Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cycle in Japan - part 1

After much deliberation about how to get to Cape Soya, we decided on the following route: 
cycle 145km from Tokyo to Oarai 17th and 18th August
take a 19 hr ferry ride from Oarai to Tomakomai 18th to 19th August
train from Tomakomai to Wakkanai via Sapporo 19th August
cycle 40km to Cape Soya 20th August

Kilometer 0!  Jewlz will join us for the first 2 weeks of our trip.  Tokyo to Sapporo.

 Energy/directions stop at a petrol station. It was 38 degrees and the attendants gave us some refreshments. Japanese people are very welcoming and generous.  During our first 2 weeks, we have been given tomatoes, corn, watermelon, dried squid, hairy crab, dried clam, deer anteler keychains, flags, tuna cans, a bottle of Polish vodka, mini limes, giant onigiris (rice wrapped in a seaweed), several cans of coffee, a de-greasing spray...

In front of the Sun Flower Sapporo which took us from Oarai to Tomakomai in a mere 19h.

Corsican pride

Jewlz enjoying a cold one in the "economy" room on the ferry to Tomakomai, Hokkaido.  A luxurious boat ride complete with a public bath overlooking the ocean.

After 170km cycling, a 20h ferry ride and a 7h train ride we finally arrive at Wakkanai, the Northernmost city in Japan.   11pm arrival so we slept in the train station.  Another 40km to go and we'll reach Cape Soya, our official start point!

Last check on the Road to Cape Soya.  Mapple Touring book is like our bible.

Somewhere just short of Cape Soya

Jewlz, Yumi and Thomas, standing proud at the northernmost point of Japan: Cape Soya

The endless road 238. Are we there yet?

 Eastern coast line

 Still smiling. It's only the beginning.

 Meet the locals at a small restaurant on the East coast

Our friendly neighbours 

After a long day's ride, even a bus stop shelter feels like paradise.

The observatory at Nichi no desaki campsite 

 Yumi and her neighbour Totoro 

We should have gone for a tamden bikes!

 Can we stay in your farm? it's cold outside, it's raining...and it's lunchtime!

 Entering bear territory. The one riding the pink bicycle was the scariest!

One of our numerous stops along the way. This was near Akanko in the mountains. "Energy" was much needed. 

When we said we set up camp in the disabled toilets of a "michi-no-eki" (a rest area), we were not kidding!

No comment... 

 26th August. Top of the pass. 13km of ascent in pouring rain and strong winds. Thomas swapped his Salomon (ex-) goretex trail shoes for Adda sandals. It worked!

A fantastic meal.  Pasta bolognese.  Free pizza from our neighbour. Polish vodka mixed with apple juice and mini limes. Great company. Beautiful views.  What more can you ask for?  

 That's what you see when you wake up at 5am

 Same place, 1h later

We had to stop to get Yumi's namesake melon.  Super yummy!

Bento box, a filling meal 

 The roads are fantastic and the drivers are very considerate.

Everything is "cute" in Japan, even the plastic bits that hold the road works security railings.

View from our campsite near Ashibetsu  

 Spiritual stop

 Ohhhh a bridge

Sapporo is getting closer!

 The freedom of having no panniers.

We arrived at Kenichi's place in eastern Sapporo on the afternoon of 29th August having cycled almost 1000km (974.33km) since leaving Tokyo.  We celebrated with a delicious homemade feast.  A big thank you to the Ikeda family for welcoming us into their home.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Thank you!

Before we go:

BIG special Thank you to our new friends, people who didn't know us before we landed but gave us an incredible amount of information and advice. Most importantly they gave us their time. Without them it would have been very hard to get what we got in 5 days. Thank you all!

- Scott who cycled across Japan himself last year, for the valuable information and dozens of emails he sent us over the pat 12 months as well as finding the time to meet us after work to give us an idea of the route we should take.

Scott, Thomas and Yumi

- Brodie for his emails and advice.

- Matsui-san from the bicycle shop Psychrism for preparing the bikes in a very short amount of time.

Thomas, Yumi and Matsui-san

- Saito-san who helped us to ship our backpacks from Tokyo to Makurazaki and did a bunch of travel research for us.

- Iwao-san -who cycled from Tokyo to the Atlantic ocean a few years ago- for opening his flat to us -for 7 days!- and even gave us his keys a few hours after meeting us as he was going away on business to Kyoto for 4 days! as well as giving us directions to leave Tokyo.

Ciao for now. 

PS: Thank you to Go and Asako for the delicious meals and your support. It was great to see you again! Take care and see you soon!

Cycling across Japan - From Soya to Sata

Dear all,

This is it! We leave Tokyo tomorrow to the Northermost tip of Japan.

It's been 7 months since we've left London and packed our lives in boxes. For the past 215 days (ish) we've been through some interesting moments such as being stuck with a broken bus in the middle of Patagonia, climbing a 6,000m volcano, swimming with penguins,  getting to meet remote tribes in northern Lao and horse riding in central Mongolia (for more details, go to our pics and vids section).

We are doing it for Advance, a London based domestic violence charity. We’d like to thank our friends who have already donated for this good cause and we’d also like thank in advance those who will shortly dig deep in their pocket and donate .  To do so, go to www.justgiving.com/yumiandthomas and give whatever you feel like. 

Thank you for following us and leaving comments on our blog from time to time. We are not sure how easy it will be to communicate and update you while on the road but we will do our best to keep you posted via the blog (no, not everybody is on Facebook).

Take care!

Yumi and Thomas

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Our journey across Japan is getting closer and closer. Only 72h before we depart to Oarai port to reach Hokkaido island...

We bought 2 new Trek 7.3 fx bicycles at a shop in the Shinjuku area -the world's busiest train station!- 48h after our arrival in Tokyo.

We'll pick them up tomorrow and ride them home. We'll tell you more then!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Ulaanbaatar to Hong Kong - 05/08/2011 to 07/08/2011

We landed on the 5th of August in Beijing. You feel a bit more welcomed when you arrive at Beijing international airport than when you cross the dodgy overland border at HeKou. 

Thomas is however worried about the official who stamped his passport. He smiled so he must still be questioned by his supervisor.
We knew we had to fly from Hong Kong to Tokyo on the 9th but in between Beijing and Hong Kong there were 2,500km and a question: "how the heck are we gonna get there?"

So we went straight to Beijing west train station -2h away from the airport by bus- only to be treated like two flat, dry, tiny pieces of shit by the train station admin people. When we asked if there were a train available Beijing to Hong Kong, the answer was "no". not that they checked, it was just a direct "no" like "no, bugger off, you are dirtying my already dirty guichet, i don't want to speak to you". 
After this first failed attempt -which reminded us we were in China- we tried to locate the "english speaking guichet" where our salvation could be. We were optimist. As well as foolish. At the English speaking counter there were about 2,349,762 people already queuing and amongst them, one white guy trying to fight his way to the counter without having Chinese people jumping the queue, which is mission impossible. Not the one with Tom Cruise. The real one. The impossible one.

When reaching the counter, the admin girl's english was as bad as Thomas's mandarin and the discussion sounded like this:
- "Hello, do you have two train tickets available for the day after tomorrow from Beijing to Hong Kong?"
- "ticket. no ticket. ticket only on 23rd. come back tomorrow."
- "is there another way to get to Hong  Kong?" 
- "come back tomorrow"
- "well, i'd like an answer now if possible"
- "no ticket. come back tomorrow"
- "will there be tickets available tomorrow?"
- "no ticket. only 23rd"

Then she waved with her hand as if to get rid of this annoying french fly that kept on asking questions about "wanting a train ticket". Thomas thought she was at the wrong counter, in the wrong job and left unhappy.

The plan was then to reach our comfortable hostel, the "happy Chopsticks" 2km North of the crowded Forbidden City. It is a nice place. the staff is great and there's a pool table. Perfect. Yumi spent the evening looking for ways to get to HK by train but nothing was available before the 11th. Too late for us. Once again we were reminded that when China is on holidays, it is impossible to get a train ticket. 

On the 6th we decided to buy a plane ticket to Shenzhen for the 7th. Shenzhen is 2h away North from HK by bus. Why not flying straight to HK? the plane tickets to Shenzhen are 50% cheaper than those to Hong Kong. A good enough reason for us.

We spent the afternoon of the 6th at Decathlon buying cycling gear we'll need for our Japan trip and came back late to pack our bags and get ready for a 5am start.

Our journey to the airport and the flight went well. The closer we got from Hong Kong the better we felt. 

It is a shame but China was not our favourite destination: anybody who worked for train or bus stations, airports, we won't even talk about customs, basically working for the People's Republic of China government was not even trying to help us and was simply rude. 

We've met many people in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam who didn't speak a word of English but sign language worked well. When there's a will, there's a way. The will simply got lost along the way and never reached China. 

It came as a surprise to Thomas that he was let out of China without his bag searched and his passport taken away for further inspection. 

We reached Hong Kong 48 stressfull hours after landing in Beijing and it felt good.
We look forward to meeting our friends Naki and Cherry whom we've met in Dali, China a few weeks ago as well as Mel who moved there from London mid-July.


Thursday, August 4, 2011


Our Spanish friends waited for us at Ulaanbaatar train station and a few hours later we had our tailor made 13 days trek planned. One last thing to do though: change our plane tickets back to China to the 05th of August (originaly on 01st August but since we arrived later than we thought in Mongolia, we didn’t want to miss out on Mongolia to go back to…Beijing). 
We drove 1,800km: We aimed South West of UB, then North across the Khangai mountain range, West again towards the white lake and then East towards Karakorum, the Semi Gobi desert and back to UB.

At the last minute Ingrid asked to join the 4 of us on the tour. An easy going art teacher from Belgium who travelled to remote regions of Burkina Faso, Oman and Algeria Ingrid passed the test -which consisted in eating Thomas’s pasta dish.
We were accompanied by Boogii our guide and Imbish who drove the van. Without them we would probably still be somewhere in Mongolia, lost as Nobody speaks English and there are NO roads outside of the cities.
left to right: 
Top: Horse guide 1, Horse guide 2, our guide Boogii, Thomas.
Bottom: Yumi, Edurne, Ingrid, Alberto.

Mongolia is huge: it is the 19th largest country in the world (I bet you didn't know it!): 12 times bigger than England, 2.5 times the size of France. 3million people live there (60% of the entire population living in the capital), leaving  immense empty spaces. 
Mongolia could be compared to Europe 5,000 years ago, meaning that if a storm comes, it will erase any proof that men were even here: no roads, only a few people living here and there in “gers“, the traditional Mongol house. It is round, white and about 5 meters in diameter. The yaks or horse would carry the parts of the ger on their back until the ideal spot is located. 

Out of 1,800km there were only 100km road and the rest were just tracks. The van although sturdy made us jump all over the place and the absence of seat belt made the bouncing on windows, doors…and ceiling hard to avoid. 

We had a Russian van in which 7 people, 4 tents, camping cooking stuff and everybody’s bags … and enough snacks for a few days could fit. The van was amazing, we crossed thigh high rivers -and only got stuck in one-, we drove once 9h a day where it felt like was inside an oven and the van took us wherever we wanted no matter how steep we were climbing. 

90% of the time it never let us down… 
once the petrol pump decided to stop functioning and we got stuck for 7h in a rather quiet place. A couple of hours later no 1 or 2 but 3 identical vans came and had the piece we needed…but it didn’t so our driver hopped into one of them and disappeared to the nearest city to find the piece. 

Break down area

3 identical vans in the middle of nowhere

Meanwhile we explored the area and went to a nearby ger. We thought it’d be the usual huge wrestlers living in there and that they’d love to throw Thomas on the ground as they usually do (we’ll come back to that) but found instead a family where girls knew how to play volleyball! In the middle of nowhere, in central Mongolia. Honestly…
Mikasa in Mongolia

Archery, horse riding and throwing Thomas away in wrestling bouts are the main sports in Mongolia. Thomas’s first lesson was in the 8 lakes regions when a local 19 years old horseman with thick leathery hands and not much fat but a lot of muscles around him showed the only Corsican in the area how Mongolian wrestling works. It's easy: Only the soles of your feet can touch the ground. If anything else does (like one of your limbs they have torn apart) you loose. Result: Mongolia 4 - France 0. The morning after another fight (and before breakfast!) ended up in an amazing draw 2 - 2. It felt life victory for Thomas. Note that it is not official to have 4 bouts, it’s about all Thomas can handle at 2,500m.

Another day and another family later, “Dagii” was willing to show Thomas a few moves. “Dagii” must have been his nickname cause he looked more like Goliath to Thomas. He was 6.1ft (185cm) and 250 pounds (115kg) and nobody thought about telling the poor Frenchman that Dagii had been a professional wrestler for 6 years and wrestler for over 20 years. The fight was intense: Thomas was grabbed, lifted off the ground and pushed away like a rag doll. He landed ungraciously in the grass a bit less than 10 seconds after the beginning of the fight. 
As you know Thomas, he gave it another go. He lifted one of Goliath’s legs but there was still a lot to lift before the huge Mongol would be in a dangerous situation. The other Mongols that gathered around told Yumi that the second bout was not bad at all. So Thomas -picking up his body parts scattered across the grass and yaks’ shits- was happy about this comment. Happy enough to give the 3rd bout a miss. There are unfortunately no pictures of the bouts between Thomas and Dagii but here are Dagii and Alberto.

They are very friendly and smiling. They always joke and leave the door of their ger opened in case somebody needs to come in. 
our 2 horse guides 

When our van broke down people tried to help us and got their hands dirty taking the engine apart. They would also invite you for horse milk or vodka anytime you stay with them. They know their neighbours, even if they are 50 miles away. Note that the 21st century Mongol does wear his traditional outfit but would sometimes ride a motorcycle rather than a horse. It is easier, faster and doesn’t consume as much grass as a horse.

Nomadic Mongols live in the plains in the summer and move to the mountains with their herds in the winter to get away from the wind chill which can make temperate plummet to -30 degrees. 

the famous girls

Semi nomadic people would go back to the nearest village in the winter. The last category is the City Mongolians: they stay in the city all year round.

We camped a lot and loved it. Sometimes it was hard to find wood but crossing rivers to get a log as all worth it. Fire and Vodka fuelled our nights. When we were not camping we stayed with some families in a ger. It’s much warmer and it is nice to sleep in a bed from time to time. Note that the mattress is in inch thick with wood underneath.

Camping. Vodka. Fire 

view from our hostel room

We visited the old capital Karakorum but the 5 of us preferred the steppes and mountain areas so we only visited the temple there and didn’t stay more than a few hours. 

We went horse riding for 2 days and many kilometers (many miles) in the 8 lakes region: our bums and legs were really sore but vodka helped to smoother the pain.

a Yumi, a camel, a sandstorm

We tried camel riding in the semi Gobi desert: Yumi's camel decided to go his own way waiting for the huge sand storm to catch up with us.

Thomas and K-mel

We hiked across volcanic fields and climbed on top of craters in the white lake area. 

Yumi looking at the 320m deep crater near the white lake

It is all too beautiful to give Mongolia justice describe so here is a sample of what we’ve done and seen. For more pictures check our Pics and Vids section with the best of Mongolia. 

 witnessing the sun rise in the Gobi desert

 fancy shot

practicing our tango moves