I wake up to the rain bucketing down on my tent. I have two choices: (1) complain about the weather or (2) get out there and explore Japan. I opt for the latter because weather is weather and no amount of complaining will change it.
I am headed towards Kumano and then in the general direction of Ise. I have marked my map up with the camping grounds along the way (these are clearly marked on Google Maps) thinking that they will all have some sort of shelter and bathrooms like the ones in which I have stayed. Let me warn you: they don’t. But we’ll get to that. For now, I enjoy riding along the river and watching the big old rusty bridges like the one in the picture go by. They feel like something out of a movie and I can’t even work out why. Perhaps its their shape.
Even in the rain the riverside landscape is delightful. Clouds shroud the mountains, filling the valleys and re-entrants with white. The thing about Japan is that the trees on the mountains are not all just the same monotone green. Rather, there are different shades of green that are starkly contrasting each other. There’s deep dark green, iridescent lime green and every shade in between. Below the mountains villages perch on the river’s edge seemingly trying to take up as little space as possible to allow for the growing of rice and vegetables.
I ride through an area where there is a lot of road construction occurring. New tunnels and bridges are being built to flatten out the twists, bends and climbs in the road. As I pass some I notice these crazy pink rabbits. They’re not a one-off. I noticed them the other day too but was flying down a hill so didn’t want to stop. This is one of those “only in Japan” moments.
To say it is raining is probably an understatement. It’s absolutely bucketing down. There’s only one thing to do … keep riding.
Eventually I reach a small town somewhere between Hongu and Kumano. I’ve ridden a fair way and decide it’s time for some shelter. Spying a small roadside hut I am excited to be out of the rain. And then I notice that it’s actually a small roadside onsen. Well, what a treat! It’s only deep enough for you to soak your feet and calves but it’s enough to totally transform the moment from seeking shelter to enjoying an onsen. I am sure I broke all manner of etiquette but I didn’t see anywhere to wash before soaking so I just soaked.
Back on the road and out in the rain I continue on the way towards Kumano. I pass many small shrines where the statues are dressed in red. Today I feel sorry for them because they really need some rain jackets, not just bibs. At least the big one here has a beanie to keep it’s head a bit warm.
Just before Kumano I reach a shrine where there is a sacred rock. By now my wet weather gear has failed and I am soaked to the bone so I am not really that interested in the shrine. This must be a very important place because two tour buses full of elderly Japanese tourists turn up during the ten minutes I am there. The tourists totter over to the shrine, pose for pictures and totter back to the tour bus all under the watchful eyes of their guide.
I stop at Mos Burger in Kumano and it helps to replenish my energy. When I leave I decide to leave my rain pants off because it’s not like they are keeping me dry or anything. I’m instantly warmer with my legs exposed to the rain in in my shorts. It’s like the rain is insulating my skin from the wind while the plastic of the pants was just making me feel worse.
I have now reached the coast and start to pass some cute little beaches tucked away in bays. I imagine this area would be stunning if it were sunny. I look down at one of the beaches and notice two hardy surfers: one sitting on the shore and the other out in the waves. The one in the waves looks like a tiny blip in a huge ocean. He’s a long way out to see and just sits there patiently waiting for something to ride. I definitely couldn’t be a surfer because that level of exposure would scare me a little bit.
I notice at the first beach that the camp grounds here will just be patches of sand and grass on exposed beaches. There are no huts and the toilets are kind of gross and run down. Now, I’ve camped in some wild places but today it is raining so I am feeling fussy. I do find a fantastic hut at the top of a mountain road where there are clean bathrooms and I am sure that no one will mind me sleeping given that it is bucketing down and there are also no hotels in this area. But then I see the sign warning about bears and decide the better of it. I am sure they would stay away but I am not going to risk them being hungry for the food in my panniers.
Besides I’m still having fun enjoying the ride. It really is stunningly beautiful here, even in the wet.
I am also very much starting to enjoy the tunnels because they get me out of the rain. I can’t believe that I was trying to avoid them at first. They really are quite pleasant when the going is wet and steep because they are dry and relatively flat.
As I travel further around the coast road between Kumano and Owasa I come to many cute fishing villages. They perch precariously between the mountains and the sea. Many fishermen have stored their nets and spare boats high up on the side of the roads in the mountains; presumably to protect them in case their is a tsunami (there are tsunami escape signs everywhere in this area and apparently around the time I took this photo the south west coast of Japan was put on tsunami alert so they are a very real danger here). I do see one village where there is a drawing of a fishing boat chasing a whale. I am sure that this must be a whale fishing village. It makes me ponder the responsibilities of a traveler not to pass judgement when a guest in another country. While I do not support whale fishing, a part of me can recognise that to the fishermen, hunting whale is no different from hunting deer or kangaroos. So I suspend judgement and ponder the run down state of the fishing villages and the fact that I’ve not seen anyone under the age of about fifty or sixty years old since leaving Kumano (and I will not see any young people again until I reach Ise late tomorrow evening).
I think these are fish farms. I’ve seen them before in Tasmania and there they were for farming salmon. So I can only assume these are also for farming fish.
I enter another tiny village and there is a huge shrine that looks like it is celebrating some ancient trees. It’s a gorgeous, peaceful and mossy place of prayer. Everything feels like it has been carefully placed and diligently maintained. Even the randomly blown leaves from a nearby tree look decorative near the hand washing station. I’m glad I decided to get up and ride this morning instead of feeling sorry for myself about the rain.
I stop at another village when I spy a small shop between the shuttered down buildings. I am starting to get desperate for food, not having passed many shops today. I am looking like a drowned rat and dripping water everywhere. Inside the shop there are three elderly ladies and an elderly gentleman. They wave me in and I buy some cakes and pre-cooked chicken or pork dish that I will heat for dinner. No one speaks English and my Japanese is still terrible. But they insist I sit down on a chair, give me a towel to dry myself off with and pour me a glass of green tea from a thermos one lady has obviously brought to work with her. I try to answer their questions by telling them that I am from Australia, showing them on a map where I have cycled and where I am going, and confirming that I will be camping in a tent in the next town’s camping-ju. They seem absolutely delighted to have a visitor and give me the towel as a gift. This wouldn’t have happened if I’d not gone out riding today.
And so we get to the less fantastic part of the day that will make a good story later. I reach Mikisato and again the camping ground is just a bit of flat space directly on the beach. It would be stunning on a good day but today is not that. The wind is gusting so strongly that when it came from behind when I was on the road it was actually pushing me along without my needing to pedal. If I try to set up in the official camping ground area I will just get blown away. So I try to find an alternative. The grass on the landward side of the tsunami protection wall is sodden and more like a pond than a park so that’s out of the question. I see a small hut with a table in it and decide this will be my best bet (I have already gone to the only hotel in the town to discover that it is permanently closed). I start to set up my tent and fill it with gear when a strong gust of wind takes hold of the tent and whips it (with my gear inside) out of the picnic hut but not before it catches on the table and I hear the unmistakable sound of a pole snapping.
I have only one choice and that is to seek shelter in the shower rooms (they are cleaner than the toilet block). It’s so damp in there but at least it’s out of the rain. I hang everything up to dry but the next morning I wake to discover everything is just as wet as it was when I arrived and the floor has a thin layer of watery damp across it. But I’ve survived the storm and will have a good story to tell. As for the broken pole, hopefully the two chopsticks and tape (I bought some duct tape later for more strength) will hold it together strongly enough for the rest of this trip. I will need to buy a replacement when I get home.