Monday, 6 May 2013

USA, India and Japan all in one day

Friday 3rd May 2013

MP3 track of the day: All around the world - ATC

Weather: the day started off bright but got worse shortly after lunch. The 'deteriorating weather' wasn't too bad; just dark skies with the occasional period of light rain.

I'd set my alarm for 7:00am this morning in preparation for a long day. Having been awoken from a dream where I had enough money to never work again, I was reluctant to get ready. However after a short, but quite hot, shower I remembered why I was up so early. I was off travelling again. Where you may ask? Well, as my 'regular blog gang' will already be aware, last summer I went on a road trip covering a lot of Akita and Aomori (the north of Japan's main island). I did, however, miss quite a big chunk of the north-east of Aomori (the 'axe head' if you like, of Japan's main island). For Golden Week (a Japanese bank holiday week) I'd decided to drive 7/8 hours north to a small city called 'Mutsu'. Positioned within the heart of the Shimokita peninsula I shall make Mutsu my base, for three nights, as I explore the area.

9am came around all too soon. I checked my apartment for the last time, unplugged unnecessary electrical items and turned off the water. I got in my car, and then quickly got back out of it. I returned to my apartment, unlocked the door and picked up my wallet. I relocked the door and finally, at 9:20am I drove out of my car parking space. I stopped five minutes later to pick up a drink, and some snacks, for the 'great push north'. I finally found myself on the north-bound side of the '45', over-looking Miyako, at 9:30am.

After an hour or so I drove past a town which I used to stop at; this use to be the point where I would turn around and head back to Miyako. This time, I continued north.

As I drove I looked at the scenery whizzing past me. I had travelled along this road last August, in the opposite direction, and yet the road seemed alien to me. Now I'm normally quite observant; I can usually remember a landmark or two on any road on which I've travelled along, no matter how long ago; however here, nothing. The winding road, the ever present blue sea, the trees and the mountains all seemed familiar but in completely the wrong place. I even stumbled across a small town which, even though I know I must had travelled through it last August, I had no recollection. It was located behind a tsunami concrete wall right next to the coast; over the wall was a stunning panoramic of the sea and a bright blue sky with fully white clouds painted sporadically all over it. I had missed the turning for a 'viewing platform' however, that didn't stop me turning around and going back to take a couple of photos (as I was snapping away my camera battery died. I realised then that I had forgotten my charger. I hope my spare battery lasts). I was on the road soon after stopping, surprised to see that the time was 11:00am.

After another thirty minutes of driving I finally arrived at a place I did remember. Kuji is a town of similar size to Miyako and, even though it's the same distance away as Morioka, I had only driven past it once and I had never driven through it. With the whole day given to get to Mutsu I decided to deviate of course slightly and have a quick drive through the town. In a town of this size I could hardly get lost and I was hoping to find 'second breakfast'.

I got lost; very, very lost. People use an array of words to define towns and cities; however I doubt 'rice fields', 'deserted streets' and 'abandoned' are used often. It all started badly when I hit a line of traffic within the middle of town. It seemed that the amount of cars weren't in any great number, however the amount of people driving slowly (looking for a car parking space no doubt) were in the majority. I therefore left the 'stop start' traffic in favour of a 'minor road' which looked like a short cut. In no time at all I was in the middle of a residential area wondering how on earth I got there. Kuji is surrounded by similar sized mountains so trying to find a landmark was impossible. It was only by sheer fluke that I found a road with traffic lights, followed by a road with a white 'dashed' line down the middle, followed by a road with a white 'dashed' line down the middle and street lamps which eventually led back to 'route 45'. I left Kuji thankful that I had gotten out alive. I hadn't found anything to eat, however the next big city (Hachinohe) wasn't too far away.

Having not learnt my lesson I found another 'short cut', into Hachinohe, which resulted in me entering the city on the wrong road and having to correct myself. As I was trying to get back onto the 'route 45' I stumbled across a Mcdonalds and a Mr Donuts. I stopped briefly for lunch before continuing my journey.

I remembered Hachinohe from my previous trip and it held as little interest for me now, as it did last August. I therefore did not deviate off my course and I worked my way through the city combating the bank holiday traffic and the endless sets of traffic lights. Once out of the city I continued north.

A sign, with an arrow pointing right, read 'The Statute of Liberty'. Now I'm not the sharpest tool in the box but I'm petty sure I would have realised if I had driven across the Pacific ocean (plus I'm sure 'Miyako to New York' is more than five hours driving time). I dismissed the sign as a cheap gimmick and drove on; only to see The Statue of Liberty, thirty seconds later, out of my right-side window. Realising that this was a 'too good photo opportunity to miss', I turned around and headed to the statue (which turned out to be situated within the middle of a leisure complex). I parked the car and walked over to the best 'photo spot' I could find before reading a sign. It would appear that, where I was standing, was at the exact same latitude as New York. Now understanding why the statue was here, I went for a closer look. I climbed a couple of steps onto a platform right underneath the statue itself. The statue was smaller – and the craftsmanship wasn't quite as good as the original– however it was still pretty cool. As I was photographing the statue a massive American lady came into view to complete the 'full American stereotype'. I left wondering which was heavier; her or the statue.

I was now in unfamiliar territory. I had never driven up this far north before and so everything was new. Well when I say new, there were still trees, rocks and the occasional house but the mountains had receded, large yellow fields (of what I had no idea) had appeared and the road seemed to be less mountainous. Still I continued to wind this way and that. I have become so use to 'windy roads' that not only did I hit every apex, but I managed to eat a donut at the same time without making a mess.

A lot sooner than I expected Mutsu came into view. I had come across a mountain pass and so, from my elevated position, I could see that Mutsu was a lot bigger than I first expected. I drove down eagerly and found my guest house in no time; on the way I had found a petrol station and the road to Ozore-san (a mountain which I had come to see).

The owner was pleasant enough but a little unfriendly (I suppose I would be if I was stuck up here). She was a skinny lady, in her late 50's, with long black hair and a serious demeanour. She was wearing a cleaning pinafore with blue jeans. Only on occasions, as she was showing me around the guest house, did she laugh and break into a genuine smile as she realised I couldn't understand a word which she was saying. The guest house was comfortable enough; my room had a tv, fridge, a 3-person sofa and a bed. It also had a heater which she turned on (however I quickly turned it off as it wasn't needed). I didn't spend long inside; I dropped my bags off and headed out, stopping at the reception desk to hand in my key and look at a map of the town. Once done I zipped up my coat and off I went.

- 'At least there is a convenience store so I won't die',
  • 'I wonder if anyone else lives here'
  • 'How far away is the next city'

These are thoughts you don't really want when you take your first look at your chosen holiday destination however, these were the thoughts I was having. Now, experience has told me that judging a city by it's first impression is not a good thing, especially when it's raining and is becoming a dark. I knew that, even though all the streets I'd seen so far were all boarded up, and signs off life had vanished (quite some time ago I reckon), time was needed because you are bound to find a decent area … somewhere. Alarm bells did start to ring when the 'Masakari plaza' – which both my guidebook and the lady at reception recommended – consisted of three small floors holding three shops and a restaurant, all of which were closed at 5:00pm. I left the plaza a little queezy; I had found a place to sleep, I had found petrol but food was becoming an issue. It was then that I found a road with lights on and an open shop. I decided to follow these 'signs of life'.

Well this road didn't hold much either; there was a cool toy shop but that was pretty much it. I walked to the end of the road and turned right; a little distance in front of me was a huge department store and a 'moss burger'. As I walked further more useful shops came into view and then, hidden in-between two larger buildings was a restaurant with the words 'Indian restaurant' above the door. I could have cried. Indian food isn't that popular in Japan and so I haven't had an Indian meal since I was in the UK. Whether I was in the mood for an Indian meal or not didn't really matter; I was having it! Before going in I had a quick walk around the area keeping one eye on the Indian restaurant just to make sure that it didn't disappear. The time was 5:45pm and so it was a little early for tea. I went into the large department store where I found the usual supermarket, restaurants and clothe stores. The fourth floor was pretty much devoted to toys and it was here where I found a Lego F1 pit garage (how cool; but it was a Ferrari Lego car). Finally huger took over curiosity and so I crossed the road and went into the Indian restaurant, thankful that it was still there.

My buttered nan was huge, but my buttered chicken curry was just the right size. The meal was a little expensive (and the waiter had smirked when I asked for my curry to be 'mild') but it mattered not; it tasted delicious and I was loving it.

I managed to finish the curry but the nan was just too big. I waddled over to the counter and paid my bill, promising to be back again at least once more. I then thanked the waiter and waddled out and back to my guest house. Feeling so full I didn't stay up too late; I found myself in bed around 9:30pm fully decided that tomorrow I'll be heading up Ozore-san; the main mountain here. However, before then, sleep was needed. The bed was comfortable, but there was an annoying street light right outside my window.

Hopefully it won't be a problem.

Toodle Pip!

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