So my trip so far hasn’t exactly gone as planned. Don’t get me wrong, I’m having fun…but there have been some slight snags along the way.
When I got to Unzen–I LOVE it there, by the way, I really adore the town and would love to go back there for a long weekend–I tried to do a simple hour-long round-trip hike. Somewhere along the way very early on, though, I took a wrong turn and ended up back down on the street instead up on the extinct (dormant?) volcanic peak I was aiming for. And because my window of time in the town was so small, I couldn’t try it again if I wanted to see other things.
And while the weather has been very cooperative throughout this entire trip (I think thunderstorms were forecast because a typhoon was coming our way–it was supposed to hit us today but it’s completely veered off), and was utterly perfect for my day in Unzen…yesterday, when I was actually in and on Aso, it was really, really foggy, so I couldn’t even walk around Kusasenri right across the road from the volcano museum, much less hike Naka-dake.
I woke up this morning feeling really exhausted–throughout this entire trip I haven’t done anything to exert myself physically (aside from that 20-minute attempt at hiking in Unzen) but I’ve still been so tired. I finally woke up around 9:00 feeling more relaxed–I can’t visit Kirishima today because it would take way too long to get there…I guess I can do Sakurajima today instead, but then I’m not sure what to do tomorrow, because if I do Kirishima, it means around 2 hours of train travel each way, and then hours more to get to Fukuoka. I think I should just use tomorrow to go to Fukuoka and hang out there, and scrap Kirishima–it would have been cool but I’ve already visited 2 of the 3 volcanic areas I was really keen on, and will be visiting the third today.
(Speaking of which, the Tatami Timeshare person I’m staying with in Fukuoka still hasn’t e-mailed me with directions on how to get to her place…time to start looking into budget/capsule hotels as a backup.)
I really am disappointed that I haven’t gotten to hike so much, but just being in those places has given me plenty of gratification. Unzen is an incredible place–the town is adorable with friendly people, and it’s so geologically alive–the jigoku are awesome, and you can see gas coming off the mountain itself…plus the fact that Heisei Shinzan, the new lava dome, is visible behind the mountain–it used to be very small, but then the major eruption in 1990-91 made it as tall as the volcano itself.
And Aso–I really didn’t know what I’d think of it till I got there, but even with the fog obscuring everything, it was still such an impressive sight. Not far outside Kumamoto, we saw this massive mountainous ridge from the train (“we” meaning the other passengers and me–I noticed them staring at it too), and it was the ring around the Aso caldera. which is 11km by 24km in area. And inside, when we were at the train station/visitors center (right in the center of the caldera), it was crazy–you could turn in a full circle and that wall of mountains would always be there. They reminded me vaguely of Shikoku’s, except these felt a bit different.
I caught a bus from the visitors center to Kusasenri (“Land of 1000 Grasses”–a grassy field that covers numerous extinct volcanoes) and the Aso Volcano Museum. We passed no fewer than three extinct volcanic peaks, and I’m sure there were more the fog was obscuring–they were really beautiful. There’s just this really gorgeous aesthetic quality the gradual sloping of a volcano has for me, and the furrows and trenches carved out in their surfaces by the lava or pyroclastic flows…they’re these majestic, powerful natural figures that use these incredible shows of fire and power to destroy as well as create. All that grass grew on those areas because volcanic soil is extremely fertile. Just across the street from the museum are two ponds and a big ridge in the middle, surrounded by another ring–the crater of an extinct volcano. The ridge in the middle is an ancient lava dome and the two ponds take the place of where lava and other elements from within the earth would surface. It was a really surreal feeling, to know we’d scaled an ancient volcano and were hanging out in its center.
I’m definitely going to have to make longer trips to each of these areas. There are youth hostels in Unzen and Aso–I’m totally up for spending a weekend in each place, and eventually returning to check out Kirishima. (Maybe I’ll drive–they’re all mountain roads, but they at least have one lane going each direction, instead of one lane for two cars like on Shikoku.) We have a long weekend in October, but that may be too soon…but if I don’t go then, it may start to get too cold. It was surprisingly cold on Aso yesterday–we were at a higher elevation, which would explain it, but I was actually shivering from the wind-fog combination. I’m bring jeans and a fleece next time for sure. Aso Museum was very dated, very 70s…and very hilarious. It was really entertaining–they showed this film with a totally 70s-era soundtrack…but it had some really incredible views of the inside of the Naka-dake crater, which I would’ve hiked and seen if the fog hadn’t forced them to shut it for the day. It’s huge. I really felt disappointed that I had to miss that.
Speaking of comparisons to Shikoku, the trains on Kyushu are gorgeous. The Kamome Express between Fukuoka and Nagasaki is the swankiest train I’ve ever been on. Unfortunately, it had leather seats, but I couldn’t really avoid that at all, short of standing for 2 hours. There’s also the Relay Tsubame, which you can take (for example) from Kumamoto to Kagoshima–you stop in Shin-Yatsushiro and just cross between your train and an adjacent one, which is a waiting Tsubame Shinkansen, the new Kyushu one that runs south to Kagoshima. It’s so much nicer than the Nozomi is…the seats and flooring and everything are really nice. But I guess the Kyushu Shinkansen trains don’t have to carry as many people as the massive 16-car Nozomi trains do.
Okay, it’s a beautiful day–I’m going to head out and check out this city and its temperamental volcano. Talk to you guys soon!