Almost every day I was in Hiroshima, it rained.
There were some days when it didn't rain, when I went back to Kobe to take care of house things. It didn't always rain all day. Sometimes just for a few hours at night. But I knew they weren't going to open any of the hiking trails with the threat of rain still hanging. Yossi and I went to a neighboring city and we drove up what looked like a fairly tame mountain, but even so there were boulders that had been moved aside and trees that looked precariously ready to fall down over the path in the next storm. So hiking locally was out of the question.
Instead, I searched broader. My last day off in Hiroshima was going to be spent hiking, rain or shine, landslide or not. I have 3 friends now, and they wanted to hang out with me, but I knew this was something I'd need to do myself. I mean this could be me going on an easy stroll through the mountains in the sunlight, or it could be me with a hardhat trudging through mud in the rain. I found a hiking trail through a gorge that was only half closed due to landslides, and taxis were available at the end of the trail if something terrible happened. After a few days of rain, what would happen? Would it close further or were they working on opening it up for the hiking season? (November is hiking season in Japan) Also this gorge, Sandankyo, is a 2 hour bus ride from the Hiroshima bus center. And I live about 2 hours from Hiroshima station. So how early would I have to get up and how carefully would I have to time all my transfers? Yes, this was better for me to just do alone. I arranged to meet with my friends for drinks at 8pm. Certainly no matter what adventure befell me, I would be back by 8pm.
I checked the weather forcast the night before.
Walking among the lotus leaves in the morning, elementary school kids in cute matchine sailor hats passed me by shouting hello. I found a giant hawkmoth of a species I hadn't seen before while waiting to cross a street. The day was starting off beautifully. I'd packed everything I might possibly need for adventure, including a change of clothes. I felt invicible.
My bus arrived on time to bring me to the nearest station, Saijo. Unfortunately due to recent natural disasters, the train often arrives late with no excuse or warning, and this happened to be one of those days. Standing amidst business people packed in on their way to work, my worries started. The highway bus left at 8:25 and being 10 minutes late would only give me 4 minutes to find it. I took a deep breath and checked the bus schedule. If I missed the bus, I'd have to wait for the one at 9:30, which doesn't use the highway, and I wouldn't arrive at the gorge until 12:00. I decided that was still acceptable.
Hiroshima station only has one main exit, and everything is written in English to accommodate the many tourists visiting the well-known city. It took me just 1 minute to locate the bus roundabout. But the ticket office wasn't open until 9. If my bus was leaving in 3 minutes, it should be already waiting here, so I checked every single bus in the roundabout and.... none of them were headed my way. I decided not to feel bad about it. 8:25 arrived and went, and I decided to get some tea while waiting for the ticket office to open.
I was so excited about my adventure, I couldn't wait until 9 and after a cup of tea, I wandered around the station and found a tourist information office. It was 8:50. I walked in and asked where the bus stop is for the buses going to Sandankyo. As it turns out, "Hiroshima Station Bus Stop" and "Hiroshima Bus Center" are completely different locations! To get to the center, you need to take a local bus for 20 minutes!! The lady showed me where to go. By this time it was 9:00. I waited five minutes for a bus going to the bus center, and jumped on nervously. This is why I need to do some of my travelling alone. I checked the bus times again and if I missed the 9:30 one, the next one wouldn't be in until 11, and would arrive at 1:30, and would not give me enough time to do any serious hiking. Would I have to give up on my adventure?
I arrived at Hiroshima Bus Center at 9:25. Usually the buses arrive on one side of the center and pick up on the other, so I would have had to walk all the way to the other side of it. But the arrival side was full, so the bus dropped me off right at the departing area. I hopped over to the ticket counter and explained in a panicked way that I wanted to take the 9:30 bus to Sandankyo, and that I only had 5 minutes and didn't even have a ticket yet. The ticket lady was unconcerned. With a huge smile, she did my transaction for me, put 3 different maps in my hands, and promised me I would have so much fun. I walked outside again just as the bus arrived, jumped on, and it left within a minute.
I spent 2 hours drawing butterflies on postcards for my friends while watching the Japanese countryside roll by outside my window. It was absolutely beautiful. Hiroshima farm houses all have red tile roofs that are guarded by fish dragon sculptures called Shachihoko. Some of the tunnels the bus used were closed for repairs because of all the rain, but we managed to get up in to the mountains fine and a bit after 12 I was standing on a riverbank in the middle of nowhere, excited to be alive.
By my luck, they had managed to clean up most of the trail so that instead of it being 50% closed, it was only 10% closed. They often have sightseeing boat rides up and down the gorge, but those were cancelled for the moment, and I hadn't planned on riding in a boat anyway. I was super hungry, though, and there was one shop open and selling fish they'd caught in the river, salted and roasted over a fire outside. I had a yummy fish and spent the first part of the trail practically leaping with pent-up energy.
The river in the Sandankyo gorge is an almost glowing green. The sun penetrates to the bottom and you can see all the sand, pebbles, fish, crabs, and anything else at the bottom. Some parts of the mountain have strains of a dark red rock that perfectly compliments the emerald color of the water. Only two waterfalls were labeled, but because of all the rainfall I saw a good 6 or 7. Finally I came to the end of the main trail where the boat house was under construction. There was a large sign over the trail that said, "Manage your time carefully. It takes about 2.5 hours to get to the Sandankyo waterfall. We are not responsible for you." I looked at my watch and checked the bus schedule. The last bus leaves at 4:30, so I figured I wanted to get back by 4. That would give me about 3 hours. I would have to specifically not go to the end to see the waterfall. I would have to be responsible, and after 1.5 hours, I would have to turn back. I looked down in to the green water and saw yellow leaves floating by, getting caught by the sun, and shining like gold leaf over a blue glaze. I made a mental promise to be responsible, and another part of me apologized in advance knowing that I am never good about time management when it comes to hiking. Down the trail I went!
The train was wonderful. At every turn I was finding waterfalls, rock formations, and the mesmerising river was always just below. I found two species of butterfly that I'd never seen before as well as mushrooms and a red snake. I kept telling myself to hurry, and I kept stopping to take pictures or explore something interesting. I didn't meet anyone else on the trail at all, so I started singing to keep myself company. Finally I came to a fork in the trail. It was 2pm and it said 1 kilometer to Nidankyo to the West and 2 km to Sandankyo in the North.
Technically I knew I should turn back and see neither of them.
I knew I would regret not seeing Sandankyo Waterfall, because it's the namesake of the gorge.
But not seeing either waterfall would really get to me. I had to at least see Nidankyo. It had taken me less time than the sign had said, so I didn't feel like I was being completely irrational. I headed off to Nidankyo at a brisk pace. After 15 minutes I arrived at a lot of yellow tape over the trail and some fallen trees behind it. Nidankyo was the 10% of the trail that was closed.
So what did I do?
Of course, I went back toward Sandankyo.
I mean who wouldn't?
The trail hadn't been walked on by many people. They must have just re-opened it so not all the debris was out of the way. It took me until 3:00, but I found the waterfall and it was stunning!! With all the heavy rain, water was rushing out of the side of the cliff white and frothy, and then landing in the calm, deep river and peacefully winding away in to the gorge. The waterfall has three parts to it, hence the name San-dan. Towering above it was an arrogant slab of cliff and beyond, the rich green mountains and blue sky. I was so happy.
So now I had 1.5 hours to travel back to what the signs said would be a 3 hour ordeal.
So what did I do?
I have never ran so much in my life. I could not move at all the next day, and I was sore for the rest of the week.
I made it back to the bus stop at 4:20 and had enough time to drink all of my water and eat all of the snacks I'd brought with me before the bus came. It was glorious. I stayed awake on the bus long enough to watch the sunset, then slept until we arrived at 7:30 in Hiroshima. I managed to make it back to my town only 10 minutes late to meet up with my friends at the bar. We had the famous locally brewed sake with locally reaped oysters. I usually don't like oysters, but these were pretty good. I apologized for not inviting anyone with me on my adventure, but really.. it's better I went by myself.
(Subject is from a pachinko parlor. I'm imagining either policemen with metal detectors instead of guns, trying to make their job sound more interesting than it actually is, or a police force of Terminator-style robots.)
My next post will be from my new home in Okayama!
Internet is still iffy, please be patient.