There seems to be hardly an inch of flat ground on Kyushu, though we did find just a little as we departed Kagoshima, but before long we were climbing again. We had expected it through, we could see on the map we were heading for a pass, though heading up to an unknown height from sea level can be a bit daunting. This one wasn’t too bad, gradual and peaking at 405m (photo), though on a busy road. Pay back time came immediately with a swift decent to Satsuma. Having stocked up on cheap tomatoes from a roadside veg stall we headed out of town.
Judging by the map we had a climb to start the following morning too, though this one wasn’t marked as a pass. We had turned onto the route 504, it was much quieter. Half way up the climb the road narrowed to single track, the rain started and we were heading into cloud. It was steep too, a horrible climb that seemed never ending though we eventually reached the pass at 638m, a rather unexpected bonus. Christine didn’t see it that way, she wasn’t over pleased. When she arrived at the top she ranted on that she had had enough of these climb, “I just wish one day we could have a bit of flat cycling and make a bit of good progress instead of this endless energy sapping slog”. She had a point, progress had been slow. We were aiming for a ferry that was about 65km from were we had camped, we thought we would make it there easily by early afternoon, yet after 1¾ hrs we had only covered 13km. As ever, it is almost impossible to judge how long it will take you to get anywhere. We descended to the next town and from the map it looked flat from there onwards. Flat in Japan means there are no major climbs, but the road was up and down the whole way, as you reached the top of one hill the next one was lurking just around the corner. But we made the ferry taking the 16:40 crossing. We had expected a deserted little island, but as we docked we could see it was far from that, we were arriving in a big town, something that rather messes up plans to find a camp site as soon as we disembark. Thankfully we did find somewhere fairly soon, up another steep hill, the steepest of the day. It was warm, we sat out in the dark and were amazed at how everything was soaked in condensation by the time we turned in, that said the nights are still very humid making it very uncomfortable in the tent.
From our camp spot we dropped back down to sea level. The road hugged the coastline for the next 35km, it was sheer pleasure the whole way, not too hilly, not too hot and glorious scenery the whole way. We passed through little fishing villages, cut in around bays and out around the headlands, the views were changing all the time. We passed bushes that attracted the butterflies (photo), massive great things that flit impatiently from flower to flower. There are few fruit tree in Kyushu, but Christine has honed her skills on spotting vegetable stands. She picked up 5 peppers for just 30 Yen, that is so cheap, about 4p each, that I don’t see how they can even grow them for that price. Today was also the day that Christine had been looking forward to, we only had a few hills, we were making good time. We had hoped to reach the next ferry at the top of the island by the end of the day, we arrived early enough to make the 3pm ferry. Christine generally cycles a bit slower that me, so I stop every now and then and wait for her to catch up. As we were heading for the ferry I thought we could get the 3pm ferry at a push, so I pulled over to wait for Christine and suggest it to her. I was amazed to find her right behind me, “Don’t stop” she called out “I think we can make the 3pm ferry if we are quick”, and with that she was gone in a flash. I had trouble keeping up with her. She stopped at another veg stall for a quick check and was back behind me just a couple of minutes later, whistling a happy tune. It seems she has a mean turn of speed when she wants to get somewhere. Once off the other side the weather was still glorious, so we carried on along the coast. We reach Harajo. It had been built up most of the way so as we thought it may take some time to find a campsite we decided to start looking early. It didn’t take long to find a spot after all. right next to the beach, but there were a few too many people around for our liking, we decided to head to the nearby spa, have a good scrub down and return a bit later when hopefully it would be a bit quieter. The spa was fantastic value, the pools overlooked the sea and even better, there was a nice tatami rest room where you could chill out and drink green tea whilst feeling nice and clean. We went back and set up camp only to find that it was the local dog walking route, though nobody seemed bothered by us being there and just gave a cheery “Hello”.
After a fantastic day with constant blue skies we were very surprised to be woken the following morning by rain, so having got further than expected yesterday we were already an hour late in starting. It eased of but continued to drizzle, though it was still warm so jackets weren’t required. We are back on Japanese breakfasts, miso soup and rice, though we both find it somewhat lacking and are usually hungry before we have got too far. This morning was even worse, after just 7km I felt a total lack of energy, though thankfully we reached what we believed would be the only supermarket of the day, stocked up on food and sat down and had a second breakfast. We were heading for the Mount Unzen Disaster Memorial Houses, we reached there, the village of Shimabara, just in time as another heavy shower set in. Mt Unzen is another very active volcano, in fact it was the scene of Japan’s most recent big eruption, in 1990. There had been minor eruptions leading up to the biggest eruption and everybody in the area had been evacuated, but the biggest eruption caused a huge pyroclastic flow that ran down the mountain side at approximately 100km/hr. 41 people died that day mainly firemen, policemen and journalists. A whole village by the sea was engulfed by the flow and that is what we were visiting. The houses still stood, but the volcanic ash came to the rooftops. About 6 houses had been left as they were as a memorial to the tragedy. We also paid a visit to the Memorial Hall, more a museum. Not much in the way of artefacts to see, but as with all Japanese museums made very interesting in a very imaginative way. It included a film on a 180 degree scene where you stood and watched the film on a base that moved and shuddered and blew hot air at you. From there we started our ascent of the mountain, the weather wasn’t looking good, but we hoped to get about half way up before looking for somewhere to camp. We came to a flat area and decided to camp there. The weather was looking rough, I wasn’t over happy about camping there as it looked as though it might flood, but we didn’t know if we would find another spot, or if it would actually rain, so we decided to stay there. Just as we had finished eating, it started to rain but thankfully only lasted about 5 minutes. As the evening wore on there were a continuing number of flashes, but no thunder. The cloud was thick enough to stop us seeing the lightening, the wind was picking up too. During the night there was heavy rainfall which thankfully was again a shortish shower. At 5am it started again, though this time it really meant business. It was hammering down, it didn’t appear to be stopping either. The wind picked up even more battering the tent, the thunder and lightening were getting ever closer. It seemed relentless, one enormous clap of thunder was very close by and made Christine scream, “Aren’t you afraid of this she asked”, “No not really” I replied “I don’t like it but I am not afraid. The worse that can happen is we get flooded, the tent breaks and we get very wet, but we will pull through”. “Well I am terrified” he told me “I wish it would stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop”. It didn’t, it didn’t even seem to let up. Normally when it rains you can hear the drop of water on the tent, with this you couldn’t, it was just a solid deluge, continuous. “Please, please, please, please, please, please” Christine cried out and her head sank into her hands. Every now and then it seemed to ease a little only for it to resume full pelt a few second later at which Christine would cry out “No, no, no, no, no, no, no”, I don’t think she like thunderstorms. It lasted an hour and a half, it was miserable, I just couldn’t believe it could rain so much in such a short time. Once it eased I got out to assess the damage, we were completely waterlogged, an old nearby tarmac road was a stream. The tent had remained solid against the wind and rain, but water had come in through the groundsheet.
We packed up quickly, I was relieved that we had got away so lightly with it. We carried on with the climb to the village of Unzen, I was amazed to find that the road wasn’t even flooded. Before long we were heading into the cloud. We passed the turning to Nita Pass, it was closed. We arrived in Unzen in thick cloud. It is another thermal village, we walked around the thermal springs but it was difficult to tell what was steam and what was cloud. The atmosphere of the place was somewhat ruined by the pipes that criss-crossed the area running water to the hotel spas. We decided to go to a spa ourselves, we made it there just as it started to rain hard again. Having had another good scrub down and relax in the very hot pool, we sat in the rest area and eat and drank green tea until the rain had eventually stopped again. We then descended the mountain on a back road that was remarkably good. Before long it was time to find a place to camp for the night. Needless to say everywhere was water logged. We found a spot that showed signs of water having flowed over it the previous night, but it was unlikely to happen again so we set up camp. Before we had even started cooking it started to rain, we quickly got in the tent and had everything covered up. It was thoroughly miserable. It was still very hot and humid, the last place we wanted to be was in the tent and to make matters worse we still had to do the cooking, that would make things even hotter. It rained hard, the ground unsurprisingly became waterlogged very quickly, I could hardly believe it, less than 12 hours after having felt we had got off lightly, we were right back in it. It wasn’t as bad as the previous night though, there was no wind, thunder or lightening and the rain was nowhere near as intense, but it was still totally depressing. We talked about it, then discovered we both had wanted to stay in a hotel that evening but had both thought the other wouldn’t want it.
The rain eventually stopped. It started again at 3am, this time hard and persistent, right the way through until 7am, I thought it was set in for the day. The whole area was a quagmire, we couldn’t get in or out of the tent without making everything wet and muddy, for the second night running rain had come up though the groundsheet due to the small lake we were camped in. It started to rain again as we packed up. We set of wearing jackets, but they we on and off constantly for the next hour until I decided I would just leave it on and sweat it out. The rain got worse the nearer we got to Nagasaki, it ended up torrential, water was cascading of the hillsides. I had to wait at the top of a short climb for Christine, when she arrived she said “I just can’t continue like this, the wind stopped me a number of times and I can’t see a thing”. I could see what she meant, there were droplets of water all over her steamed up glasses, it must have been hell for her, so I was completely sympathetic and said “You have to be strong, you can make it, there is only about another 10km to go”. She was fantastic, she carried on without complaint. We made into the centre of Nagasaki totally soaked through, checked into a hotel. We couldn’t use the room until 3pm, so we changed and dried ourselves of in the loo and went to a lunchtime buffet, after what we had been through it was sheer bliss. We did a bit of sight seeing in the afternoon including a temple in the shape of a turtle. The old lady there gave us a tour, she was a real character, telling us stories and ordering us around, “Right, you stand there, you, stand over there and take a photograph”. I didn’t even want a photograph, but did as I was told, then when it was taken, “Right, swap over, you stand there, you stand over there and take a photo”. Whilst we were there a Hungarian guy arrived, “It’s 200 Yen, quickly, give me the money”, I don’t think he really wanted to go in, but was too afraid to say no.
This morning at breakfast we read the English language newspaper, we saw the headlines “Death toll rises to 7 as rain lashes Kyushu”. The deaths had been caused by landslides. In Fukuoka where we are heading next, they had 608mm of rain in just 2 and a half days, we had got away with it lightly by the look of it. The main tourist sight of the day was another very sobering experience, the A-Bomb Museum. Totally absorbing but very different to the one in Hiroshima. There was far less personal stuff, but it was still heart wrenching to take in. On the morning of August 9th 1945 a US bomber took of with a nuclear weapon, it’s primary target was the town of Kukora, it circled over it but the cloud never cleared, so it left and set course for Nagasaki. There the same thing happened, then just as it was about to return to base at 11:02, there was a small break in the cloud, it could see it’s target and the bomb was dropped. Nagasaki had been chosen as it was home to the Mitsubishi Shipyards and a number of weapons factories. Within seconds of the blast anybody that was within a kilometre of the hypocentre and exposed in the open was dead, within minutes thousands were dead, in total some 74,000 people died in the blast. I was amazed to see whole photographs of whole areas razed to the ground, yet the charred human remains were clearly visible. It was a living hell. Next to the museum was the memorial centre (photo). At the centre was a glass column containing 27 shelves. Each carrying 9 volumes of the names of all the people that perished as a result of the blast. Looking towards the column was the direction of the hypocentre some 300m away. There was a monument in a Peace Park at the spot of the hypocentre, fitting indeed, yet in Hiroshima all that marked the spot was a plaque on the wall. The afternoon was spent in total contrast visiting another museum, at Dejima, originally an island run by the Netherlands, the only area that was open to foreigners before Japan opened up about 150 years ago, it was there as a trading post, life there must have been very strange indeed.
Tomorrow we move on for Fukuoka, rain is forecast.