Caution, no bears in sight

“This is a Mandarin duck. And that is bear faeces. The bark of this tree has been clawed by a bear. This is a bear paw print. This mushroom is good for rashes, but you can’t take it out from this place.”

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I, along with another lady dressed in inappropriate attire nodded dutifully as Ayano Yuji (my guide through the lakes and a friend of Yamanoto in Iruka) spoke and made exclamations when needed. He conveys the wealth of information in slow, halting English, all of which I appreciated. My interest in ducks, admittedly, is restricted to the Peking duck on a dinner table so his ability to point out ducks’ gender, pregnant deer, weight of bears by paw-prints and distant sounds of woodpeckers from a distance amazes me.

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The mercury has shot way up high today but this hike is surprisingly breezy – even though the deep ice that piles high above the boardwalk in places. Winter, according to Ayano, was warmer than usual, but Spring had sprung a cold surprise; the ice has barely begun to melt in some spots on the trail. In my rented wellies, the cold of the deep ice seeps through my heels like an ice-pack on sore muscles.

 

The primeval forest is carefully left undisturbed as small, guided tours make their way around on the boardwalk. We saw signs of bears and deer but none of the elusive creatures themselves. However, it’s a pleasant contrast to my individual and possibly ill-timed forage through the 2km trail that leads to the Furepe waterfall as well as my earlier try at going up half of the Shiretoko-toge (the mountain pass that leads to Rausu) with a tour bus.

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I returned to Iruka to pay my accommodation charges and in all my years of travel, I’ve never seen someone scramble for change like the way Miyoko and Yamamoto did. She ran back and forth looking for loose bills; he asked the cook for some bills in desperation and raided the vending machine for coins.

My truthful opinion of this place? Paper-thin walls meant that a guest’s loud snoring next door kept me up at night and the funky odour that permeates the place couldn’t quite be gotten rid of with room spray. But the hosts are nice enough. So I’d stay here if I were on a budget…which I sort of am.

Mileage of the day (just up and down the mountain): 49.9 km

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