A Humid day out
As I began this latest chapter in Phileas Peace and his trusty Passepartou's great Global gander we were some 6 degrees north of the equator having crossed the same at around 2pm (local time) on March 1st. We left Papua New Guinea on the evening of Feb 27th having had what turned out to be an interesting day, if a little on the hot and humid side. Indeed it was a better visit than the various prophets of doom had forecast. We didn't even get bitten by any insects or any of the local tribesmen. Marvellous stuff that DEET.
We even thought the transportation provided for us to be quite good, at least when compared to the local public transport, which could be best described as basic.
They were even offering trips out on in dug out canoes for AUS$10.
I stood there with $10 in my sweaty little hand ready to pay for my trip around the bay, but was quickly reminded by my trusty assistant that small craft and myself have a severely checkered past. That history always ended with me , either falling out, falling over or even being attacked by the said craft. The $10 went back in my pocket.
Days at Sea
Six days at sea lay ahead of us, with a number of diversions offered to keep us occupied until we would reach our first port of call in Japan, Kochi.
Most of the activities offered I managed to avoid, usually due to the phenomenally early start times, or that sometimes physical effort would be required. Such things as "FAB ABS", a condition that I don't think my body would be suited to, or at 9am , SHORT TENNIS that I was sure I wouldn't qualify for as I'm probably too tall.
So for the good news.
Passepartou had fully recovered from the ailment that had dogged her since we left Sydney.
The bad news.
She has insisted on the daily routemarch around the deck every day, but because of the interruption recently, more laps are now required. So I won't get FAB ABS, but will get Knackered knees and sore feet!
Lastly I should mention here, that on this length of trip, with this number of sea days, I'm getting a bit institutionalised. This has occurred because of the plethora of eating opportunities provided at set times during the day. In fact at 12 noon, we get the eight bells signal for the announcement about the position and weather update from the bridge. For me the sound of those bells indicates.lunch is starting and causes me to start behaving like the proverbial "Pavlov's dogs ".
The Land of the rising sun...and many steps
For Passepartou this was the first time in Japan although in my dim and now rather distant working life I had visited a number of times and spent sometime there. Visiting now as a proper tourist was a whole new and very different experience. I recall the people being friendly, helpful and exceedingly polite, the cleanliness and the way despite the general hustle and bustle everything seems very ordered with things going to plan.
The planned tour for our first port of call Kochi on the Island of Shikoku went to timetable as described, a visit to a pretty beach, lunch stop at Hirome market, a visit to the castle then finally to the hilltop Buddhist shrine.
We were adequately warned that during the day we'd have to climb a number of steps, although of course, we had put this to the back of our minds.
To get to the beachfront was a short climb in both directions, no problem and it was all rather pleasant.
Following the lunch break , duly assembled at the base of the castle we were told we would then climb the hundred or so steps to the castle entrance whence we would then , if we wanted, take the stairs to the castle top for great views. It was also explained to us that the steps outside the said castle as well as the stairs inside were not all the same in tread height. The reason for this design feature was to make life difficult for any invaders. For us, grey haired invaders, the intention of the castle designers worked well.
With lungs bursting and standing at the doors of this attractive building we were then reminded that before entry we'd have to remove our shoes, as all the floors are wooden and kept in pristine condition.
Carrying our shoes in plastic bags and walking around the ground floor was no problem, although as it had become warm that afternoon we were also saddled with carrying our coats, plus the inevitable photographic equipment. The problem came when ascending to the next three floors ( or was it more?). The pitch of the stairs we guessed to be around 45-55 degrees, designed to deter those pesky invaders.
When Kochi castle was built in the 17th century the Japanese folk were obviously diminutive which meant that for us modern day visitors it was the case of " duck or grouse".
Ascending to the top wasn't exactly a "piece of cake " because we had to both crouch to avoid the low headroom while taking giant steps at each stair, all this with our ageing limbs (and in my case suffering from a "small " amount of excess weight) still carrying the aforementioned clobber.
If climbing to the top was a bit of a trial, getting down again proved a test of nerve, dexterity and juggling skills.
Picture a very wide steep staircase that has polished wooden steps and hand rails at the top that were designed for a small person, such that one has to bend forward to grab them. So there you stand looking into the abyss...A drop of around three metres to reach each floor below. This procedure then has to be repeated I think five or six times while in stockinged feet.
Decisions, decisions! It's a bit slippery, it seems. Nervousness kicks in. Do I go down forwards or backwards?
I preferred to go forwards so I could avoid the low beams at each floor junction, Passepartou decided sideways, grabbing the handrail with both hands. All worked well for the first staircase, but then it happened. During the second descent halfway down that flight, somehow she lost grip of the plastic bags holding her shoes.
Separated from the bag the said hiking shoes, hurtled earthward just missing another visitor waiting at the foot of the staircase. It made quite a racket, to say nothing of the cry of alarm from the shell shocked lady below.
We just felt grateful that no one was injured and that it was not me and my size twelves involved because they could have probably wiped out a bus load of tourists.
So it was back down the hundred plus irregular steps to reach the bus for a half hour ride to the 8th century Chikurin-Ji temple, an opportunity for us to climb yet more steps up to the various religious shrines.
Two days and two ports of call after the six days at sea was a bit of a shock to the system particularly as we had to board a coach early morning in Osaka in order to visit the cities of Nara and Kyoto.
Nara is an ancient Japanese capital city and a popular tourist destination, particularly for the natives, in fact we think many of them were there at the same time as us as we stepped off our coach. The park here houses the Todaiji Buddhist temple and Kasuga Tanisha and is also home to huge numbers of deer that roam freely everywhere. AND THEY ARE EVERYWHERE.
These animals are revered here so they are not allowed to be killed or harmed. To me it would be like us protecting pigeons or seagulls.
These mangy looking creatures will steal food from folk or they will nibble anything they think interesting given half a chance, plus they will simply crash into people, as I almost found out to my cost. I decided to keep well away and watched where I was treading of course . 'Orrible things!
Clambering over and climbing yet more steps we dutifully followed our guide, at least, we tried to amongst the masses while we tried whatever photo opportunities we could en route, unfortunately though we do have a lot of pictures of the back of other tourists.
Nevertheless we did see the big Buddha and his assistants, all done in copper which was followed in another park area by the Shinto shrine visit, for yet more steps....then it snowed.
Kyoto is about an hours drive from Nara and presented us with opportunity to see more temples and hike around more gardens with more great steps to climb. We couldn't wait.
My biggest challenge at the two venues in Kyoto was to ensure that I did not lose little Passepartou and I was always relieved when I could catch a glimpse of her amidst the masses of other tourists. I should point out here that her sense of direction, together with her lack of geographic positioning skills (i.e. She gets lost easily ) often leave me a veritable "bag of nerves ". However, from her point of view she thinks I'm being bossy when I call her to heel? I'm left wondering if I should invest in some reins..or have her micro chipped.
Nagasaki our final look at Japan gave us a different insight into the country as following a cable car ride to a viewpoint ,inevitably we were able to visit the Atomic bomb museum and the associated Peace Park. Quite a different experience, from the sheer horror of August 9th 1945, to the attitude of modern Japanese in pursuit of a peaceful non nuclear world.
Departing Nagasaki to the tremendous sound of a Drum band on the quayside, two mind pictures will probably stay with me.
The first .
The look on my wife's face when trying to decide what to have for lunch when we were in the food hall at Hirome market in Kochi. All the signage in Japanese. It was a case of point and hope.