Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Utoro to Rausu


We woke up to a light drizzle, but nevertheless still felt optimistic enough to leave for the nature center. The nature center was where the bus to Kamuiwakka Falls leaves --- since the Falls was supposedly warm, it was something that Yana looked forward to sitting in. I got up to the nature center with no problem, but Mark and Yana got detained by some deer, making it to the nature center with no time to spare for the first bus of the day.


The bus ride wasn't interesting --- if the weather would have been better, we probably could have ridden out to the falls instead of taking the bus, but since it was raining and dirt roads are no fun in the rain (especially if the fork is making strange noises, as in Mark's case), the bus seemed like a good idea. Kamuiwakka Falls, however, was a disappointment. The waterfalls are indeed warm, but are by no means hot. With a cold rain coming down, they were at most 24 degrees C, hardly worth changing into a swim suit for. On a clear, sunny day, they might get up to 26 degrees C, which would make it an interesting place to swim, but not really a hot springs by any stretch of the imagination. I didn't even bother changing into my swim suit, but Mark decided that he might as well do it anyway.


When the bus came back, we got on it and headed over to the 7 lakes area, which was also similarly disappointing. The boardwalks would take you out to the views of the lake, but it wasn't a particularly pretty lake.
By the time we got back to the nature center, it was 11:00am, and the rain was really coming down hard, giving us a perfect excuse for sitting indoors and having lunch.

Unfortunately, even lunch did not make the rain go away, so we put on our rain-gear, and slogged up the hill. As far as hill climbs in the rain goes, it was only mildly unpleasant --- my rain cape kept me warm, and the bike made slow but steady progress. As I approached the summit, I saw that the weather was clearing, and so prepared myself for what should be a pleasant descent. Boy was I wrong! The rain lessened but the wind picked up dramatically. I had a really hard time getting my rain cape off because of the wind, and during the change-over my glasses fell off and the nose-piece was picked up by the wind and blown away, never to be seen again.

I began the descent does, with only a lightweight jacket, and immediately started feeling chilled. I took the descent slowly, and got whipped and moved about by the wind. I had no choice but to take the lane, since at any moment a gust of wind could pick me up and move me 3 feet one way or another on the road. The scenery was gorgeous though! There was an amazing rainbow that stunned folks enough to stop their cars and shoot.
To make things worse, I encountered the only asshole driver in Japan on this descent --- a truck driver who would refuse to over-take on the other lane, but rather than sit patiently behind me, would lean on his horn despite seeing that the entire situation was already difficult for me (those gusts were pretty obvious).

I started shivering from the cold --- for a 700m descent, it was taking me far too long to get down the hill. When I got down to 200m finally the wind gave me a break and I could get down to the National Park visitor center and get in and sit in the warmth. Nevertheless, I did not stop shivering for 1/2 an hour. Mark and Yana eventually joined me, and we then proceeded down towards Rausu to look for lodging using the lodging listing the visitor center kindly gave us.


The first place I went to said they were closed. So did the next 2. When I finally found a Minshuku, I was asked to wait while the receptionist checked to see if they were taking customers. I observed the receptionist look outside at Mark and Yana, and realized that it wasn't a coincidence that all the places we visited were closed --- they did not want to take foreigners. The Lonely Planet guide had mentioned this --- apparently, enough Americans and other foreigners have arrived at various guest lodges in Japan, and not realizing that the meals are fixed (no choices in what you get for dinner --- they cook and you eat, just like at mom's house), have thrown fits or asked for their money back. The Japanese, being polite people, would solve this by refusing to take future foreigners as guests, even if they were (like us) entirely capable of downing a Japanese meal without complaint, and would indeed prefer the Japanese meals over any western choices! I felt like apologizing for Americans (especially picky American vegetarian/vegan/ovo-lacto-vegetarian types), but clearly that would do no good --- the damage had already been done.

We eventually found a big hotel near the water which looked expensive on the outside but turned out to be quite reasonable in price (well, ok, 6000 yen a night a person is still not cheap), and booked just rooms for the night. They gave us separate rooms, and the views out of the windows were quite nice.
Ironically, all this riding around and looking for lodging had warmed me up, and the sun had emerged from the clouds. We took our showers quickly, and took advantage of the hair dryers to dry out our shoes, then went outside to look for food.

Mark felt like getting some Sashimi, and I was of a similar sentiment. We visited 4 places within 2 blocks of the hotel and ended up picking up a sashimi place run by a husband and wife --- the wife would take orders and the husband would cook or slice it up fresh.
It was pricey, but the presentation and the meal was great. I asked for desert at the end, and the wife look puzzled for a bit, and then said she would make some potato mochi, which also turned out to be excellent!

We retired early that night, having been exhausted by the day, despite having only ridden 37.5km and climbed 902m.
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