Mountains and monkeys
Trip Start Nov 24, 2010
89Trip End Nov 23, 2011
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I was immediately befriended by a pair of middle-aged Japanese men from Tokyo who invited me to share some white wine and nibbles with them. Before I came to Japan people had warned me that English-speakers were few and far between but I have met a lot of people who speak the language very passably and these guys were no different as we chatted about life and their jobs. Japanese people refer to the company they work for as
It is no surprise that news of my irresponsible decision to travel for a year at the expense of everything else normally causes shocked expressions on the faces of many of the Japanese I have met. It turned out that one of the men is the father of a famous actress in Japan. He wasn't keen to talk about it and I only knew because his companion brought it up. He was especially concerned that other Japanese in the hostel might overhear. Unfortunately I have forgotten her name but maybe it will come back to me... I think the wine went to my companions' heads faster than mine as they retired to bed early, leaving me to catch up on some writing.
I was up early the next morning to check on the weather. I wanted to go hiking and to climb Mount Karamatsu but I didn't want to do it in the rain. If I was going to do it I had been told I would need to catch the 7.53am train to Hakuba, just two stops away, as the next one was not until 10.10am. The weather looked pants so I resolved not to go... Only to be told, just when it was too late to get the train, that the forecast for the following day was rain all day,
I knew the last lift down was at 4.30pm and it was 10.30am so I had plenty of time to make it up to the top and then to retrace my steps. It wasn't going to be a repeat of the Roberts Point experience at Franz Josef in New Zealand. The first section leading up to Happo pond was pretty easy with a wooden walkway heading up so I took the steeper and rockier right-hand path to avoid the procession making its way up to the left. The pond was pretty enough but because of the low cloud there was no chance of seeing reflected peaks as shown in the tourist promo photos. It seemed most people were just heading to the pond and then heading back as the path onwards was pretty empty.
Everyone left on the trail was now pretty serious about hiking, decked out in expensive and brightly coloured gear with bulging backpacks and walking poles. And there was me in a T-shirt, rolled up trekking trousers and my faux walking shoes which, by this point in my travels, were starting to crumble a bit with a few of the rubber studs missing from the soles. There was a very friendly atmosphere on the path with everyone I passed bidding me 'konnichiwa'. The further I went the tougher the going got as the path cut along a
The path got narrower and narrower as the visibility rapidly diminished. Not the best conditions for crossing rickety bridges above very steep slopes. The first drops had started to fall when I rounded a corner and a
After about 20 minutes it looked like the downpour was abating so I ventured outside and was delighted to find the rain had passed. I wasn't going to hang around any longer as I wanted to get down the mountain before a repeat performance rolled in. The weather was really clearing up and going down was much easier than coming up. I know that sounds like an obvious statement to make but sometimes the going downhill can be harder than going uphill, especially when wet rocks are involved.
I plumped to take the wooden steps for the final section, just as the rain returned. I made it to the chair lift station and brought out poncho for the ride back down the mountain. I was pretty tired so, once back on the flat at the foot of the mountain, I decided to head for the station. Half-an-hour later and I was still walking so I was glad that I had missed the train that morning and caught the bus that took me right to where I was going. I made it to Hakuba station with a couple of minutes to spare and hopped on the train back to Kamishiro station and returned home (this place really felt like home) to enjoy a relaxed evening making use of the TV and DVD player, watching first Trainspotting (which I hadnae seen fer radging ages, ken) and Oh Brother.
A couple of kilometres later and I heard my first primate, just as I approached a small cluster of wooden buildings. And there he was, a bright red-faced monkey sitting in a tree munching away on some leaves. He soon tired of his perch and dropped down to the ground and began advancing through the undergrowth right towards me. Clearly this troupe of wild monkeys is totally unfazed by humans
I saw a pair of macaques on the roof of the first building I passed, one preening the other's rug of fur while it looked down sternly on the human activity passing by. Monkeys never cease to make me smile and my smile turned into a grin once I made to it to the hot pools favoured by the simian residents. There they were, just as I had seen in one of those awesome David Attenborough documentaries, soaking themselves and taking it easy in the warm water. A gaggle of baby monkeys busied themselves with a huge play fight in among the human onlookers, much like a cartoon fight where from time to time combatants are flung out of a frenzied blur of limbs. Monkeys were scattered up the slopes of the valley but they all came running down when food was laid out. I guess they have to keep the monkeys coming back somehow. Not completely there by chance, but certainly of their own free will.
And then the rain came so I said a hasty goodbye before getting undercover. It was just a short shower so I had plenty of time to make it back down to the bus stop for my ride back to Nagano and then back to Hakuba village, with only a 20-minute wait between buses. Back at the hostel I met an American father and son who had some interesting stories to tell. The father lost all his money in the property crash in the US and was now writing a screenplay about the real-life murder of an American who was rafting in the Peruvian Amazon basin. Meanwhile, the son had just finished a solo walk from Tokyo to Nagoya. I shared a couple of beers with them and swapped stories before going to bed as I had a train back to Tokyo the following morning. Back to the metropolis and hopefully some nightlife.