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Indonesia Part IV: Komodo etc.

Thursday, July 10th, 2014
Komodo Dragon!

Komodo Dragon!

This part of our journey began with a short flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo, on the island of Flores. Unlike Java and Borneo, which are mainly Muslim, and unlike Bali, which is mainly Balinese Hindu, Flores is mainly Catholic. Our guide here, Paul, explained that when getting an ID card in Indonesia, every person must declare a religion, and the religion is printed on their ID card. The options are Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, or Protestantism. And since 1980, inter-religious marriages are not allowed; one partner must switch religions upon marriage. In addition to your religion, your ID card will also state your occupation.

At Labuan Bajo, we boarded a boat with Paul and the boat’s crew of 3, and set sail west across the Flores Sea to the island of Rinca, which is part of Komodo National park. At Rinca, park ranger Kashmir (?) took us on a short trek in search of Komodo dragons. The only dragons we saw were at the beginning and end of our trek, in front of the ranger station. Apparently they come down to the station because they smell the food. There was one there when we left and 2 there when we returned. The dragons are giant lizards about the size of a crocodile. All of the rangers carry large forked sticks that they use to ward off the dragons in case of attack; attacks are apparently quite frequent. During the actual trek, Kashmir frequently stopped after hearing something that might have been a dragon, but ended up showing us a long-tailed macaque (monkey), wild chicken, deer, or water buffalo. The water buffalo are like a cross between a cow and a rhinocerous, and they like to take mud baths (which is difficult for them right now during the dry season). And upon returning to the dock, I learned that a long-tailed macaque will, in fact, start to hiss at you if you get too close to take its picture. 🙂

Flying Fruit Bats

Flying Fruit Bats

After finishing our trek on Rinca, our boat took us back to a mangrove island we had passed where, around sunset, thousands of flying fruit bats take off from the trees and fly towards Flores to look for food at night. Having thousands of bats flying overhead at sunset is a pretty cool sight. 🙂 Then our boat parked us in the Rinca harbor overnight.

The next morning, the boat started moving before either we or the sun were up, around 5:15am, we got up to watch the sun rise around 6am, and we got to the island of Komodo around 7:45am. Komodo is the other part of Komodo National Park, except it is much bigger than Rinca with approximately the same number of dragons on it, so it is even harder to spot one. And since June-August is breeding season, they are usually pretty reclusive around this time, digging nests and burying eggs. Once the eggs hatch, the babies will run up trees to live for the first few years, since the adults will actually eat them instead of taking care of them. On this trek as well, the only dragon we saw was when we returned to the ranger station. This one was a female, whereas the 2 on Rinca had been males, and this one was hungry and on the move, whereas the 2 on Rinca had been lazily lying there. Rangers surrounded it with forked sticks so that it would not attack the tourists while we took pictures of it. During the actual trek, our guide Alvin pointed out a lot of his favorite birds, such as the Oriole, and caught a flying lizard for us. We also saw some deer. Alvin told us that he knew Paul and that Paul had asked him personally to take us. This is his last month working as a ranger; he intends to enroll in college next month.

Coral Reef

Coral Reef

When we finished our trek on Komodo, our boat parked near Pink Beach and we went snorkeling over a coral reef that lay between the boat and the beach. Well, I went snorkeling. Ted’s flippers were too big; his mask couldn’t seal to his face over his glasses, and he dropped his snorkel on the bottom of the sea and had to have a member of the boat crew dive down and retrieve it… so he swam to the beach and back with me while I looked at all the pretty things underwater. 😛 The water was only a few meters deep, and at the bottom it was covered with coral and fishies. My favorite was a multi-colored fish that was neon blue, green, and purple and perhaps 9 inches long. After I climbed out of the water, our boat began the 4-hour sail back to Labuan Bajo, where we checked into a nice hotel on the beach and enjoyed some traditional dance performances of the Manggarai people in front of the restaurant that was under a gazebo. The next morning, we flew back to Bali to begin the last leg of our adventure.

Indonesia Part III: Java

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014
Atop Borobudur

Atop Borobudur

On Java, we were met by our guide Dwi and our driver Kus, who drove us from the airport on the north shore to our hotel near the south shore. We spent the night in the Manohara hotel at the base of the Borobudur Buddhist temple, and went up to visit it before sunset. At the temple, there is no inside, but you can climb up the outside. The bottom levels are ringed with reliefs etched into the wall that depict the life and teachings of the Buddha; the top 2 levels are ringed with giant stupas, bell-shaped mounds of stone with Buddha statues sitting inside of them and little diamond- or square-shaped windows through which you could peer at the Buddhas. From the top, you have a view of the whole surrounding valley. We played around at the temple until we got kicked out at closing, and then went back to our hotel for (bad) dinner (though it had dance and music performances!) and early sleeping.

We awoke the next day at 4am and ascended Borobudur a second time with Dwi, this time in the dark. We awaited the sunrise at the top of the temple, getting constantly blinded by hordes of people who do not know what flashlights are for. Eventually the sky became lighter and fewer people tried to find us with their flashlight, but the sky was quite cloudy and we never actually saw the sun appear, just saw some clouds turn pink. We explored the rest of the temple that we hadn’t gotten to see the previous night; while doing so, a group of middle school girls ran up, greeted me, and told me how pretty I was, then couldn’t stop giggling when I told them they were pretty as well and posed for me to take their picture, haha. I don’t think kids here see many foreigners. 😛

Prambanan

Prambanan

We returned to the hotel for a (bad) breakfast, and at 9am, Dwi and Kus took us to the nearby town of Jogjakarta/Yogyakarta, the old capital of the island which can’t decide how to spell its name. In Jogja, we got a tour of the Sultan’s palace, in which the 10th Sultan currently resides while acting as Minister of Finance in the democratically-elected Parliament; the compounds we saw are basically a museum of pictures and artifacts from the previous 9 sultans. We also saw the Sultan’s Water Palace, which was only used by the first 2 sultans before being struck by an earthquake but is for some reason still safe for tourists to wander… It had gardens and swimming pools that served as a secondary retreat for the sultan, and a defensive wall to protect him from attacks from the Dutch.

After visiting the palaces, we got to tour a batik factory and a silver factory. In the batik factory, we watched the process by which the Javanese handmake their fabric: first stenciling on a pattern, then waxing the design, then dying it such that everything not waxed gets colored, then boiling it to remove the wax, leaving behind white areas with the design. In the silver factory, we saw artisans at work spinning silver threads and making jewelry out of them, and learned the process by which silver is mixed and shined. We then left Jogja and went to the nearby Hindu temple at Prambanan, which is the largest Hindu temple in southeast Asia. This complex has 3 main temple pyramids, one each for Brahma (the creator), Shiva (the destroyer), and Vishnu (the protector), with statues of each god inside of them after you climb a tower of steps. In front of these main temples are 3 smaller pyramids for the gods’ vehicles: a swan, a cow, and an eagle, respectively. Around the complex are mini-pyramid temples at each of the 4 gates, and two “twin temples” mirroring each other across the complex for no apparent reason. We stayed there until sunset, and then went to a hotel in Jogja, ate (yum), and crashed.

The next morning, we slept in until–wait for it–5am!, got an early breakfast (the restaurant literally opened early for us), and were taken to the train station for a 4.5-hour train ride down Java to the town of Surabaya, where we were met by our guide Anwar and driver Imam for another 3-hour drive south to the Bromo Cottages, a hotel near Mt. Bromo, which is an active volcano. This hotel is very high up; we drove through a lot of mountain farming villages on the way and ended up on top of a mountain with a very nice view. Unfortunately, the room itself smelled like mildew, but we didn’t stay there long. We took pictures around the premises and then went to bed around 8:30pm.

Mts. Bromo & Semeru

Mts. Bromo & Semeru

We woke up again at 3am because we’re crazy, and got in a 4-wheel drive jeep with Anwar. In case you ever wondered, it is not at all comfortable to ride in the back of a jeep. The seats are sideways, so you slide back and forth; your head is too high to see out of the window; and it is very bumpy. The jeep took us to approximately 8,800 feet up, and we walked a short distance to watch the sun rise over the valley below. Then we walked a short distance further to see a spectacular view of Mt. Bromo’s crater inside the caldera, with another volcano, Semeru, in the distance. The jeep then took us down, down, down to the bottom of the crater, and we walked up, up, up to its rim and looked down and saw the steam billowing out from within. By the time we returned to the hotel, 5 hours after we’d left, it was time for… breakfast!! And they had eggs, instead of just noodles!!! After breakfast, Anwar and Imam, picked us up again to drive us 3 hours north back to Surabaya. On the way, Anwar stopped a few times and had us get out to point out eucalyptus and clove trees, leaves that close when you touch them, a waterfall, giant spiders (!!), and other things of interest. A few local kids came running up once and introduced themselves, and most of the village people who saw me smile at them as we drove by smiled back. When we reached Surabaya, we took a very short flight to Denpasar (on the island of Bali) and waited until the next morning for the flight that would take us east for the next section of our adventure! While waiting overnight in Bali, we gave in and ate pizza for dinner…

Indonesia Parts I-II: Jakarta & Borneo

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Indonesia Part I: Jakarta

Jakarta Airport Menu

Time to order-by-picture

We did not get to see the city of Jakarta, but upon arriving in Indonesia we were met by our tour operator, Rya, and a driver and taken to a very strange hotel near the airport named FM7. There were entire wings of the building that we could see from the roof, but never figured out how to get to. There were entire floors that some staircases never reached. Much of it was still under construction. I felt like I was in a labyrinth. The next morning, the same driver and a different guide named Harry (maybe) took us to the domestic terminal of the airport to hop over to Borneo; it took us 45 minutes to go 2 miles. Welcome to Jakarta (outskirts) traffic. I wanted lunch, but had no idea what the menus were offering, so I decided to order by picture. I picked a picture and pointed to it. Turned out I’d ordered something like a “combination rice plate”… so they just picked some options for me. We also noted that it was mostly tourists eating at the food court, likely because we are here during the month of Ramadan. We were not expecting so many tourists in the domestic terminal. We also got to experience the excitement of a delayed flight and of being told that the reason the gate listed on our ticket (C6) did not match the gate listed on the monitor (C3) was due to “monitor error”… and then we left through gate C7 instead. This was as opposed to the previous flight whereupon we were told “the monitor is always right” when there was a mismatch…

Indonesia Part II: Borneo

Our Klotok

Our Klotok

Borneo is full of rainforest. We flew to the town of Pangkalan Bun, which is the largest town on the island, with 8000 working adults (the only people counted in the census because they have IDs, which, incidentally, state their profession). We were met by our guide Sony and took a taxi to the smaller town of Kumei, 2000 working adults. At Kumei, we boarded our boat, by first walking through a family’s home, out the back of their home, and across the 4 boats that were parked closer to the dock. On the boat we were joined by a family of 4; the father is the boat captain, the mother is the cook, and they have 2 small children, Andres and Mira. The boat is about 2m by 10m, and has 2 decks; the crew stayed on the bottom deck and we stayed on the top deck, which was equipped with a table, 2 chairs, and 2 mattresses for us to sleep on at night. In the back is a space with a door, inside of which is a toilet bowl that empties to the river and a shower head that pumps from the river. Since we’d ended up with a (delayed) afternoon flight instead of the morning flight that got canceled, it was dark by the time we reached the boat. We set sail towards the river that would take us to Tanjung Puting National Park. We sat up at the bow of the boat and watched the jungle sail by, saw a few monkeys in the treetops that the captain pointed out with a flashlight, and counted myriad stars overhead (I estimated about 200 in my immediate field of view) while Sony told us about the history of the river and national park (e.g. the first portion of it is brown because there is a gold mine up ahead dumping mercury into the water; the cleaner fork later on is coca-cola colored). We were served tomato-fish, vegetables, fried… something (soybean?), and watermelon for dinner, and retired shortly thereafter around 9pm. We docked in front of a village about 2 hours down the river, and the crew draped a mosquito net around our mattresses. We fell asleep sticky and dirty, but too tired to care.

Alpha Male "Tom"

Alpha Male “Tom”

The next morning, we woke up with the sun and roosters (apparently the sun rises at 5:30am and sets at 5:30pm year-round here) and wandered around the dock until the mother (who said her name was something like “Ms. Watli”) served us breakfast at 7. A mother and child came to the dock from the village to wash clothes and bathe, and a father and son came to take off in a small canoe. Breakfast was (over-)buttered and grilled toast, eggs, and really good banana pancakes, with orange juice. After breakfast, we motored another 2 hours down the river, this time in daylight, and watched the jungle sail by and saw a few more probiscus monkeys until we arrived at the second orangutan research station in the national park. The first one, the one with the wild orangutans, we missed due to our late arrival the previous night. The second two have semi-wild orangutans that are being rehabilitated after being taken away from people who had them as pets. We trekked about a kilometer into the jungle to the feeding station, where a park ranger set out a large mound of bananas and bowls of milk onto a raised platform and the guides made ape-calls. We waited for a while, and then a large male orangutan came lumbering up to the platform from the jungle, plopped himself down, and started snacking. Three females, one with a baby, came after him, but one of the females stayed in the trees until everyone else had left before coming down to find the leftovers. Later, another female with an older child came as well. The females would often drink some milk, and then shove a fistful of bananas into their mouth and climb a tree to eat them before coming back down for more; the male just sat there like he owned the place. We then set sail farther down the river to the third research station, eating lunch along the way (chicken and tofu in coconut curry; peanut sauce and egg over vegetables; fried shrimp; pineapple) and enjoying a nice natural shower in which I danced around at the bow of the boat. At the third station, the apes were even less wild; we had to walk around one that was sleeping in the middle of the path with a pile of branches on his head to block the rain, and at the feeding station, the orangutans would just walk through the crowd to get to the platform. A much larger crowd of orangutans gathered at this feeding station, as did a gibbon and a wild pig that hung out with them, a la Lion King. Towards the end of their snack, the alpha male chased a female up a tree, dragged her back down the tree, and mated with her… another family’s guide told them that she had been flirting with him, but she didn’t seem too happy when he decided to take her up on the offer. After feeding time was over and the orangutans had all wandered off, we set sail back up the river towards Kumei and enjoyed the most wanted shower of our lives (being warned to finish before we entered the part of the river full of mercury, as it would irritate our skin). Dinner, early sleep, early rise, and a day of transit: chug-chug 2 more hours to Kumei, drive to Pangkalan Bun, fly 1 hour to Semarang on the island of Java, drive 3 more hours to Borobudur.

The Japan Alps: Japan Days 8-10

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Last post on Japan!

Arrival of the Shinkansen

Arrival of the Shinkansen

2012-07-28: Kyoto to Fukuji Onsen

We started the day with another 8am breakfast at the ryokan. Breakfast has gotten more psychic: Ms. Uemura stopped asking if Ted wanted a second piece of toast and just brought it. During breakfast, we watched the Olympic opening ceremony on TV in Japanese and saw the torch get lit. We could hear the beginning of everything that was said in English… but about 3 words in the Japanese translator would drown out the English in the background. After eating, we cleaned up and checked out, but left our luggage behind. Even as we checked out, there were no other guests at Ryokan Uemura. Surprising; almost disconcerting.

No sooner had we walked around the corner from the ryokan than we ended up in the middle of a group of people filming a movie scene. They had to stop to let us through. I’m guessing they re-shot that scene. =\

We walked to Ryozen Kannon Buddhist temple, which was basically in our backyard but we haven’t been home during its open hours. Our entrance fee bought us an incense stick to bring up to the… incense-stick-offering-area. We finally got a complete view of the giant Buddha statue sitting on top of the main temple that we’d caught sight of two nights ago. Pamela wonders how a temple can hold up a gigantic stone Buddha. It was seriously gigantic, and just sitting on the roof of the temple. Then we caught monks chanting and drumming and performing a ritual, which we later read (in the temple’s brochure) was a ceremony that they only do 3 times a month, in which “the mountain priests of this temple conduct services of kindling a sacred fire for the sake of national prosperity, highway traffic safety, and harmony within families.” We walked as closely as we dared without distracting them, and Pamela videotaped the chanting.

After staying too long (we’d told Uemura we’d only be gone an hour), we walked next door to Kodai-ji Buddhist temple. We did a really quick walk along the “tour route”, hardly stopping to look at anything or take any pictures, and discovered that our “quick run-through” of Kodai-ji was about the average touring pace of other tourists… and we even skipped all the optional turn-outs. We’re slow.

We walked a few steps back to Uemura, collected our luggage and took a bus to Kyoto station. While waiting for the bus that our map said went to the station, this other bus arrived listing “Kyoto station” as its destination and we decided to take our chances. Apparently our bus map is incomplete, because the bus we took isn’t listed on it at all.

Once we’d purchased our train tickets, we ate lunch (pasta and… a rice-pasta-omelet) and then wandered into the department store at the station and gawked over all the pretty, expensive umbrellas/parasols. There are a lot of pretty umbrellas walking around Japan, and the department store had several hundred of them in stock. We’ve never seen so many umbrellas for sale, and all with different pretty designs. They were also unnecessarily expensive, so of course now Pamela wanted one.

We rode a Shinkansen (Hikari) from Kyoto to Nagoya. Upon boarding this train, an entire class of Japanese schoolchildren got on the train with us. Our first instinct was to groan, but as we got off the train, we realized we’d forgotten they were even there. How was an entire class of elementary school children that quiet for so long?? Ted slept; Pamela wrote yesterday’s blog post until the computer ran out of battery. The train from Nagoya to Takayama was slower. Pamela slept; Ted studied Japanese.

We arrived in Takayama… in a rainstorm. The storm had been partially predicted, because when a train passed us going the other direction, Pamela had said “that train… is wet.” But it was still jarring after the heat of Kyoto. While we waited in bus station… we found free Wi-Fi!!! Japan does not seem to be very big on Wi-Fi hot spots; this was the first and only one we ever came across other than the airport. Pamela plugged in her dead laptop to post a blog entry… but got yelled at for using the power outlet. I can use the Wi-Fi, but not the outlet???

Seriously, why can’t I use a power outlet??

That burned.

We rode the bus from Takayama to Fujuki Onsen through the rainstorm. At our stop, we asked the bus driver where our ryokan was, and he found it on a map and then drove us a bit farther forward to point it out to us and keep us out of the rain. The helpful bus driver did not actually speak any English, although he managed “bus stop” at one point. He also had a very thick regional accent of some sort.

Ted says that the name of our new ryokan (Ryokan Sansui, or 山水) literally means “Mountain Water.” Fitting for a hot spring hotel. As we walked up to the building, a man came running out to help us as if he’d been waiting all day for us to show up. A woman gave us a tour and showed us our room. Then dinner came… By dinner time, the rainstorm had turned into a thunderstorm, and the first particularly loud crash of thunder actually made Pamela scream. Pamela claims she has never screamed due to thunder before…

But back to dinner. First, a new woman walked in with a tray of food, and indicated to move our table and make room for it. Then we both pulled our seats up to opposite sides of the tray, and the woman looked horrified and indicated that that was very wrong, so we leapt back. Then she came in with a *second* tray of food. Oh.

In the end, dinner involved 15 separate dishes; they just kept bringing up more food! We’re still not sure what half of it was; but in no particular order we were served:

  • Jasmine tea;
  • mineral water;
  • a square box with… a bite of salmon with something yellow on top; a square of fish on top of a cube of cornmeal; an entire 3-inch-long fish; a bowl with a wheel-shaped vegetable and a bit of meat; a leaf wrapped around rice and secured with a toothpick; and something that looked like a round stuffed pork slice;
  • a bowl with… shrimp tail; flower-shaped soft rice cake; purple and white vegetable that looked like swiss cheese (lotus root?); a bite of green vegetable; another… vegetable; and a pile of thin seaweed-y things in a soupy sauce;
  • a bowl of cold soba with rice krispies and green onion;
  • a bowl of miso soup with a *lot* of seaweed, green onions, tofu, and mushrooms (Pamela drained the broth);
  • a bowl of egg pudding with fish and a white vegetable and a green leafy vegetable;
  • a bowl with a potato-rice ball;
  • a bowl of tempura with shrimp, zucchini, kabocha squash, 2 leafy green things, a potato chip (??), and a dish of pink salt to dip it in;
  • a plate with an entire 8-inch fried trout atop vegetables (pink, brown, and green strips) and a green chili pepper;
  • a sashimi plate with tuna (2 pieces), 2 types of white fish (2 pieces each), and a pile of noodle and radish (?), with soy sauce, wasabi, a flower, a sprig of small red ball-shaped berries, and tiny red leaves on the side;
  • a plate of beef, enoki mushrooms, green onions, other onions, and brown peanut-ty sauce over a giant brown leaf, with chafing fuel lit in a pot underneath the plate to cook it;
  • a pot of rice… that we never opened. Oops. The women exclaimed over it when they came back to pick up the remains of our dinner;
  • a bowl of pickled… green, red, and white veggies, next to the rice, that we also never touched. This was apparently less offensive;
  • a dessert cup with green tea pudding, whipped cream, pink mocha ball, and a piece of fruit.

After dinner, the first woman (the only one who could manage some broken English besides the man at the front desk) told us there was a summer festival going on right that moment, and another woman brought us dessert while they removed dinner and laid out our futons. We ate the dessert and changed, then went down to walk to the festival… and were told it was ending. Fail.

Instead, we showered and changed into yukatas provided by the inn. We tried to read up on the procedures for using hot spring baths in our travel book, and instead giggle about how it described “magic elves” as making your futon appear while you were bathing and disappear while you were eating. Ryokan staff members will thus henceforth be known as elves.

Apparently the yukata is intended to be worn with the left side crossing over the right side, not the other way around. This was learned after the inn-elf giggled at us and tried to fix it. No idea what else we were doing wrong with it.

We soaked in a private onsen (hot spring) bath outside before sleeping. The hot spring water is too hot to remain in for longer than ~5 min. at a time without a break, so we didn’t stay long (maybe 30 minutes). The correct onsen procedure here is to apparently shower in the “preparation room,” then get in the onsen bath, then shower again in the preparation room. We learned this after showering in our own room, as we found that the “preparation room” showers actually had soap and shampoo.

Random Observations:

  • Pamela still does not like Orangina, even though Ted thought he’d finally found some juice in the store for her.
  • Tatami mats look much nicer on the floor than industrial-grade carpeting.

Mountain Trail in the Japan Alps

Mountain Trail in the Japan Alps

2012-07-29: Shinhotaka Ropeway

We dragged ourselves down to our 8am breakfast only slightly late after our own alarm, an unexpected wake-up call, and an also-unexpected door knocking all ensured we’d be awake. Breakfast had almost as many dishes as dinner, but none of them looked very breakfast-y: this was our first actual Japanese-style breakfast, with things like rice, fish, soup, etc. Pamela liked the ham with potato salad and the boiled nuts the best. Meals around here do not seem to include much fruit, except perhaps a few pieces with dessert.

We asked the front desk where the nearest ATM was since we didn’t have enough cash left for today’s travel. (NOTHING in Japan takes credit cards except for the department stores. Seriously. Nothing. It’s cash or bust.) The inn elves told us that there wasn’t a nearby ATM, but that the female elf would drive us to one in the next town to the north, near a different bus stop. We accepted the offer, got ready and left… also only slightly late.

She drove us to an ATM… but it was the wrong kind of ATM – it didn’t take foreign cards because Japanese cards are apparently fancier. So she drove us to a different ATM. Also too fancy. Finally she drove us back to inn and loaned us a couple hundred dollars…

They offered to drive us to our destination, the Shinhotaka Ropeway, since we ended up missing the intended bus, but we declined and decided to wait for the next bus 45 minutes later. We ended up spending 30 of the 45 minutes we had to spare searching for the bus stop which was supposed to be 200 meters from the ryokan. A few minutes before the bus was due to arrive, the male inn elf mysteriously showed up to clean the bus stop building, and was still there as we left aboard the bus. We suspect he may have come just to make sure we made it onto the bus.

The bus took us to the Shinhotaka Ropeway, which is this gondola attached to a pulley system ski-lift style that takes you up to the top of some mountain a few mountains over from where it started. We went up up up. We noted that there were no other foreign tourists in the whole area. By the end of the day, we had only seen exactly 2 foreign tourists at Shinhotaka Ropeway: us. There were, however, many Japanese tourists.

We bought a baked good from a bakery at the ropeway to call lunch. It was yum. Then we bought 3 more. We admired the view from the top station for a short bit, and then attempted to hike the trail that Lonely Planet told us would take us down the other side of the mountain to Kamikochi, the next town over, in about 3 hours. We tried asking the guy in the store where the trailhead was, and he showed us Kamikochi on a map. Um, thanks. So we went outside and found a trail and just started walking down it. We took pictures of the signs along the way, wondering what they said. All we could tell was that they did NOT say Kamikochi (we’d taken a picture of its name on the map). We also noticed that everybody seemed to be going the *other* way down the trail.

A ways down the trail, we started stopping people we passed asking where they were coming from. None of them indicated that the trail went to Kamikochi (in fact, most of them seemed to indicate they had never heard of Kamikochi). One couple finally communicated that our trail was about a 2-hour hike and went to the summit of the extremely large-looking mountain in front of us. We finally turned around, deciding it must be the wrong trail.

When we got back to the trailhead, we looked at a map inside the hut again and discovered that the name of the stop *in between* us and Kamikochi matched the signs on the trail (and was over the summit of that large mountain). Thus we decided we had, in fact, been going the right way.

So, we started again. We’d gotten to about where we’d been before when we passed a group of hard-core-looking hikers. They stopped us, exclaiming that they had just seen us going the *other way*. A man in their group who actually spoke English (first one in the entire mountain range, I swear), asked why we were going back the way we’d just come. When we told him we’d been trying to go to Kamikochi but had been told we were going the wrong way, he exclaimed that we were crazy and should turn around at once. He claimed that they were going to Kamikochi, but with an overnight stop on top of the mountain, and that it was at least a 10-hour hike. We hiked for a little while longer, then turned around and went back again, deciding that either Lonely Planet was trying to kill us, or that the nice man thought we’d kill ourselves without hiking sticks or something. (Unlikely.)

After consulting the same hiking map for a third time, Ted found times listed between each stop on the trail, and decided it was supposed to be about a 3-hour hike. Sigh. At least the weather was really nice. It had been great hiking weather all afternoon, and would be great evening weather for outdoor festival-viewing; best weather all trip. This was the first day of our trip that Ted did not get over-heated and exhausted.

We took the ropeway back down and returned to our ryokan. Thankfully, we hiked back fast enough to make the 4pm bus rather than waiting another 2 hours for the next one.

After getting back, we relaxed in another private outdoor hot-spring-pool until dinner, then had another gastronomical adventure in our room, consisting of *only* 13 dishes this time. I’ll spare you the details of each dish.

After dinner, we walked to the “summer festival” with 2 guys we ran into from Norway, and couldn’t believe the fluidity of their English after trying to communicate with the Japanese for the last week. We watched some sort of cultural drum dance things, followed by a dragon dance, followed by a dragon-eating-a-snake dance. There were a million bugs attracted to the outdoor lighting, but thankfully, they were mostly moths, not mosquitoes. There was occasional lightning during the festival, but the rain held off.

We walked back to our room, sat by the windows, and turned all the lights off to watch the lightning storm outside until we fell asleep. The rain was no longer holding off.

Random Observations:

  • The Japan Alps are very pretty. The hiking trails are so much greener and prettier than the ones on Mt. Fuji, which was a barren volcano once you got above the tree line.
  • Japan uses these TP rods that have a cover. This cover is useful for tearing the unperforated TP if it is either (a) serrated or (b) thin. Not if it is thick.
  • The Japanese TP also has no cardboard roll inside. It’s like it was wrapped tightly around something else gear-shaped that was then removed. Less waste.
  • I don’t think we’ve mentioned Japanese toilets at all, actually.  For those of you who have never seen one, public toilets in Japan (though not in our inns) are in the floor. You squat.  They still flush and have modern plumbing and everything, just no seats, so they’re technically more sanitary.  This works better for some forms of business than others.
  • Ted gets fewer bug bites when wearing long pants. (Duh.)
  • Pamela’s blog posts get progressively longer each day of a trip.

Private Hot Spring Bath #3

Private Hot Spring Bath #3

2012-07-30: Fujuki Onsen to Tokyo

On the last day of our trip, we woke up eaarrrrlllier than early to relax in the third private outdoor hot-spring-pool *before* our 8am breakfast. We have now successfully tried all 3 of the private baths.

Breakfast was again many dishes, though none as enjoyable as yesterday’s. One particularly weird dish was a bowl full of fish that are about the size of a bean sprout. Looked like a bowl of short noodles full of eyes. The Norwegian guys were seated next to us at breakfast, and we noted that their breakfast dishes were the ones we’d been served yesterday. After comparing notes, we learned that their dinner dishes last night were also the ones we’d been served two nights ago. That must be one busy cook, considering each meal was 13-15 dishes… and he was making multiple meals.

The inn-elves drove us to a third ATM which had been closed yesterday so that we could pay them back… and then drove us to the bus terminal in Hirayu Onsen, the next major town, since we’d again missed the intended bus. Note to future selves: JP ATMs accept foreign debit cards. Other ATMs do not, pretty much universally.

We took a bus east to Matsumoto, rather than going back the way we’d come, and saw many pretty waterfalls in the hot spring area. From Matsumoto, we took a (slower) train to Shinjuku, Tokyo.

We wandered through Kinokuniya, Coldstone, and a mall in Shinjuku, but got sick of lugging luggage around while we shopped. Then we took a train to Shibuya to meet Eiko for dinner, where we met her mother as well. They took us to dinner at an Asian-fusion restaurant in a department store where we had Thai/Vietnamese food.

Pamela stayed with Eiko and her mother in Shibuya while Ted traveled back to Brian’s place to collect our walking sticks and return his key. We waited, and waited… and the discovered that Ted had gotten on wrong train and would not be returning to Shibuya, so we left and met him at the monorail to the airport.

Eiko and her mother took the monorail to the airport with us, where we checked in, returned our rental phone, and said goodbye to them. Then we flew home, during which we slept pretty much the entire way. We arrived and were greeted by Ted’s dad negative one hour after we’d left. Weirdo time zones.

Random Observations:

  • We’ve seen children in school uniforms the whole time we’ve been here, and not just the ones “dressed-up” as schoolgirls. They must attend school year-round… or enjoy wearing their school uniforms.
  • I lost weight in Japan; my pants are no longer too tight!
  • Jetlag was easier to deal with heading west: We arrived at 5am, were forced to stay up all day as we ran around Tokyo, crashed at night, and were on a normal schedule. After heading east, we left at midnight, slept all night, and then arrived at midnight… wide awake. This does not work so well…
  • Bay Area weather is SO NICE. Even when it’s hot.

Tokyo: Japan Days 1-4

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

We are in Japan! Our first stop is Tokyo, where we will visit with Ted’s brother (Brian) and two friends of Pamela’s who were exchange students in the U.S. back in high school (Eiko and Akie).

Shibuya

In Shibuya with Eiko, Akie, and Brian

2012-07-21: Walking Tour of Tokyo

Activities:

  • Spent the flight sleeping an attempting to learn to read Hiragana.
  • Arrived around 5am, rented a phone, killed some time at the airport. Found our way to Brian’s.
  • Met Eiko and Akie at Hachiko’s statue at Shibuya Crossing. Left their gifts at Brian’s. =(  Watched thousands of people cross the street. Crossing wasn’t that busy yet.
  • Took photo booth pictures and decorated them.
  • Ate okonomiyaki for lunch–these egg-pancake things stuffed with whatever.
  • Wandered Omotesando district, a fancy shopping area.
  • Started to rain. Bought umbrella.
  • Walked through expensive shopping mall, Omote Hills.
  • Went to Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine, got fortunes, saw wedding procession, made offering.
  • Wandered Harajuku district, a hip female teen area. Saw mostly teenage girls.
  • Wandered Akihabara district, an electronics area. Saw mostly men. Bought Gundam treat. Ted bit its head off.
  • Met up with Brian’s friend, Tsutombu(?).
  • Went to Asakusa and saw Sensoji, a Buddhist temple.
  • Went to a restaurant known for its eel and had unagi donburi and miso soup for dinner.
  • Crashed.

Observations

  • There are a lot of people everywhere in the city.
  • High consumerism. There are a lot of people buying a lot of things with questionable value.
  • Omg sensory overload.
  • There are quite narrow streets in neighborhood areas like Brian’s, used mainly for pedestrian traffic with the occasional car that drives through.
  • Compared to the number of people, there are few cars and bikes; mostly pedestrians.
  • Everybody actually waits for crosswalk signs.
  • Everybody pulls out an umbrella at the tiniest hint of rain. I wouldn’t even call it rain. Akie has a cute umbrella.
Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing

2012-07-22: Edo-Tokyo and More

Activities:

  • Left Brian behind because Ted snored so much he couldn’t sleep. 😛
  • Met Eiko at the Edo-Tokyo museum, a museum showing the history of the city as it changed from being Edo (old city) to Tokyo (new city).
  • Had lunch at the museum cafe: oyako don and tempura udon.
  • Went back to Shibuya Crossing to take pictures of the crossing and Hachiko’s statue. Way more people there this time.
  • Met up with Brian and went to cat cafe, a place where you can go to play with cats. Played with kittens.
  • Wandered through north Jiyugaoka neighborhood, two stops south of Brian’s.
  • Went to a green tea shop (Nana’s) where Ted/Brian/Eiko got iced green tea drinks and Pamela tried to practice reading all of the signs in the shop. Went in a housewares shop and looked around.
  • Met up with Brian’s friends Yuko and Tsuzu for dinner at a korean bbq style place and ate nabeyaki(?).

Observations:

  • The museum had a lot of 3D and hands-on exhibits, with entire buildings and stuff inside. This is a good way to maintain interest.
  • The neighborhoods farther from the city center are quieter and  prettier.
  • Kittens are cute.
  • Cat cafes are more practical in dense populations with no pets allowed in apartments than they would be in a suburban area.
  • Yum.
Sunrise Atop Mt. Fuji

Sunrise Atop Mt. Fuji

2012-07-23/24: Mt. Fuji

Activities

  • Mt. Fuji is divided into 10 “stations” from its base to its summit.  There are a series of mountain huts at each station.
  • Took a bus to the 5th station, as far as the buses go. Practiced reading on the bus.
  • Got lunch (ramen) and bought some supplies (headlamp, walking sticks, peanut snacks).
  • Started hiking at 1pm. Spent 6 hours hiking from the 5th station up to the 8th station, where we had reservation at a hut to sleep.
  • Spent an hour freezing outside waiting for the hut to check us in and show us up to our sleeping bags.
  • Rested for 30 minutes, then went downstairs for dinner for another 30 minutes.
  • Attempted to sleep for about 4 hours.
  • Got up at 1am, started remainder of hike about half an hour later.
  • Spent 2 hours hiking from the 8th station to the summit.
  • Spent an hour and a half watching the sunrise from the top of Mt. Fuji, walking over to see the crater, and climbing up to the closest peak.
  • Rested for an hour on a bench in a hut.
  • Spent 5 hours hiking back down to the 5th station.
  • Got lunch again and took the bus back to Tokyo.
  • Showered. Napped.
  • Met Brian for dinner–sushi.

Observations

  • The mountain is only open to hikers in July and August. The paths are full of people 24/7, hiking up and down in an endless line.
  • The “stations” are deceiving–they are unequally spaced and get progressively harder to climb to. There is also more than one hut claiming to be at each station.  Thus, we reached the 6th station relatively easily, but then passed like 4 more huts before reaching the 7th station, etc.
  • We had different problems on the way up the first night. For Ted, the problem was altitude–he had trouble getting enough air and kept needing to stop and rest. For Pamela the problem was sore achilles tendons and really cold hands.
  • The check-in system at the “Fujisan Hotel” was utterly inefficient and confusing.  The only English word they understood was “reservation”. Oh you have a reservation? Ah yes, here is your name on our list. Please stand outside and wait. [30 min later] Please come inside. Stand here and wait. [diff guy] Why are you here? Please wait outside. [We refused. It was freezing.] Finally, another 30 min later, Please come over here and pay. Thanks. Here is the time you can come down for dinner. Here are the numbers of your sleeping bags. Why did that take an hour??!?!?!?
  • Probably the worst night’s sleep ever, not even counting that it was from 9pm-1am. First we had to listen to the other hikers who weren’t asleep yet, then we had to listen to the guy next to Ted snoring, then we had to listen to the people downstairs stomping and shouting all night as they cleaned the kitchen, since they didn’t have to wake up at 1am, then we had to listen to the other hikers begin to stir and rise at 12:30am for no reason at all.
  • The sunrise hike was COLD. We’d expected it to get cold (it’s like a 40 degree difference in temp from the 5th station to the summit), but were not prepared enough. Just as Pamela thought her hands were going to fall off from frostbite, she found a pair of gloves on the ground. Finders, keepers.
  • Headlamps good.  The line of headlamps stretching out behind us reminded us of a line of miners.
  • Watching the sunrise was cool, but would have been more enjoyable had we been warm and rested.
  • The trail uphill was mostly either loose rocks (bad for ankles) or big rocks to scramble up. The trail downhill was the “bulldozer path”, mostly loose dirt and steeper.
  • We had different problems on the way down as well. Going downhill was painful on Pamela’s ankles and knees, until she decided to pretend she was dancing standard, and then decided to switch off each switchback with dancing forward or dancing backward. Then it stopped hurting, but the damage was done.  Ted spent the hike down with a headache and kept needing to stop and rest.
  • Restrooms got more expensive the higher you got. They cost 50 yen to use at the 5th station, 200 yen to use along the way up and down, and 300 yen to use at the summit. That’s a $5 potty break if you’re desperate.
  • Each hut had people who would “stamp” your walking stick for a fee. They were basically branding it with a hot iron over a fire, showing the name of the hut or the altitude or whatever. We thought we’d be getting 5, one for each station… but since each station had like 4 huts along the way, the stamps ended up covering our entire stick (and becoming quite expensive).  We now have proof we made it all the way up!
  • Apparently we eat sushi like heathens… perhaps because we’ve never gone out to sushi before. Brian was embarrassed to be associated with us. 😛
  • We have different shopping habits. So far, everything non-essential (souvenirs/gifts) that Ted has bought has been a form of sweets. For Pamela, it has been socks and postcards.