Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Snap shot: another day, another lake

Date: Saturday 8th August 2015

Weather: dry but cloudy over the lake. Temperature was great; at one point I actually felt cold.

MP3 track of the day: sitting on the dock of the bay - Otis Redding

Now before I go on, I suppose I should explain what 'snap shot' means within the title of this blog. It basically means that this blog will be a shortened version of my usual blogs, due to a variety of reasons. It is, in effect, a 'snap shot' of my trip.


Due to today's lake – Shikotsu-ko – being a lot closer to Tomakomai than yesterdays, I felt that an alarm wasn't needed and I should awake whenever my body felt like it. This still resulted in a, pretty reasonable 9am start. Once breakfast had been consumed I got in my car and proceeded in a northern direction back into the mountains and, annoyingly, back into the clouds.

Once at the lake I had a question all drivers have when they reach a lake; do I go clockwise around it, or anti-clockwise. Sure it's not the most important question however, by choosing to go clockwise I had, somehow, made the wrong choice. You see, though my road map showed a clear 'driving route' around said lake, the car's satellite navigation had a great big cross through one part of the road I required. Being me, I ignored this and, as mentioned earlier, I proceeded in a clockwise route seeing nothing but trees all along the road-side.

The 'big cross' was at the lake's most northern edge and I, unluckily, had approached the lake from the south. This meant that I had to drive a good fifteen minutes, seeing spots of blue through a mass of trees, before I came across the reason why the satellite navigation had indeed put a cross through this road … it hadn't been finished.

Once I'd driven fifteen minutes back to the southern part of the lake, I proceeded in my now anti-clockwise route. I flew past the road I entered on and, after three minutes a tourist information centre – with a huge amount of shops – appeared on the lakeside where the trees had finally retreated away from the lake. Due to the £2.50 parking fee I decided not to stop, with the aim of finding a few good places to take photos for free. Sure enough, on the eastern side of the lake the trees had gone altogether. Also, free stopping places had been created allowing me to take photos of the lake. Due to the blanket of cloud in the sky, the lake wasn't that spectacular however, the temperature was fantastic; once I'd reached the northern part of the lake again I was actually so cold that I put my jacket on.

With the lake circled (well, as much as I could do) I finished photographing it and headed back into my car. The time was only 11am and so I opened my guidebook to see what else around here could keep me entertained. Apparently most people hike up Tarumae-zan, my guidebook said; it also mentioned a beautiful moss covered gorge and a nature walk which started at the tourist information centre. Though my guidebook mentioned these additional activities, it didn't really specify where they actually were in any great detail. My road map was useless as that was all in Japanese therefore, I turned my engine on and proceeded back to the tourist office where I would have to pay the parking fee.

It's unusual for a tourist office to have a parking fee therefore, I felt quite reluctant to pay it. I was pretty sure it was mostly due to the fact that this area not only had the tourist office, but it also had shops, restaurants and attractions which made this place an area most Japanese people would probably spend the day, and a fortune in doing so. I was adamant that I wouldn't spend a yen at the stores. I was probably only going to be here twenty minutes or so; all I needed was some decent information.

I couldn't believe it. I was stood within Shikotsu-ko's beautiful new tourist information office, looking at a huge map of the area with information in Japanese, Chinese and English. Every attraction my guidebook had listed; EVERYONE a part from the nature walk had a huge cross through it. A number of reasons were given however, the main reason seemed to be that a huge amount of rain had hit this area last September washing most of the hiking routes away (though why, in the eleven months since the incident, had they not been repaired beats me). With not other choice I inquired into the nature walk.

I walked out of the office and followed the map given to me. At first I headed towards the lake where I took more photos of said lake, plus a bridge and the whole area. I had to admit; the parking fee seems to have been put back into the place with excellent facilities including many benches, paths and disabled access. As I walked further around the lake my hatred towards the parking free reduced until it was gone altogether when a group of Japanese school children came running towards me. They were from the city I was currently staying in – Tomakomai – and they had designed an A4 poster (which I could keep) about their town and the surrounding area. Once they had finished explaining about their poster, they asked for a photo and I asked them if they studied English at school. A resounding 'no' was given, which promoted me to speak in Japanese telling them that I was an English teacher, and that I knew that all Japanese school children their age had to study English. This made them laugh and we parted company on a good note.

The nature trail wasn't beside the lake at all. In fact, I had to climb up a set of steps to the top of an over-looking cliff. This cliff was covered in vegetation making the ascent hot and humid. Once at the top, I started the walk realising that the path hadn't been cared for in a long time. I also realised that I wasn't really interested in the nature trail and that, the only reason I was contemplating it was due to the fact that every other activity had been washed away. After only fifteen minutes I turned around and headed back down the set of steps and back towards my car.

Once back in my car, I turned the engine on and set the air-conditioning to 'Arctic'. Once again I opened up my guidebook to try to find things local. I then realised that yesterday, I had failed to get to Jigokudani due to time. I therefore put my guidebook away, selected a route and off I went.

Jigokudani is a bubbling wasteland of volcanic activity. There is a 'one-hour' walking path, which allows tourists to view the steaming luna-like valley which was created by an ancient volcanic eruption. What I had failed to read was that this was Hokkaido's top hot spring area therefore, when I arrived, huge onsen hotels had been built choking the area to death. I think it was a combination of the sheer amount of tourists (walking, cycling and driving), the unsightly onsen hotels and yet another 'pay parking' which made me turn around almost as soon as I got there. Yes, Jigokudani sounded interesting however, not if I had to share it with a billion tourists and, in any case, I'd seen volcanic areas before (in New Zealand for one). Even though it had taken me an hour and a half to get here I decided that the view of the smouldering crater, from my car, was enough for me so I turned around and headed home.

Once back in Tomakomai I zoomed past my hotel and proceeded to a shopping centre I'd found the previous day. Without a car my restaurant choices had been limited but now, I found endless places to eat. Within this shopping centre there was a 'restaurant street' and so I choose to eat within my favourite Japanese restaurant (Ootoya). With dinner over I returned to my hotel to spend the evening relaxing and pondering what might have been.

So today hadn't been perfect. The lake was okay but, I'm guessing it's true value lies within those places which were closed. Still never mind, tomorrow I would be driving from the south of Hokkaido to the north, getting myself ready for Monday where I would be visiting Shiretoko Nation park; reckoned to be the best national park in Hokkaido.

Toodle Pip!

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