Tuesday will be forever known as many things. It will be known as the day we hiked 6 hours up Mt Fuji. It will also be known as the day from hell. Interestingly enough though, it will also be the day I got to go to heaven.
We started late, that was where it all went wrong; that and the fact that neither or us gave forethought to bringing any kind of time keeping device. We thought we were set, we had planned the night before and had made lunch, bought bananas and a chocolate bar in case we needed a sugar hit for a quick burst of energy and an isotopic drink (excitingly enough, Pocari Sweat being the drink of choice). We even stole a roll of toilet paper from the hostel in case of emergency. We had thermals and gloves and a beanie. We thought we were prepared and we mostly were, we had every intention of descending the mountain on foot but had brought money for the bus should we need it as well. About 2 hours in (I say about as we didn’t really have an idea) we realised that we were not going to be descending on foot, which meant that we would need to be at the 5th Station for the last bus down the mountain at 3:40pm. We climbed and climbed and after what seemed forever, we finally we made it to Umagiesha – the entrance to the sacred area of the mountain. By this point, we were completely exhausted and had been seriously considering our options. With no clock to check the time, we had resorted to trying to determine it 1300’s style by looking at the location of the sun. This didn’t really work too well as we had no idea which was north, not having a compass either! We needed to know pretty quickly as we needed to make decisions. Should we continue up to the 5th Station, would we have the time? Should we turn around and descend now? If we did continue and we missed the bus, what would we do? I said to Shona that if we did, we had two options – we stay the night in a mountain hut (not actually in it as they are all closed but curled up somewhere sheltered or we hitch a ride back down the mountain. Shona didn’t think spending the night was a possibility (as we would likely freeze to death) and suggested out options were to indeed hitch, or to set off on foot, which would mean walking a considerable way in the dark. With no lights at all, I didn’t think this was remotely an option as it would be pitch black and if we were going to get stranded on Mt Fuji, I felt that in a hut where we were close to the bus, and not exerting energy (as we would be out of water) was a safer bet. We were at a stale mate, so we agreed that hitching down with someone was our only option should we miss that goddamned bus. However we were lucky enough to come across a group of Japanese tourists lunching at Umagiesha and discovered that it was only 1pm, not 2 or 3 like we had been envisioning and with the guide advising 2 hours to the 5th station, we decided we could make it. This is where the trail changed from a 40° incline, to a stair like climb and we found ourselves stopping frequently to rest. We came across a Japanese tour group between the 2nd & 3rd Stations and spent the remainder of the climb crisscrossing them as they stopped to rest or we did. It was hell climbing that mountain but it was the most beautiful thing I have seen. It was incredibly still, not even a slight breeze and we had begun to ascend through the cloud. The air was getting thinner, we could feel it in our lungs but I got a true sense of why this trail was used by those taking pilgrimage up the mountain. There was something sacred about the forest, something so cleansing, it was incredible and we were experiencing it. By the time we reached the 5th Station road, I was so exhausted I bent over to kiss it. It was a hard climb and it tested my limits but when we reached the station to see the clouds at eye level, I felt a tremendous sense of pride in what I had just achieved. We stood at 2300m, looking out at the world and as the Japanese say, I had reached the point where Heaven and Earth meet and I had climbed there all on my own. I earned every goddamned minute of that view and I stood there, soaking it up. Remembering that we were in a hurry, we set off along the road that would bring us to the bus. When we arrived, there were people everywhere, it was not what I had expected to find. When we were contemplating having to hitch off the mountain, I had been envisioning arriving at an empty carpark. There were shops, little stalls of food being sold – it was insane. We grabbed the first person we could find and established that time. 4:20pm. Shit. We missed the bus. At least with a carpark full of tourists, we had hope of not being stuck on the mountain. We waiting for the tour group to get there and run over to beg for a lift – they were so nice and agreed and before we knew it we were on a bus on our way back to civilisation. Which was just as well, it was 10°C and it was only half 4, I can’t imagine what it would have gotten down to through the night!
Finally back at the hostel, two weary travellers, Shona headed off for a shower while I (with my fabulous sweat wicking odour resistant clothing) headed down to the kitchen to make some dinner. When we arrived in Kawaguchi-ko, we sort out the closest supermarket in an attempt to rein in our budget and had made a sort of noodle soup. We had spent 3360 yen and had bought enough food for 5 meals (lunch & snacks on the mountain included). However when I checked the fridge, it was all gone. We had become victims to the hostel food thievery and it was only our 3 hostel. We were so hungry and so exhausted (it was almost 8pm by this stage) that we invited ourselves along to have dinner with our two new friends, Mark & Conel. We wandered around the streets of Kawaguchi-ko, stumbling across this fabulous little Japanese restaurant where I had my first traditional meal in Japan – sashimi. My god, I have to tell you that these Japanese folk are most definitely onto something there. It was absolutely delish and I don’t normally like fish! I forgot my camera so I can’t give you pictures but I will be definitely doing that again, fear not! Being in an open, experimental mood, I decided to go for it and try the fish roe I had been given in one of my dishes only I cannot recommend anyone eat this now I’ve tried it. The only thing I can think of to explain the sensation of eating these little eyeball looking things, is if you imagine sticking one of those bath balls (you know, those little plastic sort of balls that dissolve in the bath) in your mouth and the pop that it would make when you bit down. It was a little chewy, and with the table watching on excitedly, I did not disappoint. The look on my face must clearly have been priceless with the reflection of theirs, I chewed and chewed as the tiny tough bastard bounced around my mouth before I caught it between my teeth and felt the distinct pop of it bursting. It was terrifying! For a split second I stopped chewing, afraid to move. What would it taste like when I resumed chewing? Alas, it didn’t really taste like anything, but I left the rest of it to Mark to eat, just the same.
The hostel we are staying in, K’s Hostel, is freaking awesome. The rooms are part Japanese style but with bunk beds and we have semi-struck room mate gold. The hostel itself is awesome – it has a humongous kitchen that is fully stocked and a great, newish chill out area. We were pretty excited about, especially after the Yokohama pysch ward. Tonight, in Nagoya, we are staying at a ryokan & we are super excited about it.
Now, we sit hurtling towards Nagoya on a train that seems to have no air conditioning, which sucks, cause it’s really hot. We had a change at Kofu and we ducked in to this little place to grab a bite – the waiter said, speak no English and we realised we were in for another difficult ordering situation but as I had finally remembered to put the phrase book in the top of my backpack, we were able to tell him we wanted no meat and he pointed out what we should have. Turned out to be a most delish vegetarian! noodle dish that Shona & I thoroughly enjoyed. The only problem was trying to tell him that we were going to share it. Seems the trusty phrase book making people didn’t feel it important to include that!
Ah! Air conditioning! Thank god!