Sunday, 7 June 2015


early morning view
We wake up to the sound of walkers and fishermen.  The early sunrise brings them out around 5am.  Somewhere nearby the sea laps the shore.  Birds are singing.  We are camped on a peninsula covered in old pine forest.  There is a shrine nearby and the pine forest itself is referred to in Haiku poems collated in the 8th century.  There's a reason.  Coming from the south, your first view of Mount Fuji is from this peninsula.  When we arrived yesterday evening it was hazy and we couldn't see it.  In fact we thought we needed to turn the corner to get a view, but this morning just after sunrise the air is clear and just over the water is one huge volcano.  I guess being close to the sea makes the mountain seem more impressive, but it is also the largest mountain in the country, so it's no surprise the volcano was revered in olden days.  

feeling happy because..
no, not the time

the kilometres so far

We cycle up the coast, eyes glued to the mountain, before turning inland and uphill on the outskirts of Fuji city.  It's industrial and ugly and the road is choked with lorries.  Warehouses and factories are mixed up with residential areas in a way you rarely see elsewhere.  The houses are dwarfed by their neighbours and the smells and fumes that drift by are noxious.  So we are happy to keep climbing in the stifling heat if only to put some distance between us and the blight.  We are joined along the way by a young man on a bike who starts rides up alongside and starts talking to us.  Unfortunately his English isn't good enough for a conversation, but he does treat us to platitudes about Mount Fuji and the surrounding environment.  It turns out that he hasn't spoken to anyone for days because he doesn't shut up.  But he means well and he clearly feels that he should take responsibility for ensuring our safe passage through these dangerous parts.  Or he just doesn't want to go back to his hotel.  We are climbing slowly now, away from the city and into greener areas, with some forest.  It's a great relief.  Apart from that chattering sound.  The road is so steep and our new friend is getting more irritating because he has no load and clearly has no idea what it's like to cycle up these roads on a loaded bike.  And the traffic is still a bit lively.  We have explained that we will camp, but not in a campsite, and our friend has a tourist map of the area so we check it out for possibilities.  There's a waterfall here and a lake there.  Maybe they'll be something.  Our young friend still shows no sign of leaving us alone and his banter is producing a little interference in our decision-making.  We're not used to this.  Eventually we stop at a fork in the road and say we will go off to find a camping place.  "I know a place, about 200 metres further up this road. I will look.  It is an adventure!"  When he turns the corner we shamelessly set off up the other road.
pacific coast bike path
The golf course is all fenced off and we ride past looking enviously at the tidy grass links.  The road takes us into thick forest but happily we find a track with a chain across the entrance.  We can lift it up and pass under.  The overgrown track leads through to an abandoned campground by the river.  We choose to camp on moss just off the track.  In the morning it's raining and we settle in for the day.  The place is so quiet and isolated and no-one will find us here and we're glad of an excuse to take the day off.  By 2 the rain has stopped but the cloud is low.  I cycle back to a convenience store to get water and some lunch and we spend the day reading.  At dusk there are owls crying out in the pine trees above us piercing the silence.  The next morning is a perfect sunny day and the air is fresh and cool.  It's only after we have set off again that we mention to each other the sound of something passing by the tent.  We each heard something on separate nights, but didn't want to mention it.  And Gayle spotted a turd "full of seeds" on the path.  "A big one?" "I thought it might have been yours at first", she says. Charming.  I always dig a hole.  "So, not a deer?" Hmmm.  What did we hear?

does the bear.........?
Danny had recommended riding around the lakes area north of Fuji and today we understand why.  After the ugliness of the southern flanks yesterday we are surprised to find ourselves in deep forest with hidden away houses and holiday homes.  We could be in Patagonia.  The road rises up and onto a grassy plateau full of cow farms.  The cows we've seen in Japan are always kept in sheds and the same is true here, although we see eight lucky ones gambolling and jogging around in an enclosure for the benefit of some schoolkids on a field trip.  There are five lakes on the north side of Fuji, and we ride from one to the next.  The views of the volcano are wonderful and the skies are vivid blue.  After our wet tent day life is good on the bike.  

The fourth lake brings us to a small tourist town with a hostel.    We have already checked out some perfect wild-camping spots but we also need to get internet so we ask at the hostel about a bed for the night.  They have, so we unload.  The hostel is spacious and the dorm room is only 6 beds.  Irene starts asking about our trip as soon as we meet her.  She's from Taipei and I think she's pleased that we've been to Taiwan and had such a good time there.  But the idea of cycling across Europe and Asia for such a long time.  How?  She is full of questions and laughter.  Irene's our age but she comments on how her energy levels have dipped since she first started travelling.  If only she knew how slow we can be.

Irene needs to practice her 'peace' sign
One night in the hostel becomes three.  Fuji disappears in a rain cloud and we are very happy to have an excuse not to go anywhere.  It makes a nice change to meet other travellers and have a proper conversation as opposed to the usual grunts and groans we exchange with each other.  Cas and Zoe are travelling for a while around the world and Cas laments how the backpacking has changed with the internet.  Now you can't just turn up in a little place expecting to find a room in a good hostel - you have to book it online in advance.  It's something that we have come across in Japan, although actually we did just turn up at the door here and find a room....... Liam arrives with a long list of things to do and see while he's in Japan and he asks Masa, one of the staff, his advice.  Temples and shrines. Ninjas. Cherry blossom. Climbing Fuji? He sets off in the afternoon with the intention of being at the summit for sunrise.  But next morning he's asleep in our dorm.  What happened?  He tells Gayle that in the darkness, on the trail through the woods, he saw what he thought was a dog cross the path ahead of him.  And then he heard a growl and realised it was a bear.  He ran all the way back down.  Abi is an actress from Hong Kong whose group went to the Edinburgh Fringe last year.  She asks "Do you have an objective when you travel?" It stumps me for a bit and she explains that they are taught that they should always have a goal for everything they do. Do we have an objective??

eat more pancakes?
The day we leave Mount Fuji the volcano is still in cloud.  Now we realise how lucky we've been to see it on a clear day.  We cycle around the fifth and largest lake which has been given over to water sports, pedalos and 'cruise' boats.  A biker gang passes us slowly, a group of nationalists riding motorbikes with no baffle in their exhausts, the old imperial flag stuck on the seat, a Hello Kitty girl wedged on the pillion behind.  Their aim is to make as much noise as possible.  We saw a gang like this in Okinawa.  It's not threatening or dangerous just annoying.  Down by the lake shore there are plenty of families out on bikes.  The roads are full of lycra-clad road cyclists tearing up the long valley from Tokyo or tearing back down to it.  We are happy to finally get some downhill free-wheeling and shout out hellos to all the cyclists who pass by.  But then one guy who has overtaken us turns to reply and in the act his front wheel goes under him and he's left skidding across the road.  Miraculously there is no car traffic at this moment - an unbelievable blessing.  The poor guy picks everything up and limps to the side of the road where we try to help patch him up - elbow and knee now skinless, arse hanging out of shredded shorts.  Once he's stopped shaking we let him carry on and we refrain from calling out anymore to the fanatics.  It's a hot sweaty Sunday and we stop at a convenience store to fill up a water bottle.  I'd fill up at the toilet sink but the bottle is too long to fit under the tap, so I ask at the counter.  But, for only the second time on this whole journey and the second time in Japan, the superviser says no.  He puts his arms out in a cross and says "No! No free water!" and then points to the fridges full of cold drinks. I get mad and shout at him and insult him.  Shotgun diplomacy. Both barrels.  He looks very unhappy and would probably thump me if we weren't on camera.  But I want to thump him too.  He takes me outside and shows me the tap for the hosepipe around the side.  It's only later, when we are drinking our tea that Gayle points out the banner blowing in the wind in the carpark. 

maybe the milk was on tap...

No comments:

Post a Comment