Friday, September 14, 2012

Day 36 and 37: Back Home

[post of Friday 14th of September 2012]

Every time we pack the bicycle for a trip, we do so in a different way. We’re not sure our method to pack them get any better, but this time it looks much better and, at least, more decent than other times. In addition, this time we got cardboard boxes in perfect state, not the half-broken we use when we came. We dismount the bikes as much as we can, and we carefully wrap the metre-counter of the bikes with cello tape, the saddlebags, the tent, the sleeping bags, and part of our luggage. We double wrap everything together, and run out of cello tape. At least, it seems to us that the bikes, and the rest of our stuff, are ready for the harsh treatment the airport will surely reserve to them!

As arranged, our “private taxi” leaves us right in front of the bus to the airport. The bus ticket is 17€ per person and we get to the airport in an hour. Once there, we can confirm (again) that no-one speaks English in Japan, not even at the check-in counter. The girl at the counter had just been hired, didn’t understand English very well, or the rules of the airline company for which she worked… and she wanted to charge us loads of money for the overweight of our luggage even thou none of our boxes passed the free-of-charge weight allowed by Qatar Airlines for sport equipment. At the end, she got her Supervisor, to whom we went away with the copy of the company terms and conditions in English we had printed, in which it said how many kg we could travel with without paying. After some long minutes waiting, we were told what we expected: everything was fine and we didn’t have to pay a single yen to travel.

In the airport, we had the last Japanese meal of the trip: sushi, tempura, and ramen. Then, we boarded the plane in which we spent the next 11 hours, most of the time, sleeping. The transfer in Doha is of only two hours, although we had to wait a third one because the plane was delayed. The passengers in the seats around us bothered us a bit in the remaining 7 hours of our journey back to Spain; they had a little party going on for the entire flight, with plenty of alcohol and lot of noise. We didn’t manage to sleep over this time, but everything passes in life, and we get to Madrid Airport without any major problem and, above all, with our luggage all in perfect state.

Gabriel’s mum is there to pick us up and, even thou she’s been following us through the blog, we cannot help but keep talking about our experience, the wonderful people we met, the things we laughed about, the pain we felt, the landscape, the culture, the food. We don’t have a clue about what we’ll do next, but one thing is for sure: this trip has been just the first one of the trips we will do through the magic archipelago that is Japan.

The only thing left, for now, is to express our gratitude for everything; for the good luck, for the warm welcoming we received, for the support coming from your many messages, dear friends and followers of the blog. We will reply to each and all of them very soon, once we recover. We are grateful to our families too, for their understanding of our project, to CycloTrip for its help and sponsorship, to Angela for an excellent work translating the blog… to the kamis, and the hotokes, to Nozomi, Johan, Amy, Yasmin and ‘José’, Kozue, Katelyn, Shane, Peacefull, Nelly, Joe, Sumire, Josh, Mizue, and the twins, Hikaru, Bun and friends, Mark, Mika and Hiro, Kaccey and Bernardo, and all those who have helped us along the journey… thank you so much!

Day 34 & 35: Kobe

[post of Friday 14th of September 2012]

We spend the last days in Japan chilling out, buying some souvenirs, and doing the very last cultural trip we planned. We go to visit Kobe Museum with the hope of getting a chance to admire the collection of Nanban art in there which, among others items, houses Japanese Renaissance paintings made here in Japan four centuries ago. Unfortunately, we’re not lucky because the Nanban exhibition was open only in the first week of September. At least, we get the email of the curator and we can send him an email asking for the reproductions of the items we wanted to see.

Afterwards, the shopping is crazy. First, we go to Sannomiya Shopping Centre, in the heart of Kobe. This may be heaven for shop fanatics, but it results overwhelming for a couple of poor tired cyclists like us. Then, we move on to the Namba quarter, another shopping area in Osaka. Here it’s even crazier! In Namba streets you can find absolutely every kind of product and character!

On the way, we spot a bicycle shop and we take the chance to ask the favour (with the precious help of Kaccey as our interpreter) to save us a couple of cardboard boxes to pack the bikes back to Spain. We agree on meeting up again the next day. We get the boxes and wrap them in plastic. Then, with the constant company of the pouring rain, we bring them into the Kaccey’s and Bernardo’s house. Problem solved. Now there is something else we have to get sorted. We need to take a ferry which is leaving from a place 6 km away from here, but we cannot walk that distance with two huge boxes of 30 kg. we cannot even get there with the empty boxes on top of the bikes and, of course, there are not trains nor buses that serve the aim. Finally, Kaccey comes back to our help, makes a couple of calls, and arrange for a friend of her to take us directly to the bus stop with the bikes ready and packed. From there, we can get a bus that goes straight to the airport. In other words, and differently than when we arrived, we don’t have to go around pulling the huge boxes with the bicycles.

We fully enjoy the last suppers in Japan: the first one, fully Spanish (although we have a jamón that tastes a bit of salmon, and we end up calling it salmón serrano); the second supper, in a restaurant where you can cook your own dinner over the barbecue. When we leave Japan, we do so with a wonderful taste in our mouth.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Day 33: Kyoto – Kobe

[post of Tuesday 11th of September 2012]

…and we’re getting to final part of our trip. We have to take the most important decision of the day: on one hand, there is the plain road, through the city and full of traffic, of some 75 km; on the other hand, there is the mountain route, 400 metres up-hill, through a road with less traffic and, surely, a much nicer view, but with 10 km on top of the 75 km of the plain route. We chose the easier option. Wrong choice. We should have left Japanese roads for good, and after a fine stage. We should have sweated up going up-hill through a green valley, and not because we have to wait in front of the many traffic lights of the city, or avoiding kamikaze bicycles.

Today is a tough day. We’re tired for the trip and, even thou we’re still on time with the original planning of a month ago, we begin looking back at this whole adventure and evaluate it… and of course, we start thinking in the next trip too. This time we made mistakes we don’t want to repeat in the future. First of all, we plan too long stages. It would have been far better to have stages of max 50 km per day… of better said, to dedicate the morning to peddling, and leave the afternoon to recover, go around sightseeing, relax, and talk more to each other. Also the type of trip we planned wasn’t great. We decided to have a linear route, through programmed stops, and planned visits… too much planned. We had to stick to the original timetable, and we were often overstressed by the need to get ‘on-time’ to the next stage, or to finish it up before the night.

The bicycles have been another source of problems. We’re doing a trip of nearly 2,000 km with two 250€ bicycles, and it’s impossible to forget that. Although we fixed it properly, Gabriel’s bike has continued to make strange noises and, most probably, we’ll have to replace the chain and the wheel core… or to buy another bicycle straight away. The warmth and the humidity have heavily affected the bikes; cables and hooks are rusty, and three of our deposits are gone. They lasted long enough, poor them. Now, after three cyclotourism trips, we know well what we need and what we don’t. For the future, we’ll leave our mountain bikes for the best things we can do with them, nice short promenades in the mountains.

It’s another thing to decide which one, of the three cyclo-trips, has been the best one. Probably Japan: the safety of its roads, the respect for the cyclist, the security, the fact that we didn’t have to chain the bikes every single time we parked them, the delicious food, the express hot food we have found at every single “kombini” alongside the road, the landscape, the people… the more risky of the trip has been the natural environment (because of which we plan some extra days, jus in case), the heavy rain, the typhoons, the several volcano, the tsunamis,   the earthquakes, the floods… although we always felt protected by the kamis.

With all this in our mind, we finally get to Kobe, where Kaccey and Bernardo wait for us. They will welcome us in their house for the days left before we leave… and, as we get to meet them, they take charge of the task of cheering us up, and bring us to cook at Okonomiyaki.

Day 32: Kyoto

[post of Tuesday 11th of September 2012]

Today is a day for tourism, which is not the same as a day off cycling. There are so many things to see here in Kyoto than we have to be firm and avoid taking it easy in order to see the whole old city. We study the route careful, then we accept the fact that it’s gonna be impossible to see everything, so we decide to get to see at least the most important things Kyoto has to offer, and to take these easy. First of all, we wake up early, have breakfast, and then we get out to see the temples area that is nearby the central station. When I get more time to talk about this in detail, I’ll tell you exactly which temples we visited and add their names to the pictures I’m uploading now.

After the temples, we go to the Nijo Castle, of which we don’t have photos because it is forbidden to take them inside the castle. In any case, if you ever go to Kyoto, it’s definitely worthwhile to visit this castle. The main reason for that is that Nijo Castle has not been re-built after WWII, so you can see the original paintings on its walls, which pertain mainly to the Kano school. Another reason to visit this castle is that it was built up as one of the official residences for Ieyasu Tokugawa, who used it as something like a castle for times of peace.

In the afternoon, we climb the hills on the Western side of Kyoto to visit the well-known Zen sanctuaries of this city, but the rain stop us from enjoying in full the beauty of their gardens. Among the sanctuary we visit, there is also the Golden House, one of the symbols of Japanese tourism worldwide.

Going back to the hotel, we stop by the Imperial Palace, which is surrounded by a massive garden in a square shape. Finally, we walk through Kyoto alongside a North-South imaginary line, greeted by the twilight as we get ‘home’… and for today we’re done. The best thing now it’s to see all the pictures we took.