Wednesday, 6 May 2015

over the sea

the best tunnel yet - a soundproofed bike lane
 When we reach the little port where the ferry departs for Shikoku Island it's trying to rain.  From Hiroshima we have coasted eastwards and then hopped, skipped and jumped our way off Honshu, the main island, with a very convoluted route plan.  We have to wait at the port for about 40 minutes and it's a Sunday morning.  By the time the boat pulls in there's about 16 cyclists waiting.  There's another dozen alighting.  It seems we have stumbled into some sort of cycling festival.  Lycra everywhere.  Clickety-clack of road cyclists walking around in their shoes.  "Where are you from?" a man asks.  "England" "where in England?" "Manchester" "Ahh, the Beatles!" We both start humming the bassline to Daytripper.

only bicycles and Postman Pat on this ferry

The small ferry bobs around some of the small islands in the Inland Sea before climbing, literally, through a narrow gap.  The tides have created a weird waterfall effect and the boat trembles as it gradually gets over the shoulder and back into calm waters.  It begins to rain properly.  We cruise under a huge suspension bridge.  Silhouhetted against the grey skyline is a stream of cyclists crossing the bridge in both directions.  

This is the Shimamani Kaido - a combination of bridges and islands that connect the large islands of Honshu and Shikoku and it's rated as a nice bike ride.  And since it's Golden Week, there's a lot of people here with a bit of time on their hands to get out on their bikes.  There are hundreds of people cycling.  The rain is teeming when we get off the boat.  It's teeming when we stop at the supermarket to stock up and it's still teeming when we reach the approach to that large suspension bridge we passed under earlier. Undaunted, hundreds of Japanese are out on all kinds of bikes in all kinds of clothes.  It's still warm so lots haven't even bothered to put on a rain jacket.  Come to think of it, they probably don't have one.  A cycle path leads us up beyond a bike service station that has bike rental and hotel rooms.  We seem to be going against the flow of cyclists as we finally get up onto the bridge and start a 6 kilometre crossing.  There are probably great views from this bridge but not on a day like today.  We can hardly see a thing, except that blur of bikes coming towards us.  It's fantastic and quite incredible.  Laughing, we spiral around the bike path at the other end and spot a picnic table under a roof at a 'rest stop'.  We seek shelter there and then locate a place to camp below the bridge.  Before we can start cooking the tea a group of lads appear on mama charis and all in blue capes.  They are loaded with shopping bags and boxes of food and then we realise that they aren't Japanese.  We start talking and learn they are Filipinos training as metalworkers in a nearby shipyard.  They have been stocking up at a cheap supermarket on Shikoku.  All of them are on 3-year contracts and one is about to return home.  He has bought himself a pop-up tent.  One of the lads has sat on the back of the bench and put his feet on the seat.  I'm shocked - this kind of behaviour is never seen in Japan.  I'm turning Japanese.  I think I'm turning Japanese.  I really think so.  After they head off home the rain finally eases off and stops.  This is a surprising stroke of luck.  It means we can put up the tent and get to bed and stay dry.
after all the rain my shoes have developed gills

The next few days are gloriously sunny and immensely enjoyable.  We are definitely taking part in a cycling festival and it feels wonderful.  There are hundreds of people doing this crossing on bicycles.  It's about 80km all on signposted cycleways and much of it on designated cyclepaths, so it's safe for kids.  You can ride it in a day - we take three days over it and sometimes detour onto small islands along the way.  Most of the bridges are high to allow the passage of ships, so inevitably there's a climb up to them, but usually on nicely-graded pathways.  

You get a fantastic view from such a height and an idea of how busy the Inland Sea can be.  We also find quiet sides of islands with beaches and little harbours. People here love to fish and we see lots of rod fishing from tiny coves and harbour walls at all times of the day.  It's great to see everyone out and enjoying themselves.  

A couple of times in small parks, while we're cooking dinner or eating lunch a young Japanese approaches and chats in perfect English.  The first time it's a woman visiting her parents in her home village.  The next time a young man with his daughter, also visiting parents.  These are the young people we rarely see in the countryside because they have left home and gone to work in the cities, taking their children with them.

chatting with some locals who are surprisingly under 65

We had an e-mail from our friend Natacha in Tokyo to say that both my old and new passports have arrived.  The process has taken about three weeks including the posting times.  I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders and I no longer flinch when I see a policeman.

It feels like summer has finally arrived with the holiday crowds and the sunshine.  It's getting so hot in the middle of the day we contemplate siestas.  I mean, we really need to slow down the pace a bit.

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