Day 1
Oct. 8, '02
Kashiwara (Osaka pref.) - Arida (Wakayama pref.)
100 km
Weather: morn. - rain/clouds, eve. - clear
Avg. speed: 20km/h

Ever since we moved to Kashiwara, just south of Osaka city, in the northern part of Kii peninsula I had thought about visiting the southern remote and untouched parts of the peninsula, one of the places in japan where time moves at much slower pace than in Tokyo. It was the first long-distance bicycle trip and I was very excited.

I planned to leave at about 8 o'clock, but because of the rain I had to postpone my departure until noon. For the first 10 km I followed a highway. I wanted to get to the route 26 which connects Osaka with Wakayama in the south. The road sucked. There were trucks, trucks, and more trucks. Route 26 was a little better. Although there was not much to see along the road. It was wide with 2 and sometimes even 3 lanes and at least I felt a bit safer than on the narrowere roads. The pavement was smooth. I had to take a 15 min. break 15 km before Wakayama because of the pouring rain. After 15 min. I continued cycling even though it stilll continued to rain. It did eventually stopped in Wakayama, but not before I was soaking wet.

I reached Arida town south of Wakayama after a little over 4 hours of riding. My speedometer read 100 km from Kashiwara. After a while of searching I located a small park near a tiny fishing port and decided to pitch the tent there after dark. There were houses nearby and some kids played in front. I didn't want anybody to see me putting up a tent and I thought that it would be much better to come back there after the sunset.

I decided to look for a sentou or an onsen. 2 shop ladies directed me to a hotel at a nearby hill where there was an onsen. There was an onsen alright, but for Y1000. Nuts. I climbed the hill for nothing. After getiing disappointed I rode back to town and was directed by an old man to a local sentou (NAKANO BASHIO). The man led me for about 10 min. inside of Arida's "medina" through tiny alleys where cars wouldn't fit, until we reached this small, obscure place that didn't even look like a sentou from outside. The alley with its buildings and the entrance door to the sentou looked like a scene from Kurosawa's movie in which action takes place in the Samurai times. Before, I visited a similar place in Beppu, Kyushu which was even free of charge. It was very, very old and the bathhouse in Beppu as well as the one in Arida had nothing to do with tourists and I think, I was the first non-local to be there. It was a traditional bathhouse made for the locals and not a spa made for tourists. There were holes in the walls and the paint wherever there were no holes was peeling. Still it had a very cozy atmosphere and I would choose that place over most of the tourist onsens that we have visited.

I soaked there for an hour and then I rode back to the previously located spot, set up the tent, called Ewa forom a pay phone and went to sleep.
I was a little tired and cold. My shoes were still wet. I was glad to be passed Wakayama city already, the last large city on my route and was looking forward to the next day.

Day 2
Oct. 9, '02
Arida (Waka. pref.) - Hikigawa (Waka. pref.)
118 km
Weather: Sun/clouds
Avg. speed: 21km/h

At around 2 or 3 am I was awaken by what sounded like a squadron of choppers flying in circles above my tent. Later, when I opened the tent, I discovered that the noise was the fishing boats preparing for departure.

After sleeping for another few hours, I got up at 9, ate some hamburgers and talked a little to kids who came there on a school excursion to catch bugs. Until Arida the road was pretty flat, but after the town it became hilly. The hils weren't neither long nor steep, but I was very surprised to find hills at all there because the road ran right next to the seacoast. Finally I reached Shirahama, the place I had always wanted to visit. The first sight of all the hotels was a little disappointing though. The beaches were much better. They were white and empty, but only because it was out of season. I could imagine the crowds during summer. The sand looked great and I even brought some back for Ewa only to find out that it is not natural. The beaches were artificially made with sand brought to Shirahama. Great! So many of my former students back in Tokushima told me about these famous white sands in Shirahama, but not even one mentioned that they were not real. I guess it wasn't that important. Anyway, the plus was that they were deserted. For me it was still summer, but for the Japanese it was already fall.

Probably the biggest highlight of that day was the natural onsen (SAKINOYU) located right on the seashore. Unlike so many of them, this one was a natural hot spring (extremely hot). Somehow it hasn't been privatized and it was free of charge. The shape of the tub has been naturally carved by the flowing water and it has been preserved that way (citing the info board). The water was very hot and it smelled of sulfur. The onsen is outside and it would be possible to see the sunset from there over the ocean if they changed the closing hours. When I visited Shirahama, it was open until 5 p.m. If there is no one watching it after the closing hours, it is possible to enter it from the sea side.

Near the hot spring there were bunch of house with chimneys running through them. The chimneys were constantly blowing white smoke that smelled of sulfur. It was coming from underground and when the people built their houses on top of those natural ventilators they had to somehow get rid of the smelly gas, so they built those chimneys. They're also very common in Beppu (Oita pref., Kyushu island) and in much greater numbers.

From Shirahama I rode for another 20 km to a town called Hikigawa where I decided to stay for the night. After locating a camping spot near the service stop (eki no michi), I soaked for an hour in a FURUSATO onsen. The onsen itself was nothing special. It looked like hundreds other hot springs in Japan. The plus was that it was empty at some point and I was able to wash some of my dirty clothes. The water contained some elements that made the water feel really soft. After soaking for more than an hour in the hot water, the natural thing would have been to eat supper and go to bed. Unfortunately, my menu included hot noodle soup and there was no convenience store in the town. I found a supermarket though where I was able to buy apple bread and milk. I called Ewa and went to bed.

Day 3
Oct. 10, '02
Hikigawa (Waka. pref.) - Shingu (Waka. pref./Mie pref.)
105 km (88 by bike & 17 by car)
Weather: Sunny
Avg. speed: 17km/h

It was much warmer than the previous night. I woke up at 8, packed the bike, and left the spot. After a few kilometers I stopped for breakfast. Finally, I was able to eat hot noodles. The view was becoming better and better. The only negative thing was the rolling hills.

I had another break in a little town called Wabuka in Susami district. It was morning and because I'm not a morning person the hills managed to exhaust me. I stopped to have a coke and a smoke. Near the store was a bus stop by which a middle-aged man was fixing a cash register. He asked me a few questions (the usual ones), answered mine and it turned out that he was from Osaka. The guy drove his van around Kansai together with his wife fixing cash registers. His English wasn't bad and it was much better than his wife's. I enjoyed the conversation very much. We, of course, promised to meet again back in Osaka and when I was about to take off my new friend invited my for lunch.

I was getting a little hungry already, so I was happy to hear that. We drove south for a while until we found a restaurant. We ate and talk some more, but I had to keep going. Besides the lunch (huge tempura bento), the guy bought me a big jar of honey saying that it will give me energy when I need it on the other side of the peninsula. His wife gave me some glass figurines for Ewa and after thanking them I was ready to go. Then my new friend came up with another great idea of the day - to drive me all the way to the southernmost point of the Kii peninsula located 36 km away.

On the way to the van three of us had ice creams and then left for Oshima island which is the southernmost point of Kii peninsula. We exchanged phone numbers and made plans for getting together in Osaka. I thanked them for everything and was on my own again.

There was nothing special there except for a Turkish museum. The museum was established there to honor the death of seamen from Turkey whose ship crashed on the rocks just of the shores of Oshima island. Actually, it was built to serve as a tourist magnet. After taking some pics I turned around and was on my way to Shionomisaki located on the other side of the island.

On the way to the main land I came across a tiny local festival at a small shrine. I stopped to take a few pics and was immediately invited to a table where some men where eating and drinking. They told me later that it was the first time for the villagers to interact with a foreigner. While we were eating and drinking a lion dance was taking place and after the performers stopped dancing, we all drove to another place to eat and drink some more.

This time it was a bar/restaurant kind of place. Of course the men went inside and immediately started drinking. Some people stayed outside and the dance began again. After an hour of eating and drinking (mostly) we got in the cars and drove to another restaurant to repeat the same thing.

By now everybody was pretty drunk and I was receiving offers to pitch my tent in their backyards. I was also told that during the dance the names of people who offered money were being called out and I was asked wether or not I wanted my name to be called out. The price for it was Y1000. I didn't have much with me, but I paid, they called my name and everyone was happy.

We got in the cars again and this time I was driven to Shimonoseki instead of the next restaurant. On one hand I didn't mind because I had 30 km to go before reaching Shingu, my destination. On the other hand though, it was kind of strange for this guy to give me a ride if I was offered a stay at some other people's places.

A word about the festival. It seemed like a group of people was visiting every restaurant in town starting at the local shrine and upon their arrival the tables were set up with food and drink. Everyone (I think) was asked to pay Y1000 (likely more) and in exchange could eat drink as much as he/she wanted. The restaurant of course made a donation to the priest of the local Shinto shrine. In exchange the gods would protect those places from bad spirit. Basically, the gods would help them profit. It seemed like everyone there was satisfied. The priest and the "performers" who toured the town received certain amount of money from the owners of the places they went to, and the restaurant owners received Y1000 (likely more) from each person and there were 20 or 30 of them. It seemed like they were all satisfied.

I was dropped off in Shimonoseki just in time for the sunset. After taking a few pics I rode for a while before I reached the mainland, did a little shopping there and was on my way to Shingu. It was getting dark, but fortunately the road on this side of peninsula was flat. After 30 km of cycling I reached Shingu. Without knowing where to look for an onsen I went to the main train station and was directed by a cab driver to a local sentou. I needed that. The last 30 km were very exhausting probably because of the amount of beer I drank earlier.

The sentou wasn't anything special. It looked like any other public bath in Japan, but it was great to soak my aching muscles in hot water. One of the strangest things that I came across in Shingu was two young guys washing each other. And they weren't gay. It had been dark for many hours when I left the place and I hate looking for a camping spot after dark. Anyway, I began a search for a park.

When I reached the Kumano river that was actually the border between Wakayama and Mie prefectures there was a park. I made sure by asking 3 young guys in the parking lot wether in fact it was a park and was assured that it was. There was something else that they told me. They warned me about coming cold that night. It got me worried a little because I didn't have a sleeping bag with me, but it was October and I was in western Japan. I simply couldn't believe in cold. After eating supper I went to sleep. I was tired.

Day 4
Oct. 11, '02
Shingu (Waka. pref./Mie pref.) - Kashiwara (Osaka pref.)
163 km
Weather: Sun/clouds
Avg. speed: Avg. speed: 17.5km/h

I swear I almost froze during the night. It was really cooold.
When I left the park and crossed the river into Mie prefecture there was only one thing on my mind - to buy a sleeping bag knowing that in front of me were mountains to be crossed and it could only get worse. Unfortunately, it was impossible in the entire city of Shingu. It was already October what meant fall and camping equipment is not in Japan, at least not outside of Tokyo or Osaka. Well, when you'e square you'e square. The only thing was to continue cycling until Kashiwara.

Outside of the city the road ran parallel to what seemed like the longest beach in the world. The road was flat and the only thing that I couldn't stand was the strong headwind. It was so strong that my average speed was 15 km/h on the flat surface and sometimes I wasn't able to go faster than 9 km/h. It lasted for the next 25 km, all the way to Kumano city. After having noodles for lunch, I continued up the road to a place called Lion Rock. The rock was actually a cliff looking from the side like a lion with its mouth open. It was situated on the beach. It was still very windy and the waves were very high.

While taking a break on the beach I was carefully rethinking my plan and decided to change my route. I didn't have a sleeping bag and besides it sucked being alone in the tent at night. The original plan was to follow the shoreline to Ise peninsula and then either continue north towards lake Biwa or west towards home. Here, I had to change it all, and so I entered the mountains heading towards southeast Nara prefecture. I knew that if I did that I would have to continue all the way to Kashiwara because the mountains in Nara are high and if it was cold near the sea it would be twice as cold in the mountains. It all meant that I had to cycle over 150 km across the highest mountains in Kii peninsula some of which were as high as 2000m.

I got off the main road and immediately began climbing what was the longest and highest climb for me then. It was really exhausting. Besides the steep and long climb it was hot and humid. When I passed the tunnel on top I stopped to have some of the honey I got the day before. It was delicious. Down the mountain I entered Nara prefecture and for the next 30 or 40 km the road was flat and it was among the trees making it easy to hide from the sun. It followed a river through the mountains. The view was amazing. I stopped several times to take pictures. The traffic was minimal and the only sound that I could here was that of the birds and my tires. It continued all the way to a mountain village called Shimokitayama. From the village the road began ascending. First there were 2 minor climbs and later the third climb which was steep, long and neverending. It could've been exhaustion that made it seem so hard. Anyway, when I reached the pass and what seemed like a 2000m long tunnel, I was at about 1000m above the sea level already. The ride down was a relief and it would've been even better if it wasn't dark. Yes, it was dark already and I was still in the mountains in Nara prefecture far away from home in Kashiwara. I was tired, but I knew that I had to reach home that night. I must've passed beautiful scenery on the way.

The downhill ride took me all the way to Kawakami what I was told by a lady at a road stop was a part of Yoshino. The village was dark and deserted, but the service stop was still open and I was able to get tempura udon there. I reached Yoshino after 20 km of riding either downhill or on the flat surface. From Yoshino it was only 40 km until the warmth of my bed and the road was mostly flat except for a long hill between Yoshino and Kashihara. In Kashihara I stopped to have a Snickers bar and Pepsi. It took me an hour of hard pedalling to reach Osaka prefecture and from there it was only 5 km. When I got home Ewa was still up.

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