Friday, 3 August 2012

It was all going so well.

Friday 3rd August 2012

MP3 track of the day: Beautiful neighborhood – Space

Weather: Hot in Akita. Lovely and cool in Towada-ko (probably about twenty degrees).


This morning I kept to plan and I left the Albert Hotel at 7am. The hotel had been, well, a hotel; the room was fine, the building was fine … however both lacked any character. The hotel could have been in any city, within any country, and it would have fit in. As I drove out of the car park I was looking forward to my stay within a hostel; hostels always have lots of character and no two are never the same.

As it was only 7am the car didn't feel as thought it was on fire, and yet it wasn't cool either. I spent the first part of my trip messing with all four electric windows trying to get the optimum breeze. In the end having both front windows two-thirds of the way open, and the back windows closed, caused such a breeze that I was no longer sweaty (thought the car was harder to handle … oh and an insect of some sort flew in … but it only happened once).

As I was leaving the outskirts of Akita I realised that my 'grand plan' of leaving early did have one major flaw; at this rate I would arrive in Towada-ko much too early therefore, I needed something to do on the way. Just then I saw a road sign indicating that the 'Oga Peninsula National Park' would be the next turning on my left. I decided to ignore it, as this location wasn't apart of my original plan. I then realised that venturing off the 'original plan' was the whole point of having a car. I performed a U-turn (curtsey of someones drive) and headed back to towards the Peninsula.

I didn't know it then but this rethink turned out to be the best decision of the day. The day was beautiful, the skies were blue and I found myself along a coastal road. The sea was a beautiful greeny-blue colour and, every-so-often, I would stop my car and take some photos. Not only was the sky and sea beautiful but the peninsula itself, with its alpine-forested-mountains, was spectacular. It was hard to keep my eyes on the road with all this beauty around me. The road twisted this way and that; it climbed and it descended and it always provided spectacular view after spectacular view. All too soon I had reached the end of the peninsula (next stop North Korea … ooooh, think I'll stay where I am). There was a beautiful black-and-white lighthouse, and a monument, indicating the end of the peninsula. Both were very photogenic and so I took a few photos before eating an ice cream and getting into my car.

As I was returning through the middle of the peninsula I thought that my sightseeing was over; but no. If anything the central part was even more beautiful. The road – with the aid of bridges – seemed to float on top of the peninsula’s central mountains; this allowed for great views into the deep valleys below. Each valley was similar, but it never became boring; alpine trees jutted up towards the road leaving a small meandering piece of flat land – which may have been a river at some point – covered in rice (with it's beautiful green shoots). The rice fields seem to craw slowly away into the distance and out of view. The only annoying thing about the whole experience was that there wasn't anywhere to stop for a photo.

I finally left the peninsula three hours after I'd entered. I found myself, only an hour out of Akita, at 11am. I now had little time and so I drove off in the direction of Towada-ko.

It wasn't long before buildings gave way to rice fields and soon I found myself snaking in between fields of pure green. The drive was fantastic and everywhere I looked another beautiful sight came into view. I have decided that Northern Honshu may not hold much to keep you interested, but blimey it wasn't half pretty.

I hadn't eaten much today but surely, I was seeing things. I blinked, and I blinked again, but the view still remained the same. In front of me, surrounded by a sea of green shoots, was a shopping center. I pulled into the car park, still not quite believing this massive retail area was out here in the middle of know where. I even ordered lunch, sat down and consumed it still wondering why (though, the 'ummy Japanese mummy' two tables in front of me did keep my mind occupied for some of the time). I left this 'shopping oasis' full, but no nearer answering any of my questions.

I continued to travel north enjoying every moment. Thankfully the weather had cooled; in fact it had cooled so much that I even closed my windows (not a complaint; just an observation). At 3:30pm I climbed the last mountain and was presented with a beautiful view of Lake Towada-ko; my smile broadened and I raced down the snaking road to get a better look.

When I arrived at my hostel the phase 'this isn't how it looked in the pictures' came to mind. Sure enough the outside of the building had seen better days, but it was the inside that counted. I was greeted at reception by a chirpy old man who gave me a tour of the place. First of all we went upstairs.

I'm all for being 'one with nature' but having a moth – half cocooned – gripping onto the top step seemed a little too much; still the owner didn't seem to mind and he past the insect as if he was apart of the furniture. We then passed two spiders (one dead and one alive) before arriving at my room. As the door swung open my eyes were half closed; I had five nights here and already I was pining after my boring hotel room. Once the door was fully opened I was relieved to find it very clean indeed; the same was true of the bathrooms and kitchen. So it looked as though the important places were looked after and it was nice to be back in a hostel as bike hire, and access to an onsen, were free. I dumped my stuff in my room – having a brief recce – before heading out into town.

When I say town there are about forty buildings; twenty of these are boarded up, fifteen are closed (at 5pm!) and the five had no one in. I walked along the lakes coastline wondering what I had done to deserve staying five nights in a town twinned with Silent Hill. As I walked along the coast I recanted some of the places – both towns and hostels – which were worse than this:

  • Chang-rai hostel – had a rat in the restaurant
  • Hostel on Laos' 1,000 islands – felt like a shed
  • Phnom Penh hostel – had a cockroach in my room
  • Savankhet – had dead dogs lying along the street
  • Laukota – nothing there

It didn't help my mood.

I have four full days here; what am I going to do? Well two will be spent in Aomori and Hirosaki, and one will be spent around the lake hiking. This only gave me one day where I could either spend it around the lake or head to somewhere else (Towada-ko is pretty central so there are plenty of options).

This logical thought didn't help my mood either.

My thoughts ended abruptly when I reached the end of beach. The time was only 5:30pm and yet I decided to find a restaurant for something to eat.

Find 'a' restaurant was right, as all bar one were closed. I went in, asked if they had a table free (like they would be packed) to which the waiter presented his entire restaurant and allowed me to choose where I wanted to sit. I order the chicken and rice and, for the entire meal, I ate alone. The staff outnumbered me 5-1 and one of them even asked if the air-conditioning was set to a level that I found satisfactory. I left after finishing my meal – and having to pay for 'extras' I never ordered or wanted - to arrive back in my hostel around 6:30pm. I carefully by-passed the cocooned moth, grabbed my PC and went to the kitchen to upload my photos, write this blog and generally chill. There were three other guests – all Japanese and male – eating something that didn't look edible; we exchanged a few words, congratulating each other when either nation did well in the Olympics (which was on TV).

I also spent this time reading my guidebook to determine why exactly I choose to come here. “... The small town of Yasumiya consists almost entirely of hotels and souvenir shops; its shady lakeside setting makes it a pleasant overnight stop...” Yeah, maybe when compared to Chernobyl!

Hopefully tomorrow the place will seem better (they usually do). What I will do tomorrow will depend on the weather. If its a good day I'll spend it around the lake hiking and photographing. If not I may head to Aomori for the festival.

It's only five nights!

Toodle Pip!

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