1 June - Hakodate
At 11.45am on 27th May 2009 on route 28 between Ichinoseki and Morioka something happened. Can you guess what? (answer at the end of this journal entry).
Journeying through Japan has continued to be a joy. At least from the cycling, camping and encounters point of view. Not so good from the communications` aspect , though: my mobile phone refuses to work here; internet access (at least north of Tokyo, is oh so difficult to come by, whether in cafes or hotels/hostels, whether wireless or fixed line; and even acquiring an international phonecard meant having to search for an international phone. The main reason, therefore, for the lack of any journal update these last 2 weeks.
So, what have I been up to since leaving Tokyo? Well, I have done more camping: near the beach, near shrines, near a quiet track road, on a closed campsite. I have also stayed in churches: 3 on the trot to be precise. This came about from really not worrying about where I`d be sleeping that night (cos, as we`ve learnt by now, something always turns up) and, even though it was 5.45pm, I was not panicking. I had been on a main road for much of the day and now had been trying, periodically, to veer off onto quiet roads to look for suitable camping places. Nothing jumped out at me saying, stay, stay here. And then I saw a cross on a building in a small town called Ninohe and just wondered the possibility - having initially thought, oh it`s one of those bridal churches (ie. that exist solely for weddings, usually attached to a wedding hall). So, went to the church, met the pastor`s wife, who asked if I was a traveller and said I could sleep in the church! How great was that? God IS so good to me - and not always subtle about it either. :-) The current church is about 12 years old with a small congregation; runs a home group for depressed people and a kindergarten for the local pre-schoolers. The pastor`s wife, Hiroko, and I put two pews together for my bed; there was a meeting room adjacent, as well as a kitchen and WC; even a piano and a hymnbook that had familiar tunes in, so that I had a solo singing and playing time in the evening (I say playing, but that`s using the term pretty loosely!). On leaving Ninohe the following morning, I was given directions to a church in Noheji, about 90 kms away. The pastor phoned the church and so I was expected when I later arrived, wet and soggy and cold (the previous day it had been 22 centigrade; today it had gone down to a horribly cold 12 degrees). This time I slept in a small office-cum-storeroom adjacent to the church. A young couple from Alaska, Julie and Tailor, who are in the town teaching English for a couple of years, took me along to a floating sushi restaurant: dishes go by on a conveyor belt and you just help yourself to whatever you want. Special orders are made by pusing various buttons, which then arrive on a second-tier conveyor belt by `shinsen` (bullet train). Haha, great fun. Dishes are then counted up at the end and paid for at a fixed price per dish. The following morning I went along to Julie`s and Tailor`s for a shower and breakfast (piles of pancakes with bacon, maple syrup and jam). On my departure, I was given name of a church in Aomori, duly turned up, unannounced this time, startling the young pastor and his wife, but who, despite being bemused by my arrival, kindly allowed me to sleep in the church. These last 3 nights` hospitality have been quite an experience.
Other encounters have included stopping by a strawberry shop, ending up being given 2 punnets of strawberries, food for lunch, oh and a small paper bag with a generous yen note enclosed!!! At the Marine Ship guest house in Okumatsushima, I was introduced by the owner to a group of young students staying there, because of my trip. And now, currently, in Hakodate, on the northern island of Hokkaido, I`m staying at the Hakodateyama Guest House with fantastic views over the bay. Sasa is the welcoming host; the other guests are 3 very congenial Thai guys doing a whirlwind tour of Japan.
I have managed to sort my embarrassingly noisy chain: eventually, in addition to the ratchet noise, a clunking noise developed (the same as I`d had on the old chain!) and then the chain kept slipping off every mile or so. Well, I thought, this is no good. So I had a proper look at it and had a bit of a think, with the result that I realised it was too loose! Duh! you may well think to yourself. :-) And so I tightened it and, hey presto, I regained my lovely Raven. Recently, I also had my folding tyre replace the front, rather threadbare, one; as well as fitting new brakepads! Not bad, eh, 10,000 miles on one set of pads?! Now I have to be careful to brake gently, otherwise I find myself about to go derriere over tete!
The weather in the last couple of days has been iffy to say the least. I hope it improves, cos tomorrow I expect to be having to start camping again. I`ve just learnt tonight that there are bears on Hokkaido. But I`ve had excellent advice from Julie and Tailor about how to deal with any encounters (like playing dead if I come face to face with a grizzly, although it would be far better if I did not meet one in the first place).
The main activities I need to be doing now is to organise my visa for America, which seems much harder now since January this year. I had thought I`d be able to obtain it on entry, but this does not seem to be the case. Therefore, I need to go in person to the American Consulate in Sapporo and see if I can get an appointment to meet the Consul. The other thing I need to do is try and organise a sea passage to Alaska. I started this today, by going along to the port authority and speaking with some people. Hopefully, I shall have some positive news tomorrow; after which I set off for the 4-day trip to Sapporo.
The momentous event mentioned at the beginning of this missive was that I clocked up 10,000 miles (16,000 kms). Yo! :-)
I havejust been into my email@example.com email box, realising that I had not checked it for a while and found a whole bunch of emails!! For some reason I expect people to send to my email address on the Contact page, forgetting that, of course, it is easier to click on the Reply button! Ooops. HUGE APOLOGIES, therefore, and BIG THANKS to all those who have sent lovely emails and received no acknowledgement!! :-) XX
9 June - Sapporo
I arrived here in Sapporo last Saturday (6th). The weather since Hakodate has not been great: wet, cold, misty/foggy, occasional watery sunny breaks; but, hey, it could have been worse.
I left Hakodate with no sea passage, but I did have a list of shipping agents in Tokyo and Yokohama, which would appear to be the ports best served with routes to Canada, at least.
I camped by a lake, in a park, by another lake for the 3 nights on the way to Sapporo. The first night was a designated 'camping place', which meant it had a toilet block and
washing-up units outside; and they were neat and tidy (but, then, there's nothing in Japan that is not clean and tidy!). It was lovely. The rain
stopped for the evening (although it rained all night) and it was calm and serene sitting by my campfire at the waterside, boiling water for my hot chocolate and eating my sausage sarnie with tomato
kethcup and mustard and swigging, genteely, my can of Asahi.
Arriving at a park, I assumed there was designated camping, cos it was marked on my map and there was a washing area, which I take to mean that one can camp there. Anyway, it was cold and misty and there was no-one around to object. So I pitched my tent.
The third night was on a proper paying campsite; but, having shown my intro letter in Japanese and asked if they would consider not charging me, an elderly guy, obviously the one in authority, gave the thumbs up. :-) So, today's lesson: there's no harm in asking. (a similar thing happened at a backpackers' hostel, when I asked for 4 nights' accommodation for the price of 3 and they agreed).
The day I arrived in Sapporo, was only after a really hard-work ascent, going on and on for ever. I was incredibly tired, wondering if I'd be able to manage to make it. I realised that living on sausage, bread and cakes was not actually the best diet for my needs. The weather was horribly cold and damp and I am suffering pretty miserably with worsening hot flushes which periodically drench me; did I really once think/say/expostulate that I never wanted to go onto HRT? (too much information, men? OK, but I know a goodly proportion of my readership will be empathising with me, which helps, in some strange way).
The slow ascent up and over Nakayama Pass, however arduous and painful that was, was accompanied by stunning views and a welcome 26-kilometre downhill all the way to Sapporo and to a wonderfully warm and welcoming hostel: Ino's Place, run by Miwa and Aji. So, so comfortable and relaxing. Plus internet!
Whilst here, a couple of couples from Australia, one with a 9-month old and both the women pregnant, were just starting out on 4 weeks cycling aroound Hokkaido. The couple with the baby have done LOADS of cycle touring; no way were they going to let a couple of nippers stop them from continuing their travels. Great.
I'm sorry to say that I threw a wobbly at the American Consulate yesterday, when I went along to try and get a visa sorted and found I was not going to get past the front door and that I was being expected to go back to Tokyo in order to obtain one! The result was that the next interview day for visa applicants was today (they have ONLY 2 per month) and that, although fully booked, they would squeeze me in. :-) . Everybody was very nice to me when I went today; I should receive my passport with visa by the end of the week (not the 10-14 days' official line).
In the meantime, I shall go off for a few days. On return to Sapporo, I shall then decide my ongoing plans: I might have a berth on a freighter going to Prince Rupert, Canada; although it would mean having to return south to Yokohama. BUT, such a downside would be weighed lightly against the benefit of the joy of crossing the Pacific NOT in an aeroplane! Don't you think?! :-)
16 June - (back in) Sapporo
Yabadabadoo! Isn`t it great?! Yo, yo, yo! I am booked on the Hanjin Madrid (click on the link, which should open onto Trans Pacific, scroll down for a picture of the ship), leaving Yokohama on or about 8 July, arriving Prince Rupert, BC, on or about 9 days later; flexibility is the key with freighter travel. I am booked into the single cabin, which happens to be the owner`s. On arrival in Prince Rupert, I shall go by the monthly Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Whittier in Alaska, followed by a local daily ferry to Valdez, from where I shall begin my epic 10-month cycle down and across North America. :-) :-)
My passport, complete with American visa, came back really promptly, within 2 days of my interview. Pretty efficient, hey what?
In the meantime, rain prevails, which is no problem sitting here in the homely, relaxed atmosphere of Ino`s Place, but not too delightful when I shall be cycling and camping in the rain over the next couple of weeks. Between hosteling in Sapporo and the ski resort of Furano (Alpine Backpackers`Hostel) during the past week I had a taster of the probable weather to come. :-( But, wait a minute. Let`s just step back and take a deep breath, shall we?! What is this negative attitude?! I didn`t get where I am today with such a train of thought! :-) What`s wrong with thinking hazy, halcyon, sunny, summer days? Get a grip, woman!
Whilst travelling through Hokkaido, I have appreciated and enjoyed the beautiful scenery: large, tranquil lakes shrouded in hanging mists; river torrents tumbling treacherously down their tortured tracks (yes, I know, a little less alliteration, please!); wintwy wain wunning down my waterpwoofs - (speaking of which, is Jonathan Woss still as popular as ever?) - Apologies to my overseas readers who probably haven`t a clue what I`m talking about!
I`ve met lovely people in the hostels; not only the owners, but the other guests: variously from Australia, Switzerland, China, Singapore, France, Holland, New Zealand; ranging from trips of 4 weeks to 12 months.
My Japanese-translated letter is coming into its own: I have had lovely responses from hostels and paying campsites when I have produced it, more often than not accompanied with some kind of discount. Thanks to Michiko in Bristol for the translation. :-)
Now I`m off to repair my trousers - again. Another patch. I hope they last until the end of the trip.
21 June - Chitose
Change of plan, folks. (Gender prerogative!). Following up on an ahha! moment the other day as I was cycling along, I have decided to do some wwoofing for a week or so. Let me hastily explain this before wrong assumptions are made. I have arranged through a global organisation called WWOOF to do some work on an organic farm here on Hokkaido. The host receives free help; I am given free food and accommodation (beats camping in the rain), a chance to experience, firsthand, rural Japanese life and gives me something to do before heading back south to catch my freighter.
I`ve camped by the beautiful Lake Shikotsu, saw a small (therefore, dangerous?) snake, been refused an overnight stay in a church, been given 2 nights` free camping on a kyan-pujo (campsite) in Aoba Park here in Chitose.
In the meantime, it is still raining sooooooooo much.
25 June - Mukawa
Here I am, then, cow-girl Kate! First job each day is mucking out the cow-stalls - veeery niiice, hey what?! Well, at least it's got me behaving in Japanese manner: ie, wearing a mask - plus overalls, welly boots, hairbuff + baseball cap, gloves. After which it tends to be a bit of Bill and Ben; in other words, lots of weeding (of the maize plot, the kidney bean runs and the (huge) cabbage field) - and a bit of seed-sowing (spinach and chinese lettuce).
It's great having this extended encounter within a Japanese home. The family comprise husband and wife, three children (4-9 years old), and obi-san (grandmother). They raise cattle for beef and various vegetables, which are sold directly or via an agricultural association. It is hard work for Naomi and Kazu; not least that they don't have the opportunity to go away even for a few days together, let alone for proper holidays.
The weather changed a couple of days ago, after a pretty difficult journey here on Monday: very wet, incredibly windy and cold. It is now hot and sunny. I had a lovely send-off from the campsite manager when I left in pouring rain. He presented me with a banana and a drink, many good lucks and take cares and endless waves. He was so sweet.
I shall be wwoofing it here 'til bout 1 July. I even get a day off! on Monday. I received my freighter ticket and instructions and information pack today. It looks as though the ship will be sailing a day early, on the 7th, taking about 8 days to reach Canada, thereby giving me an extended stay in Prince Rupert before caching the monthly ferry to Alaska.
Here's to merry mucking!