spent our first night.

It’s been a great couple of days cycling this route and whilst the roads on the islands aren’t dedicated cycleways there’s so little traffic that it’s still a pleasure to cycle.  There are at least another 10 islands that we could have visited and whilst they’re not linked by these incredible bridges they are just a ferry boat away. So there’s scope to spend many days here exploring but we have plans and a ferry to Korea to catch.

Tuesday 21st August

Shitadami Michi-no-eki to Iyo

Daily Total 66.14 km

Trip Total 23779.17 km

This morning we’re just having breakfast when we spot a tandem and we flag them down for a chat.  It’s Quentin and Florine from Switzerland and they’re cycling a normal tandem. They’ve only been on the road for 20 days, they flew from Switzerland to Narita, Tokyo.

 After a chat they head off and we return to our breakfast. Eventually we set off. After about 30km we spot the Swiss couple again and then we cycle together for the rest of the day before finding a sports’ park to camp. We compare everything, from our cooking kit to tents, it’s great fun!  A beer or two later and it’s party central!!

Wednesday 22nd August

Iyo to Usuki

Daily Total 54.6 km

Trip Total 23833.77 km

 

This morning we say goodbye to our Swiss friends. But 20km down the road we see them again! We’re all heading for Kyushu but we plan to take different ferries but it’s nearly the same route. Then we check the Internet and find our ferry has been cancelled today and tomorrow due to the typhoon so now we need the same ferry port. We know there’s a ferry at 1pm – it’s the ferry to Beppu, and it’s going to be tight to do the 27km in time, but we push hard. So hard I’m almost sick and I have repeated outbreaks of goosebumps which I don’t consider a good sign.  Daz is trying to draught me but can’t keep up. Unfortunately we arrive just as the ferry is due to sail, but wait… it’s been cancelled, noooo! We’re then told that there’s 1 more ferry running, not to Beppu our original destination but to Usuki 50km down the coast. With the prospect of all ferries being cancelled for the next day or two we decide to buy tickets and jump on. The ticket lady tells us that the Swiss caught the 1245pm ferry – shit they must’ve been motoring.

Blimey it’s a rough 3 hour crossing and Daz is just about holding the seasickness at bay!  In Usuki having looked at the parks and possible camping spots, we settle for a sheltered area behind the information centre. Admittedly an unusual spot but the kind lady in the information centre said we could use it. So we’ll just have to wait and see what the typhoon brings. Quentin and Florine have taken the luxury option and are staying in a Ryokan – a wise decision and a lovely treat.

Thursday 23rd August

Usuki to Haraji Falls

Daily Total 48.02 km

Trip Total 23881.85 km

 

Even with the typhoon winds buffeting our tent we were still sweltering.  The latent heat from the concrete pad we were pitched on radiating through the tent. Even with both doors open the heat was suffocating. So during the night we were either awake from the heat or the tent blustering over us! You couldn’t make it up!  This morning the winds have calmed although a further typhoon is expected to hit us this afternoon . Two in quick succession and numbers 18 and 19 for the season. We decide to cycle on and see what happens. We’re following Route 502 uphill towards Mt Aso which is about 90km away so we won’t make it there today. On the way out of Usuki we stop at the Stone Buddha park. There are about 4 groups of ancient carvings of Buddha and other figures on a hillside. The Japanese have lovingly restored and enshrined them in open faced wooden buildings. With the surrounding forest and paddy fields below it’s quite a charming spot.

Onwards we cycle, and although there’s a typhoon due nobody has told the sun! The temperature hits 42 degrees and Daz is feeling it again today. We need to drink more… much more! Finally after nearly 5 hours in the heat we stumble across a rest area next to Haraji Waterfall.  This semicircular waterfall on a tributory of the Ano river sits in a quaint valley with easy access for visitors. It’s still only 3pm so we lay about on some rocks and a park bench reading, oh and checking out the waterfall of course! The waters are refreshingly cold if a little murky. As evening settles we move over to the closed Michi-no-eki rest stop and cook dinner before getting our tired sweaty heads down for the night. There’s still no sign of a typhoon so we’re going without a tent in a bid to get a cooler nights sleep!

Friday 24th August

Haraji Falls to Aso Michi-no-eki

Daily Total 42.14  km

Trip Total 23923.99 km

We had a great night sleeping out on a restaurant floor with overhead cover but a breeze coming down the river Gorge.  We’ve had 2 tough days and today proves to be equally tough. We climb all day. And it’s hot! After about 5km Quentin and Florine catch us.  They camped in the village a couple of kilometers behind us last night. They are heading to a warmshower host south of Aso and we’re taking the northern route so we bid farewell.  We may well see them again as they are heading to Korea before flying to China at the end of September. The tough day is improved 100% when a family flags us down. The 2 boys present us with drinks and flavoured ice – what a wonderful treat.

 We push on and we stop at a Michi-no-eki and get chatting to a guy from Hawaii. He’s spent 17 years working in Thailand – I think volunteer work for the church/mission. He’s been resting here for 3 days and avoiding the bad weather – he’s found some sort of covered stage in an amphitheatre.   He tells us we’re almost at the top and then there’s a plateau before the descent. We only have 8km to push but it’s so hard until we finally break out of the trees and see the Aso mountain range ahead and then there’s a huge descent into Aso.

We cycle to the far side of Aso and stop at a Michi-no-eki.   It’s a hive of activity – not typical of most Michi-no-eki. I think it’s the starting point for treks up to Aso and the caldera. There are several camper vans already here for the night and there’s a festival ready to kick off at 6pm and there’s also a train station. It’s so busy that I’m not sure a night here is workable.  There are only 2 viable covered areas: the first is right outside the public toilets and the second is the electric scooter recharging point. We decide the latter is our only hope for some peace and quiet. I’ve checked out the festival and nearby area and noticed an onsen and a launderette. Time for a much needed scrub-up! My clothes are stiff with sweat and salt and are wretchedly stinky.  We head to the onsen – it’s 1100 yen for a family room our first experience of such a thing. The guy watches us prepare – I don’t mean stripping off but going through our panniers for wash-kit and clean clothes. God knows what he thinks of us but he sold us our bath ticket so having smelt us he’s probably worrying about fumigating the bath room we use. Finally we’re ready and he shows us the our bathroom.   There’s a changing room and then the hot tub room with a deep concrete basin and a washpoint against the wall. We scrub ourselves clean and then sink into the hot tub and relax. It’s hot and we return to the shower point repeatedly, dousing ourselves in cold water, then sinking back into the tub. We have an hour’s session but the heat is overwhelming so we don’t last.

Once outside we gather our stinky clothes and throw them into the wash.  Time now to watch the festivities. These Japanese festivals are amazing it’s just a shame that we don’t understand the meaning of the dances or the lyrics of the songs. We’re soon adopted by a Japanese family who want to know all about us. Fortunately Daz can show them photos of our recent adventures! The final show of the night is a magic act. Now this is excellent as it requires no language skills and it involves 3 young, sexily dressed, attractive women.  They are the magicians not the assistants – a far cry from Paul Daniels and his assistant.

The show is over and we head for bed. We just lay out the sleeping mats in the charging-station and we’re asleep in seconds. Unfortunately it’s not a quiet night – there’s a car alarm, a baby crying and a dog yapping all at suitable intervals to disrupt our night to the max but happily no one has come along demanding that we move. It’s strange that no matter how rough we look or smell the Japanese only offer us kindness, help and massive curiosity.   

Saturday 25th August

Mt Aso

Daily Total 0 km

Trip Total 23923.99 km

 

Yes!! A no cycling day. But instead we’ve decided to walk up Mt Aso to see the steaming Nakadate lake in the inner caldera. Nakadate is one of the most active craters in the world. The lake is normally about 60 degrees Celsius and emits about 1000 tons of sulphur dioxide a day! It has regular cycles through mud eruptions, red glow phenomenon,  Strombolian eruption and phreatomagmatic explosions before returning to a bright green lake again! Fortunately it’s just a lake today but warning signs everywhere mention the sulphur in the air and people with asphma, heart disease and bronchitis should go home! We actually take a bus from the Michi-no-eki to the bottom of the caldera so it’s only about an hour’s walk to see the lake rather than an 18km walk from the bottom.  In the distance we can see the outer caldera of Aso, it’s the biggest in the world at 18km by 25 km! So yesterday evening our steep descent was actually down into the massive caldera – how surreal! The whole area is a beautiful sea of green and this is possibly the most beautiful landscape we’ve seen in Japan.

We return to the Michi-no-eki and decide to have a day off from cycling. So we laze about and read, bit of admin and that’s the day done. Tomorrow we will have to climb out of the caldera and then descend to the coast. Normally we could cycle out via the only gap in the caldera, but in 2016 there was a huge earthquake in the region which destroyed the main road (and alot more damage besides!) and they’re still rebuilding it. So it’s another climb tomorrow!!

 

Sunday 26th August

Mt Aso to Tairamachi

Daily Total 74.23 km

Trip Total 23998.22 km

We both had a good night last night and sleeping out without the tent is proving so much cooler.  Today I’m determined to have an early start and we’re actually on the road for 7.30am. It’s pretty easy going until we hit the steep climb out of the caldera but the views are incredible and I’m actually glad we were forced into this climb.  

From the top of the caldera it’s a long ride to the ferry – it’s the Kumamoto ferry but it’s about 15km beyond Kumamoto. We only just make the 1pm sailing and 30 minutes later we’re in Shimabara.

There’s a debate as to whether we should stop or push on.  Daz has his eye on a Michi-no-eki but it’s 4km in the wrong direction so I’d rather pootle off in the right direction and see what we find. Our find is a shaded area by the seawall where there’s a good breeze. An added bonus is a hosepipe – wow an ensuite shower at last!  We even have a dip in the sea.

Monday 27th August

Tairamachi to Nagasaki

Daily Total 52.22 km

Trip Total 24050.44 km

 

Wow I’ve just had one of my worst nights ever.  I kept waking feeling things crawling along my feet and arms.  As I knocked then away they felt all wet. Finally I put my head torch on and already they’re are a few casualties near my bed –  like a giant woodlouse with numerous legs and large antenna. Revolting – they look like this!

 

And there’s more circling to attack.  I kill all the ones I can see but every 10 minutes I check the area for new advancing insects.  As a result I hardly get any sleep until it gets light and then I can’t get up because I’m trying to snooze so we don’t start until 10.30am and the ride to Nagasaki is bloody tough.  It’s hot and hilly but not one long decent hill but short up, short down and repeat and repeat until I think if I see one more climb I’m going to cry or vomit or both. And of course there’s not just one more climb but many.  It’s a killer! Finally we’re in Nagasaki – all thoughts to find a camping spot are discarded and it’s a Love Hotel for tonight. These hotels are for adults only – designed for a romantic tryst and supposedly anonymous. You can even book by the hour. But these hotels are cheaper with better facilities than most hostels – ensuite bathroom,  TV, aircon and real beds.

 

Tuesday 28th August

Nagasaki to Saikai

Daily Total 44.21 km

Trip Total 24094.65 km

What a pleasure to have a real bed and air conditioning and a special treat – some TV – an episode of Castlerock and one of celebrity Masterchef.  Today it’s a whistestop tour of Nagasaki; the monument to the 26 martyrs, the one-legged Torii gate and then the Atomic Bomb museum and the Peace Park.  We were told that compared to Hiroshima this memorial to the Atom Bomb is grittier and displays more graphically the horrendous consequences of the bomb.   And it’s true but I found the Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum touched me more. The volume of visitors to Nagasaki is a fraction of those visiting Hiroshima – it’s a considerable distance from the main tourist attractions and as a result the memorial is on a much smaller scale.

 Sightseeing done we headed north dreading a repeat of yesterday’s hills but fortunately it’s been much easier. We have the Omura-wan Bay, another inland sea, to our right and we’re often treated to some very pretty sea views. Unfortunately this Highway seems popular with large articulated trucks and there’re several occasions where they’re determined to squeeze passed despite oncoming traffic. Tonight we camp by the water’s edge.  

Wednesday 29th August

Saikai to Karatsu Sports’ Ground

Daily Total 63.56 km

Trip Total 24158.21 km

Last night at around 1am we were rudely awoken by raindrops falling on our heads.   We dashed into the toilets with all our kit debating whether to put up the fly but the rain shower had stopped before a conclusion had been reached.  We decided to risk another ‘open-air’ session with our fly and poles ready for rapid deployment should more showers follow. But thankfully it remained dry.  Today we continued north. This area is very beautiful and we were told the western coastline was unmissable. But we’ve got the bit between our teeth and the end in sight so we just push on.  Tomorrow Fukuoka and buying tickets for a ferry crossing to Busan. We haven’t bothered pre-booking but hope we don’t pay top dollar.

 

Thursday 30th August

Karatsu Rowing Club to Fukuoka

Daily Total 62.39 km

Trip Total 24220.6 km

Last night we were told we couldn’t sleep in the Sports’ Grounds we’d originally settled in.  We used their showers and cooked our dinner before relocating under a bridge near the sailing club where there was a fabulous breeze blowing down the river.   A group of kids from the rowing club came over to say Hi and tried out our trikes. Later they returned with a box of icecreams. It was an interesting night. First of all I punctured my mattress on a piece of glass and later we woke to a thunderstorm.   We had cover from the bridge but the wind was still blowing rain on us so we had to put our fly out.

Our last day of cycling in Japan was blessed by some beautiful sea views with sandy beaches and clear blue waters. In Fukuoka we discover there were no cheap ferry tickets until 3rd September and since we don’t want to wait we have to pay 9000 yen each plus 1000 per trike plus taxes.  But we will sail tomorrow. Our last night in Japan – what shall we do? Well we stopped at a street food stall sat and ate uterus (yes really!) and started chatting to a guy and drank too many beers and Saki!

Friday 31st August

Fukuoka to Busan

Daily Total 62.39 km

Trip Total 24220.6 km

 

We’re on board the ferry! But our trikes boarded separately!  Weirdly when we bought our ticket they first asked us to take our ‘bikes’ with us upstairs to immigration and from there we would take them onboard with all the other foot passengers.  When we told them they were too big they still persisted for a while but once they saw our trikes they had a lightbulb moment. We were escorted around to the side of the building and our trikes were loaded onto a cargo truck to take onto the ferry. We then joined the rest if the passengers as normal.  

In a little while we will be setting off for Korea. The crossing takes 5 hours and 30 minutes so we will be in Korea at 6pm today!

 

So 5 months in Japan to the day. It’s been a fabulous journey all over the country. The four main islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, Kyushu and even Okinawa!  Spring was in the air when we arrived and the cherry blossom was spectacular, now as we leave summer is nearly over and we won’t forget the heat and humidity in a hurry!  Another thing we won’t forget is the Japanese people, so polite, generous and always smiling when they see us. Japan has been incredible and we highly recommend it to all our friends! Next stop South Korea!

 

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Final days of workaway and Climbing Mt Fuji 28 July to 8 August

Saturday 28th July

Last night, returning from Okinawa, when our coach pulled in at Minasaka we’d been unable to reach Kuzumi and get a lift home but within 5 minutes we’d managed to hitch a lift.   Over the next 4 days we do various chores including weeding, masking and sealing walls the walls in the house and other various chores. We catch the tail end of another typhoon with some high winds and torrential rains. To Crip’s surprise I quite like weeding in these conditions, it’s cooler and the ground isn’t as hard as concrete and it’s actually relatively easy removing the weeds.

 Tuesday evening we pick up our hire car, we’re going to drive to Mt Fuji and climb it.

Wednesday 1st August.

Kawaguchiko

How easy that last sentence sounded. In reality it’s much different.  We decided that we would drive the purported 550km distance to Kawaguchiko, our jump off point for climbing Mt Fuji. This would be cheaper than getting the multiple trains or coaches but only if we stay clear of the Expressway system which has high tolls. Crip had recommended we head to the north coast and then head East. There’s less urbanisation on this coast so hopefully less traffic and fewer traffic lights. Well that was the theory.  We also decided to drive up during the night, or as far as possible before we needed to rest. All sounds great. But unfortunately the back roads, even with lighter traffic and less stopping were still just as slow. When we got caught behind a slow vehicle, or someone observing the speed limits (ridiculously low in Japan) then we were sometimes lucky to make 40 kilometers in an hour. Having set off at 7pm we called it quits having covered 490km by 3am, an average of just over 60 kmph. Oh and that 550 purported distance? Well with our northerly route and not using expressways, it was looking more like 800 km to reach our destination!  Frustrating, especially as the map reading was very difficult too. We’d even had a sodding puncture after 130kilometers and had driven the remaining night on a spare wheel that looked like it had come off a wheelbarrow!

We got about 3 hours sleep before the baking sun forced us out of our tent. Then the local geriatric callisthenetics group and playing children made us realise we should push on. We grabbed a coffee in a convenience store and later some lunch. We get the tyre sorted, unfortunately it was a hole in the sidewall, so it’s can’t be fixed and we end up having to pay for a new tyre! We are still following a convoluted route through Japan’s northern Alps and it’s not until 3pm we reach our destination. Just as a vigorous thunderstorm decided to unleash itself overhead. We retreat to a restaurant and decide plan B.  Plan A would have seen us climbing Mt Fuji tonight for a morning (sunrise) summit. But we are too tired and with only 2 hours sleep under our belts, another sleepless night seems reckless. And the weather is pants. We decide we’ll camp tonight in a local park by the lake then after a restday climb tomorrow night instead.

We come out of the restaurant and it’s stopped raining so we drive over to the local amusement park. We had cycled passed this place on our previous visit and decided against trying some of the rides. But now we wanted to try the “big one”. After 50 minutes in a queue we were strapped into our revolving chairs, the process of locking us down and attaching the safety belts told us we were in for a good ride! Oh boy, I’ve never been thrown, spun, swivelled and tormented by rotational forces so much! It was great, even if I was squealing a bit at the end!

Suitably impressed we head for our camping spot. There’s a covered bandstand so that’s where we pitch our tent incase of more rain and we sit on the lakeside having a quiet drink and some snacks.  Mt Fuji looms ominously in the background, waiting for us quietly. After retiring for the evening at an early 7pm we start to doze off. That is until a horde of kids with fireworks, waterpistols and waterbombs descends on the park!!

Thursday 2nd – Friday 3rd August

Mt Fuji

Remember that bandstand we are camped on? Well the brass band turned up at 7am this morning for band practice,  I kid you not!! A youth orchestra with trumpets, tubas and trombones troubled our sleep for the next 2 hours! Fortunately they eventually bugger off and we are left in relative peace for the rest of the day.

We read and snooze, knowing we will be up all night climbing. After a shop for provisions and a late lunch we head to the bus station to catch the bus up to the bottom station of Mt Fuji, cunningly called the 5th Station!

 It takes 50 minutes and drops us at the station, which is at 2300 meters. It’s now 8pm and dark. The bus was full, and there’s still more people at the 5th Station waiting to climb. We’ve been told it’ll take about 7 hours to summit, and with sunrise at 440am we don’t want to set off to early, but by 840pm we are chomping at the bit and decide to take a slow walk up! Over the next 2 km the terrain is gently undulating as the path goes sideways alongside the mountain base. We pass several people coming back down. Hobbling and grimacing, in one case an older lady being piggybacked down. That’ll probably be us tomorrow! The trail is volcanic gravel and fortunately we have head torches to light our way. By the time we reach the 6th station the trail starts heading upwards.  

There are a number of ‘stations’ on the mountainside, each has a shop selling water, food, clothes and souvenirs. You can even buy cans of oxygen, which we see several people using during the course of the night. There are also lodges where you can rest and have a meal, all at a premium of course. A stay with 2 meals costs about 50 pounds each. Many people have bought a walking staff at the tourist shops along the way, for an extra payment you can get a symbol burned into the wood at each station and at the summit to show you have climbed Mt Fuji. Most have bells and flags on too, their ringing can be heard up and down the mountain. We keep ascending, the terrain now very rocky and at times we are having to scramble up the volcanic rock outcrops using our hands, and even knees in my case,  to make headway. There are quite a lot of people on the mountain and when the trail is narrow we end up waiting as people infront climb the next obstacle. We stop at the 7th station for a little snack and drink, but after about 10 minutes the wind makes it too chilly to sit around. We are climbing in shorts and t-shirts and at the outset we couldn’t believe the amount of clothing and gear most people were wearing. Full gortex and long trousers in the late evening heat, with physical exertion… they must be melting! We do have warm clothing in our daysack for later, but it seems barking to wear it all now. Oh and we get quite a few sideways looks and comments on our footwear, yep Crocs to climb Mt Fuji!

By the 8th station the amount of people on the trail is getting ludicrously heavy. Numerous tour groups of 15 maybe 20 people being taken up by light baton wealding ‘guide leaders’ are everywhere!  The going is amazingly slow, and we take to walking, climbing and scrambling passed the long lines whenever we can get by on the tight trail. The trail is now just a zig zag of lights up into the distance.  Even with all the holdups and logjams we have been making better time than we thought. If we continue at this pace we’ll reach the summit about 3 hours before sunrise! We decide to take a rest and don our warm clothing and jackets. By now it’s down to about 5 degrees and the windchill makes it colder. We snuggle up on a bench and try to snooze. We’re at the final station and we watch people coming by.  There’s obviously lots of Japanese, but also many foreigners climbing. Two young Canadian lads sit next to us for a while, they only have shorts and long sleeve tops, no coats or cold weather gear and their funny banter and antics to keep warm makes us laugh. There are people climbing in jeans and trainers, but who are we to criticise in our Crocs. We chat with a few of the foreign climbers, a man from Wolverhampton and his two sons, a girl from Hinckley climbing with 2 Americans.  Daz is in a Midlands revival meeting! We are amazed now by the numbers walking passed us. After 2 hours rest we decide to continue. OMG, we round the last of the buildings on this terrace and are met by a queue, not for the toilet, but a queue of people waiting to climb the next section. We look up the mountain and it is ablaze with lights. The trail is now full, 2 to 3 people wide, filling the track as it snakes up the mountain. Progress is slow. Very very slow. Amazingly people wait patiently, shuffling forward slowly over the loose rocks and deep volcanic gravel. Daz doesn’t even bother with his headtorch any longer there’s so much ambient light from everyone elses! We push around along the edges of the trail whenever we can. It seems people are happy to wait to climb the centre of the well worn trail rather than the more precarious edges. Not us!

As we near the top, the thousands of climbers are being encouraged on by officials with bullhorns standing along the trail, they call out in Japanese,  and we’re told they are asking slow climbers to keep right! But in the dark and with so many people jammed in it’s impossible! Groups of climbers are sat along the trail edge, resting before the final push making it even harder to get passed. Finally at 4am we pass through a shrine gate and find ourselves at the summit of the volcano rim. Again there are food and lodges here and a huge crowd. The sky is lightening in the East but sunrise is still 45 minutes away so we find a place to sit on the edge of the crater and wait. Everywhere, left and right the summit trail is now packed. Finally the sun rises majestically above the clouds that are below and off to the East. We made it, and it’s beautiful. We can see some of the lakes in the near distance. Below us people are still coming up through the Shrine gate but the majority of our fellow climbers have also made it in time to see the sunrise.

We get up and join the throngs of people now getting ready for the descent. We decide to take a walk around the crater before heading down.  Everywhere people are taking pictures against the rising sun or over the craters edge.

There’s a different trail to follow for the descent and weirdly this is much wider than the ascent trail but made up of very loose, deep gravel.  No rocks to climb over like on the way up! Unfortunately this is where our Crocs cause us trouble, not from the loose grip, but from the amount of sharp volcanic gravel that gets into them. We have to stop continously to empty them! As we near the bottom we are passed by a couple of bobcat tracked vehicles taking water bowsers up the mountain, that’s how wide the trail is.

Finally after only 2 and a half hours we cross back over onto the trail we had climbed yesterday and continue around to the 5th station. We are just in time to get a drink before catching the first bus back down to Kawaguchiko at 8am!

We return to our bandstand, intent on getting some well deserved sleep. For once there’s no band, and we manage to sleep for a few hours, then doze as the heat builds. By 430pm we call it quits.  Our plan is to drive overnight again. This time we are going to take a more direct route but still stay off the expressways. Apart from a brain fart around Nagoya where Daz takes the wrong turn and puts us the wrongside of an estuary the route isn’t too bad, there’s even a few bypasses we hit that are dual carriageway.  Finally just after midnight we pull into a Michi-no-eki and put our tent up by some trees.

Saturday 4th August

Hurrah!!  Our camping spot is shielded from the mornings blazing sun by the trees and we manage to sleep until 10am. We must have been tired as we slept like the proverbial logs last night.  On we drive, and again the going is slow. Finally, 8 hours later, about 6pm we arrive back in Mimasaka. So the one lesson we can give you if you ever come to Japan… save up and use the Expressways!! It’s been a surreal experience climbing Mt Fuji. We are glad we did it, but driving was tough and perhaps flying to Tokyo would’ve been comparable on cost but that didn’t even occur to us.  We were amazed by the number of people who were climbing it; old people on oxygen, babes in arms, children, all nationalities, equipped, ill-equipped. It had it all. We suppose that the short climbing season, 1st July to 10th September forces these phenomenal numbers to climb each day. But hey, the sunrise was marvellous!

Sunday 5th to Wednesday 8th August

Mimasaka Workaway

Crips, Kazumi and Emma are off on a road trip. They are leaving us to housesit for the next 4 days whilst they pootle off on a little holiday. There’s talk of swimming with dolphins and visiting Rabbit islands. Fortunately (or unfortunately) they leave us with a list of jobs that need doing so we won’t be too bored!! Weeding, strimming and watering in the organic gardens and more painting walls with sealant at the house. The walls in the house are covered in a sand textured plasterboard between all the wooden uprights and dados. Crip wants to get this all painted, but it needs sealing first, one to stop the sand rubbing off and two to save the cost of the paint as it would soak up copious amounts unsealed.  The biggest pain is taping, there’s so much exposed woodwork it takes ages. Once taped it needs two coats of sealant, then remove all the tape and floor plastic. At some point it will need re-taping and floor covering prior to painting… thankfully we will be long gone!!!

Up at the farm whilst Daz gets on with the sealing I carry on weeding and watering. It’s a mammoth task, especially as the ground has dried up after the rains. The grass and weeds have grown vigorously in this tropical climate and it’s hard going.  I weed the peanuts, courgette, okra, beans and a multitude of other veggies I don’t recognise. I hope I haven’t pulled up any proper plants inadvertently. Daz lends a hand with some strimming and also finishes off the steps to the garden using some huge sleeper logs!

In the evenings we raid the fridge and cook up a storm, it’s great having a kitchen to cook in rather than our camping one pot. We’ve made no end of crumbles, a few curries, plenty of salads and flatbreads, frittata and banana cake to name but a few.  Our workaway is nearing it’s end and in a few days we will be cycling towards Nagasaki then Fukuoka and the ferry to Korea. We are also hoping to pick up a festival or two over the Japanese August holiday of Obon. Fingers crossed.

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Permaculture workaway – 26th June to 9 July

Tuesday 26th June

Kori to Kamikayama
Distance: 52.30 km
Total Distance: 23301.35 km

A pretty uneventful day cycling wise but we do arrive at our workaway.   There’s Crip (well Crispin), he’s been here in Japan for 30 years but originally he’s from Alton in Hampshire.   He’s married to a Japanese lady, Kazumi, and they have a 6 year old daughter, Emma. They have a small holding and originally we were to live there, in a shed, offgrid, whilst they live in a yurt.

 But Crip has just bought a house in the village so that’s where we’ll be living.

Already living in the house is a young Japanese lad, Naoki. He’s been working for Crip since February. The small holding is 2km away. We pop up for a visit.  

This land was originally used to grow tobacco, a crop that decimates the soil, so they’ve had to work incredibly hard to improve the soil and grow crops here. Tomorrow we will start working for our keep!

 

Wednesday 27th June

Last night we went out for Chinese,  a lovely treat, but today we easily work it off – weeding a paddy field bare foot. It takes 4 of us all day, about 7 hours – bloody tough work bending over all day.

Pulling out big weeds and agitating the underwater soil to dislodge the smaller grasses and weeds.   Naoki and Crispin work with us in the heat of the day. It’s slippery and the suction keeps us unbalanced when moving! There are all sorts of amphibians and critters swimming around in the calf deep waters, we even spot a terrapin.

Crispin did say there are many snakes in Japan but fortunately the water snakes are harmless but I’m so glad I don’t have to test the theory,  I definitely don’t want snakes slithering over my bare feet!

This morning Naoki showed us how to make filled rice balls for our packed lunch.  Also at the house, and running around the fields with us is Lyn their hound dog. Still quite young and full of bounce! There’s also a lovely blue eyed cat to relax with.

 Our first day on the farm has been a hard back breaker, but that’s farming for you, we’ll sleep well tonight! In the evening Kazumi cooks us a lovely Japanese style curry.

 

Thursday 28th June

It’s been raining all night, so no need to do any watering today. Initially Crip says it’s too wet to work but we suggest we start work on the shed extension.  Meanwhile Naoki is heading home to Kobe, it’s his 20th birthday on Saturday. This shed was supposed to be our home.

Crip wants to add a second room and there’s an open end which needs walling and flooring. But first we need to declad the current outer wall. Not too hard a job and Daz let’s me loose with the electric screwdriver.

 Shortly however I’m stuck as I’m too short to reach the high boards! Daz takes over for the final few and then we can take down the tyvek moisture membrane. We also need to do some woodwork to improve some of the previous joinery. Daz sets up the generator then powers up an electric saw to cut new mortices. We need to relocate the existing sills and put in new ones.  I then get given a wood chisel and mallet and instruction from Daz how to knock out the mortice. Excellent, nothing to this woodworking malarkey (yawn, yawn)!  

 

Friday 29th June

Today Crip spends all day in Osaka teaching English but we have some chores to do.  Daz has work on the shed extension to be getting on with and there isn’t really anything to keep me busy so I agree to do the other chore, fertilising 2 paddy fields – I definitely got the short straw in that labour division.  There are 20 bags of fertiliser, 10 for the field we weeded on Wednesday and 10 for another field.  Crip had described the method: take one bag, open top, walk through field swinging bag so fertiliser is spread in an arc onto the field.  He had said the bags aren’t heavy and it’s true, the fertiliser is a similar consistency to sawdust, but I’m walking bare foot through the paddy fields trying to spread the fertiliser and it’s really tough work. I’m also trying not to cripple myself by standing on the sharp stones!  In addition there’s bouts of torrential rain so I’m getting soaked and my fertiliser bags are getting soggy and starting to rip.

Lyn’s busy guarding me and her rice fields and even she is looking completely disheartened by the rain. Finally I get the job done and go up to see Daz and the shed extension.

Thankfully he’s done all he can so we’re finished for the day.

 

Saturday 30th June

Crip needs to buy us more wood for the stud work so there’s no point heading to the farm until we’ve got it.  Instead we potter around the house where garlic and onions are drying and tomatoes and corgettes are growing. 

When we do start we work on moving the sill and creating more stud work. Occasionally we glimpse a huge black snake as we walk between the gardens! Apparently it’s not poisonous,  but it is fricking huge. I now refuse to walk about the garden without a stick!!

In the evening we make our first ever crumble – it’s plum (the plums are from the garden) and it’s delicious.  And so easy!

So much so we’ll be trying apple and blackberry next! Naoki came home last night, so it clearly wasn’t a wild birthday piss up, but we really don’t think that’s the Japanese way. At least now he can smoke and drink legally if he so wishes!! 

We share our crumble with him since he’s made the first course, a tasty okonomiyaki.

 

Sunday 1st July

No Sunday lie in, Crips around early, because it’s ‘keep the village beautiful’ day! All the residents are out strimming the hedgerows and we get collared for strimming Crip’s property.

We spend 3 and a half hours in ditches and up earthwalls strimming and raking with Naoki. After a quick lunch break we head up for more woodwork.  This time moving on to noggins and headers and footers for the new window.

 

Monday 2nd July

Today we’re rudely awoken by the washing machine at 4am.  Bizarre – it seems Naoki put it on timer????? and then the cat keeps breaking into our room (she’s tearing the insect netting on the windows and then squeezing through the hole she’s made).  So we’re pretty pooped but we push hard with the extension; more noggins and studs, 3rd and final sill, exterior ply on 2 walls, window header fitted and Tyvek (vapour proof membrane) stapled onto the 2 walls with ply and we have just enough energy to fit one joist.

 It doesn’t look like much but these tasks are so time consuming. So today was our 6th day and we’re both feeling the pain; we both ache everywhere which I guess is payback when our daily cycling routine involves so little upper body work. So tomorrow we’re taking a day-off.

 

Wednesday 3rd July

Yesterday the anti-sleep conspiracy continued.  Naoki had passed the baton to Crip who left his phone in our house and his alarm went off at 5.45am, snooze, 5.50am, snooze, 5.55am – I’m sure you’re getting the picture.   And yes I had tried to switch it off and thought I’d been successful but I was wrong. By 6.15 it was still going off and we finally worked out how to switch it off but too late to get more sleep.  Bizarrely yesterday we manage to spend 5 hours in a 7/11 using their Internet, printing and scanning. What a depressing way to spend our day off but we needed to research and book some stuff. Then Daz gets his baking head on – bread and rock cakes.   Oops I meant bread and fruit scones.

Today 2 of the shed walls are batoned and clad – it looks really good now.  Tomorrow the floor.

Saturday 7th July

It’s my BIRTHDAY – Happy Birthday to me!  Well since I last wrote it’s been raining almost continuously and often it’s been torrential rather than a typical British drizzle.  Despite the rain we did manage to work on the shed Thursday. The single joist we’d laid had to be removed, a secondary sill added and then we laid 5 joists.  Unfortunately Crip had gone into town for more joists and floorboards but he hadn’t returned when we ran out of work. Back at the house we spent a few hours peeling garlic cloves.

 Yup I kid you not. If the garlic bulbs aren’t pretty enough, and by pretty I mean this:

Not pretty is this:

Then the bulbs are split into cloves and the cloves peeled.  Sounds easy? Well yup it’s easy until all your fingernails are split and your finger tips are so sore and burning from the garlic juice that even picking up a clove is painful let alone attempting to peel it. In the evening we share the job of vegetable preparation for the market.  Everything has to be clean, perfect and bagged, or wrapped. The bare garlic cloves are sold in 100g batches in cute little net bags. Whole garlic bulbs in the same type of bag.

And we even try making banana bread.

On Friday the rain continues.  There’s a weather warning of the highest order for the next valley over which has a river running through it. Crip’s never seen this level of warning, that’s how bad the rain is. It’s definitely too wet to run the power tools so we have a choice, a day off or onion peeling.   We decide, foolishly, to peel onions. We have a crate of red onions and a crate of white. These onions are a variety that won’t keep and are too small to be sold with their skins. So we have to peel each onion, top and tail it and later it will be wiped/polished before bagging for the market.   

The end result is a bag of shiney onions that can be dumped straight into a stew/casserole/curry. The Japanese pay a premium for all this preparation, which to us westerners seems very strange and über labour intensive! Also you have to be careful when peeling that you don’t take too many layers off or damage the layer below, because that’s all waste and more peeling! The red onions are particularly onerous with a tight layering that really makes the fingers ache!!!  This is the contradiction that is Japan. Buy organic produce but expect it to processed and packaged to the nth degree. Crip finds it infuriating but if he wants people to buy his produce he has no choice. His ambition is to open a farmers’ market with other local farmers and sell his produce in a more natural state. We manage to peel the crate of white onions before deciding we’ve had enough. Today it hasn’t stopped raining and later we hear that 58.5 cms fell just today.   There have been numerous landslides, flooding, missing people and even deaths. What a nightmare and thank God we’re here, somewhere safe and not cycling or camping in these hellish conditions.

The rain continues into Saturday so we decide to finish the onion peeling as we still have the red onions to finish.  After finishing the onions and preparing them for market we take the rejected peeled garlic cloves, mince them and mix with olive oil and freeze.

This would’ve been tough by hand but we have an ingenious chopping machine and it’s done in no time – what an excellent way of storing excess garlic.  Finally in the afternoon the rain stops and we unleash Naoki on the BBQ (concrete trough with a grill over it). Crip is expecting friends over so we’re having a barbecue.

Unfortunately a weather related emergency stops Crip’s friends coming over but we have a fabulous feast and there’s even birthday cake.  Coincidentally our last proper BBQ was on Daz’s birthday at our last workaway in India.

 

Monday 9th July

Yesterday it was dry enough to return to our shed extension.   We finish laying the joists and then the floorboards. It looks great but we still need to fit interior ply, insulation and a large window into the last wall.  

Today we’re taking time off and heading to Nagoya for the sumo wrestling tournament. There are only 6 a year and 3 of these are in Tokyo so this is our best chance to see this amazing event.  Crip drops off in town and we start hitching on the slip road to the Expressway. We had hoped to bypass Osaka but instead we almost hit its centre before being dropped off heading towards Kyoto.

 We’ve definitely taken a massive detour and we’re über depressed to find ourselves at the Kyoto service station that featured in our Kyoto hitching adventure – we really didn’t expect or want to find ourselves here and it takes over an hour to get a lift.  And from a beautiful sunny day we’ve moved into a thunderstorm. 

One young lady lift giver decides our technique is sadly lacking and takes us to a 7/11 purchases a marker pen and acquires some card and proceeds to write us a sign ‘Nagoya’.

Unfortunately even with the sign it still takes ages to get a lift.  Finally our 7th lift of the day is from a young lad heading to Nagoya and we foolishly believe we’re done for the day but no such luck!  He’s only heading to the outskirts but we agree a train into the centre will suit us fine but at the train station he discovers there’s a problem and the trains aren’t running so he decides to drive us to another station.  It’s only 8km but it takes an hour, it’s now 8.15pm and it’s taken 12 hours to make it this far. We buy our tickets but then we’re told the trains aren’t running here either and we need to take a bus away from the centre to another station.   At the bus stop we debate the wisdom of following these instructions, I would rather eat now and hope the train problem is fixed by the time we’re done, so we return to the ticket counter to try and establish what the problem is and when it’ll be sorted only to discover the trains have just started running again.  What a relief, finally we’re in Nagoya centre and our hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Toyohashi – Kori: 12th to 25th June

Tuesday 12th June
Toyohashi to Ise
Distance: 55.31 km
Total Distance: 22731.04 km

Yesterday, despite the typhoon forecast, it was a lovely sunny, windless day but we stayed at Aaron’s just to catch up on the blog and do some work on the trikes; fitting a second mirror, a new flag pole for me and changing the oil on the Rohloff hubs.  Daz cooked with Aaron last night and we discovered gazpacho and how delicious it is.

Then Aaron demonstrated his camping rice dish – instead of boiling his rice it’s more like a paella or risotto preparation. Definitely a top tip for a camping stove. This morning we said farewell to Aaron and his landlord and set off for the ferry at Irago.

We stopped in Irago at a seafood cafe recommended by Aaron to enjoy huge meaty baked clams and fried clams with rice and miso soup. When we arrived we showed the restauranteur a picture of the meal Aaron had suggested. Later he came back asking to see it again so then we showed him a picture of Aaron, explaining our friend in Toyohashi had recommended his restaurant.

He recognised Aaron and was absolutely delighted and then gave us all sorts of extra nibbles. Then we missed our ferry by about 3 minutes – we thought they were waiting for us but by the time we’d bought our tickets they’d cast off.

Once on the other side it’s a little while before we find a park and by the time we pitch our tent it’s already dark but we’ve got a toilet block for water and a good wash.

Wednesday 13th June
Ise to Miya River Water Park
Distance: 23.64 km
Total Distance: 22754.68 km

Today we visit the Ise Jingu which consists of 125 jinja (Shinto Shrines) centred around Kotaijingu (Naiku) and Toyoukedaijingu (Geku).  More than 1500 rituals are conducted here annually to pray for the prosperity of the Imperial family and happiness of the world.  We went to Naiku tge most venerable sanctuary in Japan. The Shrine here is dedicated to Amaterasu-Omikami, the ancestral Shinto deity of the Imperial family.   She was enshrined in Naiku about 2000 years ago and has been revered as a guardian of Japan. The main sanctuary contains the Holy Mirror enshrined in the palace surrounded by 4 rows of wooden fences.

Every 20 years a new divine Palace is constructed on a site adjacent to the main sanctuary.   The sacred apparel, furnishings and divine treasures are also remade. Once completed the Holy Mirror is moved to the new sanctuary by the Jingu priests in a ceremony called Shikinen Sengu.

After our visit we soon succumb to the temptation of an early finish and we find a lovely park besides the river to set up camp.

 

Thursday 14th June
Miya River Water Park to Kii-Nagashima
Distance: 55.92 km
Total Distance: 22812.1 km

Today we’re heading for the coast at Owase but we don’t make it.

For most of the day we climb through woods and beautiful villages but our long awaited downhill to the coast never materialises so we decide to camp behind a Michi-no-eki .

Hopefully we’ll see the sea tomorrow.

 

Saturday 16th June

Kii-Nagashima to Asukacho Omata
Distance: 50.42 km
Total Distance: 22862.52 km

Thursday night the rains came and stayed for most of Friday.   We were incredibly fortunate because we’d camped right next to a picnic shelter so during a break in the rain we moved all our kit under cover and remained there all Friday, giving our tent time to dry.  

It was actually a great day off because we had easy access to toilets, WiFi and electricity. Today we continue towards Kumano. We are actually in the area of the Kumano Kodo the ancient pilgrimage trails linking the 3 grand shrines of Kumano: Hongu-taisha, Nachi-taisha and Hayatama-taisha.  

This peninsula is mountainous and most of the day has been climbing but the scenery is fantastic. We had a great treat at lunchtime. We met a Japanese cyclist from Osaka, Kenji. He’s a retired policeman, 67 years old, and he’s spent the last 77 days circumnavigating Honshu (about 4700km).  He stopped to say hello and then he insisted on taking us out to lunch – and a fantastic spread it was.

He’s also offered us a bed and shower at his home before we catch the ferry to Shikoku. What a wonderfully generous man. Thank you Kenji. In the afternoon we cycle through stunning scenery. 

 Our campsite tonight is another roadside rest area – loving wildcamping in Japan!

 

Sunday 17th June

Asukacho Omata to Nachi
Distance: 52.8 km
Total Distance: 22915.32 km

Today in Kumano we visit the Oni-no-Miharashidai lookout with panoramic views over the Kumano sea.  

Then we follow the coast to The Shishiiwa, Lion Rock, a rock 25m high that looks like a lion roaring at the Kumano Sea.  

And our final stop in Kumano is the Hana-no-Iwaya Shrine, possibly the oldest Shinto Shrine in Japan and the tomb of Izanami-no-Mikoto, known as the mother of Japanese deities.  

The huge rock, 45 metres high, is an object of worship. A special rope, 170m long, is made and strung from the top of the rock, across the Shrine, over the road and down to the beach in a special Shinto rope placing ritual.  Then prayer ornaments are hung from it. After Kumano we stop at the Kiho Town Sea Turtle Park where there are numerous pools occupied by endangered sea turtles. It’s an educational centre about the protection of this endangered species but sadly only in Japanese.

Apparently the sea turtles come to Kiho to lay their eggs. Then it’s on to Shingu and the Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine.  This is one of 3 grand shrines making up the sacred site, Kumano Sanzan. They were founded at different times and enshrine different gods. Since ancient times many people have made the pilgrimage to Kumano Sanzan from all over Japan. There are various pilgrimage routes connecting these sites and they’re known as the “Kumano Kodo”.

Our final stop is to see Mifune Island, an island in the middle of the Kumano River.  Every year there’s the Mifune Matsuri Festival where 9 fast boats race around the island recalling the dashing Kumano Suigun Navy of old.

 

Monday 18th June

Nachi to Hikigawa
Distance: 75.76 km
Total Distance: 22991.08 km

Wowwee, last night we camped under the eves of a toilet block in a Michi-no-eki.

There was torrential rain throughout the night and although our tent was sheltered from the worst of it a large puddle formed under one side of the tent and there was some sort of suck back action until the entire ground sheet was soaking wet and this seeped into our tent so the bottom of our beds were wet too.  There was no sign of the rain abating so we slowly packed away, drying our wet equipment under the rafters. We believe we felt our first earthquake this morning – at 0830hrs we felt the ground vibrate under us! (We later hear that it was a 5.3 magnitude quake centred in Osaka, totally disrupting the train systems and unfortunately killing 3 people!)

This morning we head to Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine.   The main deity is Kumano -Fusumi-no-Okami who is the emanation of Senju Kannon (1000 armed Avalokiteshvara).  There’s also Nachi-san Seiganto-ji Temple and the 3 storied Pagoda. But the highlight is Nachi waterfall which is the divine embodiment of Hiro-jinja Shrine and the most magnificent waterfall in Japan with a drop of 133m.  It is awesome.

The rain continues but we get a bus back to Nachi and head off to find lunch. Lunch over and the skies are clear. Dilemma – it’s already 2.30pm but the forecast for the next week is rain…… and more rain. We decide we must make hay while the sunshines.  

Actually it turns into a beautiful cycle ride along the Eda coast.   There’s a line of rocks similar to the Needles off the Isle of Wight, the Hashigui-iwa Rock, at the southern most point in Kushimodo.  There’s also beautiful beaches and coves and dramatic twisted rock shapes on the rocky shores, more evidence of volcanic activity I think.  

A man we saw several kilometres back gardening, has driven after us to give us some cans of cold coffee – wow what a kind gesture !

The sun is just about to set (7.15pm) and the skies are mostly clear.  It’s very pretty. There’s a Michi-no-eki looking out over the Pacific and numerous places to camp under cover.  We’ve done 55km but after much deliberation we push on.

Another 20km, cycling along the dark coastal road until 9pm, another Michi-no-eki and we stop for the night.  It’s actually been lovely cycling at night; barely any traffic, no wind and just enough moonlight to light our way.

 

Tuesday 19th June

Hikigawa to Kirime
Distance: 58.44 km
Total Distance: 23049.52 km

Last night the rains came again – yup it’s definitely the rainy season.

  However when we set off this morning it’s just a very light drizzle.

We’re heading to Shirahama peninsula and the Saki-no-Yu onsen.  It’s said to be the oldest onsen in Japan and only has open air baths (rotenburo) looking out over the Pacific. By the time we get there we’re soaked and the heated waters are heavenly, with the sound of the surf crashing against the rocks.  

After our lovely relaxing bath I’d like nothing more than to relax for the rest of the day but with no obvious camping sites and more rain we decide we might as well push on. We cycle along Shirahama Beach and then out towards Tanabe before eventually finding ourselves cycling along the coast.

 After about 2 hours the rain actually stops giving us a chance to dry out before camping for the night. There’s a complete lack of Michi-no-eki, parks and public toilets along this stretch of coast and finally we make do with a concrete path under a railway bridge.

It’s going to be a bit noisy but at least we have some shelter from tonight’s forecast downpour.

 

Wednesday 20th June

Kirime to Arida
Distance: 50.88 km
Total Distance: 23100.4 km

Our sheltered position turned out not to be so sheltered after all and we awoke to find ourselves sitting in another puddle.  We packed up our wet gear and sat under our railway bridge watching the rain fall and the river rise. Eventually we decided doing nothing wasn’t the most constructive way to spend our time so we cycled out from under our bridge.  Initially it wasn’t too bad but it was just a temporary reprieve. In one town the river had flooded the Highway and cycling through the water, occasionally a foot deep, with bow waves created by the overtaking cars, was pretty nerve wracking.   

We stopped for some snacks and the restaurant owner took pity on our wet, bedraggled appearance and gave us free food and coffee.  As a big thank you he’s allowed to sit on Daz’s trike – a rare opportunity indeed!

By late afternoon, after 4 hours and 40km, the novelty of cycling in the rain had completely worn off. We were drenched and starting to feel the chill.  On the outskirts of Arida we looked for a hotel.

Without anything nearby showing on Booking.com we asked in a restaurant and they pointed us to a business hotel only 800m away. Result. Off we went only to discover it was fully booked. Desperate measures were required so we headed into the adjacent FamilyMart for WiFi and to book the nearest hotel on Booking.com.   I thought I’d found something, not that close at 10.5 miles but the best available, but having booked it and plotted it, it was actually 24km away! We were just resuming a new search when the guy from the Business hotel appeared – we had abandoned our trikes outside his hotel so I guess it didn’t take much to work out where we were. He asks where we’re going and since we have no where to stay, we shrug our shoulders.   He then offers us his apartment. We thought we were sharing his home but he takes us to a 2 bed apartment and gives us the keys. OMG – speechless and so relieved! I’m pretty sure we’d have been ‘man down’ if we’d had to go any further. We were both absolutely drenched and starting to suffer from the cold.

 

Thursday 21st June

Arida to Wakayama
Distance: 26.80 km
Total Distance: 23127.2 km

Last night we managed to turn our saviour’s apartment into some horrendous imitation of a Chinese Laundry and the smell from our sweaty and damp cycling gear was foul.  

 So with most of our kit dry we cycle into Wakayama. But I’m feeling a little under the weather and decide I want a break.

So I book into a hotel which, I have to say, is absolutely fabulous. There’s a huge bathroom, limitless free cake, coffee and coke, a fabulous European double bed ie no futon bed and a TV about 5ft wide.  

We can watch UK TV series and recently released films. OMG it’s awesome. We start watching the Endeavour series (The Young Morse) and realise 1 night here ain’t going to be enough. Definitely a minimum of 2 nights required possibly a 3rd???! Lol.

 

Saturday 23rd June

Wakayama to Tokushima
Distance: 11.47 km
Total Distance: 23138.67 km

Today we must leave the most incredible hotel we’ve stayed in – well possibly ever.  We’ve eaten our own body weight in free cake and just had time to relax and watch some TV – what a super treat.  When I booked our 2nd night yesterday morning Daz had gone down to reception to fetch another tray full of free cake and check we could stay in the same room and was waylaid by the manager, Taku.  Daz had already told him about our world cycle trip and how fabulous our break in his hotel was turning out, so fabulous in fact that we needed a 2nd night to take full advantage and Taku tells him we can stay a 2nd night for free.  Well this morning Taku is trying to take payment from our credit card but the machine won’t accept any of our cards – and that’s 6 cards in total. Finally we realise the machine isn’t going to accept any of our cards but we only have 5000 yen (£33) about half what we owe for 1 night.   We offer to go to an ATM but Taku says we’ve paid enough. Wow 2 nights in an incredible hotel for a quarter of the cost. Taku, thank you so much.

 

We head to the ferry and get the crossing to Tokushima. When we dock it’s in the middle of a torrential downpour.

Within minutes, even with our ponchos, we’re soaked. Time to find another hotel I think.  

 

Sunday 24th June

Tokushima to Sambommatsu
Distance: 42.86 km
Total Distance: 23181.53 km

This morning we head off to Takamatsu.   This is Shikoku island, famous for its 88 temples.  

We see 2 of them today and after a long climb over the peninsula we have great views over the coastline.

There’s a free campsite in Sambommatsu, Toramaru Park, so that’s where we finish for the day.

 

Monday 25th June

Sambommatsu to Kori
Distance: 67.52 km
Total Distance: 23249.05 km

It’s another beautiful ride today over to Takamatsu, followed by a ferry ride to Una and then on to Kori.

We’re heading to Kamikayama and a workaway. Hopefully we’ll be there tomorrow but tonight we camp in a local park.

 

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Kate and Brett’s Visit – Part 2 – Hiroshima, Miyajima and Kyoto – 2nd to 10th June

Saturday 2nd June

Takamatsu to Hiroshima

After breakfast in Mr Donut by the railway station we board the train for Hiroshima, via Okayama again. Since Sapporo, Daz and I have been hankering for some more cheese pies, which are absolutely delicious.  When we come out of Hiroshima station we see a queue around the block… it’s only a cheese pie queue. Daz joins the queue, and we go and get coffees and wait and wait some more. It’s a long queue and service is incredibly slow considering they only sell one product.  Finally he reaches the service window. We have 2 each with our coffee – OMG they are so delicious. Then it’s baggage dump time in our respective hotels before more sightseeing!

 

Obviously the main attraction here is Hiroshima’s Peace Park and the horrendous event of the World’s first atomic bomb used during the 2nd World War.  We walk over to Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park the most prominent feature of the city. Even visitors not looking for it will likely stumble upon the large park of over 120,000 square meters. Its trees, lawns, and walking paths are in stark contrast to the surrounding downtown area.


Before the bomb, the area of what is now the Peace Park was the political and commercial heart of the city. For this reason, it was chosen as the pilot’s target. Four years to the day after the bomb was dropped, it was decided that the area would not be redeveloped but instead devoted to peace memorial facilities. The park’s main facility is the Peace Memorial Museum. Consisting of two buildings, the museum surveys the history of Hiroshima and the advent of the nuclear bomb. Its main focus though is on the events of August 6: the dropping of the bomb and its outcome in human suffering. The personal details displayed are harrowing and serve to remind all that we should not take peace for granted.

We spend a long time in the museum, the harrowing stories, details and displays vividly depict the build up and aftermath of the event.  Later, on the edge of the park we visit the A-Bomb Dome, also known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. The Dome is what remains of the former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. The building served as a location to promote Hiroshima’s industries. When the bomb exploded, it was one of the few buildings to remain standing, and remains today. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the A-Bomb Dome is a tangible link to Hiroshima’s unique past.

As a bright backdrop to our sightseeing today it’s festival time in Hiroshima. Hiroshima really comes alive over the three nights of Tōkasan, one of the three major festivals in Hiroshima. Tokasan is the summer festival for the god of Toka Daimyojin at Enryuji Temple, Mikawa-cho, Hiroshima City. Since the name Tokasan can be a pun on the “10th day” (toka) in Japanese, it is held annually June 8-10. The festival is also known as the Yukata Festival. Yukata is a kimono of lightweight cotton, like a summer robe. People in Hiroshima are supposed to begin wearing their yukata from this day on. Over 300,000 people will be donning their yukata for the first time this year and will take over Chuo-dori and environs to promenade, play festival games like fish scooping, buy strange inflatable novelties and stuff their faces with unidentifiable food on sticks being sold from one of the hundreds of stalls lining the streets.


As well as parades and summer bon dancing, there is taiko drumming and other performances on stages dotted around the center of town. Our favorite place is Yukata de Bon Dance in Shintenchi Park where people of all ages dance to classic Japanese songs crackling out of the PA.  It’s really an incredible sight so we stand, mouths agape, watching the action. Later we’re even treated to a performance by Japan’s equivalent to Val Doonican.

The streets are packed and it’s a relief to get back to our hotel for the night!

 

Sunday 3rd June

Hiroshima

We have a relaxing morning before heading back for more Takosan festival and sightseeing.

Our first stop is the Museum of Contemporary Modern art and its park.

Later we return to the Peace Memorial Park again, this time to see the Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims. The Cenotaph is an arched tomb for those who died because of the bomb, either because of the initial blast or exposure to radiation. Below the arch is a stone chest holding a register of these names, of which there are over 220,000. We also visit the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. An effort by the Japanese government to remember and mourn the atomic bomb victims, to pray for eternal peace, to deepen world public understanding of the horrors of atomic bombs and to convey the A-bomb experience to later generations.

We also take a view of the Peace Park from the Observation Deck of a nearby high rise tower. This beautiful wood decked area gives a commanding view of the A Bomb Dome and surrounding park.

The viewing gallery is absolutely spectacular.  And what’s really fab is the spiral walkway that takes you back to ground level, there’s even a slide beside it for the inner child in us. Of course we have a go! 14 floors of helter skelter!

We even manage to fit in a Samurai show.  We’re not entirely sure how historically accurate it is or even if it bears any resemblance to the real thing but it’s good fun and best of all BK dress up as Samurai warrior and Princess.

Then it’s time for more food and a gaming bar – there’s all sorts of bar games – our favorite being Pong!

 

Monday 4th June

Hiroshima to Miyajima Island

Before we head to the train station to go to our next stop, we catch a bus to see Hiroshima’s recycling incinerator.  Yes you heard right, we are sightseeing at the Recycling Plant! Admittedly it seems strange to suggest that tourists visit a garbage plant, but this world famous, stunning structure built by a famous Japanese architect is well worth a visit.


This is one of the buildings commissioned by Hiroshima’s government under the 2045: City of Peace & Creativity Project. This project was designed to commission innovative buildings around Hiroshima in an effort to create an “inspirational cityscape”. The project started on the 50th anniversary of the A-bombing of Hiroshima and there are currently 6 projects completed in the city. The incineration plant is certainly the most elaborate and ambitious of the projects thus far.

Completed in March, 2004, this 400 million yen incineration plant project is the creation of Yoshio Taniguchi- a Japanese architect responsible for the redesign of the famous Museum of Modern Art in New York (MOMA).

Taniguchi has called this Hiroshima project the ‘museum of Garbage’. The plant successfully incorporates not only an educational aspect, but also functional beauty. It is a great place to learn about not only how garbage is sorted and incinerated, but also how a practical building normally connected to dirt, grime and things we throw away (and hope to never see again), does not in fact, have to be ugly.  The big glass walls inside the building offer not only an interesting perspective on the machines used for waste disposal, but also a connection to the natural environment outside.

The site itself is built on reclaimed landfill and is located at the end of Yoshijima-dori, the street that stretches from the Peace Memorial Museum all the way to the sea, the building rises like a colossal gateway to the blue skies and seas to the South.

Sensitive to the fact that placing such a huge structure at the southernmost point of the island would create a visual barrier between the people and the Seto Inland Sea, museum architect Taniguchi opted to extend the community’s main road as a walkway right through the factory to the waterside. This huge glass atrium effectively slices the plant down the middle, dividing it into two separate halls.  This building is like a gateway from the center of Hiroshima to the smaller islands in the Seto-Inland sea.

All in all, this is a very pleasant place to visit.

We head back to the town centre train station, queue for more cheese pies then catch a local train towards Miyajima Island. It drops us at the ferry port and we are soon sailing across the narrow strait to the island.  It’s a wonder the ferry isn’t listing to one side as everyone is on the starboard side to catch a view of the Torii Gate that sits in the waters just off the coast of the island. The sight is ranked as one of the top 3 in Japan.

While officially named Itsukushima, the island is more commonly referred to as Miyajima, Japanese for “shrine island”. This is because the island is so closely related to its key shrine, Itsukushima Shrine, in the public’s mind. Like the torii gate, the shrine’s main buildings are built over water.