Our baggage is being shipped once again, this time for Tokyo. With my laptop bag full of clothes, we headed to the train station at 6 in the morning. We rode it, switched trains, and within a few hours we had arrived in Hakone.
Hakone is a small mountain town, which is a big difference from larger cities like Kyoto and Hiroshima. We stopped for lunch before boarding the boat to cross Lake Ashi, the nearby lake. I wasn't hungry, so I waited in the meeting spot, enjoying the long awaited nice weather, especially after the mess that yesterday was. The lake was full of large and small boats alike, and we were going to take one of the largest ones they had -- one that looked very much like a pirate ship.
To get there, we had a bit of a walk ahead of us. After lunch we headed into the nearby woods and walked a very short, but very old road. This, our tour guide said, was the old highway connecting Kyoto and Tokyo. At a time, it was over 100 kilometers long and was used by Samurai either on pilgrimages or reporting for duty to the old shogun temples.
We arrived at the docks and boarded the ship. A quick 20 minute ride got us across the lake and to the bus station. On this side of the lake, the sky was overcast and what would be a gorgeous picture of Mt. Fuji was nothing but cloud. We were warned she was a shy mountain, and pictures weren't always guaranteed.
We took the bus 45 minutes to the tram station, and then headed up the mountain. When we arrived at the top, our guide walked us a bit on the path, stopped, and told us from there on we were on our own. Up the path, and upwind, was the sulfur mine and sulfur pools. The scent can be overwhelming and she's smelt it enough times that she didn't want to smell it again. Once you enter the path you can smell it, and it only gets stronger as you walk towards the pools. In case you have never smelt sulfur, it smells like rotting eggs. Now imagine being surrounded by pools and pools of it. Yuck is right!
While what we smelt was gross, what we saw was very interesting. All the pools of water had milky, smokey water in it instead of your normal clear water. Although the ground was highly acidic, unique plants were able to grow and flourish here. The view from the top was also breathtaking, with rolling lush hills in every direction. On our way to the pools we saw a carriage overhead carrying eggs, and we watched them get dipped into the pools and placed back into the carriage and returned back to where Siako was waiting for us.
When we arrived, she surprised us with black eggs! These were the same eggs we saw in the carriage earlier, and the eggs shell had turned black due to a chemical reaction with the sulfur. They were perfectly boiled, delicious and were supposed to add 7 years to our life.
We took the bus straight back to Hakone, and Siako asked us to go shopping while she checks up on our hotel. She never did this before so we should have known something was wrong. She arrived back in about an hour and, in her broken English, told us something was wrong with the hotel. There had been several complaints regarding it (we thought at first there were complaints again us!), and while the hotel was usable, it was under construction. We decided that was fine, and chose to stay there anyway.
"Under construction" was lost in translation. The hotel was severely damaged and needed repair. It probably should have been condemned. The carpets had dark, mysterious stains all over them, the plaster walls were cracking, and the rice walls of our rooms had holes and tears in them.
We sat down for a feast prepared by the hotel staff. It had several dished, all unique and interesting, including a raw fish speared from it's head and tail that we could cook over individual fires, if we so wanted. I got up then, and went to the end of the table to take a picture of all the food. At that same time, Steve and Alison were sneaking sips from a bottle of Saki at the end of table I had just arrived at. Once I sat down, Alison made a slight gasp and Steve whispered something to her. He then leaned over to me and whispered something to me: "Don't say anything, but a cockroach about an inch long just crawled under the table over there." and he tiled his head toward the far end of the table were several girls, wearing skirts, were sitting cross-legged on the ground. I nodded, went back to my seat, tucked my pants into my socks and waited. Sure enough, within a couple of minutes there was a scream, a bang and the girls scattered, terrifying the insect and sending it running towards more people, which of course set off a chain reaction.
The insect was removed by hotel staff, as was the second one we saw about 10 minutes later... and the third one. By this time nobody felt comfortable eating their supper and we retired for the night. Our tour guide was embarrassed, but did warn us that this place needed some T.L.C..
The rooms we much like the ones in Koyasan, only the washroom and shower room were different rooms. This hotel, not only needing repair and should probably not be open to the public, also had dizzying winding hallways and outdoor passageways which were disorienting in the night. This, with the carpet stains, the cracked walls, the bugs, and the lack of wi-fi finally made me feel like I was living in the rugged mountains on a tropical island in the Pacific Ocean -- instead of a Japanese Manhattan.
I'm off to bed now. Tomorrow we leave early for Tokyo, the last stop on our tour. After tomorrow, I'm on my own in Hong Kong.
Goodnight! Let's hope the bedbugs don't bite!
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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Cemeteries are a place of solace. All people, regardless of wealth, status, religion or creed are equals within a cemetery. It's a place of remembrance, respect and reconciliation. If you visit a cemetery, you are visiting the graves of lost loved ones. These may be children, pioneers, rebels or everyday people. Every grave has a story, and all are longing to be told.
Because of this, cemeteries are a library of knowledge. They hold the lessons of our past, and the wisdom of our future. As the leaves change and the days get shorter, cemeteries attract a much different crowd than that of just historians and family members. With autumn crisp in the air, cemeteries fill with thrill-seekers and paranormal believers. There is a fine line between what is and isn't acceptable within a cemetery and those who dabble into the affairs of the afterlife know this all too well. Few people go into cemeteries looking to disrespect the graves; instead, most are just hoping they can answer their own questions about life after death.
Not all cemeteries are haunted, but each holds their own stories. Keep this in mind while you read this article. If you end up visiting any of these sites, remember to step softly, speak quietly and respect the surrounding graves. You might not be as alone as you think.
Part 12 of my cross Canada series takes us to the smallest province in Canada, Prince Edward Island. However, don't let the name confuse you: PEI is actually 232 islands!
PEI also happens to have smallest population of any province in Canada, with only 146,300 people as of 2014. This means this province has less people than my hometown Regina!
Being so small, however, it was difficult to find images on Instagram. That isn't to say there's nothing there worth seeing! Quiet the quandary, actually. PEI has a few very unique locations that drive their tourism. One of them is the gorgeous themed village of Avonlea, named after the village in the hit novel "Anne of Green Gables" published in 1908. This story, and the subsequent stories, follows Anne, a red-haired "fiery" orphan who grows up on PEI. The story is an international bestseller, and is strangely very popular in Japan (or so I've been told)!
After a long, dark, frigid winter, Canadians love the few months of summer we get every year. Once the snow melts and the mud dries, we are out hiking, picnicking, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, climbing and exploring this wonderful country of ours.
Of all the provinces to explore, Alberta ranks at the top of many adventurers' list. From hoodoos to waterfalls, mountains to valleys, deserts to tundra and everything in-between, Alberta offers any outdoorsman the perfect place to embrace nature.