Driving holidays

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Day-tripping to Whistler

The Travel Companion (TC) and I debated long and hard about renting a car in Vancouver, even if it was only for a few days. Public transit has always been encouraged and what people say about Vancouver being a ’small’, walkable city is to an extent, true, unless you’re staying out in the suburbs and not Downtown. In the end, we compromised (isn’t this always the case?) and rented a small, white pimple of a VW Golf—easy to handle, though guaranteed to give you performance anxiety as larger cars and trucks breeze past on the highway—because we wanted the freedom of exploring Vancouver’s suburbs while doing a day trip to...

The Path of Peace

In Ryukyuan legend, Nirai Kanai is the mythical realm across the sea where deities dwell and when invited, bring blessings into the home of the villagers. However seductive that imagery really is, present day Okinawa still styles itself as the island paradise (there’s even a bridge here named after this place), if the tree-lined paths, the beautiful coastal roads, the constant warm sea-breeze and the island vibes are any indications of what’s plastered on tourist sign boards. After days of driving along the coast and staring at Okinawa’s turquoise waters, it is beyond difficult to go back to the cramped streets and buildings of Naha and not feel somewhat claustrophobic. The place I’m putting up...

Route 58

If route 66 has become synonymous with the ultimate American road trip, Okinawa’s own version is found on route 58, a road that narrows in parts and widens in others and stretches from the south to the very far north of the main island. I spent a couple of days plying this route from Chatan northwards, loving every minute along this stretch of capes, winding curves and the constant, unchanging view of the aquamarine of the sea. The cars thinned out the further north I got, eschewing the rural part of Okinawa, but the distances aren’t as great as I thought they would be, unlike Hokkaido’s roads. The expressway makes...

When the weather forces its hand

Breakfast in Egilsstaðir Guesthouse is a curious affair. Waking up too early has no merits here (at least on the day we were there) because the cook who was supposed to prepare the first meal of the day was still asleep by the time we got to the breakfast room. Instead, the owner of the property, an elderly farmer by the name of Jónas Gunnlaugsson, regaled us with tales of driving through thick snow in Mjóafjörður, his theories of the missing Malaysian Airlines plane and his efforts to learn about money and currency after Iceland economic crisis while we waited for breakfast. The worsening weather threw a spanner into our...

Eastwards in snow

The second day on the road brought sunny skies, high winds and impossible views of the many glacier tongues that stick out of the southern end of Vatnajökull national park. We stopped at Skaftafell for a 3-km walk, then carried on towards Suðurland and Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, finally bunking overnight in a country (farm) hotel that could have easily been the set of Dagvaktin. Weather and road checking became our latest obsession. The road leading eastwards had been closed because of heavy snowfall, forcing us to think about contingency plans at every stop on this ring road tour. It’s no casual undertaking, even at this time of the year: don’t...

Sandblasted on the sunny south Coast

The Iceland adventure in a four-wheel drive began on a sullen Friday morning in Reykjavik as spring brought unpredictable winds and a very changeable sky. After quick stop at the Thrifty office somewhere in town and a warning not to drive the new Ford rental SUV into a river, we took off for the 832-mile ring road. Finding the Miklabraut was tricky thanks to a GPS that led us to a dead end of a suburban neighbourhood instead of where we needed to go. Getting lost really (as well as driving on a different side of the road), should have been the least of our worries. I’ve been told to expect...

Through the fog and mist

Many, many hours after I checked out of the hotel, I find myself in my own bedroom trying to recall the last hours I spent in Lake Akan and Kushiro. I draw a blank, mostly because tiredness and jet lag addle my memory, but also because I think I didn’t do very much at all even with the aimless driving around. Exploring the Kushiro Marshland was a total washout, quite literally so, when the most I could see was a few metres ahead. Kushiro city itself looked drab and grey in the early afternoon light. In desperation to pass the time, I decided that looking at cranes was in order...

Separation anxiety

I woke up a blustery, drizzly day and found that temperatures have fallen a whopping 18 degrees celsius from yesterday, which placed us firmly back in Spring weather. Ichiro Baba suggested that I paid Lake Onneto a visit in Ashoro-cho, a trip that I took and in all honesty, found useless given the weather. All lakes look the same when it’s raining – grey, washed out and sort of colourless. I turned tail and headed back to Lake Akan, the last place I’m stopping at before I depart from Kushiro airport tomorrow. A half-hour drive from rural Teshikaga, it’s a place that appears to be built solely for tourists. The...

Lakes, allergies and spam folders

I got the distinct feeling that I was intruding when I pulled up at the door of Pension Polaris at noon, my accommodation for the night. Curtly, I was told that there was room for me but I could only return at 4pm. Peeved at the shortness of Ichiro Baba’s reply and the less-than-welcoming manner of his, I drove off, contemplated choosing another place to stay, then decided against it grumpily because I didn’t have an internet connection to book anything online at a discounted price. Cheap of me, yeah. In the end, I found myself stopping at various lookout points in the hills and mountains to get a look...

The wild frontier

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...