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Vic’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 22 Nov 2007

Location: Asahidake Onsen, Sapporo, Japan

MapWe weren't expecting to see much snow at Asahidake Onsen. We had initially intended to go hiking around the treacherous mountain passes. There was going to be a little bit of snow around, meaning that we needed waterproof hiking boots, and it would all be rather picturesque, relaxing, and probably autumnal. How incredibly wrong we were. Snow. We found a map of the walking trails in the area. The sign was about fifteen metres away from where we were on the footpath. We went to check it out but soon discovered that the snow in between was knee deep (at the shallowest). The next discovery which we made was that once you fell over, it was incredibly difficult to get up, because when you put your hand down, your hand just kept sinking into the snow so there was no way to push yourself up. We decided that we would take one of the walks regardless of how much snow was getting into our clothing, bags and cameras. Nick went back to the car to get his bag and Bryan and I went on ahead to scout the path ahead but found that it got waist deep and we were pretty sure that the way we were going was leading directly into a stream which would have been pretty bad, so we gave up on that stupid idea. Besides, our jeans were quite literally frozen stiff.

We visited the information centre to see if they knew of any paths which were actually walkable and they offered us snow shoes for hire! Excitedly, we strapped on our snow shoes and gripped our stocks. Bryan also hired gumboots since his regular shoes (Italian made Country Road casual suede leather) were totally inappropriate. Fifteen minutes later, we were wading in knee deep snow with our snow shoes through a pristine winter wonderland, seemingly untouched by humans. We all agreed that the experience could not be described with mere words (no matter how good the adjectives are), and even pictures couldn't do it justice (although I tried my best anyway). It was all very surreal. I felt like I wasn't really there. I couldn't possibly be. It was probably the most alien environment I've ever experienced and since it was originally so perfect, I felt a bit guilty for leaving such a huge track in the snow behind us. Later, I got over my guilt and started chopping snow off the signs and branches for fun. Bryan fell over in waist deep snow and couldn't get back up again for ages and about one step further, he fell over again. Our trail-making came to an end once Nick discovered that a bridge over a river we needed to cross was actually just a log, and that the snow covering the log was too hard to get rid of. That, and we were slightly averse to falling off the log and taking a swim in the river. This event really does warrant a page or more of writing, but as I mentioned before, words simply don't do it justice, so I'll stop.

Considering the snow was so heavy, we figured that our next planned step was going to be a waste of time; we were going to see some volcanic lakes in the mountains to the east of where we were. If the snow was still very heavy, it would have made the drive there tough, slow and dangerous, and we wouldn't have been able to see anything due to the poor visibility. Instead we decided to head for the coast. The drive out of the mountains was pretty scary ? my knuckles were white and my fingers were sore from gripping the steering wheel so hard. The conditions were so bad that they had closed a huge section of the expressway between Asahikawa and Sapporo, so we were led by our car's GPS system onto a detour. We were stuck on this detour in a huge traffic jam for several hours, during which time we decided to just stay the night in Sapporo and then keep moving again the next morning.

This particular night in Sapporo was pretty quiet and uneventful, except that I had a curry with level five hotness, where one was the least hot and ten was the hottest. However, levels six through ten were only allowed to be ordered if you could prove that you had already eaten an entire meal of the previous hotness level. Weird. Well, level five was pretty damn hot. I coped, but it wasn't a very enjoyable hot. After this, we went into a pachinko parlour, and left quite quickly. Imagine poker machines, but without the bar, and multiply the number of machines, people, staff, noise and music by a hundred (quite possibly more). That's pachinko.