Sunday, June 24, 2012

Japan 5: paper cranes and a bruised bottom

Even after Hiroshima's horrible past, this peaceful picturesque city has a very calming atmosphere and makes it difficult to imagine the devastation that occurred years before.

Arek and I: Rocking the face masks
After a relaxing week in Hiroshima visiting the A-bomb site and the informative peace museum I bid farewell to Arek in Hiroshima I set off to Shikkoku, the island to the east of Honshu and south of Kyushu. 

The special thing about this surprisingly not well known route, called Shimanami Kaido, was that you could cycle over a series of 6 islands, 7 bridges covering 70kms. After talking to two awesome Canadian guys, Evan and NIck, at my guest house in Hiroshima about the cycle I managed to rope them in. 

As you can see from the map above the route starts in a little town called onomichi and ends at Imabari on Shikoku. The train from hiroshima to onomichi was an adventure in itself. Once again I was the only westerner on the train and did not understand the directions the lady at the ticketing office had given me in Japanese, which made the four train transfers pretty confusing. I wondered if I would actually arrive. It was slightly unnerving to be told (or rather mimed) by an older Japanese lady to keep my valuables safe and out of reach. Potential thieves in Japan? What was I heading for? 

Jealously I watched as the express train drove past with its plush seats and foldout food tables. I wondered whether it would have been worth spending that extra $15 to join Evan and Nick on that train zooming by. But knowing me I literally take the cheapest option available all the time whether it be food, drink, accommodation and transport I always take the cheapest option. But still the tediously long journey on multiple trains sitting next to slightly dodgy Japanese people saved me half of what the shinkansen would have cost. And every cent counts!

After we all met at Onomichi, the long bike ride began. It can be done in either one or two days, and knowing my fitness levels I opted to take a rest along the way so we stopped for the night on Ikuchijima island after 4 hours of cycling in a little town called Setoda. After riding around looking for two possible hostels I had scribbled down beforehand, the sun was set and the island dead at 9pm at night. So we decided to go with the only available accommodation open, a little overpriced guest house with its own onsen. It was certainly worth the splurge to relax in the onsen after the long days ride. 

Nick, Evan and I in front of the largest suspension bridge in the world! 
The scenery was the best I had seen in Japan and probably the best I have seen on this trip too. Imagine island hopping across small traditional style towns, surrounded by green mountains, crystal blue beaches, white sand and then in contrast to the natural scenery you have the amazing jaw-dropping bridges connecting each island together. 

The toll booths charging you each time you cross a bridge. The prices ranged from 50cents to $2AUD

Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridge. The world's longest suspension bridge structure at 4kms long. It spans over a couple of islands.
The ride was a breeze most of the way, apart from the slight inclines up to the bridges. The way the paths were organised was so Japanese, so perfect and ordered. The second day was a longer 5 hour ride, offering even more spectacular views as we crossed the last of the bridges, including the longest three span bridge in the world! I said farewell to Evan and Nick (not for the last time, as they then followed me to Seoul after!) and made my way South to explore the Island Shikkoku some more. 


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