Friday, 24 July 2015

out of the frying pan

Our road continues west along the coast.  There's a bike path sometimes and sometimes there's just us and the traffic.  It requires a bit too much concentration.  After a morning on the main road we find a back road that cuts a corner, misses a city and loses all the trucks.  We happily work our way through the country roads but Gayle has to navigate because I can no longer read our map - the back roads are white on a white background. We pop out on the main road at the coast at the end of another sunny Saturday.  There's plenty of people out on the roads and at the service stations.  We get water and sneak past a hotel spa to camp in a corner of their garden.  It's a steamy night, as still as a cemetery.  We both have a bucket wash by the tent and hope none of the guests take an evening stroll.

one of many deserted hidden beaches
Our road is Route 9.  This will be rembered by us as the Road of Death.  It's possibly the worst road we've been on in the whole of Japan.  Running parallel is a brand new expressway, but no-one is prepared to pay the tolls, so the old highway is chocker.  And because of the lay of the land, steep hills tumbling into the sea, there's no space for a footpath. Did I mention the climbs?  One lunch we get to a michi no eki perched above the sea with a wonderful refreshing breeze.  We can't believe our luck when we find large wooden platforms to eat and sleep on in the shade of some overgrown wisteria.  It's ideal and easily the coolest place we've found on the road in ages.  We're halfway through lunch when Gayle suddenly leaps up with a yell - SNAKE!! I nearly drop my butty. SNAKE! She shouts again.  I drop my butty, face down.  Where?  It just dropped out of the wisteria above and fell behind us.  Gayle heard it hit the ground and now it's moving in rather a speedy manner.  We watch it carefully as it plays with us - moving away and then turning around. Damn.  We can't siesta here.

Route 9 finally brings us to Masuda, a town with a big river and embankments where we can camp.  Happily we can continue along the coast whilst the dreaded highway cuts inland directly to Shimonoseki.
  This is our final destination too, but there's a quieter road around the end of Honshu that flattens out and should make an easy ride to the port.  We are desperate to leave Route 9.  It turns out to be a good decision and with the added thrill of more small coastal roads that look all but abandoned, cutting over headlands on tiny overgrown and rock-scattered asphalt.  We realise that some of this debris probably arrived with the recent typhoon.  It feels like we've entered Japan's Brigadoon - as we pass through series of villages that see little traffic.

sho 'nuff

As we hurry along our way we come to the small town of Hagi.  It's mentioned in our guidebook but neither of us expect it to have such a delightful old centre.  It's the kind of place we would love to stay in for a few days and just potter around.  And it doesn't seem too busy with tourists despite being the school holidays.  But because we are now on a ticking clock, with a flight booked from Seoul in early August, we press on.  Neither of us likes travelling like this and the non-stop riding is less enjoyable than it should be.
Hagi's waterfront

One late afternoon we arrive at a beach with a very stylish toilet and shower block made from wood, with big covered arches providing shade. There's a group of old fellas sat around chatting and we say hello and sit down under the shelter out of some rain to enjoy a hot cuppa and a biscuit.  The road has flattened out now so in compensation we've had a lousy headwind most of the day.  The rain is a stopper.  One of the men comes over and asks if we want to sleep here.  Or does he mean just rest a little.  It's about 5pm and we noticed a sign in the carpark says it shuts at 6.  We say yes and the man brings us first two reed mats to lie on, and then a bench to sit on and then a portable cooker and kettle to make more tea.  He and his mates then shut up the office and leave us to it.  Such kindness.  The place has a lot of decking but the rain is blowing in, so we set up the tent under another awning not far away, after we've cooked and eaten our tea.  We take bucket showers in the cubicles.  All so civilised.
last night in Japan

This turns out to be our last night in Japan because the ride next day is easy and straightforward down the western end of Honshu and into Shimonoseki.  The sun is back out and hot, so we are happy to reach the international ferry terminal and sit in the comparative comfort of a waiting lounge with a/c.  All around us are people shouting at each other and calling across the hall.  Not one of them is Japanese of course.  They are all Koreans, with a gang of women with huge bundles and boxes of, .... are they instant noodles?? Good grief.  We thought it was South Korea this ferry was taking us, not North Korea.

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