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Vic’s Travel Diary

Friday, 23 Nov 2007

Location: Hokkaido, Japan

MapWe went to the fish markets in the morning for breakfast, during which time we stowed our car in a parking tower which was essentially a building with a rotating mechanism for storing cars. Kind of like a ferris wheel.

We headed to Toya-ko national park where the views were absolutely stunning. We drove alongside a giant lake which was as blue as something painted really really blue, with a backdrop of huge snow covered mountains. We were all pretty enthusiastic about taking some pictures ? even the tripod came out! The next stop was an active volcano. We paid our money and took the cable car all the way up to the top but were disappointed to learn that the snow had forced them close pretty much all of the walking trails. The view, however, was certainly not closed. It was far from it. We could see forever. We could almost make out Australia (not that we were missing it). The sky was ominous but there were some holes in the clouds which let the sunlight through onto the ocean, thusly creating the most spectacular ?fingers of god? effect which I had ever seen. Nick and Bryan took advantage of this situation to the fullest and pretended to be robots.

We then drove and sang on our merry way to Noboribetsu Onsen as it got dark (4pm?) and dove into the biggest and most elaborate onsen we could find. There were tons of people (compared to the three of us being alone, as was the case in the last few we had been to) and the place was absolutely massive. There were about ten to fifteen different pools to choose from, each different in style, size, heat (one was completely cold) and there were two outside in the snow. There was also a sauna, two walking pools with ankle deep water in a small circuit and taps which dropped water in huge drops proving to deliver one of the best back and neck massages ever. I mean it. Again, my favourite was the hot spa outside in the snow. It was a stupefyingly relaxing prelude to our impending stresses, and spooky doom.

We intended to check in at the youth hostel in Noboribetsu Onsen, then return to the busier area and have dinner then get shitfaced. We drove to the hostel (led by our trusty GPS), but found that there was no such youth hostel as listed in the Lonely Planet. We drove around the area a bit to see if it was kind of close in case the GPS got it slightly wrong. Nothing. We then checked the Youth Hostels listing in a brochure we picked up earlier and found that there was no such hostel. Damn you Lonely Planet! We sat for a few minutes and tossed around ideas for what to do instead. Our debate became quite heated and led to a full on fist fight in the snow. I can't remember exactly what happened after that, but we ended up in the neighbouring town of Muroran.

At first, Muroran was kinda scary, and a little creepy. 1. We had no intention of going there whatsoever; 2. It was night time and no one was around; 3. It's mostly industrially zoned; 4. It was cold; 5. The roads were hilly and snowy/icey; 6. Roadworks created a road closure which our GPS didn't know about, and forced us to backtrack several times which was not very nice, given the aforementioned adverse conditions. To top it all off, when we got to the hostel there, it seemed entirely deserted. There wasn't even anyone attending the reception, just an Engrish sign which read "Right now, semi-Bicchu It is going out right now." We were tired, wanted to know where we were going to sleep and we were getting hungry. We had a fairly large decision to make. Stay and wait? Get dinner then come back? Go elsewhere? Where? So instead of deciding, we played table tennis. There was a table tennis table set up in the middle of the 'foyer' so we rummaged around and managed to find some bats and a slightly dented ball. It took us so long to deliberate whilst playing table tennis, browsing the web on the linux based pc we found and flicking through magazines in the library, that the reception guy eventually came back from his semi-Bicchu, whatever the hell that was. Obviously, not a full Bicchu. Problem solved. Time for dinner...

We had about an hour and a bit for dinner before the hostel's curfew lapsed and we were locked out on the streets, huddling for warmth in the car. One thing would lead to another, and Bryan would be pregnant with our lovechild. Anyway... the point is, we were in a strange, (seemingly) deserted town and we needed to eat. We drove around the streets for a bit, looking for anything vaguely resembling a restaurant or purveyor of foodstuffs. Along one back alley, we spotted some light that looked warm and inviting, but it could have been anything. We pulled up to it and I stuck my head out of the window. The place passed my smell test with flying colours so we parked the car and moseyed on in.

Shock! Gasp! Everyone in the place was quite startled when Bryan and Nick walked in. The place looked rather homely. A husband and wife operation. They would have been good friends with all their customers. Occasionally new people would come and try their less than famous yakitori (skewers), but never foreigners... They had no idea what to do, and we had no idea how or what to order. All we wanted to communicate was "give us a whole bunch of stuff for us to shove into our food-holes", but our Japanese sucked and their English was equally bad (see: None at all). They were so happy to help us and tried their best to communicate with us, and their food was delicious. This place had put such a positive spin on our stressful night and we were so happy that they could have fed us pigs guts and we would have loved it. Then, there was the The Guy. Yes, The Guy. He walked in to the restaurant, presumably to pick up his take away yakitori, saw us and his jaw dropped. His startled and confused expression was timeless. It was as if had a momentary existential dilemma as he questioned his sanity. What? Who? Why? *explode*. Luckily for him, he was only one step into the shop, so he had a chance to leave the shop and have a think before he came back in again. Yes, he literally left the shop to catch his breath and his sanity. A few moments later, he was back and mostly recovered although still slightly dazed. Regrettably, Bryan missed The Guy's whole startling ordeal, probably because he was too busy looking at the porn calendar on the wall. Turns out, The Guy knew a bit of English, so he was more than happy to have a bit of a chat with us, and act as a translator between us and the restaurateurs. He showed us an advertisement for the place we were at, in a brochure showing local Muroran yakitori joints. Then, when he left, he put 2000 yen (approx $20) towards our bill. Wow. Nice guy! Thanks! All our troubles and stresses were relieved and we were in such a good mood that we were really quite sad to finish up and leave. We paid our bill and Bryan gave them an Australian $5 note as the only Australian present any of us had to offer.