Friday, August 1, 2014

Nishinoshima-cho, Nishonoshima Day 2

After completing 24 K on the islands of Nakanoshima and Chiburijima, Nishinoshima was a mere 7-minute ferry ride across the lagoon. Nishinoshima is the largest of the Dozen islands, both in size and population. Over 3,000 people live on the island of Nishinoshima, which territory also includes the uninhabited islets of Hoshikamijima, Futamatajima and Okazuroshima.

I would be spending the night on this island, and completing another 20K there the next morning. Fortunately I had a host on this island as well, another one of the island’s only foreign residents, who picked me up in her car and graciously drove me to her house.

Along the way, we stopped at a local grocery store (I’m not sure why I am mentioning that detail since all grocery stores are local). I bought some sashimi, yakitori, seaweed salad, and a delicious cake from the baker outside. The evening was spent chatting and lounging around the house. Around 8:00 pm we drove to an izakaya for a delicious dinner of ramen, eggplant, and other small dishes.

Ramen dinner to celebrate a hard day's work

My generous futon for the night


After a restful night’s sleep, I once again awoke without an alarm the next morning at 6:45 am

My host kindly drove me to the port the next morning at 7:35, where people were gathered in the parking lot of the tourism center awaiting the start of the morning’s walk.  This was the only day where we would truly be walking from start to finish. There was no ferry to board between islands, and no bus to take to the starting point or goal.

The group left sharply at 8:30 am. Yesterday I had been at the front of the race and one of the first to finish, but this morning I was one of the last to leave, and stayed behind the group almost the entire way.

The first 10 kilometers were along the main roads through town, of which I was already somewhat familiar.  After an hour of walking I was walking past my host’s house, then at her office. The roads ran along the coastline, providing spectacular views of the calm port, as well we scenes of rural life on the island. Still, I was feeling that even this was too urbane, with cars passing by every now and then, and buildings and paved roads in my peripheral vision. Reminiscent of the previous day’s hike in Ama-cho, I was again feeling the desire for the rugged wilderness.

The "urban" part of the walk

I hit the 10K checkpoint at 10:15 am, and that when the scenery changed completely. We started walking inland, and straight uphill. I would be climbing those steep hills for another hour, the road so curvy that it was impossible to see the end of it. Beyond every curve lay another uphill climb to the next curve. I didn’t hit the 15 K checkpoint until 11:30 am.

When I broke through the tree line I stood atop a high pasture overlooking the sea. As in Chibu-mura, the wind shredded through my clothes and although I stood in direct sunlight I was cold. With my view no longer obstructed by winding curves and trees, I could see the peak of the mountain facing an open sky. Though I was exhausted from climbing uphill , I was spurned on by the promise of a spectacular view.

What awaited me was probably the most famous image of the Oki Islands: Matengai cliff

Matengai cliff

“The luminous blankness circling us continued to remain unflecked for
less than an hour. Then out of the horizon toward which we steamed, a
small grey vagueness began to grow. It lengthened fast, and seemed a
cloud. And a cloud it proved; but slowly, beneath it, blue filmy shapes
began to define against the whiteness, and sharpened into a chain of
mountains. They grew taller and bluer--a little sierra, with one paler
shape towering in the middle to thrice the height of the rest, and
filleted with cloud--Takuhizan, the sacred mountain of Oki, in the
island Nishinoshima.

“It is the mists that make the magic of the backgrounds; yet even without
them there is a strange, wild, dark beauty in Japanese landscapes, a
beauty not easily defined in words. The secret of it must be sought in
the extraordinary lines of the mountains, in the strangely abrupt
crumpling and jagging of the ranges; no two masses closely resembling
each other, every one having a fantasticality of its own. Where the
chains reach to any considerable height, softly swelling lines are rare:
the general characteristic is abruptness, and the charm is the charm of

-Lafcardio Hearn, Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan

The climb downhill was almost as challenging as the climb uphill. The path was so steep I had to descend sideways, which slowed down my speed considerably. This is when things started getting wild. Nishinoshima had both the obstacles of Ama-cho (hairy caterpillars and huge bees), as well as the obstacles of Chibu-mura (cows and cow dung).

At the bottom of the hill more luscious scenes were waiting to seen. Auburn rocks of the coast evoked a wild desire from me. Alone at the face of a jagged coastline, I somehow felt more human than I ever have in the cities. I lingered a while to savor the view. Then I marched on. I opted to take a short 15 minute break at a campsite just below the hill. I had less than 5 K to go but even that seemed like too much for my weary body.  I trudged along the remaining meters at turtle pace and was one of the last to arrive at the port at 1:10 pm.

The day’s bento was again smaller than expected, and mainly made from rice, which was not nearly enough food for me. Fortunately one of the women on the island was selling fish burgers, and gave one to me for free. It was covered in mayonnaise and looked like beef burger and tasted like the ocean, but I loved it.

I had several hours to pass before the ferry left to Dogo at 5:15 pm, so I returned to my host’s house where I showered and rested for a short time.

The ferry departed from the same port where I arrived. At this point I was very familiar with the area and had no trouble getting a ferry ticket or finding the platform. Unlike the small boats we had taken between the Dozen islands, the ferry from Dozen to Dogo was the size of a ship, the same ferry that carries passengers to and from the mainland.

I had been warned that a ride on the ship could be treacherously nauseating, so I prepared myself mentally for anguish. Before mounting the ship, one may mistake it for a cruise vessel. It was glamorously white and pristine. However, its age showed from within. Faded carpets and yellowed wallpaper. They hadn’t bothered to maintain its interior in all its years of voyage. And that was as bad as it got. The sea itself was calm and cradling, gently rocking me to sleep as I lay on the outside desk. The whispering of waves caressing the edges of the ship.

I expected to grab a bamboo matt and sleep on the floor of the ship again, but something more interesting happened. One middle-aged woman and her teenage son noticed I was sitting alone and started a conversation with me. We were then joined by an elderly lady who was sitting in the vicinity and curious about chatting with a foreigner. The woman and her son lived in Dogo, on the largest (and only inhabited) island of Okinoshima.

 Our conversation ranged from my personal life, my unconventional long-distance relationship, to traveling and working abroad. Having to speak only Japanese got tiring for me after a while, but just as I thinking that I couldn’t take it anymore, the sound of music began to play from the intercom, a signal that we were about to arrive at the port. A whole hour and a half had flown by while I conversed with my companions, and I was suddenly very thankful for their presence.

Manhole cover at Nishinoshima, a squid mascot

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