Hit the road, Jill

I woke up at 5.30am (and it was already bright with some skiers doing their thing next door), having not slept that well last night because of the strange feel of the pillows, apart from the long journey ahead.

The first half of the epic journey was exciting and the second half, hellishly monotonous.

By 8am, I found myself on the expressway by accident and decided to continue on it  for the sake of finally being able to drive within a range of 80-90 km/hr rather than follow my carefully planned route through Sounkyo and Kamikawa. The toll cost 450 yen, but hey, for about 100 km of fast driving, I’d take that option any day. Thanks to a group of helpful men who worked at the Asahikawa toll booth, I got to go through (and use their toilet at the same time) after a combination of broken Japanese words and hand signs.

After 140-ish kilometres, Subaru and I ended up somewhere near Engaru at about 10:30 am, which put me closer to Kamiyubetsu Tulip park than to the Shibazakura Park at Ozora-cho. Commercialised and crowded eve though barely anything was in bloom, I caught a glimpse of more soil and kitsch than flowers and hightailed it out of there down route 238, past Saroma and Tokoro to Abashiri.


Driver-exhaustion warred with the urge to explore the surrounding nature, so after checking in (I’m quite seduced by the native Ainu architectural and interior design theme of the place) and changing my dinner reservation time, I made my way down to Cape Notoro on the advice of a helpful staff member of the hotel. What was initially a quiet exploration of the coast with the Shiretoko Mountain range in view turned unpleasant when a busload of chattering tourists clogged the trails.



The car and I went straight back after getting my pictures for the day, then up the other side of the hills, opposite my hotel in the vain hope of catching glimpses of Lake Abashiri from a vantage point. The only place that guaranteed a good lookout was closed; in the carpark was merely a bored van driver who sat in his vehicle and kept his eyes on his phone.

I got back about 90 minutes before dinner; weighing my options, the public bath seemed like a good idea: get hot, then clean, then hungry. My first public onsen experience was an enlightening one, and frankly, quite disturbing. As much as I would have liked to pretend that public nudity of sorts among women doesn’t bother me, it does (at least, for this first time). Or perhaps that’s also a remnant of a Methodist upbringing rebelling at seeing some nude people frolicking in steaming water while others rubbed patches of skin (and fat) vigorously as they gossiped about kings and cabbages. I hoped, as I cast surreptitious glances around to make sure I was doing things right, that no one thought I was lecherously eyeing nubile flesh.

I crept out of the place when done, still feeling like a prude.

Mileage of the day: 334.7 km, on my own, with only my ipod for company. A new record.

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