The Next Step: part twelve - adventure bookends

Saturday, May 20. 2006
(Note: this too was written about two weeks ago, so the timeliness is not quite appropriate, my apoligies.)

Here I am in Kagoshima. It didnt take so long to get here, it was almost too easy. The minute I stepped off the train from Sendai (no, not that one way up in Miyagi!) things got worse. The ride from Uto, just south of Kumamoto, was pleasant, almost breezy, in a one-car local train along the coast. We passed through Minamata, just a day after the fortieth anniversary of the incident there, and most of the other passengers got off. I think it was forty years, I really should check. A change of trains in Sendai and its almost too easy to be here.

But off the train and into it, oh boy. The lady at the tourist information counter was rude and almost unhelpful, the locals are pushy and didnt seem to realise that a huge pack back was any different to a tiny handbag and gave me angry looks when I couldnt move quite enough for their liking. The history of the area suggests that the locals are strong, forceful and even warlike, but history is history and I would hate to apply this stereotype to the locals.

No matter how rude they might be.

The hotel I found is nearer the docks than the station, so yet another tram was employed to haul me down. After leaving my things in my room I went in search of food, since I hadnt eaten since breakfast that morning at Hiroshis house. I stumbled upon a ramen place in the shopping area that was positively covered with accolades. This was to be it. Those who know me will know that I dislike hyperbole intensely, but without a doubt this was the best ramen in the world.

Maybe it was that I was really, really hungry.

Then I walked to the dock and had a look around to try and find boat times and the like. I found no such thing, but prices were there. Not much help, really. Then I had a dilemma. Yakushima is where I want to go, but a look at the map suggests that it is in-between Kagoshima and Okinawa the latter being the next place in my list. Maybe I could go from here to Yakushima to Okinawa, without coming back to Kagoshima? Would this information be available? Not anywhere there, Im afraid, and no way am I going back to the tourist info office.

Then looking at the map of Yakushima on the wall, I made another realisation. The same mistake I famously made about Amakusa, I had already sort of made about Yakushima. Just because its an island, doesnt mean its small! Damn, how was I to get around there? No more bicycle torture, please. Busses? Maybe. Tour groups? Couldnt say. Car is out of the question. Go there and find out? If I did the jump to Okinawa from there I would be in some trouble without a place to stay on the island, of which there was no guarantee and no information over here about it either.

You see what I put myself through? Oh, to be a more planned person! But where is the fun in knowing precisely where to go and what to do, much more fun to attempt making it up. But I think that might be giving me a headache. Im going to end up badly here, I can just tell

****

Im back in Kagoshima. I am wandering around the docks, lost. My bags are heavy and painful. I have little idea where I am going and I have a rotten headache. My shoulders ache, my feet hurt. I have nowhere to stay and a slim hope of getting a ticket even when I find the dock I need. I am well fucked.

Days passed since I first arrived in Kagoshima and the time inbetween, well, you got to hear how I ended up like that. And what happens next

Oh, and the locals? Actually really, really friendly after all.

The Next Step: part eleven - riding

Saturday, May 20. 2006
(Note: due to lack of internet connectivity and the essential element that can only be described as "hustle", this post was written more than two weeks ago - but better late than never!)

Slow life. The slow life in Amakusa, no need to rush, no way to rush. I am a country boy, the slow life is in my heart, in my core, but I left it for a reason, and I left it hard. I like the speed of the city, Melbourne was OK but not even, not even close to Tokyo. The speed that city moves is like a flame to me, and I am nothing but a moth. Helpless to the attraction. The rush is the way of life I came for and slowing down isnt possible there, but maybe it would happen on this island, the island of hour long waits at the bus stop, the island of long, slow evenings in a restaurant, relaxing in the hot springs.

I stayed at Hiroshis house, a friend of a friend. But before that, let me tell you how you get to Amakusa, the end of Japan. Being an island, it wasnt even connected to the mainland of Kyushu until about forty years ago. Such was the backwater level of the place, the back of the back, the back of beyond as much as that is possible in Japan. Still now one gets the feeling that nothing much has changed, and possibly wont ever to a large degree. The depopulation that afflicts most rural areas in developed countries is rife as ever here too, with the youth almost forced to leave in search of decent employment or education, leaving their ageing parents behind. So the ageing population issue is as relevant as ever here and that is the most likely cause of the islands demise. Which is sad, because it is a truly beautiful place. Which brings me back to how you get there. You can drive from Uto city over the five bridges, through Ariake to Hondo, the main city. I went out that way and the views are incomparable. Get high enough and the inland sea on the east side is studded with countless tiny islands, floating in a misty wonderland. All covered with green, it looks like moss because of the distance, but those trees are huge and ancient. The sea swirls slowly on that side, soft and easy. But that is how I left be it as it may, the way most people get there, it was not how I did. Would I ever do it the normal way? I ask you.

Back in Nagasaki, you take a bus for about half and hour through the hills to the south east coast line, to a little excuse of a town called Mogi. There you pay for a ferry to an even more nothing of a place called Tomioka and sit back and enjoy the ride. From Tomioka you get off and breathe deep the clean salty air. Yes, this is the back corner of Japan and it looks like the island is bigger than you might have imagined. Who would have thought? Oh well, what time is the bus to Hondo? In an hour? Oh man.

The bus was actually already there, the driver sleeping in the back. Welcome to it! He eventually git up and drove around the block, picked up the handful of us remaining from the ferry who didnt have friends with cars. The ride to Hondo was about a thousand yen. The route follows the coastline and the sea is as blue as ever it were, the roads narrow and the buildings old and salty. The locals stared as politely as they thought they could get away with.

Hondo City is not much either, but as I would learn, such places are not the size of the town, nor the buildings, but entirely the people that live there. Sitting in the bus centre, wondering what I would do until six oclock when Hiroshi could come and get me, I considered the options. My bags needed to go somewhere but there was no locker. I could get a taxi somewhere, but I didnt know anywhere to go. So I called my friend, DJ Ollie. He spent two years or so on the island, in an even more empty place called Shinwa. He tells me to get in a taxi and go to the International Hotel, theres a wicked hot spring there. So I consider this, and decide that food comes first. I ask the ladies at the counter if theres a pay locker. There isnt, but they will watch my stuff for me as long as I come back before five, when they close. Excellent. So I leave my bags in their ample care and set out into the warm Amakusa midday.

I had a look around. It is a very typical Japanese town, and was pretty quiet. I sat in a McDonalds (the curse has hit the island!) and read Botchan for a while. Then I went back, got my things and took a taxi to the hot spring recommended by DJ. It was a 950 yen ride and 600 to have a bath. But damn the cost, sitting in the bath with a view better than every spring east of there. And I do mean the whole country. Green mountain rolls down into yellow beach, turns into blue ocean. Sky blue flecked with brief clouds, bright sunshine. Almost a 180 degree vista, sitting outside to this and talking with the local boys. Then they all jump out and slide naked across the open tiled space in front of us, dolphin style. They egg me on, so I run and jump and slide my naked white arse right after them. And back again.

The locals are friendly, all over Kyushu. These guys were from Aso, in Saga I think, down for Golden Week. Never be afraid to talk to people Easy to say, harder to do, oh so satisfying when you manage it. They left and I was alone. So I walked to the edge and stretched, naked over Amakusa. Then I saw that the nearby hotels could see up to us. Still I stood.

I went down after the bath to the nearby beach to wait for Hiroshi. He rolled up on time and took my bags to his house. His parents are incredibly nice, but it was a brief stop because we were all hungry. We went to a curry place, run by the coolest Japanese guy I have ever seen. Hes been all over the world, especially India and Jamaica, so now hes Rastified and loves a good curry. The food was indeed great and Hiroshi seemed to know everyone who came and went, so the freewheeling conversation took in everything and everyone. It only ended when the place shut, at ten. Then all that was left to do was sleep.

The next morning, the plan was that I go and see some stuff. Easy, but without wheels it would be very, very hard. Busses once ran around the island in a satisfactory way, enough to move the once vibrant populous around, but no longer. I would spend way too much time waiting and besides, still be a long way from anything I wanted to see. Amakusa is the treasure island of Japan and on it are hidden gems of beaches, hot springs, viewing platforms on peaks and stretches of scenery unrivalled. So I borrowed Hiroshis racing bike and set out. All roads lead to Hondo, so getting lost would require some act of stupidity from me. I headed for Shinwa, heading south down the coastal road. I wanted, for some reason, so see the town where my friend had spent his days. So I headed down the road and saw the ocean on one side, the mountains rolling away on the other. I rolled down the slopes, pedalled up the hills. It was easy going at first and when I hit a straight run that represented Shinwa Town, I might have missed it had I but blinked. Maybe a kilometre of road, some buildings and houses, a few shops. Nowhere to go, not much at all to do. I kept going.

After that I was vaguely aware that there were various visit worthy places along the south point of the island. I had not intended to go quite so far, but I see a sign with a name on it and a horizon to head for and I tend to just roll toward it. So it was I fought my way through some truly wicked hill sections and came out flying down a hill into Ushibuka, hustled on the very south of the island. I had rode almost forty kilometres. I was starving. So I found a store and bought bread and a drink. There were signs pointing to Mogushi Beach, so I followed them and found a desolate stretch of coastline, a beach of mostly black rocks with stretches of white sand in between. A handful of other people were around, mostly right out on the edge of the water collecting shellfish, the rest walking along the shore. I took some photos and walked out on the rocks. Hundreds and hundreds of black sea beetles scattered from my path, some big and ugly but mostly small and scuttling. I walked along the rocks and over the bigger ones from one stretch of sand to another. If only it had been warm enough to swim! These shores would have been full of people. Despite the holiday there wasnt much activity, probably due to the weather not being quite swimming weather just yet. I looked at the time and wondered how on earth I would get back to Hiroshis house.

I decided that I would ride that bike back to Hondo come hell or high water. I rode back across Ushibuka and up the hill that had been so kind to me on the way in. It nearly killed me, but gave way to a gentle slope downward. I rolled along past the intersection I had turned from earlier and kept going straight. This road was much easier going, the punishment of the hills toward the end of the coastal road were a memory. The hills were slight and the downs were easy. Still, my legs were weary and I had to make increasingly frequent stops. The signs kept pointing out Hondo were getting closer and closer and As one small village gave way to another it became clear that the road passed mostly through the valleys between mountains. So I had huge walls of green on both sides this time, and little wind. I couldnt make the same kind of pace as in the morning but I had one objective, to make it back before dark. There was no kind of lighting along the road so once the sun went down I would be in trouble.

I made it. My legs were jelly. I told them of my adventure and they couldnt believe I went so far. I had travelled almost eighty kilometres. So we went to a Chinese restaurant and then to an hot spring, in Shimoda.

Then I must have been asleep in an instant.