I had lots of time to kill today, seeing as the distance to Shiretoko from Abashiri isn’t as great as the one I covered yesterday. The Shibazakura Park in Ozora-cho after checking out was my first stop at about 10am and already it was overflowing with tour buses.
After a short climb uphill to see the sprawl of pink flowers that really look prettier from a distance, I made a long U-turn and went back to Abashiri to visit the Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples, a permanent exhibition featuring the indigenous cultures of the North. A woman who thought I was a student gave me a discount for the entrance fee and frankly, I wasn’t about to complain.
Then it was onto Utoro via Shari, a coastal route that was long and boring – with speed traps! Thankfully, the Sapporo Drug Store in central Shari provided a smidgen of entertainment and broke the monotony as I went around looking for facial scrub as the stench of manure wafted in from outside.
The drive got more interesting and scenic towards the end and the place I’m staying at – Iruka (or Dolphin) Hotel – was hard to find; it’s somewhere along a small road off a tunnel leading straight down into town and the narrow parking makes it even more difficult to get down to it. Iruka’s like a budget hotel, simple and cheap by Japanese standards and the biggest issue I have with it is the smell of cigarette smoke that permeates the entire place, apart from the creepy feeling of walking to the Bates Onsen in the dark alone. Otherwise, the owners are great and take the pains to arrange whatever you’d like to see.
Shiretoko has oft been compared to the Yukon territory, the wild frontier equivalent far north of Japan but because the Japanese are out in full force during the weekends (today’s a Sunday), it’s hard to believe that right now save for the fact that some straggling deer are wont to wander in drains and by the roadside. My reason for coming is pretty much the same as these tourists: to see the nature park and the Shiretoko-pass, all of which lie at least 15 km out of town. The latter is closed to my extreme disappointment but the Goko lakes are still open, part of which can be seen on the short but brilliant walk on the elevated, wooden boardwalk affording incredible views of the mountain range and the Sea of Okhotsk.
Mileage of the day: 170.5 km