Monday, June 05, 2006

Kyushu Trip Part 2

Well if this isn't long overdue, I don't know what is. But I've been more busy than you can imagine, so busy that I surely ought to look as worn out as Brian did on the morning of Day two:

And speaking of Brian, here are his and Chrisine's tales of our trip:
Intro and Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four, Day Five, Day Six, Day Seven, and Days Eight and Nine: the Conclusion
And Lorraine's summary of the trip.
And my previous entry about the trip.

The second day of their trip found them waking with the sun on a crisp mountaintop morning. The tents were wet with the morning dew and the sun was only just peeking over the top of the hills do help them dry. Bundling up in additional sweaters they breakfasted on Brian's homemade banana bread. When the tents had dried enough to be packed, they collected everything back into the trunk of the car and remembered they had yet to pay for use of the site. Finding nobody at the main building, Matthew entrusted the ´2500 ($25) to the gas station attendant at the associated gas station, with no doubts that the money would safely find its way into the correct coffers.
Brian had wanted a better look at Kurokawa in the daylight, and nobody was much opposed, so their first event of the day was a seven o'clock stroll through a little tourist town.

Still needing a proper bath, they continued along to Aso, a town built in the caldera of a volcano, fully 26 kilometers wide. A second breakfast and a couple hours later they found a nice-ish onsen in which to properly clean, though the outdoor bath was unpleasantly rich in sulfur.
Now clean, the five compatriots planned their angle of attack for getting to the active mountain in Aso, the caldera within the caldera: Naka-dake. It turned out that for the meager charge of 500 yen they were able to drive right to the top, practically to the rim. There was a green smoking liquid in the volcano, and none of their chemistry chemistry knowledge was keen enough to offer an educated guess. Thus Matthew was nominated to ask a Japanese person who looked in the know. When he later looked up the word in his dictionary, three people had told him that, "It's because of the lava." Matthew made a vow to remember the word for lava the next time he had a question about volcanos in Japan. Then maybe he could get a better answer.

They even made it down the mountain without scraping the undercarriage of their over-laden car. And then it was on to Takachiho, the famous river gorge, with a brief stop for some healthy soba noodles and seasonal mountain vegetable tempura.
Takachiho greeted them with gobsmacking beauty and no parking. The crowds were thick, and the sun hot enough to warrant everyone's changing into shorts and lotioning up.Lorraine commented, "I feel like I'm in Lord of the Rings." For indeed it was awesome and wondrous in the immensity of its unusually patterned cliffs and the pretty patterning of ivies and other plants across the faces of the cliffs. The river ran a crystal blue and looked perfect for a boat ride. Much to everyone's dismay, the line-up for the rental boats was over sixty people in length, meaning at least a full hour's wait in line. So they walked the length of the gorge again, pausing to look again at the waterfall and doing their best to avoid noticing the abominable concrete paths and bridges laced through the canyon.

They were beside themselves when they realised just how much they had done and seen, and how far they had gone already. And the daylight promised to hold out for a good while longer. So they started on the next day's itinerary; they drove the three hours to Miyazaki city. There they parked at Miyazaki Station and just made it to the tourist desk in time to grab some restaurant guides. Miyazaki is famous for two very different ways of preparing chicken. One, called jitori yaki is roasted over charcoal, and the other, chikin namban is a sweet deep fried chicken served with a kind of tartar sauce. Walking into the restaurant and entertainment district, they asked a man who was handing out maps to the restaurant he obviously worked at where they could try these dishes.

"Well, we sell them both at my restaurant," he said in Japanese.
"Does your restaurant cook them in the typical or traditional way? The real Miyazaki style?" Matthew rudely inquired.
" 'Maruban' over there is the most famous place in Miyazaki for jitori, but if you're still peckish afterwards, or want chicken namban, please come to my restaurant," he replied quietly.
"Thank you very much," Matthew said in his best Japanese.
"No, don't say thank you," the man replied unhappily.

So they went to Maruban, which was as dingy as every other locally popular yakitori restaurant any of them had ever been in. In fact, it probably was the dingiest. And what everyone in the place was eating off of silver platters looked fatty and revolting. But they sat down anyways. Matthew wondered if he'd been tricked somehow. The waiter came up and asked if five to start off with would be alright. Like a deer in headlights, Matthew froze, but somehow managed to get the opinion of the group, and they just ordered one, along with a beer each for Lorraine, Christine, and Matthew. While they waited, they looked around doubtfully at the food being eaten by everyone. Matthew tried his best to be positive, because he felt to blame for their being there. The chicken, if you can still call it that, came and was fatty and still bloody in places. In fact, there seemed to be more fat than acutal meat. Brian couldn't eat more than one bite, saying he felt like he was eating charcoal. Because it tasted very strongly of the coals it had been cooked over.

Matthew didn't find it as inedible as everyone else did, and so it fell to him to eat it. Brian noted that all the Japanese people around them were raving about the same food that they could barely swallow. Matthew still felt like he had been tricked somehow. And he continued to chew his smoky fat. The beer helped to wash it down. He asked for everyone to please help him finish. And the bill was outrageous; fully double what they had expected.

Then they moved on to the other place, and when the man saw that they had come back after all, he was more delighted than Matthew expected. Maybe it hadn't been a trick. They ordered some rice and two plates of the chicken namban, and at the man's reassurance that the way they prepared it was lean and less smoky, another plate of jitori. Much to their surprise, they recieved two plates of jitori, the second one in gratitude for their coming back. And it was better. But the chicken namban was far superior.

Feeling contented in both the realms of strange food experiences and of good meals, they walked back down fragrant tree-lined streets somehow reminiscent of lilacs and home, and drove south to a campground near the beach, for one of their warmest nights camping. Miyazaki has some of the warmest water in Japan, due to the way the warm Pacific currents flow.

After showering at the facilities, they packed up and started doubling back to Miyazaki city. On their way they paused at Aoshima, a small island with broad unusual sandstone beaches that appear and disappear with the sinking and rising tides. It was a very pleasant walk with which to start the day, circling the little island to the sound of breaking waves.

Back off the island, they also came across stores with massive grapefruits.

Hopping onto the expressway, they made their first stop the Ebino Plateau, which was to be the first and only major disappointment of the trip. The plateau was so thick with mist and fog that they could barely see the hill in front of them, let alone the vast expanse they were meant to look out upon. So it was that when they took a bathroom break on the hillside, even the girls went out into the mist and hid behind rocks. And then back in the car and two hundred meters down the road there was a cluster of hotels and restaurants and myriads of tourists. Fog is funny that way.

Driving down through Kagoshima city, they hoped to catch a glimpse of the famous volcano-island, Sakurajima. Having no luck they continued on their way to the southernmost point and the town of Ibusuki. There they had the pleasure of not only seeing beaches with volcanic sand so hot that the water was evaporating off of it in places, they also got to be buried in it! As it's a form of onsen, they wore nothing but the thin provided yukata (like a cotton bathrobe) when engulfed in the hot sand. It is possible to be scalded by the sand, so the staff kindly ask that you mind the clocks they place everywhere and not exceed ten or so minutes. And the ten or so minutes was indeed long enough to be sweating excessively everywhere and feel on the verge of burning in the places on arms and calves where the yukata didn't reach.
But it was also very relaxing. After that they adjourned back into the onsen itself to wash off all the sand and sweat.

Now, there are few camps in that southern part of Kagoshima prefecture, and it turned out that the one or two which would have been convenient for these five travelers were completely booked. But there was a campsite in the navigator machine and an oldish map book which had been given to Brian and Christine. And it was conveniently close. Upon making the 40 minute drive, they came to a beautiful campsite with great access, the sound or the waves breaking on the shore nearby, palm trees at the entrance, flat flat grassy ground ideal for tenting, and a sign which said in Japanese, "Camping Prohibited." They decided to get dinner and come back after dark to set up camp. Dinner was found at another soba restaurant, and a variety of foods were partaken.
Because the forecast was for rain, they picked up some tarps to put over their tents. Four of the members were delighted to be camping for free, but Christine maintained that the necessary purchase of the tarps meant that it was not actually free. Also, Julie told Matthew that since he was the only one who could actually read the sign, "If the cops come, you hide, and let us do the talking." Everyone else was much better at faking a total lack of understanding any Japanese.

On their return, they found that they were not the only ones who were willing to deke around the law a little and stay for the night. A man in his Nissan Cube had also parked in a way which suggested he would be staying the night. Setting up their tents and tarps, turtle and caterpillar, the sky stopped showing any likelihood of falling on them. So it was that they sat out under the starless sky, encircling their butane torch and munching on snacks.

When they'd had enough of feasting and chatting, and felt the night had grown long, though it was surely no later than ten at night, they got ready for bed. Julie and Christine were less than at ease about the mysterious man in his Nissan Cube at the other end of the lot. Matthew reassured them that between Brian's muscle and his own jujustsu/judo skills they would surely be more than a match for one man, should he try anything. Nonetheless, Julie moved to the center of the tent from the edge, Christine having said that it would feel safer there. Matthew smiled ironically to himself and said nothing about the center being closest to the door.


At 2:44 a.m. PDT, Anonymous Gwynwong31 said...

Cool pics. Especially those grapefruits. :-P


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