The colorful wolf

May 16, 2008

Shikoku part 3: Gloom and Boredom

Filed under: Cycling,Travel — randy @ 22:03

It was the sixth day already, and we were almost at the southernmost point of our journey. Literally almost, because it took about 20 minutes of cycling to reach the cape. And what a cape it was. The sky had turned cloudy and gray, the temperature dropped, and there was nothing but mountains and rocks besides us. Finally arriving at the deepest end of our journey we found: … nothing!

A fierce sea., some good rock formations and a crappy lookout point which you could only reach through a souvenir store. That’s Muroto Misaki. And on a bad day like that it was probably the closest to hell I ever felt.Somehow the place felt evil, and that was really the only thing that made it remotely interesting. Nobody there. Sea pounding on rocks. And nothing else. Meh.

Still, it felt good to know we were on the home stretch. Passing the cape we turned our direction northwards again and started on the long road to Kochi, still more than 80 kilometers away. But it felt good. Despite the weather, despite the fact that it was the coldest, worst day yet, it felt good. The road was flat and wide, and had plenty of space for cyclists. We made excellent speed, averaging speeds of 25kph, which is not bad at all considering our luggage. We celebrated finding a convenience store, the first we’ve seen since the morning of the day before. We cycled around many mountains, and after each mountain we felt a bit closer to Kochi. We could almost see it. And then it started to rain.

Fortunately we were in conbini land now, and we could stop at many convenience stores. The rain lasted long though, and after taking a very long lunch break we decided we had to go on to reach Kochi, and we equipped ourselves for rain. Cycling went well for a long time, but later in the afternoon it got worse again and we had to stop and take shelter. We stopped at another convenience store for a long time, and again a bit later, when we found ourselves in the first place that could be called a town. After Hiwasa we haven’t encountered a town as big as this. ‘Big’, in this case, meaning that it was incredibly tiny, but at least it had a railway station, and one tall building. With a restaurant on the 11th floor, which is where we took another rainshelterbreak.

All in all you’d think that we didn’t make much progress at all, but in fact we cycled a lot, and at the end of the day we started to come closer and closer to Kochi, our final destination. After our last break the rain cleared up, and we found an amazing cycle path, that took us away from the main road on a course next to the ocean for a very long stretch, and I really enjoyed cycling there. We found a public pool on the way, but we couldn’t enter because we didn’t bring swimming clothing.. No choice but to go to onsen. Again.

Just when the sun started to set our luck was proven once again and we found a huge public bathhouse next to the road. That taken care of, we decided to first find a place to put up our tent. That didn’t go quite so easily, as usual… We strayed quite far away from the ocean, so the beach was out of the question. Local people advised us to go near the mountains, but we were already too far into a suburban area to find a good place that belonged to no one where we could put our tent. It started to become darker and darker, and finally we decided to try our luck at a tiny local shrine, next to someone’s house. We asked the people living there if we could camp in front of the shrine, since it had a nice patch of grass, an even rarer thing to find than even I had expected before this trip, and the local people took us to see the owner of the shrine, who lived nearby. He, of course, agreed, being a nice countryside person and all, and we put up our tent, left our luggage inside and went to the bathhouse (which was a 10 minutes cycling ride…). Yakiniku (Korean BBQ) for dinner completed the day that took us back into civilization.

The next day we packed up, and cycled to Kochi. It didn’t take long to arrive, and we were there way before lunch. Having arrived at our destination we finally took the time for something that urgently needed our attention: laundry. The information office at the station managed to point us to the most crappy public laundry place that I have ever seen, and that’s where we did our laundry. It took well over an hour to finish, but at least our clothes were clean again.

After lunch we wanted to find an onsen and a camp site, and we spent most of the lasting daylight hours finding one.. Again, the information center did us a nice favor by pointing us to the beach, only 15kms(!) away. It took about an hour to reach the beach, thanks to tunnels, hills, and breaks on the way, and when we finally reached the beach we were quite disappointed. What those people referred to as ‘beach’ was in fact a very narrow stretch of steeply sloping sand, right between the ocean and a very high concrete wall. Putting up a tent there would have been suicide. Morale was low, especially because the sky turned gray and it started to rain again. Far away we could see huge rainclouds approaching. So we gave up and went to the onsen instead, on the way looking for places to put our tent. Of course we didn’t find any, because this is Japan and every place has a purpose, which is not putting a tent on it. Well, forget it, onsen first. The road towards the onsen was quite good, taking us between mountains on countryside paths between rice fields, providing a wonderful view, especially as the sun began to set. The mountains even shielded us from the rain, and when the sun started to set all was clear again. It felt great to cycle slowly on the narrow paths taking us deeper into the mountains. That’s the good part. The bad part was that we were worried that we couldn’t find a place to stay for the night, and that there were flies everywhere. I had to wear sunglasses because I got a fly in my eye three times..

The onsen was great! The best of the whole trip in my opinion. Usually I get tired of the really hot water quite fast, especially if there’s no special minerals or anything inside and the water feels just like a normal bath. This onsen was no different, but they had this wonderful little massage bath outside, with cooler water temperate and a great view looking out onto a mountain and the setting sun, and I stayed in there for half an hour. Quite relaxing.

As our camp site search became more and more desperate, this night was a good example of camping at a crappy place. We started to cycle back to the city because we couldn’t find anything, but on the way we found a small triangular field of grass. It had plenty of room for our tent though, and we asked the people next door if we could camp there. They said we couldn’t, because it wasn’t their land, but we could camp on their patch of grass, which was located on a small triangle at the opposite side of the road, in between a bunch of trees. And this area was small. Very small. A triangle with sides of maybe 4 meters, but we were sharing it with trees. And it was on the side of the road. A busy road. Still, we were tired after a busy day, and we slept well.

Saturday. We got so used to our daily rhythm by now. Wake up, pack up the tent, cycle to conbini, wash up, buy breakfast, start cycling. Today was not a cycling day though, and we only cycled to the train station at Kochi, where we parked our bicycles and put our luggage in a locker. That is where I met the most rude Japanese person ever. I wanted to take my bicycle inside the station so I could get close to the lockers. I got off my bicycle, and walked the bike in slowly. No people around, but a person whose sole task it was to sit on his ass all day and watch luggage noticed me, and just started screaming at me “NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!!!”, while crossing his arms, which is the Japanese gesture meaning that you are doing something that is not allowed. Ok. Nice. Definitely not what I would expect in Japan. Just to piss him off we parked our bicycle right in front of his office, and carried the sidebags to the locker from there. Annoying person.

This day’s trip took us to OoBoke, deep down in between the mountains of the center of Shikoku, and the local train that we rode was very local indeed. It took us past a station called ‘Gomen’, which means ‘Sorry’ in Japanese, and we had to wait one hour at one stop until the train rode on. We finally arrived in OoBoke in the afternoon, and the station was very local. There was almost nothing there! We waited for the bus there, and when it took us away from the station we could really appreciate the tinyness of it all. One narrow read leading down to the station (steep slope!), and after that the bus rejoined a major road that crossed the central area of Shikoku.

We were on our way to a famous bridge, supposedly very old and made of vines, spanning a beautiful valley. The bus ride that took us there was certainly amazing. The difference in height was simply stunning. I’m sure that we traveled several hundred meters up and down on our way to the bridge, and the view was amazing all the way through. This mountainous area is mildly populated, and there are farms and onsen resorts every once in a while, and there’s plenty enough to see. When we arrived at the bridge (we had to walk the last part) we found a huge parking lot and tourist center. This is where all the Japanese go on their golden week holiday.. The number people kept on increasing and increasing as we went closer to the vine bridge, and when we finally arrived the disappointment was complete. It was full of tourists, The vine bridge was not made of real vine, and the beautiful valley was nothing compared to the bus ride that took us there…

We wandered around a bit, looking at a nice waterfall nearby, and walking to the riverside. We asked local people if there was anything to see around there, and we found out that there were indeed some caves nearby that might be of interest. We didn’t know anything in detail though, and we really only walked the long way there because we were disappointed with the vine bridge, and anything else would be better than that. The caves did indeed prove to be interesting, as you can read from the report I wrote on a separate page. Quite a surprise to find that indeed.

After we got back to Kochi we went to a small bathhouse in the city. It looked quite crappy, and I’m sure that only local people use it to wash themselves and take a bath. From my own personal experience I can tell that there are Japanese people that do not fit in the baths that they have at their own home, so even crappy bathhouses have their customers. Still, any place to take a shower and clean yourself up is good, and it was only 300 yizzles.

For food that evening we found an interesting local marketplace, which resembled the markets I’ve seen in Hong Kong. Tiny small food stands, a very cramped and crowded place, and all tables were taken. We got takeout sushi and went to a nearby park to eat.

That evening, the last evening we would spend camping, I felt lucky, and decided to look around the river that flowed through the city for a place to camp. Just following the riverbed it didn’t take us long to find a good place to camp. We found a wonderful place near a small bridge. A small park without any buildings or people around, soft grass under our asses and a nice view. The best place we camped in the whole trip. A worthy ending.

The last day we did nothing! Well, not nothing, but we kind of slacked off. The weather changed a lot, and it was quite hot that day. The first thing we did in the morning was send our luggage back home. We had no need for the heavy sidebags any more, so we sent everything we didn’t need home. The post office didn’t sell a box large enough for my stuff, but luck was with me again, and just around the corner we found a small factory that left a lot of cardboard boxes outside. One of them fit my luggage perfectly. After that we visited the castle, and a very big local market, going from one side of the city to the other side. In the afternoon we looked for refreshment, and went from an ice cream stand to a conbini to the riverside, where we just hung around for an hour. After that we explored the city and the suburbs a bit. In the end we got bored though, and went to an internet cafe to spend the last hours before our night bus would arrive.

When the night bus finally arrived we almost missed it, because we were waiting at the wrong place. And for a larger bus… As it turned out, we had to transfer two hours later into a larger night bus that would take us to Tokyo. Very dodgy indeed. There was an even bigger problem, because this tiny shuttle bus didn’t have enough room for our bicycles! We managed to fit mine into the luggage compartment, but Junko’s couldn’t fit, so the bus driver carried it into the bus after all the people got in. Then, at a bathroom break, he got out first and took out the bicycle so the people could get out. When the bus started to leave the idiot driver forgot to take the bicycle back in, and as he started to drive away suddenly we heard a scraping sound. It was the bike scratching the side of the bus… Argh. So stupid. Junko’s bicycle bag was damaged on the bottom, and I hope that she can get money for that from the bus company…

Finally, we transferred to a bigger bus, and we were on our way to Shinjuku. Or maybe not all the way, as it turns out. At 7 in the morning I woke up, and found that we took a bathroom stop at a big roadside store. In Ebina, the town next to Atsugi! I asked the driver if it was okay for me to get out right there, which was ok. I put my bicycle back together and cycled back to Atsugi from Ebina. I was home in half an hour, feeling genki and motivated until noon, when I went to bed and slept very well.

Cycling is great. It shows you a different world. Traveling by car is not the same. You’re not connected to the world around you. Traveling by train is even more different, just going from one place to another, ignoring everything in between. But by cycling you get to explore every place in between, and compared to walking you get to explore a lot more area. It’s the kind of travel I prefer. It’s been a great journey yet again 🙂

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