Hello to everyone from Kyoto, Japan,
The last time we wrote we were in Cairns, Australia about to depart for Japan. Since that update there have been enough problems to write a book about.
When we went to the hotel for supper we were advised we would not be departing for an extra day maybe up to three, this after loading the trucks with our luggage and bikes. It seems there was some dispute between JAL, the original charter carrier, and Malaysia Air who it seems were awarded the charter. While Cairns is a nice warm spot it lacks character and begins to wear a little thin after a few days.
We finally departed for Japan on the 4th October. The buses loaded at around 10:30AM for the short ride to the airport. The departure, which was slated for 1:00PM, was delayed by one hour. While we have traveled some rather circuitous route in our lives nothing quite as unique as the one we were about to embark. Cairns to Kuala Lumpor (went W to cross 2 time zones) then SE to Singapore then NE to Osaka Japan recrossing a previously crossed time zone. All in all what should have been a 7-hour flight turned into a 14-hour flight.
Arrival in Osaka was uneventful, and as is the case in Japan, things went rather well. The culmination of the flight was a rather cramped 2-1/2 hour bus ride to Kyoto sitting in the fold out seats in the aisles of the bus, nothing like looking at someone's arm pits when trying to catch a glimpse of the country side.
The hotel we stayed at was nice and we were treated to two persons to a room, which is much appreciated. Dinner was an authentic Japanese Salisbury steak for the carnivores and spaghetti for the vegetarians.
The next morning was a wonderful breakfast served buffet style with the other hotel guests and gave some of the first timers to Japan a taste of a traditional style breakfast, our hats off to those who rose to the challenge and sampled the traditional fare.
The remainder of the day was spent on a walking tour of Kyoto through their temples, shrines and many back streets of Kyoto where one finds many cottage industries turning out excellent Japanese products, pottery, fans, mats etc. We also experienced our first Japanese earthquake which was somewhat unnerving especially when we found out the epicenter was near where we were slated to travel.
When we returned for dinner of curried rice we found out that there would be no bikes in Japan and the remainder of our trip would be conducted in a bus. To say we were upset would be a gross understatement. The organizer claimed the bikes could come in but there was no guarantee they would be released for our China leg. One can only surmise why this would be the case but obviously someone at JAL was ensuring someone got the message loud and clear they were not happy with the business dealings. Having traveled to Japan on business and moving product in and out without any problems begs the question why not TK&A?
The following morning it was up for breakfast, checkout and load the trucks for a supposed 3-hour bus ride to Amanohashidate. We loaded the buses at 11:00AM and arrived at the designated campgrounds at approx. 5:00PM. When we saw the facilities that had been arranged we were glad we had expended the time and energy to secure alternate accommodations in a traditional Ryokan. The campgrounds (term used loosely) was dubbed the junkyard as it looked like it was the depository for all sorts of discarded wood, metal, tires etc. It was bordered on one side by the road and the train line and on the other side a creek. There were 5 or 6 porta potties and by the next morning the TK&A showers were up and running.
It sounds like the porta potties were not up to the load factor that 200+ people on a new diet are able to impose. One rider, name to be withheld, described his gagging experience when faced with a non-flushing Japanese style toilet that was loaded to capacity.
You asked what is a Ryokan? Well it is an experience every western person must experience should they visit Japan. The Ryokan is a traditional inn where the guests sleep on the floor on tatami mats onto which a futon has been spread, where you are served tea and sweets on your arrival in your room, where you share the bath with other guests (not a mixed venue) and then are treated to a superb multi course breakfast in the morning. This was one of the highlights of our trip and as we stated one you should not miss. Mary insists I let everyone know the room had a private toilet complete with a heated toilet seat and before anyone asks no we are not getting one for Florida!!
I hate to focus on food but when we went to dinner with the group once again had Salisbury steak for the carnivores and the vegetarian got about a cup of rice, half a cup of beans and a quarter slice of a tomato and some lettuce leaves. Water was also included but no tea. Some of our friends opted to pass up the dinner and settled on a small restaurant in town where they savored a superb meal complete with sake and other beverages all for the extortionate price of $US 20 per person. We decided to forgo the next evening's group meal for a dinner at the same restaurant and it was excellent. The owner spoke some English and we had a great time.
Everyone also learned this evening that the remainder of Japan would be spent driving from one camping location to another on a bus then splitting up to fly out of two different airports on three different flights. With this in hand a number of people including Mary and I decided to take a train back to Kyoto with some like us staying on in Kyoto and others heading off for Hiroshima.
We are now in Kyoto enjoying the many sights, this afternoon it is off to Nara for sightseeing then back to Kyoto. Tomorrow we return to Osaka to rejoin the group who are busing in from Hiroshima. 45% fly Osaka to Malaysia where they overnight then board a flight to Hong Kong, 45% fly from Fukuoka to Malaysia for an overnight stay before heading to Hong Kong and 10% fly direct from Osaka to Hong Kong. While we would love the direct flight we believe we will be doing the less than direct flight via Malaysia.
Will close for now but must end by letting everyone know that the Japanese experience has been great, the people are super friendly and helpful, they have little command of English but try very hard. I mention this because some people, thanks to the information conveyed by the organizers, perceive the Japanese as being difficult, this is definitely not the case.
Stay tuned for our next installment of this evolving adventure where we are reminded daily to be flexible.
Dave & Mary