Our 5 week journey continues in 2019. The previous post can be found here. The Japanese journey continues into Kyushu; Hiroshima and Fukuoka
Wednesday, November 20
Today’s Shinkansen took us to Kumamoto where we walked the 3 km to our hotel. Again, a good reason to pack light. The kind man at the GR Ginzadori answered our questions about the town and how to get to Mount Aso. He was way more helpful than the staff at the last two hostels had been. That seems to be another oddity about Japan. In other countries we’ve found hostels are much more informative to budget travellers finding the hidden gems
We left our bags since it was too early to check in. Another thing with Japan. You NEVER get an early check in. I’m sure they had empty rooms but check in is 3 pm. Those are the rules. Follow them.
We walked the 3 km or so to Suizenji park. It’s a typical Japanese park but this one has a miniature Mount Fuji.
Next we boarded the tram and rode that to Kumamoto Castle. It was closed as it’s under construction. They’re still rebuilding it after damage done by the 2011 earth quake. You can walk around it and see the outside a bit.
The bus station is near there so we figured out how to reserve tickets for a bus to Mount Aso for the morning.
After checking in to the hotel and a brief rest we found some dinner and wandered for a bit. A Family mart stop was in order for breakfast food since we’ve got a fridge, an early morning and a long bus ride.
Always be on time for Japanese buses as they wait for no one. Ours left a minute early. Once outside the city the ride was scenic and soon we could see the volcanoes I even took pictures through the bus window which I rarely do.
At Aso station a kind young lady helped us purchase bus tickets to get up the mountain which, she assured us, was worth it in spite of the high trails and ropeway being closed. Aso is spewing lots of ash lately and they’re afraid of a major eruption so the top is closed to all visitors.
There’s not much to do on the top when you can’t climb so we messed around with photos and talked to random strangers until the bus came again and took us down to the museum parking lot. There we talked to a woman in the tourist info booth about hiking trails. One was not good as the wind was dumping ash on it so we chose the trail to Eboshi-dake. “It’s easy” she said. “It should take about 1.5 hours”
We forgot to ask the most important question “Have YOU done it?”
We allowed 3 hours, just in case and set off. The first pass was really easy. Up hill gave us a nice view of the spewing crater and there were lots of people there. Further on there were fewer. Then there were none and we started climbing. That should have been a big clue as to what lay ahead. There were steps but they a lot of them were broken. The path was narrow, often muddy and sometimes very slippery. Finally we reached the top and enjoyed the beautiful view of the caldera and behind.
Then down. We met a lady coming up with trekking poles. THAT would have been smart. She asked about the trail from the other way as she said this was was slippery. Uh oh. She wasn’t kidding. There were spots were I got down and did a crab walk, trying not to get my bum in the mud, grabbing the grassy stuff on the sides that was covered in volcanic dust.
At one point Sue was beside herself and I could only just reassure her that she was going to make it. For sure I couldn’t carry her!
Eventually we got past the worst and the rest of the hike was enjoyable.
Back at the centre we made sure to let the woman know that path is NOT easy and is very slippery. A wrong move could have you tumbling down a VERY steep mountain!
It took us just over two hours. Not bad for 2 crazy old women afraid of heights! We DO like to push ourselves outside our comfort zones 😉
A few buses last we were back in Kumamoto. Despite having the least amount of steps yet, we were tired and in need of comfort food. McDonald’s it was! We don’t have spicy terriyaki chicken burgers at home so we rationalised that we’re still trying something new.
Friday, November 22
We were lazy today and didn’t get started till about 10 am. It was a wet, miserable day anyway. The shinkansen got us to Kagoshima in less than an hour and we found our guest host, Little Asia, without a problem. For the first time this trip, he let us check in early. Nice!
After wandering around in the rain for a while and climbing a ridiculous amount of stairs for a view we couldn’t see for the rain, we thought, why not use the last day of the JR pass to get to Ubusuki? So we did.
The train trip took a good hour. It was just us and a bunch of high school students. Then a half hour walk to the spa. By that time it was almost 6 pm, dark and still raining.
After checking in and receiving our yakata and towels, we stood in the dressing room looking lost. A nice young lady drying her hair noticed and explained the process. Our clothing removed and yukata done up correctly, we walked outside and were given shoes and an umbrella and told where to go. There a man dug a space in the coarse, black sand for us and we laid down. Then he shovelled it on top. It was heavy and warm and at first I felt suffocated but then it just felt like a cozy warm blanket. We were told only 10 minutes. It felt SOOO good but digging my hands down made me realize it was hotter than we thought.
10 minutes up we put our shoes back on, picked up our umbrella, went back to the building and turned the stuff in again. In the change room off came the yukata and we rinse off the rest of the sand. Next was a sit down shower to use soap and remove the rest. Then it was time for the hot spring bath, sauna, cold pool, sauna, hot bath….yep. It was lovely!
With the walk back to the train, the train ride back to Kagoshima it was pretty much 9 pm so we found a restaurant in the station for a bowl of ramen and headed back to our guesthouse. A great way to end a rainy day!
With access to a free washing machine we took the opportunity to spruce up the wardrobe.
Then we headed for the Sakurijima ferry port and headed for the island. There we purchased a day pass for the island bus and did the whole one hour tour before choosing places to get off. First stop was the highest observatory. You can’t get closer than that to the volcano, as well, it’s ACTIVE, unpredictable and quite dangerous. They say there’s lots of warning before a major eruption though.
Next was the lava walk. That’s a nice 4 or 5 km walk through various stages of lava formations, all with a view of the bay. Sakurijima isn’t always visible but you can’t miss the ash constantly falling on you. It gets in your eyes and every where. I tried to keep my camera in my bag or covered all the time as that kind of dust can kill a camera.
A few more stops later and we’d had enough so boarded the ferry back to the city. There we found a McDonald’s and had one of their amazing, but cheap ice cream cones.
A lot of the streets are covered, not for rain, but for ash. Now I know why the city looks so dingy. It’s always got a dusty black / grey coating on it!
It took us a while to find a dinner place and settled on one where we got whale sashimi, deep fried fish paste and, cos you need veggies, cucumber salad. It was good to try but I wouldn’t want it all the time.
Sunday started with pouring rain. Which it proceeded to do all day. So we didn’t do much. Period.
The forecast said rain all day but then, lo and behold, around 2 pm the sun came out so we did as well. Wearing raincoats and carrying umbrellas just in case, we walked down to the pier to check on ferry tickets. You can’t purchase them until 7:40 am on the day of departure so I guess that means we leave early.
More wandering and checking out the myriad of stuff you can purchase and we ended up at a restaurant suggested to us by another guest at the hostel. At Keri we tried the local dish of tonkatsu which is a deep fried pork with assorted sides. It was delicious!