Saturday, January 05, 2013

Nippon Extremities: Hokkaido XII

August 17, 1997

Up around five.  I started breakfast, and as I poured water in the pot, I noticed that it was yellow.  I'd run out of water on my descent the day before, and had collected this water from the waterfalls where I had showered.  In the dark, I hadn't noticed that this water was tainted by sulfur.  It would've meant terrible cramps and stomach trouble had I cooked with it.  In hindsight, that bear had been a lucky omen.

I gave up on breakfast and broke camp.  Walking down the road, I startled a family of deer on a rise above me, the doe pushing her fawn back toward the woods, and the buck silhouetted in the early light, making 'yelp' like sounds.  Until that moment, I never knew deer had voices. Not far beyond them I came to the waterfalls again, and only now did I see the signs warning people not to camp here due to the "severe bear activity."  

I hitched a ride to Shiretoko-go-ko but it wasn't yet open, presumably to let the bears return to the deeper forest after a morning of foraging.  While waiting, I let myself into the men's room in order to wash my face in the sink.  I wandered amidst the lakes on wooden planks built above the marsh.  All the way I was feeling tired and bear-phobic.  

Then began a long series of short rides between road junctions.  I finally ate my breakfast on a jetty in Rausu.  I was picked up there by a young couple who drove down the coast, the Russian islands visible not far offshore. ( On a roadside sign nearby a sign;  "Give us back our occupied islands!")  The couple took me out along a peninsula much like Cape Hatteras, then getting  terribly lost, they dropped me off then picked me up three more times. I wandered awhile down through the flat farmlands.  My last ride was with a somewhat clueless girl and her "cool guy" boyfriend, all the way to my door.  

I spent the afternoon unwinding, went to the onsen and the grocery store. After more than two weeks away, Shin Shizen Juku was much the same, the same dull poses in the living room.  I met the new folks:  Peter, very British and very dull; and Uli, so desperate to find a Japanese husband that she asked me where to find one, as if I'm Chuck Woolery or something.  While I was away, a letter came from my German friend Mark, who I'd met when I lived in Hong Kong.  He was coming to Japan, and I instantly decided that Yonago was a better venue to meet.  I'd only been back a few hours, but already decided to hitch out tomorrow...


--Why so many SDF recruiting offices?

--Why publish a road atlas called "Zig-zag?"

--Why do so many drivers make a U-turn to give me a lift, as if my foreign status is the sure reason for the ride?

 -- How many people in Japan have my picture?  
(Japan in 1997 was crazy about 'print-club,' a photo booth that was in nearly every convenience store.  If I hitched a ride with young people, they always wanted to stop and get a photo together.  This must have happened dozens of times that summer.)

On the turntable:  R. Carlos Nakai, "How the West was Lost"

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