Monday, May 15, 2006

Golden Week Day 4

Golden Week Trip Day 4 - Thursday, May 4th, 2006

"Good morning, everyone. It's just after 7, and I wanted to announce to all of the people who plan on taking part in the sea kayaking program today that it looks like we should be able to go. The ocean is still a little rough, and a little rain is falling, but we'll take everyone over to the kayak center and make a final decision there. We leave at 8:30 sharp."

Aah, that lovely thing known as the morning announcement. I enjoy staying in youth hostels over here, but that morning announcement is something I could do without.

But as it was, I was awake, and it was time to get up and get ready to face the day.

I was thrilled with the fact that my feet weren't hurting, until I went downstairs to get breakfast and realized that my feet were just getting started.

This was starting to concern me a bit. I tried to figure out what could be causing this feet pain. Gout? Good Lord, I hope not. Well, if it's not gout, then...

Wait a sec.

I was running on train tracks two days ago.

The arches of my feet were coming down flat on those railroad ties, and my heels and toes weren't touching anything but air.

That's gotta be it.

Leave it to me to screw up the rest of my vacation on the first full day of it. This pain made me grumpy. Not a good situation to be in, although it helped me to realize the definition of the word "excrutiating". Is that a good thing?

I met Yuka downstairs for breakfast. What was available was pretty tasty, if a bit on the simple side. No problem there. Then 8:30 rolled around and the sea kayaking group loaded into a van and headed to the kayak center.

Where we were told that while the sea was basically okay, it was still a little too cold and a little too rough for our guide to be comfortable with us going out there. After a bit of debate, it was decided that we would all meet back at the kayak center at 1 PM.

Quick note about the Sea of Okhotsk:

If you take a look at this map (click to enlarge), it's pretty easy to see, but the Sea of Okhotsk is basically a big lake. This means that the waters are relatively calm, for sea water. Which means that waves and rough water are normally not a concern. Unfortunately, it was a little too rough to go out in the morning. So crossing our fingers, we all loaded back on the van and went back to the youth hostel.

When we got back there, most of the people in the group had cars and ideas of where to go. One person, a lady from Tokyo named Tamayo, was without transportation. Let's just say that waiting for a bus out there would be a sketchy proposition, mostly because there aren't that many buses that make it all the way out to the youth hostel. So Yuka and I offered Tamayo a ride in the Kiddmobile. She gladly accepted, and we headed off.

Normally, there are a lot of places to see in Shiretoko. The Five Lakes. The Hot Falls at Kamuiwakka. The various peaks along the peninsula. The Shiretoko Pass. Normally.

This, however, was a most abnormal time. Snowfall had blocked the pass, which also meant climbing mountains wouldn't be a good idea. Snow was blocking the trails around three of the Five Lakes. The road out to Kamuiwakka Falls was closed, due to (you guessed it!) snow. What to do?

We debated whether to go to see the two lakes we could see, or hike out to see Furepe Falls, also known as "The Maiden's Tears". We decided on the hike. My feet screamed at me.

So we drove out to the Shiretoko Nature Center, parked, and hit the trail out to the falls. It was smooth going at first, and then we came upon the snow. Snow that was packed down from a long winter of people hiking on it. Snow that was more ice than snow in places because of the melting and freezing that had been going on. Snow that I was used to, but my fellow travelers were not.

I had two long months of practice walking on snow JUST LIKE THAT (when Wasabi-kun was out of commission), so I knew how to walk on it without falling on my rump. Yuka and Tamayo had a hard time keeping up. I laughed at them (trying desperately to favor my aching feet all the while).

On the way out there, we noticed something that had been mentioned to us by the youth hostel director at the previous night's meeting.

"Keep an eye out for the kumazasa (bamboo grass) while you walk around tomorrow. Look at how tall it is. You'll notice that it's taller in some places than in others. The height of the kumazasa will indicate how deep the snow pack was in that area. Kumazasa survives really well when it's insulated by snow during the winter, but any part of it that is above the snow will die off over the winter."
And while I don't have a good photo to show you, the further we hiked, the taller the kumazasa got. It just goes to show that there's a lot of stuff for you to see out in nature, if you just know where to look.

And while we were looking, we saw A LOT of deer, and they weren't scared of us at all.

This one was working REALLY hard at eating that tree bark. Didn't want to miss a single piece of it. Deer really go to town on tree bark. Wow.

Not scared at all.

We saw the Utoro Lighthouse out on the cliff near the falls...

...and here are Yuka, Tamayo, and I out at Furepe Falls (aka The Maiden's Tears).

Thanks to Tamayo for this photo. Click on it and look between Tamayo and Yuka. You can see some faint streams of water. That's The Maiden's Tears.

We finished up at the Shiretoko Nature Center around 11, and decided to head into Utoro proper to get some lunch before heading out to sea.

We drove around first, trying to find a good place to grab some food, but we eventually ended up parking the car and walking around. The area around Utoro Port was so crowded with people that it was hard to get around. My feet were dying on me, but I grimaced and bore it like a pro, hobbling along all the way. Most of the places we went to were ridiculously expensive. The food looked good, but not THAT good.

Until we found a restaurant that was offering a King Crab leg tempura rice bowl. Pricey, but too damn good-looking to pass up. We went in, sat down, tried to order, waited a bit, tried to order again, got frustrated, and were finally able to order. It was a tad busy there.

It was just after 12, and we had to be back at the kayak center at one. No problem.

Ten minutes pass...

Twenty minutes pass...

Thirty minutes pass...

Forty minutes later, our meal arrived, brought to us by a woman far to old to be wearing the miniskirt she had on.


It was as good as it looks, but I had to ferociously devour it so I could hobble back to the car and get us all out to the kayak center. I pulled into the parking lot at 1 PM sharp.

We went in and most everyone was there. The word was official: the kayak trip would go off as planned. YES!

We were given our dry suits to put on. This was a bit more complicated than it appeared at first. Right leg, then left leg, pull the suit up to your waist, cinch it off, put the shoes on over the suit foot area, squeeze the air out of the leg area, right arm, left arm, pull the suit over your head and stick your head through the hole provided, roll the rubber neck area down inside the suit, zip up to complete the seal, then pull on the area around your neck and squat down, forcing out any extra air. And voila, you're a cast member of the movie "Armageddon".


If only the suits had been orange, and I had a space helmet to carry in the crook of my arm, I coulda pulled it off too.

Then we all loaded back into the van and went down to the launch point. We hauled out the kayaks and practiced how to get in and out of them without tipping the darn things over. Leg, then butt, then other leg. If you do one leg, and then the other, and THEN try to sit down...let's just say that the Sea of Okhotsk is VERY COLD in May and it wouldn't be a wise thing to do. When you get out, same thing. Leg, then butt, then the other leg. We also adjusted the feet rests in the front and the rudder steering pedals in the back, depending on where we were sitting. People with experience kayaking or guys in a guy/girl pair were told to sit in the back and steer the kayak.

We also had to practice rowing. We were shown how to hold the oars and the best way to row. Not too deep, not too sharp of an angle. We had to work together and row on the same side of the kayak at the same time, so our guide had us practice rowing using a sound-off system. "1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2..." 1 being right, 2 being left.

Once everybody got a feel for the kayaks and was comfortable with what we needed to do, we put the kayaks in the water. Oh my, that was some cold water. Then we got in our kayaks and started out.

First, we had a little more practice steering, reversing, and stopping the kayaks. Then we started following the coastline out to The Maiden's Tears and The Man's Tears.

Here's Yuka and I in our kayak. Thanks to Tamayo for the photo.

A few minutes out, we saw a mother bear and her cub foraging for food on the hillside. Our guide told us that in the ten or so years he's been doing this kayak tour, he's never seen a bear that close.

Thanks to Tamayo for this photo too. Click on it to enlarge it, and then look in the top half of the photo. For as far away as we were, the photo turned out pretty well.

We kayaked out to The Man's Tears waterfall, but apparently he didn't feel like crying that day, because there wasn't much water coming down off of the cliff. Then we turned around and headed back, making a stop by The Maiden's Tears. It was an interesting change of perspective to see the falls and the cliffs from the bottom.
We kayaked on back along the coastline, stopping again to take another look at the two bears on the hillside, and then we headed back to our launch point and dry land.

Not to brag, but during the kayak tour I did the best job of keeping the kayak on course out of everyone there (except the guide).

We saw lots of ocean birds and those two bears. We saw a gorgeous coastline. We were able to listen to the sound of the waves, instead of having it all drowned out by the announcements and the engine on a motorized tour boat. It was also done under our own power, which made the trip feel a little more personal. You're out there on the sea, and you have to take responsibility for your actions and not mess with Mother Nature. It struck an interesting balance between awe and fear.

Then it was back to the kayak center (after putting away the kayaks, of course), where we washed off our dry suits and changed out of them. The tour guide went over to the onsen building, which was next door to the kayak center, and struck a deal with the owners for those of us who participated in the kayak trip to be able to take a bath there for a little cheaper than the regular price. I'm told the outdoor bath had a great view. I can't ever tell because if I wear my glasses, everything fogs up and I can't see. If I don't wear my glasses, my eyesight is so bad that I can't see. So I have to take their word for it. The bath itself was good, though, and it felt good on my poor feet (which were feeling better because I hadn't been walking on them for a while).

I had an interesting conversation with one of the other tour members at the onsen. He and his wife were from Hiroshima (just south of Shimane...YAY!), and they were headed for Abashiri that night. I recommended the sushi restaurant Yuka and I visited two nights before. Good sushi, good service, and one heck of a sushi chef. I don't know whether they went or not, but I'd like to think they did.

Yuka, Tamayo, and I saw them off, then hopped in the car and started to head back to the youth hostel. But first, we had to stop and take a few pictures of this.


Then we swung into town for some beer and snacks, then hit the road.

On our way back to the youth hostel, there was a big tour bus stopped off to the side of the road. I wondered what the commotion was, and then I saw it.

A bear. Running off into the trees. Wow. I wish I'd had my camera out. It was pretty close to where we were. Fortunately, we were on a bridge and there was no way the bear was going to get up there.

The two ladies I was with were really surprised that I'd spotted it. I'd been quick on spotting animals all day long. "Why are you so good at that?", they asked. There's only one answer...I was trained by my mom.

Any time we ever go on a family trip, Mom's always saying, "Oh! Look over there at that deer!" Or, "See that elk? There!" Or "Look at those mountain goats over there!" You have to be careful, or you could give yourself whiplash. But I have a bit of the eye for spotting animals that Mom has, and she's trained me for years, so I bragged a bit about Mom to them.

I guess growing up in an area that actually has animals helps too. I'm guessing there's a serious lack of deer sightings in downtown Tokyo.

So I guess what I want to say here is, "Thanks, Mom."

A nice view of Mt. Raus we saw on the way back to the youth hostel.

We arrived back at the youth hostel in time for dinner. There were two options for dinner: the curry and rice all-you-can-eat, or the ikura-don all-you-can-eat. Ikura-don is Japanese for "fish bait rice bowl".

Actually, it's salmon roe, which is considered to be a Hokkaido delicacy, but one that I've never really taken a liking to. But, I figured, what the heck, I'm here, might as well go for it. So I ate the bait.

And, Lord help me, it was good. So good that I piled the eggs on, and even went back for seconds.

I paid for it later, but it was really good.

Then Yuka, Tamayo, and I had some other snacks and some beers, participated in the evening meeting, went out and did a little stargazing, made a promise to get up early and watch the sunrise, and then went off to our separate rooms to get some well-earned sleep.


Blogger Megan said...

What a rockin' vacation.

Doesn't kayaking kick ass??

Tuesday, May 23, 2006 10:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dustin, you had a lot of practice kayaking down the Minam River when we took that trip back in 2000.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006 11:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're welcome for the training.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006 12:12:00 AM  

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