Gokayama


The day dawns bright and sunny so leaving the tent up we head off down the valley chasing the views. We turn up a mountain pass towards a dam, a suspension bridge traverses the gap. I stand on the dam and video Kev riding across to the centre of the bridge he is a tiny speck, zooming in I see him waving.
Further on down the valley we stop at Suganuma a small gassho-zukuri village. These are traditional straw thatched farm houses with steeply pitched roofs to shed the snow. It has a lovely lived in feel to it and the villagers are busy tending their fields. We spend a happy hour absorbing the atmosphere.
Heading back in the direction of ‘home’ we buy noodles from a local shop and sit on the bench outside eating them. A biker pulls in nods and enters the shop returning with what looks like a donut each he joins us on the bench, it is doughy bread with chopped sweetened bean paste quite yummy. As we go to leave he asks where we sleep and offers his house 50km away. We try to explain we have left the tent in a campsite and are alright for tonight but thanks for the most generous offer.
Arriving back ‘home’ mid afternoon we make the most of the privacy and warmth from the sun and have a strip wash, washing our hair and clothes also. We spend the remainder of the  afternoon working out which other places to visit, we are not far away from one of the top 3 Japanese gardens so plan a route round that. I have to transfer the washing to the toilet blocks as it gets cold and dark quickly here now.
A happy evening is spent round our fire eating fishcakes. Later in the evening we see a corona around the full moon a phenomonon neither of us has experienced before we try to capture a photo but its too dark.
It’s a chilly start we are leaving today for the gardens but first take a wander around Ainokura ‘our’ village. It seems more spread out than Suganuma with a mix of houses both normal and gassho-zukuri style but we have it to ourselves for a hour before the hoards turn up in their coach loads. We return ‘home’ to find it invaded by a volunteer school/college party of grass cutters, it is at this point I realise my smalls are still drying in the toilet block I hastly retrieve them with rest of the washing. We watch them cut by hand three large fields of tall grass, this will be dried and used to rethatch the houses. They make light work as there are so many of them.
Having packed everything up we make tracks after lunch to the gardens. We reach the town of Kanazawa and make our way fairly seamlessly to the Kenroku-En gardens but it is now 3pm a dilema, if we visit the gardens now we will be searching for a camp in the dark in a city centre, we decide to return really early tomorrow. In the short time we’ve been here about four coach loads have offloaded their passengers.
It’s a struggle to find camp so we have to move further from the city and unhelpfully it’s started to rain. We head for the hills but this proves hard work too. Eventually we find a spot but we are in real bear country and have fresh mince to cook so decide not to cook in the tent. It is still raining cats and dogs we walk back up the track to an electric pylon hoping for a little shelter but there’s none so we proceed to cook spagetti bolognaise on our knees in the peeing rain and freezing wind still in our waterproofs. Luckily we see the funny side and laugh about overland travel, who’s silly  idea it was to do this and how some people must think it’s a bed of roses all the time. We leave our rubbish here to collect in the morning to avoid attracting any nightime visitors.
The night passes bear free but not incident free a peg has pulled out in the wind I draw the short straw and replace it but a river is running under the tent and it is still raining cats and dogs at 2 in the morning. Kev joins me and between us we dig a pit for it to drain into we cannot divert it around the tent as the ground is too high we then bank up around the tent side of our “drain” returning to blow the airbed up again before we fall into an exhausted slumber.
We prise ourselves awake at 5.30 it is still raining but we manage to arrive at the gardens at 8.30 and although the rain is relentless we get two hours virtually to ourselves, despite the rain the Japanese still turn up in their coach loads. We keep meeting up with a Japanese looking guy and his wife and friend taking photos it’s only when we shelter in the same hut and get chatting we find out they are Australian. It’s great to catch up on some of their Japanese experiences. Even in the pouring rain the garden is impressive luckily Japanese gardens don’t rely on flowers for beauty.
Just over the road is the castle included in the ticket admission here we encounter our voluteer guides again. Ours is a retired gentleman who laughs and says the more voluteer work he does the happier his wife as he returns home later he also says as there little opportunity for the older generation work wise so this keeps body and mind active. He needs to be fit the castle is spread over a large area he shows us old look out towers now view points across the city and explains the castles various uses over the centuries.
After lunch we make our way in the direction of lake Biwa and hopefully our Horizons Unlimited contact Makiko we have tried to send an e-mail to warn of our arrival but it bounced back ‘unsent’. We choose the coastal route as the traffic seems lighter and we encounter fewer hold ups but we head inland for the mountains to camp. We continue up a long track that becomes gravel after the rice and vegetable plots finish. We spot an old orchard area with a flat enough spot for the tipi it has not been used for a while so although it’s still an hour before nightfall we start to get the tent out, right on que a car rumbles down the track two old boys emerge. After asataining that we want to stay one night they ask by a very descriptive demostration are we not afraid of the bears we laugh and say no we will be fine I ask if they have seen one here oh yes they say (Great!l) They leave us in peace it’s too late now to look anywhere else and it’s started to rain again!! At least someone knows we’re here should something happen. As last night we feel it prudent to cook away from camp so jump on the bike and ride up the hill until we reach a flat spot. Roof has beer and I have wine with dinner it’s only when it comes to returning to the tent down the steep gravel track in the dark we realise we’re both a bit merry. Roofy negotates the track I walk/stagger down. As I near the tent laughing and talking to the ‘bears’ I see two lights white and red that’s strange I think how is that possible. All becomes clear Roof overshot the tent and in his merry state dropped the bike turning it round I lend a hand to lift her upright have you got it I call as I let go, obviously not as the bike falls down the other side we both errupt in a fit of giggles until we realise that it’s leaking fuel suddenly sobering up we right her again and then pump up the air bed and retire for the night. It is a most foul night we are woken by part of the tent flapping in our faces I doubt any bears left their dens the wind was so ferocious I was hanging on to the pole whilst it was pulling the pegs out Roof weathered the wind and rain to peg all the storm guys out. It just blows up from nothing here and gusts in all directions. We take the opportunity now we’re awake to pump the airbed up and fall asleep again wondering what the morning will bring this time.
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