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Ride Tales Post your ride reports for a weekend ride or around the world. Please make the first words of the title WHERE the ride is. Please do NOT just post a link to your site. For a link, see Get a Link.
Photo by Mark Newton, Mexican camping

I haven't been everywhere...
but it's on my list!


Photo by Mark Newton,
Camping in the Mexican desert



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  #2056  
Old 7 Dec 2019
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Taking pictures of cherry blossoms is also a national past-time. Just like scarfing down dumplings,
it's an activity that I can totally get on board with as well!


We walk back to our bikes to see which one of them got towed.

To our surprise they were both still there! Either two-wheelers get overlooked for parking violations or the Japanese just don't think anyone would willfully break the law like that...

No matter, we head out of Kumamoto in the late afternoon to try to beat the big city rush hour. We're only a little bit successful. Although the GPS says it's only another hour or so to get to our next stop, we arrive in Aso just as the sun begins to set. We are starving and can't find a restaurant that's open.


After riding around a bit, we find this very small family-run restaurant

The lady that runs it is very nice, but she doesn't speak any English at all, which we're totally used to by now. I don't think we even ordered anything, we just sat down and did a bit of sign language to indicate we were hungry and then these plates appeared in front of us after a little while. It was very tasty: grilled beef with rice and miso soup. I love Japanese food!

Good thing we know the Japanese word for Asahi . It's "Asahi"...

After dinner, we try to find our guest house in the dark, navigating through very narrow streets of the tiny community by headlight only. The housekeeper lets us in and shows us to our room:


To our delight, it's a tatami room!

Finally after almost a month in Japan, we are able to see some cherry blossoms for Neda. Had some great food today and we're sleeping in a cool tatami room tonight. What an experience! We are loving Japan!
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  #2057  
Old 16 Dec 2019
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Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/403.html



We are taking another rest day. Two in fact.

The pace over the last couple of weeks since we left Tokyo has been relentless. We're just not used to this constant movement, especially in our fatigued state. But because we're on rental bikes, we keep pushing ourselves to make the most of it. Although we're enjoying Japan immensely, there's a lot of pressure to press forward and that's not very fun.

I wished we owned these bikes right out instead of renting them. That way we wouldn't feel so rushed.


Our guest house in Aso

Thankfully, when we awake this morning, it's pouring rain. Yes, you heard right. We're actually thankful it's raining! Because now this justifies our decision to stay put for a little bit. During our stay, we meet other tourists who check in and out of the guest house. Many of them are hikers, who are planning to climb nearby Mount Aso.


Rainy days means I get to stay in and work on the blog

Since we've been on the move, there's been no time to edit pictures and write. So now I take the opportunity to type up some entries. Sometimes I get a bit discouraged that the blog is so far behind. Oh well, it'll get done when it gets done.

It's cold up here in the mountains! I sit myself beside a space heater, crank it up and start to type.
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  #2058  
Old 16 Dec 2019
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Taking a break to go out and grab some lunch. Neda takes some pix of the flowers around our neighbourhood


This is where we're staying for the next couple of days. Nice view of the mountains in the background


We found a great restaurant just around the corner, funky decorations hang from the ceiling


My little feast in front of me. Neda tries some "yama-imo" or mountain potato

Yama-imo is finely grated raw yam. It becomes very gooey and then you can serve it over salad, soup or noodles, since it doesn't have a very strong taste. The Japanese love it because of it's slimy texture. Just like natto!

In fact, there's a name for the Japanese love of slimey food. It's called: "Neba Neba". Other examples of neba neba are raw egg yolks served over rice or in a soup, slimy seaweed, okra, gelatinous mushroom caps. If you want to eat like a Japanese person, you have to embrace neba neba!

Also, I've also noticed that the Japanese like to compartmentalize their food. They don't like different flavours touching each other, so they must each be served in individual plates or bowls. I'd hate to be a dishwasher in a Japanese restaurant!
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  #2059  
Old 16 Dec 2019
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Another day, we venture further out to find somewhere else to eat. Still so cloudy outside, you can't even see the mountains around us.

Our host at the guest house tells us that there is a market in town where we could get some food. Over the last couple of days, we've gotten to know her a little bit. Every day during lunch, she walks into town to take an onsen break, soaking in the hot mineral waters and then she returns back in the afternoon to check in guests.


The little market in town, right beside the onsen. The triangle-shaped rice balls are called Onigiri and are very popular in Japan

It was good to take a small break from riding and touring. When we finally do check out of the guest house, it's still a little damp outside and the air is cold. Perhaps not the best weather to ride up Mount Aso, but this is the only opportunity to do it. We can't wait around forever waiting for sunshine.

Neda wants to bypass Mount Aso, since we can't even see the top because of the thick cloud cover. I've got a case of FOMO, so I try to convince her, "It's kind of on the way, just a small detour. Maybe the weather will clear up when we get there..."

We negotiate the long, windy road up the mountain. The summit is less than 30 minutes drive, but as we climb higher, the haze in the air turns to fog. It gets thicker and large water droplets form on our visors. Cold too!!!


At the summit, there's a little parking lot and a lookout. Unfortunately, not much to see...

This is a bit disappointing. There's supposed to be amazing views into the caldera of Mount Aso, but alas, it was not meant to be.

Neda gives me the "I told you so" look.

I hate that look.
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  #2060  
Old 16 Dec 2019
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We descend the mountain and head further west, back towards Kumamoto.


Some kind of roadblock on our route. The sign is in Japanese and we don't know if the road is closed or not. There are hours listed...

Neda pulls out her Google Translate app and aims the camera at the kanji characters, hoping for a good translation. All that comes out is gibberish.

There's a long-ass detour that by-passes this road but it adds quite a bit of time and I'd hate to do that if it's not absolutely necessary. I wish I could read Japanese. What do those hours mean? I postulate that maybe the road becomes a single-lane and the hours dictate which direction you can travel in.

Since we're on motorcycles, we can perhaps slip past oncoming traffic if we get the direction wrong. Feign ignorance if the police stop us...

So we decide to ride past the road block and try our luck.

15 kms later, we run into construction. The entire road is closed and that same sign we saw earlier is posted here as well. There's a ski resort and a hotel where we've stopped, so we ask someone if the road will open. They tell us that the hours in red are closures and the hours in blue are when it's open. *DUH* Of course... We just missed the lunch-time window for crossing and it would be several more hours until the road re-opened again.

DAMMIT! If only Google Translate worked properly!

We double back and take the detour.


Ran into a bunch of motorcyclists out for a group ride in the mountain roads. We join their gang for a little bit until they turn off towards Mount Aso.

The detour wasn't that bad, nice and scenic with a few entertaining curves to keep our sporty-bikes happy.


A few kms after the detour re-joins the main road, we approach a larger town called Kikuchi. Cherry blossoms greet our arrival.
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  #2061  
Old 25 Dec 2019
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The main road takes us past a very pretty park, and it's full of cherry blossom trees. We have to stop here!


More hanami scenes

When Neda first told me about this "Cherry Blossom Festival" held in Japan, we thought that it was held at a specific time and place. It was only when we arrived here we found out this "festival" was held all over the country as the blooming season moved from south to north. The festival is wherever you can find a cherry blossom tree!

Cherry blossoms are called "Sakura" in Japanese, and sakura season is a huge deal here, despite being so short. It takes one week for the flowers to reach full bloom, and a week later, the petals are already falling off. Our plan is to catch the beginning of the sakura in the south and basically travel with the blooming season as it moves upwards, so we're surrounded by cherry blossoms for much longer than a couple of weeks!

There are ads and signs everywhere celebrating sakura. In every grocery and convenience store, it looks like someone popped a gigantic bubble gum balloon inside and got pink colouring on all the shelves and merchandise. Almost every product in the stores during sakura season is clad in pale pink packaging!


Pink Sakura Pocky sticks! Even the non-Japanese brands get into Sakura season! You go, Makudonarudo!
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  #2062  
Old 25 Dec 2019
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The origins of the Cherry Blossom tree are quite contentious. Most people agree that they originally came from South Korea. But lately, China has also laid claim to the birth place of cherry blossoms. But the reality is that it was the Japanese that cultivated this historically unloved tree which bore a sour fruit eaten only by birds. This tree which flowered for only two weeks out of the year was ignored by every other country but Japan, which celebrated its ephemeral nature and made its appreciation part of the fabric of Japanese life.


A family enjoying a picnic under a sakura tree. This is Japan in a nutshell.

While cherry blossoms have gained popularity around the world in the latter 20th century, particularly after WWII, the Japanese have been planting sakura trees all over the country since the 7th century.


The recent rains have left a little present upon the sakura petals


Neda is having a hanami moment
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  #2063  
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I am day-dreaming of all the gyozas I am going to eat tonight


Leaving Kikuchi Park. This motorcyclist approaching us was getting his lean on! Nice!

You know the weather is getting warmer when you see so many bikes out. We ride to the town of Nagasu at the edge of Ariake Bay. We can catch a ferry here that will bypass the urban centres on the northern shores and take us across the bay towards Nagasaki Prefecture.


We line up for the ferry with more bikes! Here's a hotted up Honda CRF, just like the 250s we had in Thailand.
Dual exhaust, Showa forks... maybe not *exactly* like our 250s in Thailand...
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  #2064  
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These ferries are a real godsend. We'd be stuck in so much traffic if we weren't able to cross the waters. Just a scant 45 minutes later, we're in the port town of Taira in Nagasaki prefecture.


All of the bikers deep in the hold of the ferry, checking out each others ride and waiting for the ramp to come down to let us off

We haven't had lunch yet and we're starving. On all the Japan Facebook groups I'm on, I've read some good things about Mos Burger, which is Japan's largest burger chain. Of course there's one waiting for us in Taira.


Neda is not a burger fan, but I manage to convince her to try it out. Verdict: Thumbs down. You don't go to Japan for burgers.

Give me neba neba anyday over Japanese burgers.

Shimabara is less than 10 kms away and we stop once again to check out some Samurai Houses!


There's a pedestrian street in Shimabara lined with traditional Samurai dwellings from the Edo Period (1600s-1800s)
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  #2065  
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Some of the houses are open to the public as museums. Here are some pictures of Neda photobombing the nice Samurai families who live there:


The warrior class was considered the elite of Japanese society, so their houses were better quality than the rest of the population

These houses are decorated not very differently from the tatami rooms where we've been staying: rice paper sliding doors, tatami mats on the floors, and dark exposed wood beams overhead.


These houses focused less on the military aspects of the Samurai and more on how they lived at home.
So no bushido masks, lacquered armor or multiple-folded steel swords here! More tea cups and urns...



Neda sharing a meal with a Samurai family
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  #2066  
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We are feeling right at home here! Minus the creepy mannequins, of course...
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  #2067  
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Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/404.html



From Shimabara, we head towards our rest place for the evening, located on the west side of the peninsula. To get there, we have to drive over an active volcano: Mount Unzen!


Heading towards Mount Unzen, and then onwards to Obama

Yes, there's a town named Obama. It means, "little beach" in Japanese. Although it's not named after US President Barack Obama, he is *very* popular in Japan. When he was inaugurated in 2008, there was a huge celebration here in Obama, Nagasaki.


Twisty roads up Mount Unzen

We love mountain roads, we always find enjoyable twists and turns that we can attack with our sportybikes. However, I'm a bit worried about roads around active volcanos though. Mount Unzen's last major eruption was in 1972, when landslides and tsunamis kiled 15,000 people. We tip toe on these curvy volcano roads, careful not to set off another eruption...
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  #2068  
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Heading towards the peaks ahead in the distance


As we get higher, fog obscures the way. Near the summit, 1500m above sea level, we stop to look at the clouds below us


Road is one-way around the summit of Mount Unzen
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  #2069  
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Near the top we find a resort: Unzen Hot Springs Onsen Resort

This isn't fog anymore. We are enveloped in steam emanating from the ground. Hot, smelly sulfuric gases seep up from all around us and makes us gag as we walk around the boardwalk that the resort has put up around this hellish rocky landscape. In fact, the Japanese name for this place is "Unzen Hell". Although these gases aren't poisonous, you have to hold your breath the entire time that you walk around otherwise you'll throw up from the smell. *blech*

Finally we had enough and we scramble back onto our bikes to escape Unzen Hell. Back down the volcano we ride until we reach Obama.

Looking at the map, this is the western-most point of our travels in Japan. From hereonin, we start heading back east.


This is our hotel in Obama-cho - we have a tatami room. Yay! A pretty tea set awaits us on the short-legged table (chadubai)

This part of Kyushu island is very geologically active, and there are many onsens in the area. Pretty much every hotel and ryokan in the area has an onsen. Including ours!
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  #2070  
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Donning the yukata provided to us in preparation to take a dip in the hot pools

Neda is not allowed into the onsen.

Back when we first started our trip, she got a huge tattoo on the side of her ribcage to celebrate riding across Canada. But now we've discovered that tattoos are frowned upon in Japan because only gangsters get inked. Tattoos are linked to members of the underground criminal organization known as Yakuza. They're like the Japanese version of the Mafia. In almost every onsen, there is a sign that reads "No tattoos allowed".

There is hope for tatted-up individuals though. There are a few onsens that will allow you in if you cover up your tattoo. We've been trying to find a stick-on bandage that covers Neda's bodyart, but there is nothing that large. So everytime we go to an onsen, she takes her chances hoping nobody will catch her.

Cause she's gangsta like that. OY (Original Yakuza).


All set to head down to the onsen!

Since onsens are separated by sex, we go our separate ways. I wish Neda good luck and hope she doesn't get picked up by the police.
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