Friday, 9 August 2013

The Towada-ko of the south.

Date: Friday 9th August 2013

Weather: Same as usual; hot, bright, no rain but a lot of cloud.

MP3 track of the day: I love you – AKB48 (apparently the video has a hidden meaning)

Moving from hostel to hotel meant that I had 'leveled up' enough to acquire curtains. This prevented most of the morning light from entering my room, but not all. I'd had a good nights sleep and a part from my bites itching (need to find a pharmacist) all was well in my world. Before going to bed last night I'd had a bath and so I saw little need in getting a shower this morning. I was therefore heading downstairs at around 8:30am.

My hotel provides a 'eat as much as you like' breakfast buffet which would have been ace, if it wasn't all Japanese food. Add to this the fact that every Japanese guest was staring at me to see what I would pick up, and I ended up with a very light snack. This wouldn't 'do' because today, I was hiking around a few lakes located at the top of a mountain (Bandai-San) and so I doubted that I would be eating lunch. Therefore once I'd consumed my 'first breakfast' I got into my car and went straight to Mr Donuts for '2nd breakfast'. Once that had been consumed I felt very full indeed and so off I went, in my car, towards Bandai-San.

Looking at my road map Bandai-San didn't seem too far away. First of all I had to head out of Aizu-Wakamatsu the way I came in yesterday. Then, after ten minutes or so, I indicated left onto the old 'Gold Line', which twisted and turned all the way up the mountain. Now, I have made getting to the summit of Bandai-San sound rather easy however, in truth, there were quite a few u-turns (plus some naughty language) due to 'missing signs'. Finally I approached, what looked like, a gate house with its 'road gate' open. I tried to read the sign but it was no good; I therefore pulled in and waited for the next car to turn up. After a couple of minutes a car came, braked to read the sign, before carrying on without stopping at the gate house. I therefore followed suit and I followed him all the way to the first 'photo stop'.

This road had similar terrain to the mountainous part of the '115' (which I drove along yesterday). The only difference being was that the authorities had created many lay-bys in which you could capture the impressive view which surrounded you (though some of the 'lay-by locations' were rather strange and seemed to be lacking in logic). Clouds had covered 90% of the sky therefore it took quite a bit of 'fiddling with camera settings' before I captured photos which showed the sky to be how I saw it.

Conscious of the time, as I climbed forever upwards I reduced my 'lay-by' stops to the ones with the best views. One lay-by I missed, and actually turned around to go back to, didn't have a very good view at all but, it had a path which lead to a waterfall. Boots on I followed the path and came to a medium-sized waterfall which plunged off the side of a large stone wall. Vegetation grew all around but what was really interesting was that an area of 'red', and an area of 'orange' rock seemed to be positioned to ether side of the waterfall. I put the areas down to the type of rock plus the chemical reaction with the elements; though it still looked weird.

Once back from the waterfall my cars clock was showing 10:31am. I'd been traveling for an hour and yet I still hadn't reached the top. As I started my car I promised myself that I would make a more determined effort to reach these lakes and cut out all of the 'tasters'. Little did I know at the time but there was only two more stops (which I did stop at) before I reached my prime destination.

A packed car park is often a good sign that you have reached your destination. I swung my car through the entrance, missing the Japanese scout group, and parked up. Something still didn't feel right and so I stayed in my car and read my guidebook.

...Northeast of Aizu-Wakamatsu, Bandai-San (1819m) rises steeply above Lake Inawashiro, it's wooded flanks shaved here and there for ski slopes. In 1888, this previously dormant volcano erupted, blowing a huge whole in its north face triggering mudflows that dammed the local rivers. In the process, the plateau now known as Bandai Kogen was created. This beautiful area of some three hundred lakes and marshes scattered among beach forests is an easy day-trip by bus or car from Aizu-Wakamatsu, or makes a pleasant stop on the spectacular Bandai-Azuma Skyline road north to Fukashima.

The most popular walk on Bandai Kogen is the 3.7-Kilometer-long Goshikinuma Nature Trail, an easy woodland walk past a series of lakes tinged in various shades of cobalt blue, white and red according to their mineral content. The trail starts at Goshikinuma-iriguchi bus stop and then heads roughly west to emerge an hour later at the bus stop near Bandai-Kogen-eki. This hamlet lies at the south end of the plateau's largest lake, Hibara-ko, and is the starting point for another recommended walk (3.2km) along the lakes eastern shore. It's also the jumping-off point for one of the longer routes up Bandai-San – allow around four hours just to reach the summit, from where there are spectacular views as you skirt around the red lake that fills the still steaming crater...”

Looking at the signs in front of me, it appeared that I'd reached the car park for people who wanted to climb Bandai-San. I therefore had a choice; I could either climb the mountain or walk around the lakes as, according to my guidebook, I doubt I will have the time to do both. As the lakes seemed the more popular choice I decided to push on until I got to the start of the Goshikinuma Nature Trail. Once there I put my hiking socks and boots on, applied a fresh coat of deet and took a few swigs from my Vanilla Coke. As it was only 3.7 Kilometers to the other side I decided to pack light, not carry any liquids with me and just taking my camera. I set off at around 11am.

The trail was just like my guidebook said it would be however, at the beginning of the walk I could either take the 'Marshlands Trail' or the 'Lakeside Trail' before meeting up with the main footpath a kilometer or so later. As I had to come back to get my car anyway, I took the 'Lakeside Trail' promising myself that, on my return journey, I would take the marshlands route. As I walked up to the first lake a small crowd had gathered; once I'd arrived I looked into the lake with amazement. The water was turquoise and clear. The water was so clear that it reminded me of Lake Louise in Canada. I photographed the lake to death, adjusting settings to get the perfect shot. I didn't care about the time; I just wanted to do the colour of the water justice.

Every so often, as I moved through the woodlands which surrounded these lakes, a gap would appear and a lake would come into view. Some were turquoise, some were green and some were blue however, no matter what colour they were, it was always the brightest shade you had ever seen. I moved through the woodland slowly taking hundreds of photos and saying a quick 'hello' to passers by. At one point I saw some huge fish and, because of the clearness of the water, I could make out the whole fish and not just the bit which had surfaced.

All too soon the trail had ended. Quite hot and sweaty I emerged, an hour later, at the bus stop my guidebook had stated (which I recgonised, as I'd driven past it to get to the start of this walk). Also, there was a souvenir shop which, once inside, I discovered sold a series of photo books taken from this area in different seasons. I didn't reckon much to book two or three, but book one was good. As I was coming back here later (I'll explain below) I decided to wait until then to purchase it. I also looked at the postcards but at £1.20 each, I quickly withdrew. Finally instead of purchasing a can from a can machine, I got an ice cream to quench my thirst. I could choose two flavours of ice cream and so I went for a scoop of grape ice cream, and a scoop of lemon sorbet. As I sat down and ate my ice cream I wondered if the shop made it themselves. It was so much fruitier than I'd tasted before; so much so that the lemon sorbet was a little too powerful and became hard to eat. Also, whilst sat down, I thought about my next move. My next planned hike was from here around the plateau's largest lake, Hibara-ko. However this walk took me further from my car. I therefore decided to go and get my car now, park it here, purchase the photo book and then start my new walk. Instead of taking the bus I decided to go back along the nature trail not stopping as often. I reckon I could complete the trail in 40 minutes and be back here within an hour. With that settled I finished my ice cream, said thank you and 'frog marched' back to my car taking in the 'Marshlands Trail' (which was okay). Once back at the car I drove back to the other end of the nature trail. As I did this I wondered why my guidebook had labelled one end as the start, and one as the finish; surely you could start at either end and, if I'd known, starting from the car park where I'd finished the walk would have saved me about twenty minutes of driving (and this twenty minutes becomes very important later on). Once back at the car park I looked at my watch. 3pm; exactly an hour after I set off. After purchasing my photo book I went in search of my next walk.

Hibara-ko ('ko' means lake in Japanese) was located on the opposite side of the road from where I was currently situated. I therefore moved my car to a car park overlooking the lake and went in search of a footpath around the lake. Try as I might but I couldn't find one; I thought I'd found it but, after ten yards the path circled back to the car park. I therefore gave up, went to look in the shops (where I purchased some postcards) and then got out my road map. I couldn't walk around the lake but, according to my map, I could drive around it. I therefore put my map away and off I went in a northwest direction.

The road around the lake offered some views however, for the most part trees blocked line of sight. There were, of course, lay-bys to stop in which I took full advantage of. The lake was beautiful with it's crystal blue waters, small islands and, wherever you looked, a range of mountains created a background. As I was taking in all of this beauty I came to realized that it all looked very similar. It took me a few minutes to realised that this area, with it's large lake, lakeside road and its many small communities was exactly like Towada-ko in Aomori (though this one is up a mountain). As I thought about the similarities more, I then did, what everyone has to do with a similarity, and decide which one was best but, before I tell you my decision, I must point out that the time was 3:40pm and I'd done everything I wanted to do within the area of Bandai Kogen a part from, possibly, climbing Bandai-San itself (thought it was to late to start now). Therefore, as I was deciding which place was better; here or Towada-ko, I was also driving back down the 'Gold Line' towards Aizu-Wakamatsu.

Towada-ko, I thought to myself. This had not been an easy decision but the fact that it's cooler, the lake is bigger and it's nature walk is longer and more impressive edged it. Having said that Bandai Kogen does have a huge mountain you can climb, plus cities within striking distance; but then again so does Towada-ko. This was a very hard decision and because so, I came to my decision on the outskirts of Aizu-Wakamatsu. After stopping to take a cheeky photo of a giant Buddhist sculpture (from a road so that I didn't have to pay) I got back to my hotel around 4:15pm. If I'd only had twenty minutes more I would have by-passed my hotel and gone to the castle; oh well. I parked my car, went up to my room and looked through my photos before leaving the hotel in search of tea. The time; 7pm.

I was going to go to a local steak restaurant tonight but, after seeing the queue, I decided against it. As a fall back option I was going to get a take-away pizza but, after seeing the price, I decided against that too. I ended up back in my local convenience store purchasing another bento box, a cake and a drink. I would have bought a Vanilla Coke but they had run out. I couldn't believe it; I had only found them yesterday and like the morning after a one night stand, disappointment set it. I grumbled to myself and took a carton of chocolate milk (which was lovely) and devoured my meal before heading up to my room to write this blog.

So tomorrow my time in the prefecture of Fukashima is over. It's been a quick and enjoyable stop and I am sad to say goodbye. As my third and final stop is only a 2/3 hour drive away I do have a bit of time to do some sightseeing along the way. I plan to get up early and visit the castle here in Aizu-Wakamatsu. Afterwards there is the town of Kitakata which, thought there are things to see, shouldn't take too long. After that I could visit a town in the prefecture of Yamagata or climb Bandai-San. One thing is for sure; I shall be leaving Fukashima with a heavy heart and a car full of Vanilla Coke (if there is any left).

Toodle Pip!

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