Monday, 3 August 2015

1950's transport

Date: Monday 3rd August 2015

Weather: Extremely cloudy in Hakodate however, due to the fact that Onuma Quasi National park was in a basin, the mountains stopped most of the clouds from getting in allowing for a patchwork sky of blue and white.

MP3 track of the day: Anyone who has a heart – Cilla Black

Looking in the mirror at 6am in the morning, I couldn't believe what two full days of travelling had done to me. Staring back was a partially burnt white guy with blood-shot eyes surrounded by dark bags. In short, if I kept going like this I wasn't sure if I would survive the trip. Before leaving the hotel, I spent a few minutes reading my emails and the news. It was sad to hear that Cilla Black had died. Though her music was before my time, having parents who grew up in that era made certain that during my younger life, I would hear a few of her hits. Not only that but 'Blind Date' and 'Surprise Surprise' were two of my parents favourite programmes. No matter how bad I looked I was healthy, reasonably happy and on holiday … I therefore felt that I was very lucky indeed.

The reason for the ridiculously early start was due to the fact that at, 8:13am, my train to Onuma Quasi-National Park – today's destination – left Hakodate station. With the station being only a five minute walk away, this in itself didn't explain the need for being up at 6am. Due to the fact that I had to be up early anyway, I decided to get up an hour earlier than I needed to and spend that hour within Hakodate's fish market. My guidebook had given a positive review of the place ... if you go early. It stated that you would be able to see the latest catch being sold. I was therefore ready to leave my hotel by 6:40am.

The fish market consisted of two ramshackle streets which formed a 'T-junction'. Dotted all around this junction were many kinds of shops which all had a connection to fish. There were large quantity sales areas, smaller shops, stalls and restaurants. Looking at today's catch it would appear that crab was certainly on the menu (as a family approached one sales lady, she rammed her knife into one crab to give them 'tasters' … umm, I think that I would prefer the cheesecake 'taster' that I ate yesterday). Most of the restaurants had a woman outside who didn't stop language, or cultural barriers, from her trying to entice anyone and everyone into her restaurant. These northern 'fishermen's women' were hard; I could imagine a couple of them pulling at the rigging in storm conditions while giving birth. Though the fish was certainly fresh (one dish for sale was shown on TV. The baby octopus was so fresh that it was actually still alive and kept climbing out of the customers bowl) it was just too early for me therefore, I headed to a convenience store where I ate some rice, melon bread and some biscuits.

Once breakfast had been consumed I made my way to the train station. I purchased a rail ticket (for £2.70) and went to the platform indicated by the lady I had spoken to yesterday. On the way to 'platform 6' I past 'platform 1' where I saw an old disused train engine that had probably last seen action in the 1950's. After giving it a glance I thought nothing more of it as I made my way onto 'platform 6'. Once there I showed a ticket inspector the ticket I'd purchased. He confirmed that the ticket would indeed get me to Onuma Quasi-National Park however, not on the train which was waiting at the platform. He went on to say that the train I could see was a 'rapid express' and it would cost an extra £3.20 (more than my original ticket) to board it. The ticket I had was for the local train.

I thanked the fella and raced back to the ticket barriers seeking information in regards to which platform the local train departed from and, more importantly, what time it departed. Luckily for me, the local train departed two minutes after the 'super-express'. What's more, I was told by a lady that I could find the local train 'ready and waiting' on 'platform one'. Thinking that there must either have been some problem with my Japanese or her English, I told her that a derelict and abandoned train lay uncared for across the tracks closest to 'platform one'. She had a quick look and told me that, 'that WAS the local train'.

As I entered the 'one carriage' train I felt as though I had gone back in time. Thick sheets of beige iron greeted me with windows which could only be opened half way and seats bolted to an iron floor. The weight must have been immense and I wondered if this thing could move at all. I checked the timetable to see that the 'super-express' got to the national park in twenty-five minutes whereas, this beauty would need an hour. 'How slow would be be travelling?' I thought to myself. Suddenly memories of Romania came flooding back and I wondered if this train too was battery powdered.

You could see the speed as we pulled out of the station. At one point I managed to count how many bricks had been used to build a house which lay close to the train tracks (I had time to re-count the bricks so that I hadn't made a mistake). I tried to see the bright side; in the UK people spend a lot of money to travel on old trains and here, I got a discount. Just then an announcement came over the speaker. I had no idea what it said however, I felt as though it was asking for 'able bodied volunteers' to help push-start the train after we had alighted passengers, at the next station, due to a slight climb.

The rest of the journey, though slow, passed without incident and I found myself in the charming little train station of Onuma Quasi-National Park. Once I'd helped push the train off, I headed out of the train station and towards a big map which showed the park in detail. Onuma Quasi-National Park was created by a volcanic eruption and consisted of three lakes with many islands. With one of the lakes quite far away - and another with only a Japanese highway running by it - this left only the biggest lake (Onuma lake) possible of being circled (though realistically only by car or bicycle). All was not lost though; within Onuma Lake were hundreds of tiny islands, most of which had been joined together by small bridges and a labyrinth of footpaths which roamed throughout these islands. The islands were cut in two by a road; I therefore decided to concentrate on the small set of islands to the left of the road, before moving onto the larger, more tourist-focused part.

It would appear that these islands to the left of the road were not visited as often as the ones to the right. Most of the paths around the islands were over-grown which made forming any sort of route across them difficult. My favourite bit was meeting a sign which had lines and lines of text in Japanese, and only the word 'danger' written in English. Having no idea what the danger was, I proceeded onwards over a bridge and, in all honestly, hoped that I would eventually make it back to the road. This part of the park had been less than enjoyable due to the fact that islands were covered in vegetation making the atmosphere very humid indeed. There were the odd breaks within the vegetation but few good scenes could be viewed and little relief came from the wind.

I eventually made it out of the islands. I quickly crossed-over the road and immediately found a well kept path which was the start of a trail which made its way across most of the islands using inter-connecting bridges. The islands to the right of the road were looking more promising however, the time was now 10am and the bus tours had started to arrive.

I am not the worlds biggest fan of the Chinese. When in China, I found all-bar the university age person rude, selfish and disgusting. This opinion has changed little as I witnessed them pushing there way through this beautiful area talking loudly however, I do believe that travel builds bridges and that through travel, people are able to form their own unbiased views of other races and begin to mend old wounds. I would therefore tolerate the Chinese, as long as by the time they returned home, they would dismiss any false impressions gained through a communist regime hell-bent on increasing it's own power within the Pacific region.

I made my way around these island taking photos of the beautiful scene which was before me. At points the lake opened up to show small islands of vegetation in the foreground, with a huge mountain in the back. The top of this mountain was still hard to see due to the cloudy skies. Halfway around the 'island circuit' I realised that I'd lost my umbrella. Now, I wasn't really that fussed about loosing it; I was more concerned with the fact that I had dropped something within a national park. Once I had completed the 'island walk' I did it again finally finding my umbrella propped up against a tree near some fungi I had photographed earlier. Instead of hanging it from my satchel, I put it within my tri-pod bag. It had taken me about thirty minutes the first time I'd completed the 'island circuit'. Due to not taking any photos, the second time only took around fifteen minutes.

With the island walk over I had completed all that was on offer for walkers. I was a little annoyed; my impression of a national park was a beautiful landscape where you could forge your own paths and get lost in nature. Though this fresh water volcano-made lake was indeed beautiful, I would say that the park failed on the other two points. With plenty of time I decided to walk around part of the lake (it was too big to walk around the whole thing; it took a hour and ten minutes by bike) to see if I could find any new sight-seeing spots. I walked along the bicycle route seeing lots of rented bikes whizzing past me.

At first, the path was miles away from the lakes coastline resulting in less-than pleasant views. I persevered and walked for about fifteen minutes along a designated bicycle lane before I found a break in the trees with an 'okay view' of the lake. After this I noticed that the footpath left the lakeside again and went inland. I therefore opted to return to the train station where I had seen a very detailed plan of the park.

As I walked back to the train station, I checked my watch and noticed that I would arrive back just in time for the midday train. With trains only every two hours this was tempting however, I did feel that I was giving up on Onuma Quasi-National Park without a fight. As more and more rental bikes flew past me, I did think about hiring a bike however, as soon as the thought entered my head a reminder in regards to my hatred towards bikes popped up.

Once back at the train station I had only four minutes before the train, taking me back to Hakodate, arrived. I looked at the cycle lane - which I had walked partway down – on the map judging that the time it spend running next to the lake didn't really seem worth the time or energy required however, in Hakodate, I remembered that I had very little to do (plus I still have another day here). I went across to the bike hire place and discovered that it would cost £5 to hire a bike. I also went into the local tourist office to get as much information to aid my choice in the three minutes I had before the train to Hakodate departed. Finally, I made my choice.

I watched the train slowly make it's way into the station … and then I saw it slowly make it's way out again. I had decided to hire a bike partly due to the fact that the tourist information office had given me a 20% off discount coupon (which also gave me 50 Yen off an ice cream from the same store) and the fact that I had nothing left to do in Hakodate (plus this would probably be my only visit). I went across to the bike hire place and paid £4 to hire a bike. Once the seat had been adjusted I headed off in the direction of the cycle lane I had walked down less than an hour before.

Comfortable, stylish and safe and all words which I would not use to describe the bike I had been 'conned' into renting. I have no idea what the thing was made out of but it was heavy. Every time I went from 'stationary' to 'barely moving' a series of wobbles occurred until I had gained enough speed to render the weight unimportant. Most of you will know that I like to walk, or I like to travel via car, bus, train or plane. What I don't like is to travel on skateboards, roller-skates or bicycles … basically anything where you have the potential of falling off. After every stop, my facial expression resembled a old man chewing a wasp as I tried to go on my way without falling off the damn thing. Not only that; the path which hadn't been a problem to walk down suddenly had a whole series of potential life threading obstacles from uneven slabs to wet mud. To say I wasn't partially happy was potentially an understatement. I'm sure my feelings are best expressed in the name I had quickly chosen to give my bike; PROBABLE DEATH.

I cycled on, with my facial expression never faltering as I stopped on a few occasions to take photos when the lake came into view. The ride took almost an hour and a half to complete and, though I never fell, I was glad to hand the bike back in. I was also still really hot, due to the fact that the bike didn't have any gears which made any slight rise a monumental task. Once I had rid myself of PROBABLE DEATH, I took up my coupons offer of a cheap ice cream. I opted for the melon ice cream which happened to be the best decision of the day. Afterwards I headed back to the station. A car stopped and allowed me to cross the only road between I and the train station. Though I must have looked like the typical British tourist with an ice cream in hand, white skinny legs, a slightly burnt face and a walking swagger which resembled John Wayne in one of his Western films (due to the cycling) I was in my element. As I took my last look at Onuma Quasi-National Park I decided that, though being pulled out of my comfort zone, I had thoroughly enjoyed my trip here though, I felt that calling this lake a national park gave the wrong impression. I would say that it is a beautiful lakeside area with a few nature walks.

I had made it to the train station with less than ten minutes to spare. Though the train was slightly bigger it was still old and, looking at the amount of people wishing to board, I did wonder if we would all fit. As it turned out I need not have worried. Not only did we all fit but we all got a seat. The train then rolled slowly out of the station and picked up momentum as we dropped out of the mountains and towards Hakodate. These same mountains had provided protection for the lake and it was only now that I could see that the rest of Hokkaido was still covered in heavy cloud.

As we approached Hakodate more and more people boarded, some of which were dressed in traditional Japanese clothes sparking fears of another parade or festival. Once back in Hakodate I was starving. I visiting the lucky Perriot – for a cheeseburger; they were out of the lamb burger – before returning to my hotel to rest. The time was 4pm and, due to the cloud, I was still uncertain whether to head up the mountain or not tonight.

At 6pm I forced myself out of my hotel. I staggered in the direction of the cable car. Looking up, the platform on top of Hakodate mountain was still visible however, the clouds did look as though they were closing in. I continued, dragging my dead body up Hakodate's steep roads to the cable car, where I met hundreds of newly arrived bus tour groups. I believed that they were here to see Hakodate at night. From my position at the foot of the mountain I turned around and surveyed my surroundings. Though the foreground was clear, the mountains in the distance were covered in cloud. Really the writing was on the wall though, it still took me a couple of minutes to signal a withdrawal back to my hotel.

On the way back to my hotel I discovered why people were in Kimonos. There were indeed small festivals going on throughout the city however, nothing really to get excited about. I did stop and watch a youth orchestra perform two pieces before heading for home. On my trip back to my hotel I thought about what I was going to do tomorrow. On my schedule, I had written 'free day to use at either the national park or in the city of Hakodate' however, a part from the mountain, both areas were finished. The only thing I had decided upon - by the time I reached my hotel - was that, at 4pm tomorrow, I would head back to Mount Hakodate and, instead of taking the cable car up, I would save a couple of quid and hike up. I checked with the lady on reception and she said 'go for it' as the mountain is less than 400m tall. This still left me the issue of the rest of the day but for now, I didn't care. I wrote my blog with all intention of finishing it as quickly as possible. Now that it is done I will head out and grab some snacks for dinner (that burger I ate earlier is still filling me up). I shall then return and head to my room to put my feet up and maybe, watch one of the films I copied to a memory stick before leaving home.

So until 4pm tomorrow I have no idea what I want to do. I want to keep it light because I plan to climb a mountain. If you have any ideas, write in the comments below however, I do plan to get up late.

Toodle Pip!

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