December 28th 2018
(bit like snakes and ladders, but different)
So in the end I only got 5hrs sleep. Judging by the state of my head, the second bottle of nihonshu (sake) had been a mistake… I took a walk out on deck during the night to see what conditions were like – Very blowy, could hardly stand up.
Went out on deck to watch the sun come up over the Seto inland sea. It would have been nice to do this trip during the day, as the landscape of the islands is spectacular and we went under several of the suspension bridges of the Shimanami Kaido (see trip notes from 2016). But that would have wasted a whole day.
On time arrival at 7.05am, and straight onto a bus to Beppu station. Little Mermaid café for breakfast (last visited one in Onomichi), waitress looked Indian but was from Fiji. Dropped luggage at hotel, no chance of early check in unfortunately so headed out on a local bus to Beppu ropeway, up Mount Tsuruga. Started to see tiny amounts of snow by the time we reached the ropeway terminus, and the temperature had dropped considerably compared to the coast.
Got a couple of good photos on the way up before the cloud closed in and the snow increased. On arriving at the top, immediately discounted walking the 10 minutes to the summit at 1370m – ambient temperature was -8degC, and the wind chill was brutal! Hopped straight back onto the next car down, even better views as the cloud cleared.
Waited in the ropeway shop looking at Kumamon themed souvenirs for a bit, but when the bus arrived it was full, so had to wait 30 mins for the next one. Back into the shop to get bored, better than freezing me nuts off outside.
Got off the bus at the top of the town, at the first of the jigoku, or ‘Hells’. These are hot spring features with different themes, the first was pools of boiling mud – the name was Oniishibozu Jigoku so called because the bubbles that form and pop resemble the shaved head of a monk. Others have milky white or blood red colourings from the dissolved minerals in the spa water, and one particularly intriguing one uses the water for heating pools for raising crocodiles. They had some truly impressive – and scary – specimens there.
At another, a large greenhouse heated by the springs contained flowering waterlilles, and even fruiting banana palms. The springs are also used to cook local delicacies – at this one, I tried a hot spring boiled egg. Startling colour inside, but very delicate flavour, very tasty with some salt and soy sauce.
Last one had a number of aquaria with some very large fish. The Colossoma were impressive, but even they paled into insignificance compared to the Pirarucu – at least 7ft long and with amazing red iridescent scales.
Stopped for an excellent coffee, then bus back down to the station. Stopped at traffic lights by a greengrocers where I was puzzled as to why the grocer had drawn dicks on the produce signs – until I realised he was just a bit slapdash at writing the sign for yen. There were roadworks along the way as well – I counted 13 workers just to guide the traffic and retarmac about 5m of road surface.
Checked in at the hotel, and as soon as the spa bath was open headed there for a soak. Bliss. So tired after the ferry and long day crashed out for a few hours.
Went into town and wandered until I spotted an izakaya (Izakaya Kansha) that had an English menu. Pretty efficient – they had a printed one, but also had a QR code that you could scan to take you to a website in English and other languages with all the items and prices.
Toriten (chicken tempura), raw egg over a bowl of rice, edamame and miso. Washed down with an Oita Kabosu highball very tasty. Strolled the narrow streets, spotting some interesting bars along the way, and also a rather impressive mask of a tengu (demon) used in a local festival.
On the walk back stopped for a beer at a little bar called Route 10. More over manning – 3 bartenders (chief and 2 assistants), 6 customers, max 20? One of the barmen was from Kumamoto, had a good chat with them and on their request put a pin in their world map to show where I was from. Head guy said they got a reasonable number of visitors from the UK.
Observation: Patience here is a virtue for sure. Coffee at Little Mermaid this morning was made in a small drip machine fresh to order. Irish Coffee in this bar, made with a siphon coffee maker – slow heated over a spirit burner.