Happy New Year!
Happy New Year and Merry Christmas! (Although I'm not counting it as 2021 yet until Jan. 20th.) I hope it's a much better year than last year. At least plans won't be cancelled this year as probably we all know better now not to make plans in the first place.
Sometimes one good person can make or break an adventure.
I owe this adventure to the owner of the Irifune hotel.
At first Yossi and I spent the holidays cleaning the house, then relaxing with our relatives. Snow fell lightly amidst a scattering of clouds that sometimes sent sharp beams of sunlight to prevent the white fluff from piling up, and sometimes covered the sun long enough for it to stick. The sun and snow played tug of war for two days while we played hide-and-seek, made skype calls, made cookies, decorated the house in paper snowflakes, practiced piano and calligraphy, and ate heartily. But on the third day, the snow was gone, the kids needed to do their winter break homework, and Yossi and I decided not to overstay our welcome.
We left the house with absolutely no plan whatsoever. I was actually pining for Kobe, struggling with my need to meet up with old friends, versus the fear of Covid. Somehow, in the next hour, we went from driving through the mountains wondering what to do, to being on a ferry heading toward the island of Shodoshima.
Shodoshima is not so far from where I live. I can see it from the top of my mountain. It's very large, and volcanic in origin. But the ferry from my town doesn't go there directly. We left from Okayama port. The ride was smooth and the sea was such a deep blue you wouldn't know the season from looking at it.
On arrival, I asked Yossi to drive me to the highest mountain. We passed olive groves where the imported plants are grown for oil. We passed a giant sculpture of Kannon, her white figure facing the southern sun and her hand raised in a gesture of openness. We arrived at a cliff with a view of the sea and the islands to the south, framed by great cliffs of ancient volcanic rock rising from a carpet of trees. I wanted to walk those cliffs and take pictures of the rocks, but snow started to fall. It was late in the day. We could either go home or get a hotel. We attempted the latter.
The first three places we called were closed or full, but the third one had just had three out-of-town groups cancel due to Covid. The man on the phone spoke casually, and said he'd give us the best room of the house. He warned that there weren't any restaurants open on a holiday, but that if we could get dinner from the local grocery, he'd give us drinks at the bar.
Yossi raised an eyebrow at me.
"Sounds like fun!" I said.
We arrived at a beach side motel, with the rooms being individual tiny houses. Ours had a great view of the sea, the stars, and a strip of connected islands and rocks that were now separated because of the high tide. The owner and his wife were so excited for us to be there. We had to get our temperature taken and fill out some contact forms, but we were the only ones staying that night and I didn't feel nervous about Covid at all.
They were so worried about us getting dinner that they went ahead and found a place within walking distance and made a reservation for us. So sweet! As we were the only ones staying, they filled up the ladies section of their on-site bath and said we could go in there together and enjoy it. And enjoy we did! A large pool of steaming hot water, just before a walk through the frigid air toward the restaurant.
The room was small, but enough. It came with cookies and tea.
I woke up at 6 am and went outside. The tide was low and you could walk across to the islands. I walked around for an hour and took pictures of the sunrise. Yossi tried to find me, but I was too hidden among the rocks. So much for being a romantic couple, but it was fun.
We drove back to the base of the volcanic cliffs and started walking up a dramatic trail lined by towering rock formations. Monkeys sometimes peeked their heads out at us from the trees, but the temperature dropped and I don't think they were interested in following us. The hotel owner had given us a warning. When faced with a monkey, hold your hands with your palms up to show that you do not carry any snacks. The monkeys will leave you alone.
The hike was amazing, full of interesting rocks and columns rising up from twisted trees. The cliffs were dotted with caves and in one large cavern, a shrine had been constructed. I hadn't expected such a rich adventure on such a random whim. Just the day before we'd set out, with no destination in mind, and now I was hiking with monkeys.
After our hike, we had local ramen in a trendy restaurant that overlooked a small harbor. No one was out on boats in the cold air of the winter holiday. But you could eat outside if you were worried about Covid. Again, it felt so weird to be outside in the sun in front of the sparkling sea, and yet it was about 2 degrees Celsius. The view before me and the cold bite on my cheeks didn't add up.
We said goodbye to the hotel owner before we left. I gave him a jar of chestnut preserves which are a symbol of wealth in the new year. He gave us a bag of citrus fruit from his own tree in exchange.
If you ever go to Shodoshima, please stay at this hotel!
This year I thought there would be no adventuring, but we ended up making the most of it!