23 July, 2009 cont: The northern towns in Hokkaido, like Wakkanai and Enbetsu were famous for the abundance of fresh seafood. This was especially true of octopus! Wakkanai was well known for its ‘tako-shabu’, a kind of octopus shabu-shabu dish. Whilst in Enbetsu the ‘tako-okowa’, an octopus with red bean rice was said to be delicious. In this Shosanbetsu was no different! That famous-cum poisonous fugu fish could be caught in the open seas of Shosanbetsu. Michi no Eki or Roadside Station led to the village of Shosanbetsu. Shosanbetsu village’s main sightseeing pull was the ‘Misakidai Park’. The park contained a dazzling assortment of family-like entertainment, such as, park golf, a go-cart track, an astronomical observatory, and a hot spring, not to mention a restaurant, a large campground, and so on.The time was somewhat too early to think about camping, so I gave Romankaido Shosanbetsu Spa and campground there a miss. Some distance along at the little town of Shosanbetsu I called in at what I think must have been the only restaurant there. It was a noodle joint run by an elderly women. Noodles or ramin or one kind or another was coming out of my ears, so I was not exactly thrilled about eating it again. But want can you do when you are hungry and there is nothing better to choose from. Fortunately, many of the ramin restaurants I stopped at in Hokkaido also had a wide range of other dishes up their sleeves to offer. Yesterday at such a place on my way through Enbetsu I ate chicken katsu teshoku. Here at this little out of the way joint on Route 232 I ordered tonekatsu teshoku, a kind of deep fried pork dish with all the trimmings. The food when it arrived seemed not so bad, and tasted all the more delicious when washed down with a couple of glasses of cool beer, in this case, Asahi. I was disappointed to learn that the restaurant did not stock Sapporo beer.
The time was somewhat too early to think about camping, so I gave Romankaido Shosanbetsu Spa and campground there a miss. Some distance along at the little town of Shosanbetsu I called in at what I think must have been the only restaurant there. It was a noodle joint run by an elderly women. Noodles or ramen or one kind or another was coming out of my ears, so I was not exactly thrilled about eating it again. But want can you do when you are hungry and there is nothing better to choose from. Fortunately, many of the ramen restaurants I stopped at in Hokkaido also had a wide range of other dishes up their sleeves to offer. Yesterday at such a place on my way through Enbetsu I ate chicken katsu teshoku. Here at this little out of the way joint on Route 232 I ordered tonekatsu teshoku, a kind of deep fried pork dish with all the trimmings. The food when it arrived seemed not so bad, and tasted all the more delicious when washed down with a couple of glasses of cool beer, in this case, Asahi. I was disappointed to learn that the restaurant did not stock Sapporo beer.
It was nearly five o’clock when I set left the restaurant and turned back onto Route 232 in the direction of Chikubetwu. Clearly I was not going to reach there tonight by along shot. And rather than put my body through any more wear and tear, I decided to keep an eye open for a good place to make camp. The sun had already sunk from the sky when I settled on a grassy bluff over looking Masashi Kai (Sea). To some surprise, the early evening sky was clear of clouds and the traffic on the road below had greatly lessoned. Less traffic usually meant an undisturbed sleep. Soon my trusty little Dunlop one-manner was erected, and the rest of the camp stuff thrown into it. It felt good to sit down on the grass and just gaze absently out across the vastness of the sparkling sea. Turning my eyes to look along the coastline gave me a sense of the distance that I tramped today. It was a good feeling, a sense of accomplishment, and with a broad smile I lay down on the grass to enjoy the moment. In a little while, I turned to my maps to see if I could make sense of where I was, or should be. A minute could not have passed when I felt a series of tiny pains on my legs, feet and belly. Of course, I was already fairly battered form the tramping the road since morning. Already two toenails had fallen off and the evenings at camp began with operating on the blisters and other damage. But this was a different kind of pain, kind hundreds of little pins were being pressed into my body at the same time. “Fucking hell!” It was impossible to concentrate.
A glance down at my legs gave me the answer. I had camped on top of a large anthill. There were literally thousands upon thousands of the tiny creatures scurrying in all directions around where my tent stood. As if I was not confused enough after a long hard day, thoughts of what to do next, hit me all at once. Upping camp and move seemed the logical answer. Then there was that stubborn part of me telling me to remain where I was. “Fuck it! Why should I move?” It did not take too much thinking and action before I had a campfire built and roaring away on top of where I perceived the main opening of the anthill to be. The tiny culprits were in for a surprise. Of course, I had no idea how effective my campfire ploy would be, but it certainly gave the ants something else to work with, for a while. Perhaps it was the smoke that had the most effect, for the ants grew less troublesome, or interested in me, than earlier. If my war with the ants was not enough, a massive bluebottle flew in recklessly into my tent, its loud buzzing continued for sometime. Just as my heart was intended on killing the intruder, out it flew the way it came in. In the case of the ants, I should have known better, had I bothered my arse to look more carefully at the heaps of sandy soil about where I planned to erect my tent. Ants made them when they dug their nests, and the countless number of tiny holes that led to it would have been easy enough even for the village idiot to notice.
On normal circumstances I would not hurt a fly, well, as long as the fly left me alone. Perhaps this fly got of lucky at my being unable to make up my mind, or unwilling to act. Then again, these were not normal circumstances when it came to administering justice on the poor ants. If I was able to put myself in their world it may have felt like hell. All of a sudden to find myself trapped in the deepest of tunnels by the sulphurous fumes from the fire. But this was my world, and there was no room to be timid or hesitant. Like I said, I was not going to move. Then again, what marvelous diggers the ants were, most would survive. If the surviving ants could have spoken to me, what might they have said? “All his destruction for what? For being an ant?” Perhaps my answer would have been harsh. “No! For being in the wrong place and the wrong time, no more and no less.”
The wood gathered from the dark sandy beach was nice and dry and ideal for getting a good blaze going in little time. If it were not for the ants I would not have bothered with a fire at all, for I was worn out with walking. But there it was, happy go lucky-like, sparking and popping away. I thought the ants finally got the message and did not bother me again that night. As if being evoked out of somber chaos I could see now that the campfire had another effect to it. It was making me feel tired. Really tired!
One annoying thing that did not help any was that I could not boil water to make tea since the loose of my pot. “The fucking thing must have dropped off!” I mumbled trying to lesson the blame. Losing things on the road was something I was getting good at. In the earlier part of the day the hot sun broke through the clouds for a while and dried up everything around. Even when the sun disappeared again, it became warmer with the passing hours. Then I removed my pullover and tied it around my waist. And like a fool, I up and lost the fucking thing. That was somewhere between Enbetsu and Shosanbetsu while tramping along (Route 232) the best I could in the punishing heat. All that I could remember was where I stopped for a moment to take the pullover off and tying it around my waist. After that my brain was blank, well, until I realized that it was missing. Sadly, that was the last I saw of it. I remembered the exact place and time I bought it. It was one cold winter morning during my aimless, uneventful and unproductive college days in America in the early 1990s. The pullover even had the collage name on it to remind me. “It wasn’t so fucking cheap either!” I said felling angry with myself, again.
On the whole, much of my day on the road had been dismal and oppressed by the heavy clouds. Now the darkening sky had become clear. The glow of the sinking sun, the strange lines of the campfire, and the ill-defined shapes of the trees far in the distance where the last thoughts I remembered. Sleep was near!
24 July, 2009: It was earlier in the morning than usual when I got myself up and ready. My plans were bound for Chikubetsu and beyond. I had not slept very well, but a plunge in the Misashi Kai (Sea) just thirty minutes earlier had worked wonders on my tired body. My newly found energy and spirits was such that I even washed some of my clothes in the sea before hitting the road. Breakfast was the usual almonds and raisins with some energy booster powder to set me right for the long tramp ahead of me. I knew that I could reach Chikubetsu, but how much further beyond there I could get was where the real success lay. The final act before leaving the grassy ant infested bluff for the road was to find a good place from where I could perform it. To hurl an empty wine bottle with my note in it, as far out into the sea as I could get it. That would make it my third note in a bottle on this trip so far.
The stretch of road between Shosanbetus and Chikubetsu was at times quite dangerous. Perhaps it all had something to do with the morning's rush hour. The drivers of cars, trucks, motorcycles, and even tour coaches packed with tourists, all appeared to be competing for the rights of the road. There were the countless times motorists overtook one another at great speed, even when the oncoming traffic was fast approaching. It had been said that a person’s personality changed behind the wheel of a car. To me it bordered on sheer lunacy, especially since life itself was short enough. Of course, it paid to keep your wits about you when tramping for long hours, and which I was careful to do. There were a number of occasions, too, when both overtaking and oncoming vehicles missed me by only a few inches. Often the overtaking cars were not seen or heard until they were literally there on top of you. The sudden appearance really made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It made me wonder if the drivers saw me at all.
Far in the distance I could just about make out a cyclist coming towards me. The bicycle appeared to be well loaded up, with what I suspected to be camping gear. I could also see that the cyclist was struggling to keep his well-loaded bicycle on the road. And with the cars shooting past him, it all looked rather dangerous. There were a lot of up hill segments on the long straight road. At last when we drew near to each other he stopped to rest. He turned out to be a polite young fellow to stop and chat with for a while and to exchange some information about the road ahead of us. My main interest was to find out if he had passed a place where I might obtain some water. My bottles were by now empty.
"Not for another ten kilometers at best", came the answer I did not want to hear. “Oh no!” I said trying to put on a brave face. Water had not passed my lips for nearly three hours, and with the relentless heat even the sweat on my body had dried up. No sooner did he tell me the distance to the nearest fresh water taps that he unhitched his own water bottle and offered it to me. "Please! Take this. Pour it all into your bottle," he said. "Wow!” I said not expecting the kind offer. “That's very kind of you. But, half would be plenty enough.” I said as I poured the water carefully into my little hip flask. “Thank you ever so very much!" I said handing the bottle back to him.
This was not all! Soon he produced different kinds of sweet bread that contained all sorts of strange fillings peculiar to Japan. I choose one of them with much gratitude, for I had eaten only a little earlier this morning. After taking the customary photos and a warm shake of hands, the young fellow from Kumamoto took leave of this tired old fellow from Belfast. With that, I watched him cycle away under the grey motionless sky. The somber clouds lingered like disheveled cotton about to be cleaned. Rain threatened! Or it was only a matter of time before it did.
Without exaggeration, my need for water, or even just a sip, was not to belittle my effort or success on the road. From another angle, the reduced weight this last number of hours allowed me to get up a good pace on the road for a while. It felt good having the kilometers fall away one after another. Besides less weight to carry, it also revealed something about myself, or how well I could do on the road with little or no water to my name. Then again, I had no idea how things might have changed if I had not crossed paths with the young cyclist. My pace had slowed down considerably over the last couple of kilometers, and my mouth and throat were as dry as hell. With this in mind, I decided to conserve the little water I had on me, and to push on along the road as if I had none left.
The hour hand was about to strike nine in the morning when I tramped into a sleepy little town with no name, thanks to a near lack of signs, and my near useless maps. According to one sign I passed, I was in the district of Ariaki, wherever that was on my maps. Sometimes it was not clear if I was reading the names of towns or the names of districts. Like the other tiny sleepy places I passed through, there was not one single shop or restaurant to be seen. There were even places I passed through where you would have trouble even locating a vending machine. Which I felt was ridicules in a country like Japan. Even Mount Fuji was the only mountain in the world that had a vending machine at the summit. But soon luck of sorts came my way. “Ah ha! A vending machine!” Even the thought of something to drink made my dry mouth water. I stopped at the vending machine to get myself a nice cool can of Coca Cola. And soon I was sitting crouched down beside the machine dumping the cool contents of the can down my throat.
The sky that had been hidden by a blanket of clouds since early this morning was now perfectly clear. It felt good to sit down in the shade cast out by the vending machine for a while. Now I was escaping the brilliant sunshine, when in fact I had so little of it. The sunrays bounced off the maps and into my eyes, as they lay spread out on the curb before me. “If only I could pinpoint where I was, then some account of my progress could be better made,” I thought. My boots, damp from sweat, lay nearby drying in the sun. The holes in my socks not only told me that they were at the end of their usefulness, but that perhaps progress on the road was good after all. The Coca Cola was almost finished when an attractive woman sauntered by. “Perhaps she was on her way to work,” I thought, while looking up at her smiling. "Haiyai desu!" (It's early) she said, smiling back at me as she passed.
“Early?” I wondered. I had not thought of the time. It did not take me long to learn that whether I got an early morning start on the road, or a later one, the distance covered was usually about the same by the end of the day; from thirty to thirty-five kilometers. Then again, I did not adhere to keeping to strict schedules. To remain flexible about everything seemed to work better outside under the clouds. She looked back over her shoulder at me sitting there. I smiled at her and asked if she was on he way to work. "Hai!" (Yes!) She said retracing her steps back in my direction. “What is the name of this town?” I asked her. "Shosanbetsumura," she answered. Then she asked me which way are you headed. I told her that I hoped to reach Haberocho, and perhaps even further providing my legs held out. She looked impressed at hearing this, and even more so when I told her that I was walking. At first she thought I was hitchhiking.
"I heard from someone on the road that there was a campsite with restaurants and shops just beyond Haberocho." "Yes! There is a campsite, but little else", she told me. I felt a little disappointed. She continued. "I think the town beyond Haberocho, Tomamae, about twenty kilometers from here, would be a much better.” And that, “It had all the things that Haberocho didn’t.” As she was told me this, I got to my feet. The empty can was pushed into the round hole that covered the bin at the side of the vending machine. “Besides, the campsite would be easier for you to find,” she said smiling at me again. Now I had a good idea of where I was on the road, for which I gladly thanked the woman. A glance at the bike-watch I carried in my pocket told me it was nine-ten. My progress had been better than I thought. By the time I reached Haberocho it would be much too early to think about setting up camp. It was soon decided, like the woman said, I would try and reach the town of Tomamae and see what was to be had there.
My mind was made up and the maps neatly folded and placed into the little handy hip bag I picked up at an outdoor shop in Tokyo for tat purpose I was ready for the road once more. “What is your name?” I asked the woman, as I shouldered my backpack. "Machiko desu" she said with a beautiful smile. Then there was the typical Japanese greeting, "Yoroshiku!" (I’m pleased to have met you!). At which I replied in my own similar little way. "Watakushiwa Michael desu. Yoroshiku!" I felt it interesting that she did not give herfamily name. Usually the Japanese I met gave their family name, especially the older people. "Thank you very much for the welcomed advice, Michiko Sama" I said in polite Japanese. Michiko told me that she had once before met a foreigner right in this very spot more than twenty years ago. For a split second thoughts of the Englishman Alan Booth came to mine, or until she told me that the fellow was from France. Then again, she added, with some uncertainly on her face that she was not completely sure. “It had all been such a long time ago,” she said.
"Well! I guess I had better be on my way", I said pulling the straps on the backpack tighter. "Just a moment," she said as she disappeared through a door a few steps away. After a minute Michiko reemerged with a small plastic shopping bag dangling from her right hand. “For the road!” she said handing it to me. There were a few so-called energy drinks inside the bag, namely, a small plastic bottle of something called, 'Oronamin C Drink', and two small plastic packets of vitamin based drinks called 'multi vitamin lemon liquid jelly, and 'eneful grape liquid jelly.' The Japanese really had a way with names. No doubt "eneful" meant 'full of energy', as opposed to 'full of anything'.
We parted with the hope that our paths would cross again sometime in the foreseeable future, and the usual wave of hands and bows. On the road I was not sure if my body felt any different after consuming the gift of drinks that Michiko gave me. Of course, I was very grateful for the unexpected gift. And actually, it was not long after leaving Shosanbetsumaru when I set down beside the dry dusty road for a few minutes to drink them. The drinks were still cold, which made them taste all the more delightful in the hot weather As I made my way down the road I passed numerous road signs that told of the dangers on the road between Shosanbetsumaru and Habero Town. Soon the road narrowed at a bridge crossing and the yellow line down the center ran for a good part, and which indicated "No Overtaking". Along the way I passed two supermarkets called Davas, and Daihatsu, which I had never heard of before. I thought of stopping, but decided to push on. “This was not the time to add to the weight on my back”, I mumbled to myself as I kept my eyes focused on the road ahead. “Hopefully later I’ll be able to pick something up for tonight” I thought. A cheap bottle of red wine!
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