Sunday, 22 April 2012

Yakushima- an update

I haven't given this blog enough attention but I'm now forced to. I'm 4 days into my Yakushima trip and its the first day to represent the famous rain they have here (the locals jokingly say it rains 35 days a month).
Everything I own is completely soaked, including my guidebook which I am hopefully expecting to sprout shiitake mushrooms any minute now, that being the Japanese way and here being such a fertile location for all lifeforms.

But, as I've not said a word since Zamami I'll return there.

Now, Zamami Jima was a leisurely 5 days of dipping into the sea on my doorstep, walking in the hills and hearing the racket of American adolescents who were at a spring break camp just opposite my campsite as they engaged in all manner of japes from body boarding to night-time rounds of glow frisbee (complete with glowing shields, it was Tron basically) to haunting sing-alongs that I couldnt hear the words of over the drum machine. I stayed about an hour's walk away from any amenities, which is turning out to be a recurring theme, and as a result I spent a couple of days eating less than I'd have liked to but as much as I'd have liked to without walking an hour through rain (if I'd known about Yakushima's version of rain I'd have clacked my heels together and waltzed down the road in any downpour on Zamami).
There were clear seas, a few big names of ocean fauna, whales painted on everything and I got a lot of reading done.

After 5 days I returned to Okinawa for another weekend and was taken out on my last night by the hostel staff to a friend's newly opened Mexican restaurant where I saw the most endearing musical family act I've born witness to, a newly-engaged couple and father-in-law jamming out on sanshin (three-stringed Okinawan instrument) and two guitars in a relaxed
The next day was my 25 hour ferry ride up to Kagoshima where I spent a most enjoyable evening as a couchsurfing guest with Kasumi-san. She told me tales and showed me photos of her travels in America, Pakistan and Thailand, and she creates clothing accessories that demonstrate a dexterity I can barely fathom (with my fingers as they are, a police station line up of squashed, gormless and guilty-looking ex-boxers).

The next day Kasumi took me to the Yakushima ferry port where I discovered the ferry I'd planned to take was on holiday for 8 days so I had to take the high speed jet foil at twice the cost. This was disappointing but I let such things slip in the name of just enjoying a place I have been trying to visit for three years.
When I arrived I had another great moment of realizing how variable the term 'small island' is as I walked for 2 and a half hours to my campsite. I'd read on the websites of other travellers that this campsite doesn't meet the description in the one English guide to Yakushima and so was less surprised than I'd have been otherwise.
It is the set of a particularly niche horror movie, or at least the toilet block is. You have to walk up and down and up a couple of hills (With 20kg on your back grunting, gasping and emitting hearty oaths, preferably) and then you come past two buildings. The one on the right is a one-room structure with windows and the bottom half of a door. It is long-abandoned and filled with: plants, skeletons including that of a monkey and bird, a beer crate and droppings of every shape and size.
On the left the abandonment theme is continued with a pair of public toilets that would garner a call to the health and safety inspector in the UK, which here means they, well, they're simply beyond the pale. If I were Japanese I'd think I'd been the victim of a particularly cruel mirage or one of those visions of hell you hear so much about, but for three days I called these toilets home (in so much as they were part of the campsite generally.... and their sinks were my only water source...).
So the rest of the campsite, to cut a description of grottiness short, was a covered cooking area filled with wood and rusty pans and broken taps, irritatingly far from the toilets, and even further from that a flat area either side of the road, partially gravelled. I was the only camper and in throes of ecstasy over the good weather I observed both the sunset and sunrise whilst playing ukulele, as well as lying out on my rollmat for most of that first night playing and watching the stars.

The second day on Yakushima I decided to hitch to a hiking route I'd read about called the Yakusando trail. To give a brief background to hiking in Yakushima, the trails are
centred around the numerous mountains( with the largest being Miyanoura-Dake, the tallest mountain in southern Japan) and the Yakusugi, particular ancient trees peppered throughout Yakushima with claims to ages as great as 7,400 years or so.
Now the Yakusando trail goes up a mountain whose name I forget to a yakusugi whose name I just about remember....Kigen sugi. It's apparently a fairly unpopular trail and the reason I chose it is because in theory I have a while on this island and I preferred the idea of going on a shorter trail before working my way up.
I can't for the life of me understand why I saw but one other soul that day, it was one of the most scenic walks of my life. You walk a 3km road alongside a river, rising up the base of a small mountain. Then the road becomes a series of moss covered, irregular steps that look like they've always been there. These steps go through dense woodland and every so often you come across a Yakushika- the native deer species. These deer have tails like gigantic white cotton balls that float behind them and I can't help but think are a great aid to those hunting them. The deer give a shrill whistle after you get so close and they all scarper headfirst downhill, how they do it without breaking their necks is beyond me but I sometimes shout "Please take your time!!". Occasionally the steps are broken up by a level walk around the mountainside, alongside sections of the old forestry railway.
The last 1km to the top is almost half of the walking time, the trail gets very steep and starts winding its way around swollen old tree roots and after spotting a particularly gnarled and ominous looking tree you're ready to drop to your knees and bathe in the magnificence of Kigen sugi. 

But its not Kigen sugi and you have to fling yourself vertically up the hill, in the manner that a hamster that knows it shouldn't climbs back up the side of its cage to have another go at whoever's fingers linger nearest the bars.
So after three such false ends I at last found Kigen sugi. It is gigantic, and looks like about 8 trees in different stages of life.

After that I walked back down the hill and most of the way to the capital before a friendly schoolteacher named Shun-san picked me up and drove me back to my haunted campsite, telling me about saxophones and almost crashing the car on finding out I was 22.

I was happy with my cumulative 16km that day, and the next day decided to give my legs a bit of a rest. I just stayed in Isso reading and planned my next campsite. The following morning I set off at 10am to hitch to Kurio which is about 40 km from Isso and on the map it seems quicker to go anti-clockwise which is what I tried.
My first lift was an anonymous driver who from the moment I stepped in the car told me all about his year spent as a student of English in Norwich. I was flabbergasted and overjoyed and hopefully I will remember to tell Emma before I post this! He dropped me off in a spot destined to develop my virtue of patience as my new longest wait in Japanese hitchhiking has increased by 18 times from 10 minutes to three hours. Eventually I was picked up by a couple from near Manchester and was once more floored by what felt to me in my lonely wanderings like a day spent in the UK.
Nick and Jane had the same guidebook as me and have been out in Japan for a couple of weeks, driving around the south. They warned me that in their experience the direction I was headed seemed to turn into a fairly quiet road but I said I'd try it out anyway. They dropped me off at a beach carpark, hitchhiking gold most of the time but I instead had another three hour wait. I wasn't annoyed by this, I was expecting some sort of recoil for all how smoothly everything generally goes. I also knew their was a campsite near that beach which although was expensive seemed a good plan B. After my three hours I decided to take this plan B when I found it to be not a campsite, but a farm. 

So I decided to walk down this route from Nagata to Kurio in the last hour or two of sunlight to see if I could get a lift further on down from the beach. I didn't want my 6 hour wait to be in vain (little did I know), and at any rate there was a lighthouse 5 km further up the road where I imagined to be some flat ground should I need to pitch the tent. I bought some biscuits and a can of mackerel at the nearby shop and into the coastal jungle road at sunset went I. It was utterly beautiful, deer every 5 metres to whistle and scarper from me and after 3km some particularly creepy abandoned huts to quicken my pace a tad. I found the lighthouse (which is I think the largest on the island, being called Yakushima Lighthouse and not Nagata lighthouse) just after sunset and put up my tent on a tiny patch of grass in front of it. I slept till 5 and woke up. Just as I was nearly packed a white sports car pulled up and out came an early morning fisherman who laughed at my plan and said take care.
Thinking an early morning departure would put me in good stead to get lifts from such fisherman on the same road I gleefully plodded onwards. In the end no-one else turned up and I walked the 21km this morning in complete solitude, passing through a great swathe of that UNESCO world heritage rainforest in wonder that it was such an unpopular drive. There were monkeys, deer, wild fig trees, what more could you want?
Now at the end of my 21km I reached the new campsite, only for a great storm to whip up in that part of the island 5 minutes before my arrival. I wouldn't have minded were it just rain but that wind was on a level I considered fairly dangerous. After walking at length around the campsite with the owner, both of us stroking are chins and angrily peering carefully at all substrates and surfaces, I decided that as I've only spent £4 from Tuesday to now that I'd stay in a hostel tonight. So after that great pilgrimage, I got the bus to Anbo where there's no wind but the rain is unrelenting. The hostel turned out to be £8 more than the book said which is frustrating as they don't have internet, but as the weather's similarly horrible till Monday I am going to stay indoors tomorrow in a slightly more expensive and much nicer hostel that does have internet so I can at least make a start on planning the rest of my trip post Yakushima (and post this message).

I am starting to feel a bit tired and look forward to sleeping like a king tonight.

1 comment:

  1. Michael, you tell that rain what-for!

    keep up these wonderful lengthy accounts, you won't regret it once you return.

    love emma x