We travel the world in search of beauty and really it is right at our doorstep. With the lock-down easing we are into the ‘staycation’ portion of travel. Our friends M and G are coming from Calgary, Debbie is traveling from Vernon, I will arrive from home in Edmonton. We are to meet near Drumheller, ‘The Badlands’, at the Bleriot Ferry Campground.The goal is to kayak the Red Deer River. It is a mellow waterway, especially downstream of Red Deer. Our plan is to travel downstream from the campground to Drumheller on day one and on the second day start upstream and paddle to the campground.
Normally we don’t tend to leave home much in the summer. With skiing in the winter and international trips in the fall and spring, the summer has been a time to spend at home and regen.
When driving solo, the conversation is a lot less active. In fact other than cursing a driver or two it is non existent. This means more time to look about and see things.
The highway is calm and I have some time to look about. Man is the country side beautiful. It is mid growing season and the crops make a perfect carpet over the land. The green and yellow checker board is like a quilt, accentuating all the dips, rolls and hummocks. People from around the world are amazed at how flat the prairies are, but I’m from here and what amazes me is how rollie they are. You are always either at a high point with vision for miles around or at a low point in the middle of a cupped hand looking up 360 at the horizon and the inside of a bowl with that checker board carpet.
This year we have had a lot of rain. All the waterways are full. The rivers are running high, the beaches at all the lakes are shrinking, and all the ponds and swamps are full to the brim. The bodies of water add so much to the landscape painting that is constantly changing as I move along the highway. The dark blueish water edged with the bright green reeds and a backdrop of yellow and green crops is a vision of joy.
As I get close to my destination suddenly some of the fields are blue. A pale purplish blue. My guess is flax. I can’t say as I have ever seen flax before but by asking a few questions when I arrive at the campground and meet up with M & G, G confirms my suspicions.
Travel the world and whatever it is you are in search of , whatever it is you want to see, hear, touch, smell, or learn is just outside your backdoor.
COVID 19 has dashed all of our travel plans for this year. A scuba dive live-aboard in Cuba in April, reschduled. A scuba dive trip to Roatan, cancelled. Tours through Madagascar and Nambia, rescheduled. So where should we travel?? Alberta! No borders to cross and no long hours travelling.
We load up our camping gear and kayaks and drive about two hours south east of Edmonton to Big Knife Provincial Park. It is along Hwy 855, near Forestburg, along the Battle River.
The campground is first come first served so no reservations are needed. It has a walk in tenting area but it is dark and, mostly likely, mosquito infested. We decide on a site in Circle A, the RV and trailer side. The sites are large (to accommodate those big fifth wheels) and a slightly more open to everyone’s business than we like. But they are pretty nice sites and we choose one that will get morning sun and afternoon shade.
While cooking one day, we notice that we do not hear others cooking and sharing meals. It is quite quiet. We are the only ones outside doing this domestic chore, everyone else is inside.
The campground is nicer than I expected, with a playground, mowed areas, a boat launch, pit toilets and group camping (now closed). It has only 40 sites and since they are wide apart every site is usable. There are a couple of hiking trails, one to some hoodoos. We walk there one evening and supply some mosquitoes with their supper and are slightly underwhelmed with the hoodoo.
Kayaking is a joy on the Battle River, especially for a novice like me. The flow rate is extremely low so paddling upstream is not a chore. On our first day we paddle upstream for 50 minutes, turn around and come back in 25 minutes. We spy muskrats, ducks, cows, coots and a crane that we chase down the river.
After lunch, we paddle downstream to where the river widens out and becomes rather lake like. On the way back, we take a detour around an island and go further than we had planned. By the time we arrive at the boat launch I have very tired shoulders and core. We had picked the perfect day to spend on the water in our kayaks.
We spend the afternoon visiting with M & G who arrived while we are paddling. We maintain a social distance and have a great visit. The next morning, the four of us launch our kayaks and paddle up river. We go further than the day before and spot deer, pelicans, lots of tracks in the mud and a couple of carcasses. It is nice to visit and share observances with fellow paddlers.
On the drive home Murray and I make a brief stop at the Diplomat Mine Interpretive Site. We realize that we tend to get in car and just drive from point A to point B, so we are trying to visit interesting side stops. The Diplomat Mine, a strip mine, began operation in 1956 and supplied many customers with coal, including the Battle River Generating Station. A Marion 360, the largest shovel in Canada at that time, removed the overburden and another huge shovel loaded the coal into a hauler.
To increase capacity at the mine in 1962, the Bucyrus-Erie 950-B was brought in and was able to remove three times the quantity of overburden than the Marion 360. The machine was dismantled and all that remains on the site is the bucket.
On our drive home, we cruise by a pond with a beaver lodge in the middle and, lucky beaver, he had a satellite dish poked into the top of his house. I wonder how many channels he gets!
Our international travel plans have been disrupted so we are enjoying local travel, exploring new places for us that involve water and kayaking. Where to next?
I have finally posted photos of our travels through Singapore, Indonesia and Japan in the fall of 2019.
To view photos, hover over “Photos” until the drop down menu appears. All three destinations are are under the “Asia” subheading. Hover over a continent and another drop down menu appears with the three destinations listed separately. Click on the destination in the drop down menu. Wait until the photos load. Click on the first photo and a “slide show” view will appear. Scroll through the photos using the arrow on the right hand side or the arrow key. Click on the “x” in the upper right hand corner to exit out of the slide show. Enjoy!
When we started planning this trip with R & L we were advised by a tour guide living in Kyoto that we would be in Japan near the busy season and should book all our accommodation in advance. At one of the our first meetings we decided to book a range of different types of hotels. We divided up the work and kept each other informed whenever a booking was confirmed.
We stayed in 12 different places and each hotel had its own personality. Arriving in Japan, Tokyo is our first stop. It is very big so to choose one area over another to stay in is impossible. It is the hotel that determines our set down point. The Edo Sakura is a very small boutique ryokan. There are western style rooms available but we chose to jump right in and reside in a Japanese style, 6 tatami mat room. Great place with wonderful staff. Breakfast, either western or Japanese, is available for a small charge.
Place 2 we did not book in advance. A category 5 typhoon is about to hit Tokyo and we cut out early leaving the last night’s rent at the Edo Sakura on the table. On the way to Osak,a L uses the trains internet to book a room. We use a taxi to find our way to the Minn Juso. Nice enough place but the area left a bit to be desired. Ladies of the evening gathered on the corner nearby and the night clubs are on the next street. So the clientele are young, rowdy and noisy. This results in the fire alarm ringing at 3am and us heading out into the rain until someone could clear the alarm.
The morning saw us head to nearby Kobe. We stayed in the Guesthouse Geragera on the shores of the Inland Sea. The rooms are dormitories and booking a whole room is possible. This we did. All 4 of us shared a room of about 150 sq. ft. Four bunk style beds and a fantastic view when we opened the door. It is a very casual place and the staff are great. It was a fun start to our road trip.
Onward to Tokushima on Shikoku Island. Here L found an older Japanese house to rent on Air b&b. We stayed for two nights and cooked breakfast and dinner in. The space is small by North American standards but we had more than enough personal space and were able to breathe once again. Interesting to see how the Japanese see and use space.
Our next destination, the Iya Valley and the very plush Kazurabashi Ryokan. It doesn’t really fit my image of a ryokan, which would be a small b&b type place. To me it is more of an old style luxury hotel. The rooms are Japanese style and the food, which is included, is oh so Japanese. It is our first encounter with an onsen and it is high class to match the rest of the digs.
Back in an urban environment we moved into the MyStays business hotel in Matsuyama. It is set up for business travelers in Asia and therefore quite small. The rooms are nice enough and adequate for the one night we spend there. It is close to the Matsuyama Castle and restaurants.
For Hiroshima, it was the Hana Hostel, to keep overall costs down. Central location to sights and restaurants. The building and rooms are slightly worn, but it was adequate for one night’s stay. It is near the train station so trains rumbled by. The sound wasn’t overpowering and it did stop in the middle of the night.
The Izumo Green Hotel Morris, had small western style rooms which were cozy and fine for one night. Most hotels offer a breakfast buffet, for a cost of about $7 Cdn, of a combination Western and Japanese foods. We partake in their offering and it is satisfying. This chain has hotels in other locations so would be handy to book more than one location.
Tottori’s Drop Inn advertises itself as a luxury capsule hotel/hostel/guesthouse. It is well appointed, clean and a must stay in if one ends up in Tottori. The capsules were large enough for 6’4’ R to sleep in comfortably. We felt safe and all slept well. Cool place and my favourite.
Kyoto’s Hotel Ninja Black was also a favourite. It is a small boutique hotel decorated in …… ninjas. It is only a few years old, well kept, clean design, western rooms and perfect for us. We would stay there again if we found ourselves in Kyoto in the future.
We wanted to go to Koyasan and do a “temple stay”. We booked at the Ekoin, recommended to us and boasts high reviews. It was very well appointed and totally what we were not expecting. We thought we would be “roughing it” but it was almost the caliber of the Iya Valley ryokan. Very Japanese, of course, with tatami mats, futons, onsen and sitting cross legged at low tables for meals.
We splurged in Mt Fuji and L booked western style Volcano view rooms at the Fuji View Hotel in Kawaguchiko. Totally worth the extra to get a view of Mt Fuji first thing in the morning. I dragged the easy chair in front of the window so I could eat my breakfast and watch the sky change over Mt Fuji. The onsen is wonderful and not too crowded. The hotel was slightly removed from the center of the town, but we made use of the free shuttle and the sight seeing buses to get around.
We all had our favourite places that we stayed in, but overall, we enjoyed every one. It was a great way to experience Japanese hospitality.
Toilet installment number 5 (maybe). I have seen this several times but it just dawned on me today that I have not mentioned it. On some toilets the lid of the tank is a basin. The fill water tube is a spout and you can wash your hands with the new fill water thereby using slightly grey water to flush the toilet and saving on water at the bathroom sink. Every little effort counts and this would add up over time. Bravo Japan!
An interesting bit of trivia R brought up the other day. Tokyo and Kyoto are the same letters with the syllables reversed. Don’t know the significance but it is an astute observation.
We have traveled in many Buddhist countries. One thing they have had in common up until we got to Japan is the monks live a life of austerity. Not completely poor or lacking in today’s amenities, but not lavish. For instance, the monks in Myanmar walked the residential streets each day and the locals made offerings of rice and other food so the monks could eat. Observing the temple residents in Japan and after our visit to Koyasan, and the thriving tourist business there, I think the Japanese monks live quite a high life. There may be some temples far away from civilization where things are different but except for having to believe in a deity being a monk here might not be so bad.
Something the folks in Koyasan should work on is the bus schedule. Considering it is a tourist destination the buses are not convenient to what the people would use. Eg. one of the buses stops at 5 after the hour, the next bus on that route is 55 after the hour. The town is not very big so walking is possible but I think catering to the hand that feeds would be a good idea.
I am still amazed at how little garbage there is on the street. Only a few trash cans are placed along the sidewalk and yet no one tosses waste on the ground. There was one place where this was not the case. On the most touristed avenues in Kyoto, Hanamikoji Dori. On our last day there Debbie and I went for a walk and as we turned off the Gion Shijo to walk along the canal there was a noticeable increase in the amount of junk laying on the ground. Tourists!
Traveling along we have passed through many forests. The palette of green is extensive. The mountain sides are solid with trees. The different grouping of trees are distinct and distinguishable by the shade of green of the foliage. Back in the days of film, Kodak, a North American brand of film, was known of it’s warm colors, reds and oranges, while Fuji, a Japanese film, was known for the green shades. Experiencing nature in Japan has made that difference completely understandable.
Another Japanese anomaly. It can be 8pm, completely dark and on the curb aligning a street no wider than one car width, with no cars in sight in any direct, will be a person or two waiting for the light to change from wait to walk. This does not even happen in Canada.
An onsen is basically a hot tub. It is part of Japanese life. Unlike hot tub use in most of the world there is a ritual performed each time one uses the onsen. The onsens are separated male and female. There is a locker room or at least a change room to leave your Yukata, a robe similar to Kimono, in. You must be naked, no clothing what so ever is allow in the onsen pool. Then, seated at a counter that has a hand shower, a water spout, a wash pan, and all the cleaning liquids you might need you must cleanse your body. You do this seated on a very short stool. Do not stand. Once clean you can get in the 43C water. Your wash cloth comes with you, is folded and placed on your head. It is very bad form to let it touch the water.
Soaking in the tub is quite zen inducing and all the aches and pains from the days long walk abate. I don’t think I will rush out and buy a hot tub but it is nice to pamper ourselves with one of our hosts indulgences.
The fancy hotels we have stayed at offer the wash clothes as a gift. Only thing is they are odd shaped and not very good quality. I appreciate the gift but do not know what to use the towel for once we get it home. Today sitting at our picture window musing on Mt. Fuji I found out what the Japanese use them for. They clean the morning dew off the windows of their Ferraris.
Debbie here with a note about wearing yukatas. The yukata comes down to my ankles. It is wrapped right side first then left side over the right side and tied with a narrow obi, which is wrapped a couple of times around my waist. The right and left wrapped sides go half way around my body making walking with a normal stride impossible. I need to shorten my stride considerably. Add some slippery toed socks and slippery slippers too large for my feet and I do a short stride shuffle down the hallway to the onsen trying not to wipe out and kill myself!
The bus is the way to get around Kawaguchi. We sit on the side of the highway waiting for our chariot to arrive. The roads around here are twisty and turny. We watch as group after group of riders on big motorbikes thunder by. Next an off road vehicle passes with tires the size of those on a monster truck. Then a couple more. Soon there is enough of them passing we think there must have been a congregation somewhere close. A pair of Porsches are the first of about 20 to pass in the span of about 5 minutes. This popular tourist area is a short drive from Tokyo and it looks as though it is the place of choice for groups of like minded drivers to come for a Sunday of pleasure riding.
The area we are in is known as The Five Lakes. There are, of course, 5 lakes. We toured the area a bit and on one of the lakes I noted something a bit out of the ordinary. Several fishermen were making their way back to the shore in the SUP’s. It’s not what you think. These were stand up paddle boats. Small boats that look like ordinary row boats but the operator stands at the bow of the boat and with a long paddle maneuvers the boat much like a stand up paddle boarder would.
Lunch this afternoon was a burger. R had told us about a burger joint he had spotted from the bus yesterday. So when we found ourselves a short distance from it we thought we would forgo noodles and opt for something our stomachs would find more familiar. When we got to the place and saw its name was Sugeez (My brother has been known as Suggy to his friends since high school.) I think it was fate. It is a popular funky little restaurant on the side a heavily traveled highway in tourist land. The interior is decorated in Bob Marley and Americana brick a brac. The owner had lived in Hollywood for a time. The burger satisfied our burger craving but the texture was not as North Americans would expect. I don’t think ground beef is easily obtainable in Japan as the patty was made from chopped up beef and rather chunky.If you need a burger fix while in Mt Fuji, stop by.
Today’s highlight was a museum of work by Itchiku Kubota. The show is literally mind blowing. He designed, dyed, and constructed kimonos as art. He built his own museum to display these pieces. The building and gardens are wonderful in themselves but when we enter the main gallery we stop in our tracks. Each one of the kimonos on display is a masterpiece. Check these out; picture gallery, Itchiku Kubota Museum, Itchiku Kutbota info. In 1996 Mr. Kubota had a show at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. He is the only person to have a show in that venue while still alive.
We are leaving Mt Fuji to go to Tokyo and then home. Japan has been wonderful and enlightening. Good bye for now!
Japan is not just about the visual. All my senses are engaged as we travel.
We smell soy sauce each time we pass the corner shop near our hotel in Kyoto and the aroma intrigues us. They are brewing the salty blackness in the back of the shop! We buy some to take home.
Strains of a song being played on a Japanese three string guitar waft out into the alley as we stroll by. I stop to enjoy the unusual notes.
We missed fall in Edmonton, but we experience the leaves turning bright red and golden yellow in Koyasan.
I attend a Buddhist service and fire ceremony this morning in Koyasan. The monks chant through the service, sometimes one voice and sometimes four voices. It creates a buzzing in my head and allows my mind to wander. During the fire ceremony, I sit right behind the monk playing the drum, the vibration of that drum goes right through my chest. The flames of the fire are mesmerizing as they dance to the chanting and drumming.
The softness of the silk kimonos and scarfs that I peruse in the shops is a delight to my fingertips. There are cotton scarves in Japan that feel so unlike cotton. I end up buying one of them.
The taste of miso soup for breakfast. Salty, warm and invigorating.
Sinking into the hot warmth of an onsen eases the aches and tiredness from traveling. The water relaxes me and prepares me for the next day.
Beep boop is the music at the the street crossings. Ding dong is the music of the bus stop call button. Bing bong is the music of someone at our room door ringing the bell.
The thunderous drumming of the rain on the roof in the middle of the night.
Last night we arrive at the Fuji View Hotel, one of the grande dames of the Fuji area hotels, in the dark. At 5.45am I open the drapes and am awe struck. ‘Debbie get out of bed now.” were the first words out of my mouth. It is unusual to see Mt. Fuji without any clouds but we seem to have good luck with mountains and a blue sky backdrop.
Mt Robson, in Canada, is hardly ever without a wisp of cloud at the top. Debbie and I backpacked the trail to the north side and when we awoke there was nary a cloud to be seen.
We were in Tibet and had to see Everest. The guide was worried we would not see the mountain for the cloud cover. I told him not to worry it would be clear. We turn the last corner and there was Mt. Everest in all its glory on a canvas of blue.
First a taxi, then a fast train, then a slow train, then a train that gets split in two part way through the journey, then an inclined train and finally a bus. This is what it took for us to arrive at the Ekoin, a temple stay in the town of Koyasan.
I must say we are a bit shocked as we were expecting a roughish experience, the town reminds us of Jasper, or Banff in its early days. There are even tour buses on the main road. Unfortunately, this is a money making tourist stop. The monks here don’t live a cloistered, meager existence.
Our accommodation is fairly nice, not rough at all. Japanese style rooms with futons, shared bathrooms, onsens, and gorgeous views. Heaters in the rooms, which is wonderful as it is chilly outside.
There are multiple shrines in the area along with a couple of very prominent ones. The draw is the Okunoin Cemetery which is 1200 years old. According to legend no one is dead in Okunoin, only waiting souls. The 2 km walk through the grounds is packed with grave markers, monuments, statues and headstones. It is late afternoon and the light makes it an eerie walk.
It is pouring rain. Our umbrellas keep our torsos dry but our feet and pant bottoms are getting soaked. Fortunately, L has our adjoined room toasty warm when we get back from our walk. We have set up our shoes and pants are drying in front of the heater. Should be good to go tomorrow morning.
Supper is a vegetarian meal, as befitting the temple guidelines, and Murray actually manages to eat a substantial amount of the offerings. I am supposed to go to the onsen, but now that my tummy is full and I am warm, I do not want to move out of my cozy den. May just go to sleep……
Last day in Kyoto and the weather is stunning. Sunshine, 20Cish and no wind. Great for a walk in the city. Today is a day for shopping. Any touristy sites are an adjunct.
I remember using cash in Canada. Now I exclusively use a credit card. Cash is still really important here and the one thing I have had to relearn is coin management. It is unconscious when you deal with cash all the time, something one does automatically. When I hand over bills every time I buy something I get coin change. Soon my pocket is bulging and the weight is pulling my pants down. So I have now got into the habit of seeing if I can purchase things with the metal in my pocket.
Eggs. Japanese like their eggs. (I guess by extension I guess chickens are important.) It is very common to have eggs, raw or cooked, with just about any restaurant meal you can order. Soupish things come with a raw egg. The egg is broken into the boiling liquid and stirred into what ever soup is ordered. Noodle and rice dishes have an egg on top of the food. It can be fried or raw. There are fried egg sandwiches, hard boiled eggs for breakfast, eggs for lunch, and eggs for dinner. With Debbie being extremely sensitive to eggs we have to make sure an egg is not included with what she orders. I on the other hand am quite fond of eggs so it is all good with me.
Two cool 21st century things in Japan. First is rather basic. The close the elevator door button on the elevator actually works. At home I think they put those buttons on the panel to help with folks who think they are in a hurry and a second waiting for the door to close is too long. Here you push the button and the door responds immediately. WOO HOO!
The second is something that could be instituted elsewhere but is a little more complicated. At each bus stop in Kyoto there is a pole with indicators telling you what bus will arrive next and when your bus can be expected. I think this is done with some sort of GPS locator and software but obviously it can be done.
Our first day Koyto we tried to get about using the metro and found it to be quite cumbersome. Unless you were near a station and were headed to someplace near another station you are in for a long walk. Yesterday we ventured onto the bus and have used it the last two day. In Kyoto the bus system is the transport system of choice.
Last night we tried to find a street I had seen photos. We strolled through Gion and did not find the alley I had in mind. We came back to the hotel and I did a bit more research. Today we headed back to the area and strolled down Pontocho Alley. The image I had seen came to life. It would be much better after dark with all the shadowy building facades and the restaurant lanterns lit up but the crowds would be just ugly and we had the place to ourselves so the trade off was in our favor. The highlight was the vision of another geisha strolling down the street a couple of hours before she had to get ready for work. Although she was not made up in white, her clothing, hair, the way she walked and her general demeanor announced her as a geisha.
Something quite common in Japan is seating at restaurants for the people waiting in line for vacant seats. Since the restaurants are so busy they are used often. It is quite a nice amenity.
The other day I mentioned there are not many people engrossed in the cell phones while walking down the street. I think I realize why. It is a social faux pas to eat and drink while walking. If you stop at a food kiosk, to be proper, you are to step to the side of the street to consume your purchase. This has been in place for ages (don’t know how long) and it is a short leap from there to not using a phone while walking.
Debbie was all excited about coming to SE Asia and being able to eat almost everything on the restaurant menus. The reality is things here are not all rice based with grilled meat and vegetables. Most things are deep fried with batter. Batter is a gamble, it is likely made of wheat and could have egg in it. In Japan almost every thing contains egg. The only noodles not made from glutinous wheat are soba and they are not as common as udon or ramon. If we duck into an Italian restaurant for a break from noodles most of the food uses cream sauces rather then the go to tomato sauce used at home. So all in all it is not the free for all expected but very similar to food we eat on a regular basis.
Silk is another thing that has not matched expectations. Debbie wanted to buy a silk scarf. Japan is regarded as a source of very fine silk. So purchasing a silk scarf, even if it is expensive, should be a simple task. We find silk scarves are not that easy to find and once found the selection is not very good. In the end Debbie did not find one she liked. Instead she chose a cotton scarf tie dyed in the indigo shibori fashion.
We have seen a lot of rabbits in Japan. Not of the live variety, but sculptures, stuffed toys, as graphics on umbrellas, ceramic ornaments, and just about every inanimate form imaginable. Debbie thought they must have some cultural significance. Using the ever accessible internet, she finds out rabbits appear in many of the old myths handed down through the Japanese oral tradition. In olden times it was a symbol of spring, today they represent cleverness and self devotion.
Tomorrow its trains and rain as we venture to Koyasan, south of Osaka and a hot bed of temples of the Shingon side of Japanese Buddhism.