Date: Wednesday 13th August 2014
Weather: The morning was absolutely beautiful (I got sunburnt), whereas the afternoon became very cloudy. Once again these were not threatening clouds; just a blanket of white cloud as far as the eye could see.
MP3 track of the day: Te wo Tsunago – Ayako
My alarm woke me up at 6:15am and I proceeded to get ready without incident or hinder. This meant that I left my hotel in Nagoya at precisely 7am. Due to some clever planning – or luck; you choose – my hotel was next to the road I needed to leave Nagoya on; the '19'. Unlike when I left Kanazawa, I managed to stop for both petrol and breakfast before leaving the outskirts of the city.
In reality, I may have been heading out of Nagoya however, the '19' was continually surrounded by urban settlements for a good hour into my drive. This wasn't as bad as it sounds; sure, there were more lights than Blackpool illuminations (how many lights does Blackpool's illuminations have anyway?) however, the '19' remained a two-lane road until I almost arrived at my 'tourist activity' for the day; The Kiso Valley.
As soon as trees outnumbered buildings one hundred–to–one did I know that I was arriving within the Kiso Valley. Back within the Edo period a road – used by the Shogun himself – ran through this valley and connected Tokyo (the Shogun's capital) to Kyoto. Of course, during the Edo period this journey could not have been completed within a day therefore, many small villages – called post towns – sprang up where travellers could find something to eat, somewhere to stay and stable their horse. I bet these small post towns were a hive of activity and a place where news of other parts of Japan past from one to another – no matter if the news was true or not.
I was currently heading towards Magome, a post town saved from neglect and brought back to life by the residents. Within 7km of this post town is another called Tsumago and, quite conveniently, the old Edo path between the two has been restored into a walking route however, within this century, it would ferry tourists between the two post towns instead of shoguns.
After getting lost – which cost be about 30 minutes in time – I arrived at Magome around 10am and found it deserted a part from the 'hard core' tourists. The car parks were situated below the town and a steep stone pathway wound it's way forever upwards passing beautiful restored wooden houses on either side. These houses were dark in colour with a lighter wood used as blinds for the windows. Time was not on my side and so I pressed on towards the information office which, thankfully, was well signposted. The elderly lady, who greeted me, spoke a little English, but enough to answer all of my questions. My main query was; was there a bus link between the post villages of Magome and Tsumago? I fancied walking the 7km old Edo path between the two however, with my car here in Magome, I didn't fancy making it a round trip. The lady smiled and said that there was; according to the lady the walk should take around two hours and thirty minutes and, in two hours and twenty-seven minutes, a bus would be departing Tsumago bound for where I was standing. I thanked the lady and kept climbing upwards. Just before leaving Magome I bought two, 200ml bottles of water, which I decided to ration a third for every kilometre (leaving the last kilometre without water).
As I was leaving my foot began to hurt again. I persevered; this was one of the main things I wanted to do during this holiday, and I was not going to stop. Also, for the first time this holiday, blue skies were out and the sun had been given permission to shine onto the path which I currently found myself on. For the first time this holiday I applied sun cream (not very well as I have burnt my neck) and, for once, I did not complain about the cream making my hands sticky.
The first part of the hike climbed at a steady pace through small Japanese farms and rice fields. This, I had been warned about by the lady at the tourist information office; I had also been informed that it would only last for the first hour of the walk. To be honest, a part from sweating so much that it looked as though only I was getting covered in rain from the few clouds above me, I really didn't mind as my left foot seemed to prefer the accent more than flat or descending paths. I also had to keep an eye on the time; I had to keep up a steady pace as I needed to get the bus – now within two hours time – back to Magome or else I would have to wait a further two hours for the next one. I therefore kept my breaks to a minimum drinking water every kilometre and taking photos sparingly.
Within forty minutes the climb had finished. There was little 'flat ground' before I started to decent rapidly. Fortunately the path wound it's way through a thick forest cooling me with each step (not to sound too disgusting but, I had sweat so much that 85% of my t-shirt had become a darker shade of grey). It was at this point, only three kilometres in, that my foot really, really started to hurt. 500 meters before, I had stopped using the heel of my left food and now, I was just left with the ball – which was starting to hurt. As I walked down this Edo forested path I wondered if it was actually a metaphor for how my life would be now that I am over thirty years old; would I feel, and look, old and would life be all down hill from here? My right foot disagreed and tried to take as much weight off my left foot as possible.
By the time I had descended through part of the forest which covered the Kiso valley – and back into Edo period civilisation – I was really hobbling and in a lot of pain. Weirdly, even with my injury time was still on my side and I arrived in Tsumago with half an hour to spend. This was fantastic as it meant that I had time to hobble around the town, taking photos, before waiting for the bus.
By now it was just after midday and the place was crawling with day-trippers. Conceding defeat I realised that, getting photos – without people - of Tsumago post town was going to be impossible, which was a shame as I would say that it was even prettier than Magome. I shot quite a few photos of Tsumago's main, and only, street with or without crowds. A young Japanese couple – possibly students – showed that the Japanese did indeed have a good sense of humour and they actually posed within my photos displaying the standard 'peace' sign. We laughed together and all of a sudden, my foot didn't feel as bad.
Once I had photographed the post town I had just enough time to buy an ice cream, and a drink, before the bus came. In regards to the ice cream; I had a vanilla and chestnut ice cream mix, and ate the whole thing before boarding the bus. The drink was just a coke.
It was weird to see the bus go almost the same way as I had walked. Firstly it only took the bus thirty minutes to reach Magome but, more amazing, was the sheer amount I had descended; no wonder my foot felt broken.
It was 1:15pm when I eventually arrived back in Magome (almost three hours after I had started walking). The tourist information office, within the post town of Tsumago, had told me that the bus was free however, as I departed the bus I found out that it cost £4. It mattered not; I thanked the driver sincerely and hobbled down Magome's steep main road to my car. I finally left Magome at 1:20pm bound for Matsumoto.
I had left the Kiso valley an hour later than I had planned. I hoped that it wouldn't matter; I hoped that Matsumoto was only a two hour drive away and that, possibly, I could drive a little faster and cut the time down a little however, it wasn't to be. The one-lane – with a continual orange 'no passing' line - was back along with it's best friend, an articulated lorry. The final nail in the coffin happened when, with only 12km to go, I went to have lunch. The time was 3:20pm and Matsumoto Castle would close at 5pm. As I ate I realised that, in reality, the castle would have to wait for another day however, that didn't stop me from eating as quickly as I could and driving towards Matsumoto with all haste.
At 4:30pm, after battling through hordes of traffic, I made it to the turning I needed to head towards the castle however, with only thirty minutes of opening time left I continued north and towards my accommodation for the night. Due to booking my hostels, Ryokans and hotels late, Matsumoto was all booked up (I am now in the 'Obon festival' period where the whole of Japan's population go back to their home towns to celebrate this family orientated festival) and so I was staying in a hostel 50km's north of the city, in a tiny skiing-town called Hakuba. From looking at my atlas, I had thought that the village was high up in the mountains however, it soon became apparent that the village lay adjacent to said mountains making me wonder just how hot the area was.
Before I even thought about getting to my accommodation, I still had to battle with a long line of traffic which I thought would have ended at Matsumoto's city limits. In reality in continued for another 25kms until I was truly free.
Unable to find a sign, I missed the turning I needed to my hostel. It wasn't long before I realised that I had gone too far and so, once I had turned around, I stopped at a services to get directions. Once the lady at the services – who spoke English excellently – had told me where my hostel was it didn't take me long to get their and I arrived at around 6pm.
My hostel appeared to be in a wood and there were other hostels and hotels close by, some of which had a restaurant. The guy at the counter spoke English perfectly and showed me around this, what appeared to be, brand new hostel. As I looked around, the place was spotless, and there was a big common room with people watching TV and a family playing games. Once I had put my bags within my room I came back to this common room and updated my blog.
Once finished I headed out into the night in search of some food. The guy at reception had recommended a 'Japanese style' Italian restaurant sixteen trees to the west of this hostel and so, being not in the mood to travel, I took him up on his recommendation.
I returned to the hostel around 9:30pm where I had a shower and went to bed. Today had been a long day and, quite possibly, tomorrow will be too. Whilst within this area I have two things I wish to do; firstly I want to go to a mountain town called Kamikochi, and secondly I want to take a cable car up a local mountain range to view the surrounding area. Of course, weather will be the deciding factor when, or if, I take the cable car therefore, tomorrow I get up at 6:15am and look up to the sky to decide what my days plan will be.