Road Trip Day 2 – Indianapolis and Memphis

Mark and I left Jill’s at about 11:30 after a relaxing morning and some good conversation. We continued west on 70 and made our way to Indianapolis.

Welcome to Illinois
Welcome to Illinois

As we were pulling into Indianapolis, we stumbled on Long’s Bakery. Mark, a speed draw with Yelp, found that locals liked the place so we decided to stop in for a donut. We didn’t know it at the time, but this would become a bit of a recurring theme throughout the trip.

Long’s Bakery & Donuts
Mmm Donuts – at Long’s Bakery

The Pennsylvania Dutchman in me couldn’t resist – I went for the Apple Cinnamon glazed and Mark had the Cinnamon Glazed.

They were, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, delicious.

Once we’d finished sating our sweet teeth, we headed a short distance over to the IMS or Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A torqued shot of Mark at the Speedway
A torqued shot of Mark at the Speedway

It’s kinda a funny stop for us since neither of us are much into racing, but we were looking for something quintessentially Illinois / Indianapolis to do, and honestly, we couldn’t think of anything more appropriate. Sadly, we were not able to go round the track which is a service they offer for just a few bucks. They sold out shortly before we arrived. We did manage to spend some time browsing the museum.

I found the older cars of far more interest for their style and form. They will almost certainly (as I explained to Mark) show up as reference for some sort of pulp fiction sci-fi image from me in the future.

The Antique Racers at the IMS Museum
The Antique Racers at the IMS Museum

Once we felt we had a solid sense of the Speedway and the museum there, we continued down the road. Before long, we made a pit stop to get some White Castle.

Mark Has His First White Castle
Mark Has His First White Castle

Yeah. White Castle. Just call us Harold and Kumar. The truth is that Mark had never had White Castle from a brick and mortar shop before, and since we were in an area that had them, I kinda coaxed him into it. Why not? Randomness is good the road trips.

While I drove, Mark did some planning for the Memphis portion of our trip. We knew we were going to visit Graceland (I’d been once, a while back but Mark had never been) but we didn’t have much more than that figured out.

This arrangement, of course, played to our strengths. I drive for my job. The long hours I put in there make me capable of doing very long stretches – even on boring midwestern highways like route 70 and route 57 without suffering terribly. Mark, on the other hand, is much better at figuring out where the best places to go and/or see are. As long as he was able to keep a cellular connection up, he did some digging. He’d occasionally call out a couple of different ideas and we’d weigh the options, but mostly, he did a lot of filtering out bad options while I kept my eyes on the road. It worked very well indeed.

We listened to music after The Memphis Plan was decided on.

We talked briefly to Mark’s wife Moriah once The Plan had been pieced together. Just hearing parts of their conversation reinforced my opinion that they’re both remarkable people who are deeply supportive of one another. It’s enough to give a guy hope for the future.

The View from Our Window Reminds Me of a Batman Movie
The View from Our Window Reminds Me of a Batman Movie

We landed in Memphis at about 11pm. We ditched the car and our gear in the local DoubleTree hotel. I’d purchased our two night stay with membership points. Having been someone who lived out of hotels for five years straight does have its advantages. With our stuff secured, we walked down to Beale Street, which was a bit of a shock to me.

Beale Street at Night
Beale Street at Night

I’m not sure what I was expecting, exactly, but Beale Street reminded me of Bourbon Street. It was closed off and had a bit of a block party vibe to the whole thing. That’s kinda funny since it was a Tuesday night and there weren’t many folks out and about. It gave you the sense that you arrived at the party after the fact – the red cups are all used, and the keg’s tapped. Should have arrived sooner, dude.

We were on a mission, though. Mark had a very clear mental picture of what he was looking for: A Memphis bar with a lone musician on stage. They’re plucking at their guitar and feeling the music more than they are playing it. That music would drift out of the place and draw us in like the floating cartoon characters following the scent of their favorite foods. The lights are low, and people are dancing to the blues. Something up tempo, but still blues. He’d find some willing partner and they’d have one really good, really connected dance, and we’d go.

My thoughts for the mission? Pretty much the same, but add me at a corner booth sipping on a nice cold whiskey.

That’s not exactly what we found. What we found was cover bands and desperate prostitutes just trying to find some work in the empty street.

We were approached three times. We politely turned them away three times. One even rubbed on my belly like I was the Buddha before I could make it clear that I was not interested in what she had to offer.

My paranoia sufficiently stoked into overdrive, I confirmed that my wallet was still securely in place as we made our way back up the street until we found ourselves at the Blues City Cafe for a little snack.

Mark at the Blues City Cafe
Mark at the Blues City Cafe

Mark got the stew, and I got the gumbo. Both were quite tasty. When we were done, we left the money on the table. Our server seemed overly busy with his other tables, so we just let him know the money was on the table as we headed back out.

We poked our head inside BB King’s Blues Club and found that the cover band who had been playing James Brown tunes earlier in the evening had wrapped and were packing up. So, we decided to do the same and walked back to our hotel for the night.


This post is part of a series describing the Road Trip west I took with my best friend. To read about our travels on the previous day, click <<<here. To read about our travels on the following day, click here>>>(Coming Soon).

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Road Trip Day 1 – It Has Begun

My heterosexual life partner Mark is doing this crazy thing. He’s moving in with his wife. It’s a long story, but they’ve been bicoastal for a while thanks to school and career complications. That’s okay in the big picture because both of them are the kinds of supportive individuals who somehow manage something like that where it would break most of us. Impressive folks, my people.

Still, it will be wonderful for them to actually be able to have the same address finally.

So Mark has to get from the East Coast to the West, and we figured a road trip was in order. Sure, he could have shipped the last of his stuff and flown west, but where’s the fun in that? Where’s the sense of adventure?!

I’ve always admired Mark’s ability to take the mundane and ordinary and tweak it here or modify it there and build it into a grand adventure. Business trips start to sound like something James Bond would be jealous of. Need groceries? By the time he’s done with the trek, you’ll have a story you’re telling your grand kids. That’s really not an exaggeration.

Today we started that road trip. But before we could get on the road, we had some work to do.

Moriah and Mark have a ketubah of sorts. They’re not Jewish and it’s not exactly a traditional ketubah, but they both like much of the idea behind such a document and they decided that they wanted something like that as a part of their marriage. It’s a fairly large circular design at something like 42 inches in diameter. It’s mounted, and protected by glass. This caused some troubles with the way that Mark originally planned on getting it cross country – by shipping it.

After a consultation with a (thankfully) very honest UPS employee, we knew that he couldn’t ship the piece and expect it to arrive whole. That meant that we would have to bring it with us, but with the glass, and the car packed with our personal gear, we were worried about damaging it ourselves.

So we did a crazy thing to transport the piece of art across the country. We built a table – in the car.

“Don’t Worry People – We Have A Plan!”

It was a bit more chaotic a start than we hoped for, but in hindsight, it makes for great story fodder. It’s just the sort of thing that I was talking about earlier – about things bending towards adventure around Mark.

The interesting part of the whole table building process was the improvisation it required. Mark had limited tools and supplies since most of his possessions had long ago been shipped to the West Coast. My apartment and my (admittedly limited) supplies were over an hour away.

Thankfully, Home Depot will make some cuts in your plywood and shorten your 4×4 ‘table legs’ upon request. They also rent drills by the hour, so will some mental math and some determination, we wound up with something which worked quite nicely.

No sandpaper? Try your nearest pavement!

The ketubah protected, we got our gear packed back into the car, returned the rented drill, and got on the road.

We did as we did way back on our motorcycle trek – we got out of Dodge as fast as possible. When you’re leaving home on a road trip, you don’t want to look around and see familiar sights. You want to be in the New Place – The Wild Blue Yonder. So we put the pedal down and headed west via routes 76 and 70.

Sadly, that meant that there wasn’t much exciting about the travel portion of that first day, but we made some decent time, and the day ended in the best possible way – with friends. We landed in Columbus OH to stay with our dear friend Jill and her husband Greg. We somehow convinced Jill to be our friend all the way back in high school, and she’s been stuck with us ever since.

Good people make for good times.

I also renewed my friendship with another friend. Meet Lille Lort (which translates to “Lil’ Shit” in Danish. He seems to think I’m alright. He’s one of a couple cats that won the feline lottery when they got Jill as their vet/mom.

He also seems rather fond of Mark’s shoes.


This post is part of a series describing the Road Trip west I took with my best friend. To read about our travels on the following day, click here.

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Quebec City

Quebec City as Seen from the Top of the HiltonI’m dusting off the cobwebs here. I’ll be posting back dated entries to get the things I’ve done and places I’ve seen added to the site, but I want to burn the candle from both ends and start updating again as I visit places.

So here’s the first – Quebec City. I’m doing major roads in and around Quebec City for work. It’s a small project, but with the interchanges/chaos that are the road network of any older city, it’s taking me a while.

I’ve been doing this work for a little over three years now, and if there’s one thing that I’ve learned in that time it’s that I prefer the wide open spaces of rural areas over the congestion and chaos that is inherent in large metropoles. (Side note: had to look that one up. I thought it might have been metropoli.) There’s a greater sense of movement obviously, but my inner ADHD kicks into high gear when I’m in big cities and stress levels rise. I get overly frustrated when I miss a turn off or realize too late that a road doesn’t go quite the way I thought it would. That’s not a big deal when you’re visiting a new place for the first time, but when you’re doing that for 8 or 10 hours a day? Yeah.

I also feel a greater sense of alone-ness while I’m in Quebec. I  didn’t do well in French class back when I took it – in junior high school. Now? Some thirty or so years later? Yeah.  Je suis désolé, mais je ne parle pas français. So an already lonely job gets even more so.

All of that said, QC has been good to me. It is an old city and holds the delights of old cities. Grand architecture, amazing people, and the sense that there is always something to be doing.

Chute Montmorency or Montmorency Falls Quebec

That’s not all. Right at the bridge to cross over onto Île d’Orléans is a breathtaking waterfall named Montmorency Falls (or Chute Montmorency in French). It’s breathtaking, and I was happy to revisit. (The photo is actually from when I was first here in May of 2014.)

I also got to have a brief visit with two of my coworkers who were spending the weekend in the QC Hilton (see the first photo of the post) for a brief break. That place has one spectacular view from their executive lounge. I could have spent days just sitting up there working on writing/drawing stuff. While visiting, we went to get some rather tasty crepes at Crêperie-bistro Le Billig, which I highly recommend.

Lastly, the work isn’t entirely within Quebec Ciy. Some of it dips out into some of the slightly more rural (suburban) areas of Quebec surrounding the city. One such area was where I stopped to stretch my legs and get the blood pumping for lunch.

It’s a little park called Parc Richelieu. It’s a little hard to find on Google Maps, but it wraps itself around Lac Goudreault – which is easier to find.

There wasn’t anything about the park that was exclusive to Quebec, but it was delightful, and the little old man who greeted me in French as he prepared his fishing pole for the afternoon’s passing was pretty much perfect.

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Norsk Hostfest in Minot North Dakota

 

 

[Note: this was originally posted to http://fromthedriverseatdotnet.wordpress.com/ but I’m planning to remove that site, so I copied it over here for posterity.

The other day I had the good fortune to stumble on the fact that Minot, ND was having their annual Norsk Hostfest. As there are more than a few people in my life who call me a ‘viking’, it seemed only appropriate that I attend. Mother Nature was kind enough to bring about a rain day, so I was able to do so without leaving work undone.

The first thing I did was a little web based research. I found the location of the Hostfest via Google Maps and made my way there. Except what Google Maps shows as the location isn’t the location. (It’s where they have their offices.) This seems a little counter intuitive to me, but I didn’t really object too strongly because there’s things to see at their offices, which also is the Scandinavian Heritage Association.

The Sigdal House – Exterior

…like the Sigdal House. Typical of the life, furnishings, and size/shape of homes in the Sigdal Mountains early on. The place was disassembled by hand, shipped to the US, and reassembled by the same men who took it apart.

The Sigdal House – Interior

That’s one hell of a project.

The nice lady in the red coat (who’s name I’ve forgotten because I’m a terrible person) was very kind and acted as my tour guide and explained a lot about the furnishings and miscellaneous items in the place. The round ‘roller’ and flat board with a handle, for example, were early versions of a clothes iron. The user would hold the handle, and roll the board across the roller, which in turn, was on top of the wet clothes. This would effectively squeeze the water out and roll the clothes flat(ish).

I did eventually get my carcass to the fairgrounds which was the actual home of the Hostfest. There were many a vendor of food and crafts of all kinds.

IMG_2040 IMG_2045 IMG_2057 IMG_2060 IMG_2034 IMG_2033 IMG_2032 20151002_130838

And the trolls? They were everywhere.

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All in all? A fine way to spend a rainy day. Thank you Minot – I really enjoyed it.

[Edited to add: I updated this entry and post dated it to the day I experienced the Hostfest just to make things more simple.]

Friday February 13th, 2015 – In the Jungle (Continued)

Early on day two.

Early on day two.

A full night’s rest did me some good. When I woke up, I felt like I was able to function, if a bit… off.

Sadly, it didn’t last. It wasn’t long before my legs were again like wet noodles underneath my body. They just weren’t able to handle the trail + my gear + my 300lb body. What’s worse, it appeared that we wouldn’t be able to make it back in time to catch all of our connections which would allow Mark to go scuba diving off of the island of Yonaguni-jima later.

That one had me really upset. It’s one thing when a failure of mine limits what I get to do. It’s another thing entirely when it affects someone else’s plans. It didn’t matter that I was upset though – my body was having none of it. The hiking was painfully slow and filled with instances of me stumbling, falling, tripping, and bumping into things. I was moving like someone exceedingly drunk because my legs just would not support me and I kept forcing them to do so. I felt pathetic, and I’m certain that I looked worse.

After a while of this, Mark took mercy on me. He took my pack. Sure, it’s true that we weren’t carrying the 50lb frame packs of our yesteryear boy scout hiking trips, but they were still heavy. Mine still had the vast majority of my ‘regular life’ AND the equipment Mark had picked up for me for the purposes of this trek – things like sleeping pad, sleeping bag liner, water bladder, and my cold weather clothes.

The trail was vertical enough to warrant ropes at times.

The trail was vertical enough to warrant ropes at times.

I protested, of course. My pride insisted that I do so, though there really wasn’t any other option. Certainly not if we wanted to get back in any kind of reasonable time. Mark eventually not only took my pack, but soothed my pride enough that I let him. Embarassed doesn’t begin to cover it. My one redeeming physical quality (to me at any rate) is that I’m a big guy and I can carry the big guy’s load of stuff. Only here was living proof that this concept was simply untrue. I was as effective a hiking partner as a four year old. What’s more, I didn’t believe that the bag was really that heavy – that relieving me of it would do that much good.

Here again, I was wrong.

We started to make some good time. Far better time than the previous day, to be sure.

The final trail marker.

The final trail marker.

We eventually found ourselves at the last marker on the trail. That meant a number of things: 1. Cell phone coverage would be nearby (though we still didn’t have any at the close of the trail) 2. Most of our remaining hiking would be downhill – which, while still excruciating to me, was at least possible. 3. There was a chance – a very very slim chance – that we could still make it in time to catch our relevant connections in order for Mark to go scuba diving.

This gave me a burst of… something. I won’t call it strength (that just didn’t exist for me anymore) but something. Mark, in an effort to again ease my wounded pride, gave me back my pack so that when we eventually encountered other humans, they wouldn’t see him with both packs and me with nothing but my gasping for breath and my sweat soaked / mud caked clothes.

Just in the nick of time too. We came upon a group of hikers who looked to be stopped for a meal. While I tried to get some oxygen into my limbs and recover any semblance of composure, Mark started up a conversation. The very cute artsy/hippy/musician chick in the group was (of course) immediately enamored with him. She was taking a gentleman (who looked like a bored businessman) to the airport (which is where we were headed) and offered us a ride.

I followed this conversation because I know like three words in Japanese and because I know Mark well enough to follow tone and gestures and the like. Not because I actually understand all the words. It’s funny, but it’s this ‘tonal listening’ that makes me think I actually could pick up Japanese eventually if I was given enough time. Of course, I’m sure Mark would be well sick of me by that point.

Miho and Mark (with an annoyed O Gi-san in the background)

Miho and Mark (with an annoyed O Gi-san in the background)

At any rate, while Mark and Miho (the musician) were discussing things, a truck pulled up and out hopped an older gentleman who looked… worried. We would quickly find out that folks called him O Gi-san. Gi for grandfather – not gangsta, though somehow, I feel like that would be appropriate too. He wore US Marines camoflage clothes and started to immediately lecture Mark in japanese. There was no debating that tone.

Miho was smirking at us like a big sister might smirk at the little brothers who were catching holy hell from Mom and Dad. It quickly became apparent that we should load our bags into the back of the truck and climb in with them.

Riding back to town.

Riding back to town.

On the ride back to town, Mark filled me in on the details. To summarize, O Gi-san is the owner of the ryokan that we were to stay at the night before. When we didn’t show up, he started searching for us. Then again the next morning. They had been extremely worried about the two gaijin who had gone off into the jungle after being told that they were NOT to camp out in the jungle, and that they were to be to the ryokan before too late because that would worry O Gi-san. Then we never showed.

A police officer showed up as we were driving down the mountain. He exchanged a few words with O Gi-san which we didn’t hear and then proceeded to follow us down the mountain.

I felt like such a complete ass-hole. What’s more, it had started to look like we might make our connections, and if the officer wanted to talk to us for a while? Or, worse, teach us a lesson by popping us into a cell for a few hours or overnight? That would completely hose any chance of Mark getting his scuba trip. I had come to see that as some slight redemption for me being such an incapable ass, and it seemed like it might again be slipping from us.

Victorious in the end with... Japanese Rocky?

Victorious in the end with… Japanese Rocky?

I’m happy to say that things worked out in the end though. The cop only followed for a little while then pulled off to take care of something else. O Gi-san gave us a bit more lecturing, but eventually just asked us to pay for our night’s lodging as we’d made the reservation. We gladly did. We retreived the remainder of my crap, loaded up, and walked around the corner to the bus station. Took the bus to the Airport, and caught our plane.

That got us to Yonaguni-jima in time.

We were met at the airport by a grandmotherly woman who came up to me and asked if I was “Mah-ku?” I shook my head an pointed to Mark. A few minutes later we were in her car and en route to the mishuku. I was feeling so relieved by the time that we reached the place, I seriously could have cried.

Our mishuku on Yonaguni-jima.

Our mishuku on Yonaguni-jima.

The mishuku itself was fantastic. We checked in and dropped our stuff off. Mark wanted to go and check in with the scuba folks and get set up for the following day. He asked if I would go with him, and while my legs felt (I mean this sincerely) like jello filled with pain, I went anyway. It was flat paved ground and there was no risk of falling off a mountainside if they gave way, so why not? As long as they would keep moving, I might as well.

Getting ready for bed that night, when I took off my boots, I half expected some sort of cartoon-esque ‘pop’ and for my feet to inflate to three or four times their normal size and turn candy apple red. They didn’t, of course, but I did find that I had the largest blister I’ve ever had under my left foot (I wasn’t even sure it was a blister at first) and that I had managed to damage three toenails enough that I was sure to lose them.

I genuinely didn’t care. We’d made it. Mark could scuba, and I could have a day to recover. I’m not sure my head hit the pillow before I was unconcious.

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Side Note – Adding Galleries

Shooting out the side of our chartered boat.

Shooting out the side of our chartered boat.

Mark and I were discussing these posts and he made the argument that there aren’t really enough photo in each post to provide proper context for the posts. I think it’s a good line of thinking.

So, rather than go back through and monkey with the posts themselves, I thought I would try something a little different. I’m leaving the posts as they are, but I will be creating a gallery at the end of each post with additional photos related to that day/those events. In other words: you may want to go back and check out the previous Japan posts.

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Thursday February 12th, 2015 – Welcome to the Jungle

Boating down the Japanese Amazon...

Boating down the Japanese Amazon…

Took a chartered boat down the “Japanese Amazon” to the starting point of our hike. Beautiful vistas on either side of lush vegitation and deep jungles greeted us as we passed.

We entered the jungle at a dock built to allow access to tourists. The first portion of the trek was easy and well groomed. We found ourselves confident that we could complete the 8 hour 12 mile hike in the single day allotted. Or perhaps that was only me.

Maryudo Falls

Maryudo Falls

We reached the beautiful Maryudo Falls fairly quickly.

Not long after the waterfall, we found ourselves at the start of the official ‘trail’ through the jungle. We had been warned that the trail would get tougher, but we (again – probably just I here) didn’t pay enough heed to those warnings. The Japanese (in my limited experience) will tell you something is “terribly dangerous!” when the reality is that it’s barely a blip on the danger scale. They have a lot of ‘rules’ in their lives that we westerners wouldn’t even think to pay attention to. Example? There could be no cars for miles, but if the pedestrian crossing sign shows “do not cross”? The Japanese will not cross. That would be terribly dangerous.

A little something at the start of the trail.

A little something at the start of the trail.

It wasn’t long after that where my confidence/cockiness quickly abated. The simple truth? I was way too out of shape to complete the hike in the amount of time provided. Had the whole trek been as well groomed as that early portion, I have no doubt we would have completed the trail in plenty of time.

As it was, we had to spend the night in the jungle.

Mark doing a river crossing.

Mark doing a river crossing.

Which, is ‘illegal’. Because, you guessed it, is ‘terribly dangerous’. Except that, in this case, it really is. The deadly night hunting habu snake, dramatically dropping temperatures the fact that it’s illegal to start a fire, and (really) no clear space to set up camp all make for a potentially disastrous night in the jungle.

I should point out here that I’m really lucky. I have people like Mark in my life. I was… ill prepared. Mark was not. He had done his homework when planning the trip. He had a tent for us. He had sleeping pads for each of us. We had discussed it in advance, and we agreed we should have these things “just in case”, but it was Mark who both started that discussion and eventually purchased the items so that we would have them in time for the trip.

Map showing the trail across Iriomote-jima.

Map showing the trail across Iriomote-jima.

In the end, we settled into our tent for a moderately comfortable night. I was feeling terribly defeated, and my body felt… well, broken honestly. I had reached a point where I didn’t think I could take another step long before we’d stopped. It was an experience I can only assume is like that of a marathon runner – when you simply do not believe that there is enough energy in your body to lift your leg one more time and yet you find yourself continuing to do so – over and over again.

Sleep came upon me very quickly that night.


 

Gallery:

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Wednesday February 11th, 2015 – Planes, Trains, and…

Mark plays the japanese banjo...

Going to start breaking the trip down into single days in an effort to keep the ball moving forward here a bit more…


 

We woke early and caught the train to the Kansai Airport where we hopped on a flight to the New Ishigaki Airport.

Once in Ishigaki, we took a bus to the port where we boarded a ship to take us to Iriomote-jin. Not before purchasing a really delicious burger though. Note to self: if you ever have a ‘home’ again – keep wasabi on hand not just for sushi, but as a burger condiment as well.

Seriously, wasabi is an amazing burger condiment!

Seriously, wasabi is an amazing burger condiment!

For those keeping track, on this single day, Mark and I availed ourselves of the following means of transportation:

  • Feet
  • Train
  • Plane
  • Boat
  • Bus
  • Water Buffalo

Catch that one did you? Yeah. Water buffalo. There’s a smaller island just off of Iriomote (called Yubu Island). The intervening distance is pretty shallow and somewhere in the past, the locals realized that they could lead carts across to the island being pulled by water buffalo. Fast forward a few decades and the transportation method is mostly a tourist trap, but what the hell? We were tourists, and it seemed fun, so away we went.

Maybe not OUR trusty steed, but one just like it...

Maybe not OUR trusty steed, but one just like it…

It was a very good call. While crossing, our host even played a little live music on his… banjo? Lute? Not sure what to call it. Ok music peeps – educate me.

The cart had a ‘privacy panel’ which the driver lifted to shield us from the view when the water buffalo did its business. We both had a good chuckle about that.

On the island itself there was an impressive amount of things to do given the size of the island. A gardens area, a restaraunt, and the home for the water buffalos all were packed on the island which couldn’t have been much bigger than a fistfull of city blocks.

Mark and I turned in our coupons for a free glass of pineapple juice. It was delish. Fresh as it gets. We also debated trying the regional funky ice cream flavor*, but decided against it in favor of some pork and noodles soup at the restaraunt. Quite tasty, but too much grissle for my liking.

I've always loved soups, and Japan is a country that shares that love.

I’ve always loved soups, and Japan is a country that shares that love.

We left the tiny island the way we came – we caught the last water buffalo out of town. I just like saying that.

Back on the bus, we continued on to our home for the night. We made it in time for dinner and a show – more live music with the same sort of instrument – this time by our new friend Aki (short for Akiro). Aki proved to be a great resource and Mark talked to him a good deal about our upcoming trek and safety precautions as Aki had done the traverse several times. I believe he also caught the fresh fish we ate for dinner. Aki? He’s kinda a renaissance guy.

Aki - fisherman, musician, and trekker.

Aki – fisherman, musician, and trekker.


 

*That’s a thing in Japan. It seems like wherever you go there’s a regional flavor that they make into pretty much everything, and they start with ice cream. I’m certain (though I haven’t seen it yet myself) that there’s a region who has the flavor (and thus the ice cream based on) “seaweed”.


 

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Landing In Japan

Prepare yourself for an adventure in Japan!

Prepare yourself for an adventure in Japan!

Monday, February 9th, 2015

For all intents and purposes, I spent all of Monday in the air. Yay for international flights and time zone shifts!

I arrived at Tokyo International Airport (NRT) and headed straight for my hotel. I’d arranged for the room in advance, and I’m seriously glad I did. There had been a problem with my flight taking off from LAX. One of the engines was problematic and a piece needed to be replaced. That meant a six hour delay for departure.

While that’s annoying, it didn’t really mean much to me. My next flight was the following day, and I already had my hotel room booked, so no big right? Well, a number of the folks on my flight were just laying over, and now all of them had to be put up for the night (near the airport) while the airline scrambled for a way to make things right for them.

When the pilot announced that they would be putting people up in rooms for the night, I noted that he said that some of them would have to stay as far as an hour away from the airport because everything nearby was booked.

Did I mention that I was glad I’d booked my room in advance?

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Everything is better with coffee...

Everything is better with coffee…

I woke early, jumped on a shuttle back to the airport, and checked in for my flight to Osaka. Specifically, I was headed to Kansai International Airport.

Checking in with Peach proved a bit interesting because everything was, well, backwards. You check in where everyone else is Arriving, and their departure gate is completely off on its own and was closed when I got there.

Still, I managed to get my butt on the plane in time for departure and all was well. The flight was great, and I even managed to get a great pic of Mount Fuji thanks to the anonymous guy sitting next to me.

The pilot announced Mt. Fuji and everyone started looking out the window and taking photos. I was on the aisle for the leg room. When the guy in my row who was sitting in the window looked back at me and saw I had my phone out, he gestured a “would you like me to do it?” and I nodded emphatically.

“Arigato gozaimasu.” I said when he handed it back. He did quite a job:

Mt. Fuji from my flight between Tokyo and Osaka

Mt. Fuji from my flight between Tokyo and Osaka

My flight landed fairly early and that gave me some time to get situated before meeting up with Mark that evening, so I decided to make my way to our ryokan(1).

First tricky part to that was figuring out the train system (which thankfuly butted right up to the airport). There was a cute gaijin who had been following the same route as me from the airport (we both wound up going a bit the wrong way) and we had a brief discussion about the chaos we found ourselves in.

Shortly thereafter, I managed to get myself on board the right train and headed in the right direction. Amazingly, I managed this without error. I even had time to snap a couple pics of an interesting art installment which was made with tickets from the railway system.

An interesting art installment which was made with tickets from the railway system.

An interesting art installment which was made with tickets from the railway system.

I met a nice family who were tourists themselves when I offered to take the picture so that Grandpa could be in it as well. As fate would have it, Grandpa spoke some english and far better than I speak japanese, so we had a nice (if brief) chat.

I jumped off the train at Izumisano and found my way to our ryokan. It was too early to check in, and the japanese have their rules(2), so instead I just dropped off my big bag and decided to walk around town a bit.

Feeling a bit peckish, (hey, I don’t come by this dainty physique easilly) I decided my first stop would be some food. I backtracked a bit to the train station in Izumisano and stopped into a place called London Bakery. After watching the crowd for a couple of minutes to determine the ‘process’ involved in ordering, I realized that you a. grab a tray and tongs from there, pick the items you want and add them to your tray, then take them to the counter to pay for them. I did so, and additionally requested “Coffee” which (the gods bless me) sounds enough in japanese as it does in english so I’m able to get that through.

Breakfast in London Bakery - In Izumisano Japan

Breakfast in London Bakery – In Izumisano Japan

The ‘sandwich’ is a bread with egg baked into it and noodles stuffed into the center (welcome to Japan!). The pastry in the back is a simple bread with cream cheese and blueberry core. The coffee was delicious.

I was a little surprised and disappointed to find that London Bakery didn’t have a wifi connection available to customers, so I started roaming in order to find one. Then I kept wandering.

A quick (and not entirely accurate) map of my walk.

A quick (and not entirely accurate) map of my walk.

The walk reached its pinnacle when I reached Rinku Pleasure Town. No, it’s not that. It’s a giant mall. I’d been winding my way there for a while because I’d seen a giant ferris wheel stretching above the building tops. In a foreign city? Don’t speak the language? Why wouldn’t you seek out the giant ferris wheel?

Ferris wheels apparently draw me like a moth to a flame.

Ferris wheels apparently draw me like a moth to a flame.

I really enjoy walking in a new town. I do this when I’m working, and this seemed an even better time for such things. After a bit though, I made my way back to the ryokan, checked in officially, retrieved my hoodie (it was getting chilly – even for me) and jumped back on a train bound for Osaka.

Once I exited the train in Osaka, I made my way to Nanbantei – a yakatori(3) place Mark and I agreed to meet at. I was a bit ahead of schedule (Mark had to work a full day at the office before heading to Osaka) but I wanted to put a pin in the mental map and be sure where I was headed later. Then I could wander with peace of mind.

Wandering around Osaka

Wandering around Osaka

I have to tell you – there’s something mind boggling about meeting up with your best friend on the far side of the planet. Wandering the back streets of Osaka only to step out into the light long enough to catch your buddy’s attention, then duck back down the alleys to a fantastic meal eaten at a table filled with strangers? Yeah. It was like that.

We didn’t stay in Osaka long. We had early travel plans for the following morning and we needed to get the proverbial move on, so we pretty much just ate and jumped on the train back to Izumisano Station. Mark commented on how funny it was that I needed to show him where to go. The guy has lived in Japan quite a bit over the years, and here I am on my first real day in Japan and I’m the one who knows the way.


 

  1. Traditional japanese inn. See wikipedia for more info.
  2. This may be a post for another time. Mark and I have had some interesting discussions about the ‘rules’ in Japan and how you just do. not. break. them.
  3. Think “meat on sticks”.

 

Edited to Add: Gallery!

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The Japanese Adventure Begins!

Room Snacks

A breakdown of the trip thus far as copied from mrlich.onepostwonder.com (I plan to put all Japan trip posts here, but started it out over there)…

Friday February 6th, 2015

Left northern Florida (JAX) via Southwest. Stopped in DEN and then on to LAX where I was met by my buddy Jason who swept me off to his place to crash. The slight headcold / congestion did very little to dampen the experience.

The Denver stop was a bit of a tease. I have some really great people in Denver and I’ve been wanting to go for a visit for some time now. So being in their city and not able to visit was a touch frustrating. I, of course, find this to be one of those scenarios where “If that’s my biggest problem in life…”

Saturday February 7th, 2015

I had breakfast with Jason and his family at a place called Country Deli in Chatsworth CA. Delightful family place which serves a yummy sausage breakfast burrito. After breakfast we visited local fish/reptile shop because they were looking for some things to fix their aquarium.

Post pet store, I had a planning session with Mark via Google Hangouts in order to go over some of our plans for the first adventure one I’m in the country. First up? Tropical jungle camping/hiking on one of the southern islands of Japan – Iriomote.

Chilled out with Jason and his son while his wife and daughter were off having some girls only chill time. Then the boys made their way to a swanky steak house for a really satisfying meal.

Funny side note: I’m planning on using Japan as a jumping off point to improve my diet. Content of my diet, sure, but the primary focus is portion control. To that end, I was proud of myself for ordering ‘only’ the six ounce steak. Of course, the the portions on everything else about the meal were so ginormous as to render my herculean effort null and void. C’est la vie.

At the end of the night, Jason and I watched John Wick starring Keanu Reeves. Stop laughing – it was surprisingly entertaining. (And not in a “I can’t believe how awful this is…” sense.)

Sunday February 8th, 2015

Woke up fairly early and reduced / repacked my bags in order to get rid of some of the ‘excess’ that I had collected. Yes, I felt like I had too much stuff with my two bags loaded.

I explained to one adorable little girl and her very awesome brother that “That Boy” would come back soon.

Jason and I made our way to brunch with some dear old friends (Patty and Mike) at a place called Pann’s just outside LAX. Patty and Mike are great human beings. They scratch a very specific itch I have for chatting with crazy creative people who also have more than enough brains to support that creativity. While I’m really blessed with so many folks of that particular mix in my life, Patty and Mike have a different flavor to their creativity that I feel like my life would be greatly reduced without. A chance to hang out with them is something I will never pass on. I also got to  consume one seriously yum Louisiana Omellette.

Brunch with Jason, Patty, and Mike

Once Jason dropped me off at the airport, my check in went easy on a ridiculous scale. My only objection there was the fact that they forced me to check my backpack because it was a couple kilograms over the weight limit. Not the end of the world, certainly, but I work really hard to keep it to carry on only, so this frustrated me. On the plus side, the woman who checked me in and made the request couldn’t have been more gracious. I suspect that’s a taste of things to come, and frankly, I’m looking forward to that.

My take off was a different story altogether. My flight was originally scheduled to leave at 2:20pm. Due to some technical issues with one of the engines, and the need to replace some component therein, we didn’t actually take off until 6:30pm. End of the world? Far from it. It was  a little bit stressful, but mostly from the fact that my brain wouldn’t let go of the idea that “there’s something wrong with one of the engines”. Still – they fixed the part, the staff was gracious and responsive, and eventually we were on our way.

A side note about the staff of Singapore Air flight SQ011 – I don’t know if I simply ‘lucked out’ or if they have some sort of attractiveness requirement for their staff, but pretty much every crew member on this flight is of model level attractiveness. The men are handsome and the women are beautiful on a ‘my chest aches just looking at this human’ level. None of this really matters for anything, but as it’s a first in my air travel experiences, I thought it noteworthy.

More soon from this Aimless Drifter…

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