45 days remaining
Six O’clock and the tent is baking hot. Early to bed, early to rise. By 7.30am we’ll be turning pedals again. An hour and half to strap our worldly possessions onto four bicycles. Tent beginning show signs of wear & tear. Got to watch that zip, keep an eye on those poles.
Campsite Etiquette. Put rubbish in the correct bin. In Japan plastics go with paper & banana skins. For burning you see. Polite head nod to campsite manager. Same to Campsite cleaner.
Road Etiquette. Nod thanks to Car Drivers. Truck Drivers. Motorcyclists. Pedestrians. Nod Nod Nod.
Tonight. we’ll stay in a ‘Rider House’. Bathroom shoes, lounge shoes, upstairs shoes. A shoe for every occasion. We will all follow correct eating etiquette. In Japan food is eaten silently. Except Noodles. With Noodles, you got to slurp. You just do. Sssllluurrp…
Hot cycling today. We stop at a road station to replenish empty water bottles and buy an ice-cream. Drench our shirts in water from a drinking fountain. Inside the shop. A brochure, amongst Tourist Pamphlets. Written in English! “A GUIDE TO JAPANESE MANNERS”. Clearly written advice, in English, on how not to offend Japanese People. Apparently, in Japan, belching in restaurants is a bit of a no no. As is talking too loudly. A friendly guide of don’t, don’t, don’t. Oh dear…
44 days remaining
A rest day around a Caldera Lake. A 25km diameter volcanic crater, filled with snow melt. In the morning I head out alone to see another caldera lake, another bathtub for the gods. This one has 40m water visibility. A complex filtration system set on a 120year cycle. The pamphlet informs, “the incredible water clarity is no Miracle but that of Divine Intervention”. Heidi & the boys walk around an island peninsula. Avoiding snakes and biting insects. And bears. In the afternoon we all meet by a lakeside beach. Just beneath the sand, freshly heated geothermal water can be mixed with ice cold lake water to create your very own ‘beach ONSEN’. Sam & Joe argue over the design of our beach ONSEN. Too hot, too cold. Sitting in their construction I quickly wisk my pants off to feel the volcanic sand and mixed water temperature on my skin. By the pier, paddle boats that look like swans wait for tour buses. A jet ski screams past. Jazz music over the loud speakers. The ‘perfect’ beachside experience. Japanese style. Swan boats & Jazz.
Later, a free outdoor ONSEN built amidst rocks beside the 25km bathtub. A notice board listing rules of the ONSEN. Like the GUIDE TO JAPANESE MANNERS: in English. “No swimming costume in the ONSEN”. Standard in all ONS. Also, “No naked swimming in the lake”. On the way back we stop in a corner shop. A typical ‘Convenience Store’. At children’s eye level, rows and rows of Manga & Adult Porn.
43 days remaining
Rest day over. Weathers turning tonight. A change in weather to coincide with crossing the mountains towards a town built around a prison. A Japanese prison in a remote place where the sea freezes over. First a brief stop to see bubbling mud and clouds of foul smelling gases escape from holes in the ground.
Today will be a short day in the saddle because we plan to stay with a WARMSHOWERS host. We are excited at the prospect of staying with a fellow cycle tourist who lives in this remote and faraway place. Really excited. In his last email a BBQ was promised. Some welcome warmth. It’s been a while.
How wrong we were…
After five hours of watching wind blow dust, still no sign of our host. We are sitting inside his polytunnel. Breathing dust. Eventually, after dark, our WARMSHOWERS host arrives. One of two brothers running a farm. Opening line: “Mmmph, big tent. You weren’t meant to put up here, but for tonight it’s fine.”…we try explain,”we waited for you but the children were hungry, we had to put the tent up before dark”…some hospitality, “you shower now”…we try explain, “No, we are cooking our supper so the children can eat and go to sleep”…supper finished, I ask inside the kitchen (both brothers are there), “may I please wash dishes inside here?”…a direct answer, “No. Outside sink fine”…I think about the GUIDE TO JAPANESE MANNERS and part on cleanliness. In the dark, I wash dishes in a filthy sink. A farmyard sink. Strong gusts of wind. Dust. My head torch flickering as it runs out of battery
Sam & Joe safely asleep in the tent in the polytunnel. Heidi and I go for a shower (may as well). Now allowed in the kitchen, we try and salvage things by accepting our WARMSHOWERS host’s offer of some sake and chat. The TV on in the background. Strong smell of fish.
I try for a truce, “perhaps the miscommunication for us arriving this afternoon and you not here because difficulty Japanese and English language. Causes Confusion”….he is having none of it, “No no no, you not put date and time on same email”…we try explain”but in previous email you agreed the 24th”… “No no no, you not put date and time on same email”…clearly established that we were at fault, we continue with our fascinating cultural exchange.
Our host enjoys talking about himself. We ask about his previous cycle tours, “paper map & google maps…I never use when travel, hee hee. I just go and no planning, hee hee”. We nod in agreement, the afternoons wait still fresh. He tells us about a time he camped in a bird hide. We try add to the conversation telling him’ “yes, we did the same thing a few nights ago”. He is having none of it.”No no no (points to himself) I sleep in bird hide, hee hee”. I ask him about broken spokes, he tells us, “I use very difficult method to fix mine, hee hee”. He draws a diagram to show his homemade method, emphasising again how difficult it is to do, “very difficult”.
We mention Niseko, he tells us, “I don’t like Niseko. Too many foreigners”. Silence. Heidi and I turn to the TV. Donald Trump with his ideas for giant walls to keep foreigners out is getting some Japanese TV airtime. We ask our host what he thinks of Trump, “Japanese people don’t like because he wants raise import tax. Not good for Japan”. We leave the double story farmhouse with its two occupants for our dusty polytunnel. The wind picks up. Small drops of rain. A dog, chained to a rotten kennel watches us walk past.
42 days remaining
We set a new record for packing & loading bikes. 7am and we are on the road. In the rain. In the fresh air (our lungs and everything we own in the world is covered in dust). But we are free! Our worst (most memorable) night in Japan. Unanimously. The rain clears, we thoroughly enjoy a few hours in the Museum of Northern People’s. The wind behind us, we cycle a 25km stretch of dedicated cycle way alongside a lake. Sam & Joe are safe to cycle far ahead of their parents. Some freedom on the road. Parents have a chance to chat, to reflect, to plan. Cicadas and frogs are going crazy. A din of insect & amphibian noises. Sounds available to those using pedal power. Cars & trucks whoosh past us. Past the frogs. Past the cicadas. Tonight we camp on a carpet of grass near a beach of black volcanic sand. 90km away from a dusty polytunnel and chained dog belonging to a pathetic man.
41 days remaining
The MUMMYBETSU INCIDENT has already become a thing of legend amongst Clan Carroll. A shortcut requiring 2km of dirt road riding. Heading for what would be another usefully closed (therefore FREE) campsite. Brad & Sam, side-by-side in front. 10m behind Heidi & Joe pairing. Slight downhill, brisk. Heidi’s voice carries to Brad, “I’m not enjoying thiiiii…”. Brad turns to see a flash of white pannier bags heading straight for green bushes. Brad to Sam, “Mummies dissapeared”. Sam confirms. Gone. Houdini Heidi eventually emerges from the bushes shaken & with a few scratches. The startled-with-leaves-in-hair look. Before we can continue dandelion flowers need to be removed from brakes. A few have even managed to get wedged between the chain and bike frame.
And so Mummy Macaskill was born. Joe couldn’t believe his eyes: his Mummy jumping off her bike while it was STILL going!
40 days remaining
Our last full day cycle touring before next WWOOF. Appropriate that this final night is in a five star bird observatory. A presidential suite with indoor bathrooms, running water, electric points and nearby hotel with ONSEN. Of course, being perched on a cape does offer one quite a view. Breathtaking, in fact. Clear, sunny skies providing for an impossibly blue sea. There are even a pair of BEST MONEY CAN BUY binoculars for Sam & Joe to squabble over. We wander whether David Cameron, also here in Land of the Rising Sun, is as fortunate as us tonight.
Tomorrow we head over the hills to our next WWOOF host. About ten days or so if all goes well. A dairy farm 25km from the nearest town. Arranging has all been done via fax and telephone so far. Internet unlikely. Reviews from previous WWOOFERS give us grounds for optimism but as we’ve discovered over and over again…you just got to wait and see.