Sunday, November 13, 2011

South Korea - our 15th country

After 3 fantastic months we say "sayonara" to Japan and "ahn young!" to South Korea

 The first of many Korean BBQs eaten during our 10 day stay 

Having fun with technology 

 Inside Shinsengae, the largest department store in the world

Korea's great wall, Geumjeongsanseong Fortress

 Thomas in training to become a temple guardian

Inside Beomeosa temple

Love hotels are nice, clean, cheap and FUN places to stay in Korea 

 We loved our room so much we didn't want to leave it.  Huge flat screen tv, computer, jet stream bath, rain shower, fridge, tons of toiletries and best of popcorn!

The astronomical observatory of Cheomseongdae in Gyeongju

Anapji Pond

Monks at Bulguksa temple

Three Royal Tombs in Bae-ri

Warming up before the big hike

 It's no wonder why Koreans love to hike with views like these.  We felt a little out of place with our dull black jackets.  All the real hikers wore bright yellow, orange or pink jackets.  And don't forget the tight trousers! 

Luckily for Thomas we don't live in this house

Koreans take cycling seriously.  They left their helmets on for the entire show.

The traditional Korean mask dance was dragging on a bit when suddenly...

Guess who was chosen out of the all Korean crowd?  Here is Thomas receiving a box of treats for his dancing effort.  The other dancer Eyal kindly offered to let us stay at his place in Seoul.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cycle in Japan - part 4, 4th island and 4,000km!

The final instalment of the cycling adventure...

The locals introduced us to some hidden treasures.  Today we visited a tiny museum where we got to beat the heck out of some taiko drums and danced around wearing festival masks.

We were so fortunate on this day.  Exhausted after a day of hill climbs, we decided to stop at a michi no eki for the night.  An older motorcyclist and his friend advised that we push a bit further (mostly downhill) to some nicer places to stay.  They led the way and negotiated for us to stay at an animal park/campsite for free.  Then a young father and 2 children arrived to play with the animals.  The motorcyclist told the father about us and before we knew it, we were invited to his home for the night.  Kazu is part of a cycling family.  We were whisked away to dinner with the entire family - Kazu, his son, his parents, his grandmother and his brother and his family.  After filling up on barbequed beef and beers, we all went to an onsen.  We went to sleep that night clean, full and a bit tipsy.

The 16km climb up Aso san a bit hungover and in the heat was worth it.  We were rewarded with beautiful views, onigiris from some friendly locals and a fantastic downhill ride.  Yumi had her first tiny accident while caught in traffic on a very narrow road at the bottom of the mountain.  She attempted to hop a tiny curb and "crashed" into a stopped car.  A couple of sumimasens directed at the shocked couple inside the car and she was back on the road.    

A beautiful, blue day at the Peace Memorial in Nagasaki.  Once again, it was difficult to be proud to be an American after the visit.  There is absolutely no ill will towards the country that bombed them rather the city is focused on promoting peace.

After 2 months, it was time for Thomas to get a haircut.

Check out our bikes on the tiniest ferry of our trip.  2 bikes and 4 passengers made the 45 minute journey from Nagasaki to Amakusa.

Our last major climb of the trip was up Sakurajima, an active volcano overlooking Kagoshima. It spewed huge clouds of ashes while we were next to it so we ended up eating ashes and had our glasses covered with grey snow. 

It was hard not to stop and watch Sakurajima show off her power.

Rock on!

We reached the 4000km mark while on Sakurajima and she helped us celebrate the accomplishment with an extra big eruption.

80km to reach Cape Sata. There were lots of ups and downs on the way to the southern tip of Kyushu and we managed 91km (an extra 11km to go back North and find a great camping spot).  

This is the closest we could get to the southern most tip of mainland Japan.  We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.  No place to buy postcards, stickers or even a drink.  Fortunately, we brought our own brandy.

Hmmm....Cape Soya is only 2700km away.  Shall we head back up?

We made it to Cape Sata 59 days after leaving Cape Soya. We want to say a big thank you (or "Arigato Gosaimasu" as it is clearly written on the white pages) to everyone who offered us support and encouragement during our cycling adventure.  

For our last meal on the road we stopped at a somen nagashi. You start by putting noodles in a swirling container of ultra cold water.  You then catch them with your chopsticks and dip them in a tasty broth. Yummmmm…..

The Year 4 students at Ikeda Elementary school invited us to talk about our travels.  Upon  arrival, we were immediately surrounded by students wanting our autographs.  We felt like celebraties!  

After riding together for 4000km, we still like each other.  Now that’s something to celebrate!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cycle in Japan - part 3 Third island and 3,000km

Thomas made a friend on the ferry to Shikoku

Baseball is huge in Japan. This game was in Tokushima, the biggest city in Shikoku (263,000 people) and our arrival port on this island 

There are plenty of signs and statues on the road to keep us smiling.

Apparently this is a raccoon (on the left, of course). Thomas thinks it is a fat Ewok with a Vietnamese hat.

We have met many ohenro-sans during our ride along the southern coast.  These pilgrims walk 1,200km stopping at each of the 88 Sacred Temples around Shikoku.  They are hardcore!

1.2 km ride up to Temple 24.   Too busy cursing and sweating to enjoy the view on the way up and going way too fast to enjoy it on the way down.

Offerings left on the steps of the temple (5 yen coins).

 Although the clouds often hung around the horizon, the sunsets were still beautiful.

Sometimes you find hidden treasures during pee breaks.

It's not only people who stop and look at us.  3 of them decided to cross the road in front of us.

Shikoku's coastline is absolutely gorgeous.  We don't mind hill climbs with views like this.

Up until Shikoku, we had been averaging about 85km a day.  With all its interesting people, fantastic food and amazing scenery, our average has dropped down to 60km.

Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan.  Shinto shrines can be found everywhere: in between houses, on a tiny island, in a park, on the road in the middle of nowhere.  The main entrance to a Shinto shrine is a torii (gate), which is often painted a bright vermilion.

You also come across many natural shrines: waterfalls, trees and rocks decorated with Shimenawa (sacred rope).  

There are rest areas with clean, free toilets everywhere in Japan.

Having some fun at the beach. Seeing nobody on the beach for miles gave us a good clue. The current was too strong to go for a swim and being taken offshore was not part of our plans. 

A charming "gaijin" (foreign) couple on a deserted beach.

Thomas's makeshift tripod/artwork.

After only 47km of riding, we ran into Hagimori san (aka serious monk) who invited us to stay in his purpose built pilgrim rest area (zenkon yado).  We couldn't resist his charm and a free roof over our heads next to the beach.  After commenting that his "rest room" sign could be misinterpreted by Americans, he quickly put us to work to make new signs.  

29th September, 3000km completed and we still have big smiles on our faces.

We stopped in the cute little town of Tosakure to try Kochi prefecture's famous Katsuo no tataki (lightly charcoal braised bonito) -the bottom right plate that is-.  Delicious!