Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Hitching a Ride

Olga and I embarked on a four and a half day journey across Japan relying on the kindness of strangers and their gas money. We started Thursday afternoon, March 17, at the Awaji Oasis Service Area. Our planned itinerary was from Awaji to Miyajima, Hiroshima, Beppu, Fukuoka, and back. We rode in over a dozen cars and one truck stopping in various service areas along the highway. We camped out in a tent two nights, stayed in a ladies sauna one night (in nice warm reclining chairs), and stayed with a friend in Fukuoka. We were on the road to Fukuoka when the area's worst earthquake in over 200 years struck. It slowed us down a bit, but didn't keep us from our journey! And the aftershocks were kinda fun! Here is a collection of photos and snipets of our trip for your enjoyment. We had a blast and I think that shows in a couple of the photos. Enjoy!

Olga scaling the mountain. It was either climb the walls or walk half a dozen kilometers of service roads to get where we needed to be. This wall was the easiest as someone tied a rope strong enought to help us up.

A view of the bridge from Awaji Oasis. The beginning of our adventure!

Our very first ride. It took us long enough! We waited at Awaji Oasis for almost 40 minutes out in the rain. We'd just gone into dry off a bit and came out to find these folks ready and willing to take us to Himeji. 5:50 pick up and 6:30 drop off at the service area. They were a cute couple, but she was super quiet. I think picking us up was his idea.

Our long haul ride, all the way from Himeji to Miyajima Service Area. He picked us up at 7:01pm and we got there at 10:20pm. He was hauling! We thought it was funny because he was hauling school desks and we're teachers. He got a kick out of that too. He was quite the chatter and kept Olga on her toes.

Making PB&J sandwiches for breakfast. We'd just spent a almost sleepless freezing night in the tent behind the service area and were trying to recover.

Mmm...breakfast at the Service Area.

Our Angel! This was the woman who was working the store of the Service Area the whole time we were there. She helped us so much while we were there and then she found us walking into town (the wrong way, even) and gave us a lift. She dropped us at the ferry port and gave us a box of yummy warm omiyage treats. She was awesome.

We're almost there! On the ferry to Miyajima.

What Miyajima is famous for, the "floating" Torii Gate.

A mix of images from the Daishoin Temple on Miyajima Island. So serene and a photographers dream land.

After the temple tour but before the mountain hike. Olga taking a break with the bags.

A view from only half way up the mountain. I forgot to take any from the top (stupid, stupid, stupid...).

Up, up, up, we go, when will we get to the top? Nobody knows...

Olga at the top of Mt Misen. The highest point of Miyajima Island.

Chelsea at the top.

Wee little fire trucks for a wee little island. They're so cute!

Fresh cooked oysters in Miyajima...Yum!

The Hiroshima Dome in the Peace Park.

In the Hiroshima museum, a diarama of Hiroshima before the bomb...


Hiroshima-yaki! All that smashes down into a normal sized Okonomiyaki, believe it or not. The owner claimed to be one of the healthiest yaki makers because she doesn't use oil and most of the bulk she uses is different fresh veggies. It wasn't the okonomiyaki we're used to, but it wasn't all bad.

This couple picked us up off the Hiroshima on-ramp at 8:24am, just as we were setting our bags down to wait. Olga had told horror stories of 45 minute waits for rides out of Hiroshima, but we didn't wait even 30 seconds! They were going all the way to Fukuoka, and we had them drop us off at Koga Service Area at 11:15. We were knitting in the car and the woman exclaimed, "What? You have that in America too?" We had to explain that, yes, knitting is not just a Japanese hobby. They were fun, and we got to listen to old Japanese elevator music the entire trip.

Who's going to Beppu? This was a tame point in the wait. We also danced, jumped about, and laughed our asses off. We had so much fun just trying to get rides.

From Koga Service Area, above Fukuoka, this father and daughter duo picked us up at 11:30. The little girl didn't quite know what to do with two foreigners in the car. She played peekaboo with us most of the trip, but totally posed for the picture. They were on their way to the zoo and were so nice as to take us all the way to Beppu JR station. The little girl's name is Hikari and it means "bright light." She sure lit up our morning! What a cutie!

OH MY GOD!!! I'M IN HELL!! Actually, that's exactly where we were. This is the Umi-Jigoku, named because it is a bright blue color like the sea. It's a naturally boiling pond created 1200 years ago. Beppu is known for it's hot springs, and some, like this one, are just too hot!

What an important job! That Tori sure wouldn't be able to stand on it's own.

Olga at one of the Shrines in Hell.

Some shots of Hell and the Greenhouse Hell heats.

It really doesn't taste that bad. These were eggs that they hard boil in Hell and sell to the tourists. It just tasted like a regular egg, I couldn't taste Hell or evil at all.

Olga sucks eggs.

Cue the stalker ride. From the first hell, we'd jokingly made a small sign to try and bum a ride to the next batch of hells. This guy runs up and offers his service. We climbed in and he took us. No problem. All during the ride, you could tell he really wanted to ask us to stay at his house but couldn't work up the nerve. Or he just wanted to hang out with us. He gave us his name and keitai number in case we needed anything. We said goodbye, and went in to the next hell. When we came out to wait at the bus stop, there he was! Out of no where to give us another ride! Creepy! But he was harmless. We joked though that he probably went to all the parks in Beppu looking for us that night.

This Hell is called Chinoike-Jigoku and is known as the Blood Hell. Clay tints the water red and the steam is even red, though you can't really see it. The picture below is us lounging in the blood red hot water.

See you can still have fun in Hell.

Olga is ready to slurp up her Dango-jiru soup. This dish is famous for it's super fat but flat noodles. It was pretty yummy, except that they made it with chicken! Ick! Don't worry, I was able to pick those parts out.

Chelsea with her Dango-jiru soup and Sapporo beer.

"Where did you stay in Beppu?" you ask...well, this is where we stayed--in a park by the harbor. There were public bathrooms nearby and it was fairly quiet. All we could hope for really.

Yes, Chelsea is tall, and yes, the tent really is that small. We were packed like sardines. We even had to keep our bags outside!

Olga looking damned cute in our tent. This time around we found carboard boxes to put underneath the tent to stay warm and to keep it clean. We're so smart!

Beppu to the off-ramp from hell. We weren't even out on the road for 3 min before they stopped at 10:47am. We were on the road by 10:50 and didn't even feel the earthquake at 10:53. We found out minutes later that the expressway was closing and all cars were being forced to exit. He's a teacher at a school for handicapped kids and was excited that we were also teachers. The earthquake changed their plans too, and as we sat in off-ramp traffic they decided to throw in the towl and head home. Too bad, as they were pretty cool. We got out of their car at 11:48am to walk along the cars hoping for another ride.

This couple was supposed to hike a mountain, but the earthquake canceled their plans. It was her birthday so she wanted to treat us to lunch. They live in Fukuoka and rescued us from the off ramp from hell when the expressways closed due to the earthquake. Olga bought her a birthday cake and we sang, but she ended up giving the cake back to us. Her was delicious! As we approached Fukuoka city, the urban expressway was still closed and the subways and trains were down. So they reluctantly agreed to take us to Riktam's house by surface roads. It took forever! They'd picked us up at 11:55am, we'd had lunch, and we finally arrived at 4:20pm. Again, it felt so good to be out of the car and felt even better to then speak English with a friend!

Riktam and I walking along the beach in Fukuoka. The wedding palace behind us sustained a little damage from the earthquake. Some of the side walks fell between 5cm and 25cm. Rik's place was okay though. We got to feel a couple aftershocks too, although we didn't feel the ones while we were salsa dancing...we were grooving and shaking already!

The English Leech!! He saved us, but we hated him for it. After a long morning trying to get a ride on the Urban highway of Fukuoka to anywhere, we got to the expressway interchange. What we didn't really know was that we were still on the expressway. The poilce were kind enough to come and inform us of that. They took us into the police building to "have a little talk", but the nice supervisor saw that the other guy was being a hard ass and when he found out we had to get all the way to Awaji, he let us go with directions of where to stand on the surface streets. We headed out there and had no luck forever. We'd just changed signs and tactics when this guy showed up with his tiny little jeep. He said he'd take us at least to Honshu (because supposedly hitching out of KitaKyushu is next to impossible) but he had to stop by his house first. Ok. He managed to arrange his stuff so we each had about 2 inches of space and then proceded to take surface roads! It was probably close to 10am by this point and we'd started at 8am, so we were ready to be moving anywhere. After several hours of under speed limit driving we told him to just let us out. He said he'd take us farther, but we couldn't stand it. He was by far the worst ride, but he did give us little handmade leather purses as gifts. It felt great to get out of that car.

Here I am with a weiner in my mouth. Anyone want to give us a ride? The most fun we had was actually when we didn't have a ride.

Huh? This was the guy with the greatest music! He had his I-pod rocking away with Guns N' Roses when he picked us up at 1:50 from the Miki Service Area. He was pretty quiet and had a big messy van. We stretched out, and knitted to the awesome music. SO much better than the language leech!

This rough and tumble guy sporting an American bomber jacket took us from Miyajima to Fukuyama. I think it was a rental car, because it was just way too clean. He picked us up at 3:15. We only had to wait about 5 min for a ride.

This kind couple took us from Fukuyama SA to Himeji. They picked us up at 4:35, before we could even walk out to the on-ramp! They had a nice van that was clean and empty. Plenty of room to stretch out!

Our last ride was a gaijin and his friend. Bugzee (his nickname) and Ken picked us up from Himeji Service Area and took us into Kobe. We stopped at Ken's house to drop him and his stuff off before Bugzee dropped us at a local train station. We caught a train to Maiko and got a bus back to the Oasis. Not the best way to end the hitchhiking experience, but it got us there.