We left Tokyo the easy way, by ferry to the island of Kyushu. Our original plans had not been to go there, but they seem to change week by week, so that is where we are heading. The ferry didn’t depart until 19:00, so we had another whole day in Tokyo. Being as we didn’t have any tickets we decided to head down to the ferry terminal and get them as early as possible, well, by mid day at least. Once we had tickets in hand we went to explore Tokyo Bay area. This was much more like the Tokyo I had expected to see, ultra modern with mono-rail transport, big fast roads and high rise apartments, it seemed a completely different place to the Tokyo we had already seen. We decided to head for the Panasonic centre, it was free after all. Wow! We were impressed. Part of it was really just a showroom for their products. Even the flat screen televisions impressed me with their picture quality. I guess technology has advanced considerably in the 2 years that I have been away, though most of it will have passed me by. It was very much a hands on place, very enjoyable. Actually, so enjoyable that we spent about 4 hours there leaving us only enough time to stock up on food before heading for the ferry.
The ferry left bang on time, but it was full of surprises for both of us. It was pretty small, bordering on tiny. We had to book a cabin, even though we tried our best to buy a ticket without one. But there were so few passengers, probably no more than 20, the rest of the ferry was filled with containers. With so few passengers it meant that there were no proper dining facilities, so we were relieved to have bought some food as we will be on board for the next 2 nights. Food was available from vending machines and there was a good supply of microwaves, so it was all very much do-it-yourself. Amazingly there were not only showers but also an onsen, so I made the most of it and had a dip, though at time it felt more like a wave machine, not as relaxing as one on land. The crossing was about as calm as it could get, though it still enough to make Christine sea sick, something she wasn’t best pleased about. By the second day I could tell something was not quite right with her, she had gone right off her food. She tried to eat in the evening but dashed off to lie down well before she had finished. I sat with her, she wasn’t happy. She kept saying “Tomorrow is my birthday, this is no way to spend a birthday”. I kept assuring her that she would feel much better by the morning, though she refused to believe me.
At 05:40 we docked at Kitakyushu, bang on time after a 36hr journey. As I had predicted Christine was feeling much better, though she seemed to be amazed by the fact. Once on the road I couldn’t really make sense of the map, the signposts didn’t match anything on the map, nor did the road numbers, so I just navigated by the compass. It was only after about an hour that I eventually realised that the ferry had docked about 20km from where I had expected, on a north/south coastline rather that the east/west one I had expected. I guess that explains why the sea was in the wrong place when we cycled away from the ferry! Even though we had set off so early it was stinking hot and oh so humid. The first road side temperature gauge had registered 31 degrees, it felt it too. The northern part of the island is all industrial, so it came as no surprise that we were heading south on busy road, there wasn’t much that was nice about it. After about 30km we stopped for a snack. Despite a day of doing nothing yesterday and what felt like 2 good nights sleep, I felt so tired, all I wanted to do was lie down and go to sleep. We carried on though, Christine cycled in front and all I could do was watch her back wheel, I have no recollection of anything that was around me, I was just fighting to stay awake. I promised myself if I saw a bench in the shade I would stop for a nap, but you don’t notice many of those when all you can do is watch the back wheel of the bike in front. It remained hot, we were both covered in sweat. We spotted a supermarket. We did need some food but we both had thoughts of other things….air-conditioning. We sat inside and ate our lunch, but the humidity was still lurking outside, waiting for us. We carried on slowly, it was hard work even though it was flat. We were heading for a Shinto Buddhist shrine at Usa. As we arrived we passed a large sign telling us we had arrived….”Welcome to USA”. The shrine was well worth a visit, though as always seems to be the case with Shinto temples it was a long walk. The shrine was pretty extensive with a great big bucket load of orange paint splashed all over it. There weren’t many people there, though there were small groups of businessmen there (photo) though we couldn’t agree if there were there to pray for the contract they had just signed or one they were about to sign. We filled up on water, we were getting through a fair bit, then went in search of campsite. We needed to get away from the main road which tends to mean heading up a thumping great hill. We were climbing steeply on a very narrow road each of us trying to decide how much further we would go before suggesting we turn back, when all of a sudden, right beside the road appeared a small section of wood that was dead flat perfect for camping. So despite Christine’s concern about the weather forecast, that it would rain all day on her birthday, we hadn’t had a drop, though we still ended up pretty wet. As dusk approached we were left with a dilemma, do we sit outside and take all the mosquito bites or do we sweat it out in the tent. We chose the latter, though it was so hot and sticky that we chose to take the tent outer off, if it rained we would have to act fast, but it seemed the best option.
It didn’t rain. When the alarm went off at 5:30 it was even reasonably cool. By the time we were on the road again it was heading for 30 degrees and sticky hot again, just what we needed as we started a short climb. One more short climb and we were descending into the seaside town of Beppu, Japan’s No.1 spa resort and home to lots of thermal activity, a sort of tacky version of Rotorua. We did a tour of the hotels, we were nice a early and desperate for a cold shower and a room with air-conditioning. But Japan is a country of rules, rules that everybody sticks to, rules aren’t for breaking in Japan. One of the more annoying rules for us is the check-in time at hotels, normally 3 or 4pm. It was only heading for 1pm as we checked out the rooms. We decided to take the one that would let us check in early, but none of them would, despite the fact we had seen rooms that were ready for immediate use. But being cyclists we did what come naturally when you can’t check into a hotel, we went to another hotel and had an ’all-you-can-eat-buffet’ and despite the hot weather we both managed to pack away a good amount, including 2 bowls of ice cream in my case. The Japanese are only small people therefore they only appear to nibble at food. So for the ice-cream came little plastic containers…pathetic! I did a swap and used a soup bowl instead, it was wonderful, it was fantastically cold, bliss. During the evening Christine went to sample one of the local specialities, a sand bath. Basically you lie down and get covered with 40 degree sand, buried with your head sticking out. Once you are completely cooked, about 10 minutes, you get dug up and thrown into a shower. Being buried alive is hardly my idea of fun, I declined the offer.
This morning dawned wet…ooh heck it was wet. Wet, wet, WET! We were thankful to be staying in a hotel, so we just sat it out for a while doing odd jobs on the bikes, doing the washing etc. By 1pm we decided we just had to go and suffer the rain, but by the time we started cycling way from the hotel the rain stopped, amazing, we didn’t even get the slightest bit wet. We climbed away from Beppu to the suburb of Kannawa where the closer we got the stronger the sulphur smell became and the more plumes of stream we could see. We went to visit one of the thermal pool with water at around 90 degrees and some of the nearby mud pool. It was all very different from New Zealand. Not much of a natural setting here, the pools were surrounded by manicured gardens, worth a visit in their own right, but not what we had come to see. Unfortunately they cash in on the tourist attractions here as despite everything being very close together they are all separated and you have to pay at all of them individually, hence we only visited the best two sights. Come evening we made more of the spa town by heading off to an outdoor spa. This was unusual for Japan as the open air bit was mixed sex so we could be sociable for a change. It was wonderful to be sitting in a hot pool and looking along the beach to the mountains beyond.
Tomorrow we leave Beppu and head further south across some of the high ground. Christine is dreading that in the humid heat, but today’s rain has cleared the air somewhat. The are plenty more spas around Kyushu, so as long as we visit the odd one she should be happy.