Author - J.Molkenthin
We’d done Fuji together, and that’s 3000m! Snowdon was more than doable, a mere amble at 1000m – right Rob?
Never before, in any of adult life, have a better understood how fucking awesome Easter is.
It’s like Christmas for adults; devoid of any expectation and compulsory visits; the promise of good weather and friends – and two 4-day weeks!
The Adventure Begins
Setting off from Richmond, rather than home, saved an hour on our 4.5hr trip, and with four in the car, we were saving a killing on travel over the train – other than muggings here driving 3 non-drivers…
Arriving in Wales, we were soon(ish) hitched up in our AirBnB, waiting for the other two to arrived.
Turns out we hadn’t booked a house, but just the bedrooms! Still, with a fry up breakfast thrown in, and just a lil begging to be allowed the use the kitchen to make dinners, I think we had done pretty nicely for ourselves.
The big climb lay the day ahead of us.
Mounting the Mountain
We had been sent out packing list a couple weeks in advance – a gift.
It included all the essentials, down to spare laces – the curse – we needed huge sacks to carry everything!
They guys had decided which route to take to the summit – gift! Naturally we wouldn’t be taking the path, waaaaay to easy. Nope, we would be first scaling Crib Goch, en route to Snowdon’s summit – curse.
With it being Easter weekend, the area was packed with cars, filling the car parks and lining the sides of any roads they could. But the gang knew a car park a kilometre or two from the trailhead – gift.
Of course, we wouldn’t walk the road to the trailhead, waaaaay to easy. Nope we would climb over the car park wall, down the hill, across and river and back up the ravine to trailhead – curse.
I was already out of breath, sweaty and had redressed 3 times – from wearing all my gear, plus hat and gloves, down to my underlayer and cursing wearing my leggings under my shorts – at least I hadn’t put on the fleeced waterproof trousers!
We gathered our thoughts at the trailhead station, left behind a lil brown part of ourselves and we were off!
As soon as the girls got back from the toilet.
The busy trail consisted of large, flattish rocks that made up the footpath, the barrage of people forcing us to keep pace as we climbed higher and higher along the side of the valley. From the trailhead head station the road snaked out along the valley floor, the steep ‘v’s of hills jostling with each other to be better seen and in the distance, the massive lake we had driven past an hour before hinted at its own existence with a flickering golden luminance in the corner of the scene – how was it so small now?
After maybe an hour or so, we reached the point that marked your hikers from your climbers; the division of the Pyg path – the relatively simple, consistently inclined path that snaked its way up the mountain – and the Crib Goch route, a fun trail up a 923m ‘knife-edge’ ridge, considered a scramble in summer and a climb in winter, on which numerous people have died from exposure – we of course took that one!
Which definitely paid off!
What could have only ended in death had I been alone, the experience of the other guys – their ability to spot routes, remember directions based on landmarks and motivation to keep moving forwards – made it almost easy!
Well, that and the fact that going back down the rocks I had already seen was a lot less alluring that pushing forward, upwards into the unknown, even if Snowdon itself was a horseshoe of a mountain path away and hidden in the distance under a veil of mist and cloud.
We had gotten super lucky with weather! At the lower elevation only a couple of layers were needed, sleeves rolled up after the physical exertion of climbing with both feet and hands up near vertical rock faces.
The lay of the rock made for plentiful hand and footholds, especially in the dry weather, and often formed natural (thought frequently very tall) steps. I dread to imagine the scramble in the snow or wet, or even going down (like one couple and their dog, in trainers!) but the only real challenge for most of it was scouting out the best path, especially nearer the top, and whilst scrambling along the ridge.
Climbing the ridge was the most exhilarating and nerve-wrecking part. Whilst scrambling, you had holds above for your arms, sure footing for your feet, and should one part slip, you still had multiple points of contact.
Upon reaching the ridge, you became a gangly mountain goat.
The angle along the ridge was so acute, literally just an upside down ‘V’, with kniggly, angle surfaces to step along. When the ridge was flat-ish, you had nom more than a 30cm width on which to balance, as the wind pelts you as it rushes over the mountain and you’re left standing your full height about the top of the mountain, which only steep, rocky slope either side of you.
Needless to say, much of the summit was spent hunched over on all fours, like a Quasimodo-Golem love child, and there was even one segment where I watched a woman crawl across on her hands and knees!
This being the point of ‘vertigo meltdown’, we saw a fair number of slow movers, dropping down the slope a tad to overtake them and head on way to the summit of Snowdon.
Though between Crib Goch and Snowdon, there is another, all peak, as the cloud wrapped in around us, this felt rather like a non-adventure, shielded from the view, the plummet around us a few mere metres and a wide path left us with no troubles, and we marched hand in hand, the 6 of us, down the other side of Garnedd Ugain, pass the top off the Pyg path and onto the summit post, celebrating with Summit Booze!
The Return Home
Largely uneventful, we followed the Pyg path back down, our knees taking the brunt of our downwards descent, with the fittest and most mounty-climby of the group running a head to bring the car round from the car park, to spare the legs of the rest of us.
Despite the late hour, we managed to doodle back along the valley road, and were indoctrinated into the cult of ‘Pete’s Eats’ with a mountain of cream, marshmallows and hot chocolate.
We had climbed Snowdon and survived.
Where to next? Why, Ben Nevis of course!
So turns out, good weather is exceptionally rare in San Francisco? You wouldn’t know that from the week I spent there!
Fake Tales of San Francisco
Arriving just in the mid afternoon, as per, I had my bags searched before popping out the other into San Fran, the air con working a treat I thought, until I saw the doors open – shit, San Fran is chilly!
Taking the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) up the peninsula, everything was going ticktyboo as I got off and found myself, not surrounded by skyscrapers, but definitely not surrounded the the low rise grandeur of European cities, but in a cacophony of buildings; of varying styles, heights, colours.
And maps, San Fran, you need to sort out your maps! One by the station is not enough to get dazed travellers to their hotel. A lesson proved by my 20 minute adventure East rather than North to my hostel!
Arriving at Green Tortoise, the good news was there was a free dinner that evening! Also turns out everyone was going to Burning Man – amateur I thought to myself, at missed opportunity,
Quick shower, and my Chinese room mate and I were down in the kitchen, eagerly assisting… The chef, splashing garlic butter all over some baguettes like badasses.
My stomach filled, filled with pasta salad and garlic bread, I promptly got tired, and went to bed!
Oh, to the Island
It was tour day! After a few games of pool, I was off to Pier 39 for my tour around Alcatraz and then the redwoods of Muir wood!
Back and forth I went until I was finally on board the boat, and passing the sea lions on our way out of the harbour towards the Rock, Alcatraz.
Then we turned to the left – turns out we were heading to the Golden Gate Bridge! The orange expanse grew as I learnt all about its history.
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- It’s pretty tall
- Pretty long
- There was fierce opposition to its erection
- They installed a big net to catch workers who would otherwise have fallen to their death
- It caught 19 workers, who called themselves the ‘Half way to Hell club’
- It’s pretty big
Next stop Alcatraz! Who knew, you have to book super early to actually set foot ON the island! So around I went instead.
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- It has no fresh water
- Nobody ever escaped and lived
- The Indians (of the native American kind) occupied it, using an old treaty law about being able to
- use unused federal property
- They stayed for a few years
- It incarcerated some very dodgy sounding geezers
- Al Capone had syphilis and it made him mad
It was great tour, a lil breezy and lots of photo opportunities!
A photo posted by James Molkenthin (@jmolkie) on
Next stop, Muir woods! Purchased by the Kents in the early 20th century, they wanted to protect the woods from being felled, and eventually gave it to the government to become a national park.
The trees are so straight, their thick outer bark sounds hallow when knocked, and helps protect it from forest fires!
After being one with nature, the final destination was Sausilito.
If was alright, full of food joints, but with a nice view of the city across the bay.
Whistle stop view of the bridge from a hill top vantage, then back to finish my day true American style – an In-N-Out burger.
Another sunny day in San Francisco, and over breakfast I settled on my day plan – first stop, the San Fran Museum of Modern Art.
But as my gf frequently reminds me, the straight line is the most boring route to a place, so I took the long way round via the old ferry port building and all the way down to Bay Bridge.
The SFMOMA, San Fran Museum of Modern Art, was refurbed back in May 2016, it has 7 floors of exhibition from Picasso, to a work on Syrian civil war phone footage to typeface and interfaces.
Being a designer, the exhibition of typography, from the Munich Olympics ‘72 branding, to the clean development of the Swiss style and Helvetia, the barely legible psychedelic posters of the 1960s into the Apple era and the personal computer.
Later, exploring the Nob Hill area (lol) I came across a wonderful new life discovery.
Diving into a deli, turns out it had a Vietnamese influence, tempting me with a Vietnamese coffee to compare to the ones we make at music festivals. Turns out a Vietnamese sandwich exists! This beauty takes your sandwich filling, and drops it onto a delicious mix of sweet, tangy, pickled carrots and radish – heavenly!
Hopwater on Bush street was the meeting point of the evenings entertainment, a modern bar with heavy wooden interior, delivering local/American beers and ales to a diverse audience, with delicious fries!
Work work work work work
The day had arrived! It was time to partake in the Enviu/Think Beyond Plastic start-up accelerator. The entire reason for my trip to San Fran, which thankfully I was able to pad out with travel either side.
Not kicking off until 5pm, I headed off late morning, choosing the 4 mile walk from uptown, through downtown and into the unknown of Mission District.
Some things that struck me were the general lack of supermarkets, like Tesco Express, replaced I think in part with drugs stores with lots of food, and surprisingly few 7/11 type stores.
As I headed out of downtown, the city wifi disappeared, the buildings became frequently lower and squatter, until I passed under a road and stepped into an area much more akin to a ghetto.
Missions street, a wide street, with brightly coloured, but aged buildings, had something of an Art Deco air, a 1930s seaside vibe, marked occasionally with tall, 1950s diner type signage denoting a theatre or hotel.
Along the street were a number of people pulling trollies and suitcases packed with goods. Shop signage had a duality of English and Spanish, and English was no longer the predominantly heard language.
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The area is also home to Clarian Alley, filled with political graffiti art murals, perhaps showcasing a slow boil anger of the contrast between those that have, and those that have not.
Or maybe it’s a place bears pooped rainbows – you decide!
Arriving at the event space / accommodation, because yes, it was an all in one, it was actually an artistic house that had the air of a converted barn-church, with big industrial kitchen out back, strange art installations and spaces, the upstairs decked out in double bed futons and chairs.
Waking after a quick nap, the show began.
Plastics Waste Accelerator
Compared to the Plastic Fantastic finals, which was an intense 3 days of developing the business, meeting industry experts and constant pitch improvements, that had secured us the place on this programme, the speed was casual.
Turns out everyone else had prepared pitch decks for the day’s 5 minute pitch, whilst I was about to do my first solo pitch without a single image!
The feedback was positive, new ideas for the business were shared and they loved my story!
The group was made up of mixture of NGOs looking to spin out products to catch microfibres, systems to reduce and encourage non-use of plastic bottles and even teams looking to industrialise and scale their production of new bio-polymers.
Food was shared, drinks were popped, and I look forward to the next few months of weekly meetings and lectures.
Final Few Days
PANIC STATIONS!!! Turns out I have nowhere to stay for the next 2 nights, without shelling out over 200 bucks!
A quick shout out in Facebook from one of the entrepreneurs saw me staying in apartment about 3 blocks from the micro-brewery were sat in, having lunch!
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The apartment had a great view, but a strange outer gate that only works if the owner has mobile reception to let you in from her phone… And she’s camping for the weekend…
So I stayed in Saturday night, enjoyed the peaceful time alone and ordered an UberEat – curry of course, and upon its arrival carefully held open the gate, reaching the width of the pavement to collect it from the car.
I also couldn’t find the light switch, and ate in the warming glow of my iPad!
The haunting thought of not being able to get back into the apartment meant I carried with me the bare minimum I’d need to get to the UK – money and passport – and set off for a day of parks.
After touring Valencia and Mission street for an hour, looking for an appropriate brunch venue, ideally one that had the mythical bottomless mimosa (a drink that turns out to be just buzz fizz), I settled on the first cafe I had seen, no more than 25m from the apartment.
But oh boy, what an insight into Mission Life! Read about THAT, here.
A breakfast of ice coffee and waffle – who did I think I was? The queen of bleeding Sheba? – soon saw me settle into Doleres park, an area much known for its open markets and free roaming capitalist and entrepreneurial spirit.
Set in the middle of an otherwise residential area, Doleres transforms at least a few blocks into rolling green hills, home to a large play area, tennis courts and hundreds of people with blankets!
Given that it was Labor Day weekend, the park soon filled up, and the small stage had bands celebrate the weekend musically.
Getting started on some design work, when done I found a good few hours had passed and I was burning! The park had wifi so I was easily able to plan my route to…
Golden Gate Park
Eventually I figured out how the trolley system works. What’s a trolley I hear you ask? It’s a bus, a regular bus, only it uses over head cables – what I’d call a tram!
After a terrifying journey up a massive hill, snaking our way both up and down, we passed through the hippy area of Hait street, buildings painted in bright colours, with collage and montages, that through out an air of Camden high street and I made a note to visit it at a later date.
Turns out Golden Gate park is HUGE! Like 4 miles of park before hitting the Pacific Ocean, filled with full width winding roads, a Japanese tea house, dense tree covered areas, and small gorges of open grass, on which were hordes of American celebrating the long weekend.
What I thought was just a phenomena of living in Japan, the bbq beach and park parties, is actually an American tradition! Suddenly KJ’s preparedness for such events, from beersbi to flip cup, made sense – he too was from California! And with the dominance of Americans on the JET program, all was made clear.
There was something warming, comforting to the scene; the sun getting low in the sky, illuminating the light mists that hung close to the tree tops, marquees lined with gold, the dull bass tones of loud-speakered music and groups of adults cheered a successful cup made in a distant game of beer pong, kids running round in a game of tag and dads stand next to roaring bbqs, beers in hand with women gathered around preparing tables and the cold goods, lines of brightly coloured coolers partnered with THOSE red cups of every American movie (I awesome to disguise the fact their drinking alcohol in public places). It was s scene that brought back a longing for times passed in Japn.
Reaching the ocean, my legs were getting more than a bit tired, but the far out sea and white sands called me over, frame by the rugged grassy/rocky of the coast line that pulled back memories of walking along the algae in Portugal, or long ago gladiators movies when they reached the sea. Yet behind me stood a mile street of forest clean, bound in by houses and the city either side; a piece of nature, enveloped by man.
After sipping on a Pepsi (a full 359ml, instead of 330ml) and contemplating the world, I headed back the way I came, tracing the outer perimeter of the park, and calculating that my budget could stretch to another trolley bus to speed things along.
Returning, I jumped off at the hippy heaven Hait street, the time of day perhaps stripping it of its vibrant life as the transition from day life to nightlife slowly transitioned, and I found myself passing through residential areas then bars, on repeat until I hit a familiar part of downtown San Fran, and turned right to head back towards Mission District and my temporary apartment – anxious that I may not be able to get past the metal gate that served to defend the interior of the complex…
I get back to the apartment, and by some miracle, the buzzer works and I’m let in! I take the lift, slide the key into the apartment door, and step inside to music.
Turns out Ny-Anne’s come back from an unsuccessful camping trip a day early! We have a bit of a chat, but it’s getting late and soon we’re headed to bed – separate beds.
Final Day, Final Frontier
It’s my final day in San Fran, and I don’t fly out until the evening, so I have full day ahead of me! Though yesterday I was ready to head home, an invite to go hiking and an invite to a bbq have me in high spirits!
Fully packed, I say au revoir to the apartment, and make my way on the BART across the bay to Oakland, get picked up and taken to Dry Creek Pioneer Park.
It’s gonna be an intense day of hiking with 2x 2 years and a 1 year old.
I am, of course, also with their parents, one of who ran the accelerator event for which I had come to the US for, the others her friends.
Once again I was astonished by the proximity and size of the nature relative to the city, a complete escape possible without having to travel out of the suburbs!
Though despite this proximity, it was apparent that everything in this part of the state was unwalkable, designed for people with cars – every shop was huge, the car park even bigger, and not a single, small retailer any where near the actual houses – very bizarre!
By now the day was pressing on, and I was keen to reach this BBQ!
Alas, by the time I had the address, travelled from Oakland to Missision District, walked to the apartment, got inside, found the right floor and climbed the stairs to the rooftop, I was not only sweaty and needed changing from my sports gear, but also had only 45 minutes to enjoy myself, and Mara, who had invited me, wasn’t even here yet!
Thankfully I was given s beer, she soon arrived, and I commenced merry making with my two tall boys (568ml cans of beer).
Regretfully the time flew and I was running back down the street to the BART station, the echoes of ‘security takes 2-3hours, and today’s a holiday’ ringing in my ears my only encouragement!
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Turns out San Fran is no different to London, with essential maintenance being done to the track, and there being a replacement bus service…
I took the time to Tarzan these facts to a couple of Japanese girls with suitcases who looked a very confused everyone was getting off, squeezed my way on a bus, and tapped a guy on the shoulder who was checking the cost of an Uber to the airport and agreed to split it with him.
I felt truly America. – an Uber!
Turns out, I needn’t have rushed. Zero line on the check-in, a 15 minute security line (they use the full body scanners!) and the only hiccough was when the passport and boarding pass women refused to believe my passport photo was me – imagine if I had had my full beard!
My driving license has the same photo, so that was no good she said, so what allowed me to LEAVE the United States was my 16-25 photo railcard – thanks National Rail!
It was probably a lovely flight – I slept for 8 hours, watched an hour of Deadpool, and I was back on UK soil.
Where was my welcome party?
Whilst start-ups may satisfy the adventurous feelings of most people, and by Jove is there a lot of uncertainty and compromise, for me, there’s no greater than adventure than the open road, and so May saw my return to the Tarmac, taking a road trip around Iceland.
Day 1: Blink and You’ll Miss It
Landing bleary eyed, I had fallen asleep before our Easyjet flight had even taken off! Immigration lines short, we were through the gates by 9am. Turns out Procar don’t operate at the airport, so off began the hunt to find the man with the card. A short minivan ride later and we were picking up our Hyundai i30 – as it would transpire, the £10 upgrade from the i20 would pay for itself in ample boot space and ergo more sleep space!
We’re on the Road!
Well almost. Having not driven a manual in 3 years, turns out i forgot a lot… Like you have to drop the clutch to start the engine!
Couple that with a hill start and we must have been sat for a good 20 minutes trying to leave the car park…
Did I mention they drive on the left side of the road? Another new challenge, which wasn’t too much of an issue, except for the combination of inverted roundabouts and struggling to get the car moving in first.
Our first stop was the Blue Lagoon, just a short drive from the airport.
It’s a premium ‘spa’ resort, home to a large, blue pool of warm water. It was like a modern onsen! And much like some onsen, I’m 99% sure the ‘lagoon’ is artificial, with water pumped in from some source near by.
However, you can’t complain because where else are you going to find people in their swimsuits in Iceland?
As it transpires, many, but none of them are the beach!
With the day well past middle age, Reykjavik was calling, and as the roads widened into lanes, the volume of cars increasing, I was thankful for our sat nav, as well as the O2 data huddle my travel partner had purchased that allowed us to google cheap parking!
Hallgrimskirkja is one of the tallest buildings in an otherwise modestly flat capital city. Home to three quarters of Iceland’s population, it was a very minimal city, strikingly modern, noteworthy for its lack of traditional or old buildings, with most consisting of metal or plastic corrugated sheeting – perhaps the stonework and brick of Europe doesn’t hold the heat so well?
The church itself draws heavily on basalt formations, much the same as the Giant’s’ Causeway in Ireland and Scotland, taking the hexagonal pillars to create the churches towering facade.
Inside, the lack of stain glass windows was a subtle ‘missing’ element, the blue skies outside giving the Windows a surrealist, almost unnatural light that set the scene more like a painting than real life.
Exploring the town, we headed down the main streets, through the shopping district, no sign of a mall in the city, which struck me as peculiar, given the frequent snowfall, that all the shops should be on regular or door streets.
A speedy look around a tourist information centre highlighted key things we needed to do in Reykjavik;
– Penis museum
– Sagas Museum
– Settlement museum
– The Chuck Norris Restaurant
– Eat some hot dogs
Better get a shift on as the clock ticks in 5pm! Trekking through town, the saga museum was towards the western fringes of the town, offering a tour of the American and British bars on what was probably the party street, lacking the party vibe most probably due to the Monday evening reality.
After circling the museum building, turns out the entrance is through the restaurant! Owing to our late hour, the wonderful ticket lady allowed us to enter the exhibit unburdened by the weight of tickets, as we were having to cram a 45 minute tour into 25 minutes.
Ten minutes later we were finished!
Our native fluency in English allowing us to navigate the display boards at top speed! But it was interesting to learn of the Celtic history of the island, the lady who scared some people by holding her sword to her break and best of all was trying on the various armours and taking in a polar bear.
Fortuitously, the settlement museum was open until 8, so we set off, and after some minor detours found an unimposing building on a corner.
Heading down the stairs, the museum actually houses the remains of an ancient ‘mansion’ recently discovered and preserved, with exhibit detailing how various parts of the house functioned, with housing for animals, and for space. It was amazing what they could conclude from the mixture of clues that remained. It also offered long history of Nordic and Celtic migration and how that tied into Iceland’s history.
Those crazy people sailing out to see, hoping to find new lands!?!!
Part two of the museum was a small exhibition housing super old texts, including a 17th century copy of the Icelandic Saga, chronicling the origins of Iceland from 970AD, starting with xxxx throwing the arms of his high seat into the sea, their landing spot to be the point of settlement and today’s Reykjavik.
Though it felt like 4pm, the hour was now pushing past 1930, and so was time to head out from the city and onwards into the countryside to sleep!
Þingvellir was our starting point the next day, so we headed north east, and, in no time at all, we truly in Iceland, winding roads meandering through scrubby brown heathland, imposing mountains made tiny by the vastness of the expanse of land before them, their tops kissed by snow despite the season moving from spring to Summer and the 18+ hours of daylight.
We settle upon a lay by, say upon a hill that offered sweeping views of the lake xxxx.
As it turns out, lay-bys aren’t all that common, as we’d find out over the next few days.
By now the hour was turning cold, and first task was changing into practically every piece of clothing we owned as the wind searched for a means to chill out bodies.
Despite all this, the setting sun in a remote and barren, foreign land, coupled with the excitement for a warm meal made this moment awesome!
And was positively crushed as we attached the gas stove to the gas and heard nothing.
Not a single hiss. No matter what we tried.
We cried ourselves to sleep over peanut butter and banana sandwiches, a sense of deja vu from lunch…
Na, it was kind of funny, and we kept light hearted as we settled down on a lilos and into our sleeping bags.
Soon the car was filled with gentle snores, and condensation.
Day 2: Jesus Christ. It was cold.
As I got ready to go out for a piss, movement caught my eye.
Was it polar bear? A wolf? Or a bus load of tourists taking photos?
Turning out to be the latter, I had to hold on for what felt like a month of Sunday’s before releasing the torrent.
Our gas-related disappointment in our minds, we set of to a campsite and for some pro advice.
Ailing in our mission we were soon drinking expensive coffees in a tourist centre in what could have been by rights a Game of Thrones theme park, but was instead the home of the early days parliament of Iceland, Þingvellir.
In days past the lake and area acted as the base camp for the yearly law making and justice, providing ‘easy’ trails between mountains from all over the island. Here they would set up camp and build temporary structures.
It’s a stunning area, vast, stream filmed, lined with rough volcanic rocks, set the to undertones of giant, snow peaked mountain surrounds. The bleaker weather of the day taking inspiration from Heathcliffe’s moors, the air thick with murder and Vikings!
Walking along the foot paths, the trail could scarcely be called hiking, but we did get to climb up an icey slope, and run through a small wood with the springiest woodland floor.
Carrying some hot water with our icey slabs of hands back to the car, we could finally indulge in some warm food, the first in a day and a half – a fake chicken pot noodle.
My Lord, the paragraphs I could write about it’s salty, brothy taste, the gentle juxtaposition of spring onion and noodle, the nourishing warmth that radiated outwards from the centre to edges of my being.
But let’s get real, it was a freeze dried noodles.
Back on the road, it was rainbow puking time!
Taking inspiration from the Golden Circle tours, we took the meander roads around Þingvellir to xxx the only frequently erupting xxx in Iceland.
I’ve saved you the hassle of seeing it, here;
Topping up our water, partaking in some ice cream, we were en route to detonation rainbow puking; Gullfoss!
Arriving in the air of a dogging site on the outskirts of some Northern village.
Venturing through the car park, around the building works and beyond lead to a seen only comparable with the Gates of Argonath of LOTR!
A powerful, gushing, expansive river, shook up by giant boulders, suddenly drops into a deep gash in the land, cascading a hundred metres before crashing and continuing at 90′ to its original direction. A reminder of how even the land is subject to forces more powerful than itself.
Having still not resolved our gas issue, so began our next adventure.
From the falls, we swung via numerous campsites and hotels, nearly all of which were shut. The started to hang lower in the sky, imitating the sun of a autumn’s eve.
This place’s a ability to transition through the feelings of the seasons in a single day, was bizarre and confusing, moving from a fine summer day to the melancholy of an approaching winter in the space of a few hours.
“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang
Sitting at my desk, on my last day of school, I can’t help but recall all the major ‘lasts’ from my life; Uganda, Placement Year, University, and how recent, yet distant; big but now small they all seemed.
It’s been a quiet end to my time in Japan, what with my last Monday and Tuesday having no classes since 1. 3rd graders finished school last week, and 2. most of my classes being on Wednesday/Thursday/Friday. The teachers not being in the room as I write this probably adds to the calmness.
The quietness, the stillness, and acceptance of moving on is quite unnerving! After the rush of Sunday, of clearing out, packing, cleaning, Gas, Electricity and Rental people all coming round to have these 2 days of not doing much but blogging and looking up things for back at home is a gift and a curse.
It’s been great to finally clear out all the crap from my desk and apartment, I wish I had done it sooner! Far too many possessions in my life, even now as I try and get my suitcase under 20 kilos!
It’s been quite cathartic to write farewell letters to the teachers, give out presents. It feels like it’s time to move on, much like finishing VIth form, or the last few days of Uni before moving out. There’s a sadness, an ache, a sense of nostalgia for things not done, for things that must end now.
Did I achieve what I hoped to do in Japan?
Largely, I learnt the language, enough to get by, or throw together an impromptu speech, solve the problems I encountered, but not the mastery I desired, but neither did I put in the effort that required for that.
I travelled, and saw many beautiful things, experienced some crazy moments and had adventures with friends, and new ones I made on the way.
I made new friends, not as many Japanese friends as I hoped, but some, and saw past the techno-chic everybody imagines of Japan, and probably saw a more ‘normal’ side to Japan than I ever experience in the UK.
No doubt, as with any major trip undertaken, the true repercussions, the true lessons learnt and changes to oneself can’t be realised until one is away from their source for a great length of time. Away from the people whom also are growing and being shaped by similar experiences, one can really see the impressions left behind, and shudder at how they might now be had they never taken off on their foray into distant lands, and become themselves the foreigner.
I think, without doubt, how I will come to view visitors to my country has been immensely shifted, and as such I shall be fair kinder, more receptive and encouraging. Whilst Uganda taught me about myself, Japan has taught me about how it feels to be a foreigner, in a foreign land.
I quote myself, who at London Pre-Orientation quoted Mark Twain,
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” – Mark Twain
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”
– Mark Twain
Will I return to Japan? Maybe someday. I have thoroughly loved the place, the people and everything I have done here. It’s attitudes, beliefs and design are all unique and fascinating, opening the doors to so many ‘why’ questions, so many of which are unanswered. It is a fascinating place, and I encourage all those that wander and wonder, who wish to be lost to really explore it outside of the major cities and to immerse yourself in a place that to the casual visitor is impenetrable.
But at the same time, the other-worldly strangeness, of being surrounding by indecipherable symbols, of unusual customs and palatable sense of adventure, that I remember from my arrival and journeys through Asia as a teenager, as been lost, I think summed up by Paul Fussel.
“All the pathos and irony of leaving one’s youth behind is thus implicit in every joyous moment of travel: one knows that the first joy can never be recovered, and the wise traveler learns not to repeat successes but tries new places all the time.”
– Paul Fussel
The trying to recapture something that can never be fully recovered is something that keeps me from returning to Uganda, to be in the same place, at a different time, and have those 2 moments compete and create lack, almost tainting each other, would be my main reason for not returning, despite how much I would love to see those I leave behind again.
And just like in the song Moon River, “there’s such a lot of world to see”.
The Final Countdown
Yesterday we celebrated my farewell with curry in my favourite restaurant in Miemachi, with today’s dinner being a massive carb load ready for tomorrow’s チャレンジロード – Challenge Road.
Ah yes, tomorrow I run 30km with the male students through the Mie countryside – well I hope it’s the countryside and not a circular route!
I’m excited to have the experience and opportunity to see the countryside one last time, but soooo nervous for the distance – the Oita Half marathon was a challenge enough and that was 21km! Hopefully loads of carbs and a slower pace will right the wrongs of that day!
The flight home could be another story though :/
This morning I gave my farewell speech to the teachers – a 20 second improvised Japanese piece for the win – and received a farewell お餞別!
On top my final paycheck – I hope the rate falls even more in my favour by the end of the week!
Then wednesday see my farewell dinner with my Oita friends, conveniently backing onto a National Holiday on Thursdays so that we can have a lil party at PEI afterwards.
Thursday sees a slow start to get to Oita airport, to fly to Tokyo, with a 7 hour layover so that I can kick the shit one last time with Tay-chan before hitting the 25 hour trip home – I hope the films are good!
Then I kick-stage my new life at Comp-A-Tent with founder Amanda’s 24th birthday party, and have a Bro-Valentine’s watching Deadpool, before starting at Comp-A-Tent on Monday morning!
– Helen Keller
– Helen Keller
Kota had the wonderful idea of meeting at 9am at his work office somewhere in Taketa – this off the back of a night in Mie trying to finish off all the alcohol in my apartment before moving out the next day!
By 8am we were off, checking in the Everyone konbini for some hiking snacks – like pot noodle and ramen! By 9am we had met, and at 1015 we were setting off up the mountain!
Ten minute later and we had stopped on the side of the tracks.
Rika and Kota had had the wonderful idea to use spikes on the boots – alas your poor narrator had no luck, nor the frivolous cash to expend on such luxuries a week before returning to the UK, and us such would spend most the mountain hike squattedly baby stepping his way up the mountain and especially on the way back down!
In all honesty, it didn’t make all that difference going up, and if anything, I was looking safer, especially after we cleared the made-made concrete paths and got out onto what I suspect was the frozen mud track.
Initially the walk set along easy going hillside, with a few ups and downs, before we hit the first peak of the day. The views of the mountains were intermittent at best, à cause de clouds and mists a passing overhead at such alarming speed, taking us from dull, scattered glow, to luminous sunlight in a just a few seconds, for perhaps only a few tens of seconds before becoming engulfed by the gentle greyness.
Climbing down the scraggity first peak, it gave hint of the fear that was in store later in the day coming back down from the peak, but fortunately the gods smiled favourably, and no accidents were had at this early stage!
The ground levelled out a few more times with only minor inclines, as our surroundings became incresingly white and wintery, snow sticking to the plans to create intricate white brains!
After a couple of hours, the ground leveled out and we hit a kind of plateau between the mountains, Mt. Kuju hidden in the distance by cloud cover. It felt almost as if we were hiking through a Scottish valley, or around Hogwarts, and I was almost disappointed not to see any sheep on the hills.
In the distance was a small, thick stoned building, with a flurry of hikers coming in and out of it – it was time to lunch!
Pulling out the kettle from my bag, Rika got the gas fired up and we were moments away from our cup noodles! Alas, we had to wait a further 3 minutes for the water to penetrate and make delicious our noodles, but oh boy were they satisfying after a long hike, sitting in the cool, white interior of the hut.
The final accent was a head of us, and as proven so far, snow spikes weren’t really necessary for climbing up! Following the scattered path of rocks dotted with yellow splodges, we were occasionally afforded the sight of the peak were climbing for a seconds at a time as the weather broke and a blue sky appeared.
A final ascent along the narrow, rocky ridge, the breaking mist showed the summit marker was in sight, as we raced to the top – we had done it!
Rather fortuitously, the weather took a rest from its grey mystery, and gave it near perfect views of the surrounding areas, and we even got some blue sky and blinded by sunlight as we posed for the obligatory photos at the 1786m sign. It had taken around 4 hours to get up to the top.
As quickly as the weather took to change, we were heading back down the mountain again, and so began the bit I was dreading; descending without spikes…
Things started off well, getting to the lunch-lodge with no real difficulties. Passing by and through rocky outcrops I had my first slips, landing squarely on my arse, but luckily on a fairly flat region of ground and so we continued, trekking through the relatively flat plains, the mists reducing visibility to only 15-20m forward and behind, with no sign of the clear blue skies we had seen at the peak.
Much of the journey was uneventful, careful selection of footing, combined with reasonably gentle declines ensuring no more falls. Getting closer to the peak near the start of the trail, it’s sheer vertical face wasn’t too much of a difficult climb, with Rika supporting my arse in case I fell (any excuse), and the only major difficulty was the man-made concrete ramps for the final kilometre or so, it’s concrete/gravel mixture filled in with compacted snow and ice to create a slide of terror! A rather short sighted and stupid idea that ensures the most dangerous part of the whole climb is the first/last kilometer.
Having fallen on my arse a couple of times, and knowing I was soon leaving the country, I sacrificed my waterproof trousers to turn the terror in an amusing sledging run!
All in all it was wonderful hike, with, at times, so really beautiful views! I would love to do it again in the summer, to see the views, the nearby mountain lakes and to finish with less bruises on my arse!
The final part of the day Kota threw a yakiniku party as his house for us! After securing meats from the nearby mini super market, he lit the coals outside before transferring them to his indoor fire pit!
We had to have the doors open in order to pull out the smoke from the meats, and it was really cold, but the meats and vegetables were so delicious, it didn’t even matter!
It was a lovely weekend to finish my time in Japan.
Fancy meeting Kota and having yakiniku? Check out his Air B&B listing here!
Oita Sofukan High School
October 2015 – January 2016
Oita Sofukan is a strange school, even by Japanese standards, much more like UK college than anything else here. Classes run for 90 minutes, from around 8am to 8pm and students attend if/when they can/want. There’s no uniform, there’s a canteen, you wear outdoor shoes indoors and you have your own personalised timetable.
So really, only similarity is the language and that there’s a teacher!
My understanding is that the school is a mix of kids who couldn’t attend regular high school, either for family reasons, financial reasons or behavioural reasons.
Despite having full size classrooms, classes rarely number more than 6-8, which the students generally spread out all over, and their attendances can be so infrequent that they don’t even know each other’s name – a little embarrassing when you’re playing an ice breaker game where you have to remember everyone’s name!
The level of English I found no different to that of Mie Sogo, perhaps the small class sizes facilitating learning, though equally, many classes I only taught once, never getting past self introduction, with only a few classes on WInter Vacation and two on Valentine’s Day – so not necessarily treading much new ground.
Oita Sofukan was also my only experience as a true Assistant Language Teacher, wherein I was told what the plan was, and contributed my voice and talked a little about my experiences. It made class far more improvised, and exciting, but I could see how quickly the novelty could turn into apathy, as you really didn’t need to prepare much for the class, especially compared to planning an entire class!
Even though classes were 90 minutes, I enjoyed the ad hoc nature of sometimes turning up and having to improvise a whole class, but the only downside was the hour and 20 minute or so commute in the mornings, but at least I could get a Starbucks en route and pretend to be important!
All in all, I enjoyed visiting this school. It had less pressure than Mie Sogo since I felt more like a visitor, and the teaching more laid back since I was in addition to their learning, rather than being a part of their learning.
Situated in the southern part of Oita prefecture, in March of 2015 the city celebrated its 10 year anniversary since combining 7 small towns and villages: Mie, Ono, Asaji, Inukai, Ogata, Kiyokawa, and Chitose. While they have combined to form one “city,” they each retain their own identities as towns, including their addresses and tourist destinations.
Bungo-ono has rolling mountains covered in dense forestation, between which golden fields of rice fill the flatlands from August through September. A short ride away from Oita city by car or train, it feels like a lifetime away from the harsh concrete and business of the bigger city.
Bungo-ono really lacks a definite ‘city centre’, but Mie is the base for the JETs in the area. Most of the town is situated along the route 326/502. The northern part is home to the larger chain stores and shops, which turns into a restaurant/snack bar/entertainment district around the station area, before you pop back into the countryside.
The Bungo-ono area is connected to Oita city by train, with trains running about twice an hour. They are cute, little, local trains. Trains run from Oita to Miemachi, or Oita to Bungo-Taketa (Taketa). There are also some local buses that run between the former towns. A car is the best for travelling between the tourist spots, and for travel in general.
Points of Interest
Olle Hike, Asaji – Taketa
Kyushu is home to a number of easy access hiking routes, one of which begins at Asaji Station and follows a 12 km route into Taketa. It offers beautiful views of the land, especially during fall when the leaves are turning red. Check out the routes here and here.
Izumi Stone Caves (稲積水中鍾乳洞)
This place has a series of caves that don’t really change temperature – they put that gem all over the advertisements! Has a few other bits and pieces, including a trippy, ‘back in time’ exhibition.
“The Niagara Falls of Japan” is a common name for Harajiri falls. About a 20 minute drive from Miemachi, it’s the #1 thing to see if in the area. Conveniently, next to it sits the #3 thing to do in Bungo-ono (as on Tripadvisor) – the Harajiri road side station – which sells an array of omiyage and seasonal ice cream.
Two waterfalls with stories attached, and the ruins of old electrical power stations.
Eating, Shopping and Entertainment
Disputably the best curry in Oita, it’s not to be missed. They offer a fine selection of curries, drinks and naans, as well as great value set menus. You can even choose your spice level. Try 10-15 on your first go, you should be fine! Facebook page here.
Cafe Paper Moon (カフェ ペーパー ムーン)
A small pizzeria cafe, you get the sense the owners have spent some serious time in Europe. It’s a great little spot for a pizza and drink in a nice, atmospheric, quirky place. Check it out here.
Random Pizza Place
Great for Friday night pizza! Offers thin crust with weird toppings, but after a while, you don’t even notice. Does take away, not delivery, though why you’d want to miss the quaint ski-lodge-like interior I don’t know! Menu is in Japanese (on the wall, on wooden planks) Address: 白木屋〒879-7125大分県豊後大野市三重町内田372−1
A spirited snack bar, about 20m, in front and to the left of Miemachi station. Though there are many in Miemachi, this one is spacious with a large seating area for groups. Carries the latest songs, a few locals, and the owners always seem happy to have us visit. Rates in 2015 are 2,000円 for under 2 hours, 3,000円for 3+ if there until closing.
A popular choice for group dinners, Kiku offers a set menu and nomihoudai for 3000円(2015). Over a number of courses you’ll get a mix of familiar and weirder dishes, with presentation from exotic to eccentric. The owner’s style is eclectic and surprising, so be sure to ask for some after dinner entertainment. Address: 喜久〒879-7111 大分県豊後大野市三重町赤嶺
Normally in the second week August, Obon (the festival for the dead) is celebrated with a big carnival in Miemachi town including floats and food stalls – good fun!
Harajiri Falls Lantern Festival
Keep a lookout for this – I can’t remember where it is, but it’s some point in late summer or early fall. All the roads are illuminated with lanterns, and there’s music around the falls.
JET Life in Bungo-ono
As of 2015, there are 5 JETs covering the Bungo-Ono area, all of which live in Miemachi.
Four ALTs support Elementary Schools and Junior High Schools across the region, and are contracted by the Bungo-ono Board of Education. There is also one High School ALT at Mie Sogo High school, who visits schools in Oita and Taketa.
JETs can choose their own accommodation, though usually inherit their predecessors. BOE JETs require a car to travel between schools, though Mie town is spread out such that all JETs have cars regardless.
Oita City. The name has a certain grandeur to it. But to for all intents and purposes, Oita city is a city by name, and not much else, when compared to its neighbour Fukuoka.
But nevertheless, being my home for 18 months, I’ve decided to pull together a Molkie-Specific guide on how to pass your days in Oita.
Scroll to the bottom to read about my ‘Escape the Room’ experience!
2015 saw the final upgrade to Oita station which has brought it kicking and screaming into the 21st century and rivals the quality stations like Fukuoka and Osaka, though a little smaller. This addition was 3 or 4 floored shopping mall, including food court and cinema, as well as roof top garden and a fancy new hotel and onsen.
From bakeries to wineries, clothes to stationery, Amu plaza has certainly added a lot of convenience and life to the area.
City Spa Tenku
For the days when you feel more like treating yourself, the rooftop onsen of the Blossom hotel attached to the station should suffice. After slipping your shoes into the lockers, receiving your bag of linen and wrist dongle, you enter a world of premium onsen, high above the city. Both indoor and outdoor pools offer a bizarre, but pleasant, oily-soft water, whilst the carbonated pool grows tiny little bubbles all over your body! The sauna, steam room and cool pool are also worth a visit for the brave!
When you’re done, use your wrist dongle to purchase a nice milk, and feel free to blow dry your hair, or clean out your ears with cotton buds.
A modern city hall complex, it offers meeting spaces, as well as gym and dance studio and most importantly for my experiences – a large kitchen space! I’ve had JET meetings, dance classes and 2 Turkey Day/Thanksgiving Dinners, which have been super delicious, thanks to JT and pals.
Atami Onsen – A local onsen, for local people
Onsen is a fantastic quirk of Japan, and super convenient for the party lifestyler, wherein one may need, at short notice, a place to spruce up and clean off the memories of the night before. One is therefore always advised to have knowledge of a few in the area’s one frequents.
A short 3-5 minute walk west out of the North side of the station, this no frills onsen offer the basics. A man and woman doors which lead straight into the changing area, and beyond that, a few lines of showers and 2 piping hot baths, one of which nobody could sit in. At a few hundred yen it fulfills purpose without showing off.
Leading from the North side of the station is main arcade. Before the station upgrade, this was Oita. A covered arcade with a number of shops, from 100 yen stores, to designer boutiques, to cafes and restaurants, it must push a kilometre in length, and provides great rain cover on an otherwise sodden walk to PEI.
Along its length, starting from the station is an arcade (great for dates), which has purikura, Dance mats and air hockey! A cafe which sells super kawaii coffee cups with steam-milk art, the Starbucks, the 100 Yen shop, a bar where you can buy a drink, a Family Mart and a chicken wing restaurant that offers nomihoudai and steins of umeshu (Japanese plum wine). As you can probably tell, there isn’t much for me here, but it’s well worth exploring, especially some of the offshoots that are home to a number of small restaurants and hangouts, such as MilkBoy, which does French toast breahfast and some other, wouldn’t-look-out-of-place-in-the-trendier-parts-of-North-London/Hipster cafes.
It is also home to Forus, which was THE mall in central Oita, which consists of mostly clothes shops, Starbucks, a record shop in the basement and I think I’ve heard rumours of a bookshop!
Funai castle ruins are right in the centre of the city and unlike most castle ruins (of which nearly every castle is one in Japan) there aren’t really any ruins. From the outside, an impressive moat gives way to an impressive white wall, built on a high, sloping boulder base. Alas, inside is mostly a wide, open, gravelled courtyard, occasionally used for hosting Expos (I went to a health/gardening and home one once!).
The area’s saving grace is the beautiful cherry blossom park along one side of the moat, often used for wedding photos and is exceptionally busy during the wonderful 花見/hanami/cherry blossom viewing period (which really is the best time to visit Japan!).
A magic shop. Not a 100 yen shop, not quite an electrical shop, it sells ALOT of shit. Foods, personal products, thousands of electronics, seasonal goods, watches, and even has an adult only part, if ya know what I mean 😉
It’s all pretty cheap, ranging from known brands, to chinese imports, you can probably fid it here. Check it out for a limited range of import beers, or their special music DVDs set – Billboard 100 from 1995-2015 really set off my NYE party!
Ethnic Bros – $$$
Our resident Mexican restaurant, its biggest selling point? A picture menu, alway welcome when you’re not 100% on the what Mexican names for things are anyway! Worth booking ahead as it get busy, or pre ordering food if you’re big group, it’s a small, quirky restaurant, with a lot of Mexican themed dressings! It’s portions should leave you filled and with an extensive array of cocktails, a wide menu choice, it’s good for when you really have a craving, but perhaps not a place you would highly recommend if it was back in your home country.
Redwood – $$$
Nothing like the taste of homegrown, American classics… Redwood is an American-food restaurant, offering burgers, steaks and even Mexican food. It’s a tad expensive, but the extensive menu means I haven’t gotten to try to much of it yet! The vanilla shake is a definite highlight, but my suggestion is to stay clear of the ribs. The mexican food was delightful, I wish there had been more. Once again, it’s kind of small and gets busy, so book ahead.
The opening of the mall at the station must have really impacted the Park Place and Wasada Town retail parks.
Nevertheless, I still enjoy a good trip to Park Place, perhaps because it’s in between Mie and central Oita.
A very modern complex, the indoor mall opens out into an external area with numerous water features and pools, around the edge of which feature a number of prominent international brands – Gap, H&M, Uniqlo (Admittedly Japanese) and Zara – yes! A Zara!
Watch out for Niko and… if you’re watching your wallet, as it sells awesome home furnishings. Village Vanguard offers a range of strange, popular Japanese culture and design pieces – good for Xmas presents – as is チャイハネ/Cayhane which sells, dare I short-hand it…. Alternative, hippy clothes and wares, which is similar to Marika, which sells a lot Arab and Indian influenced wares and accessories.
The pet store on the 3rd floors has many cute puppies and kittens to yearn for, and is also where you’ll find the cinema – always read the poster to check the language/subtitles!
Surprisingly, there’s an HMV still going strong and a Lush body shop. ABC mart overs a range of shoes, some which go up to a UK size 10, and the massive Sports shop sells all sorts of sports equipment, and you can buy Oita Trinita FC shirts!
So close to the fictional African nation of Wakanda from the Marvel Universe 🙁
Having only been here once, my knowledge is somewhat limited. It is definitely an older, more run down retail park, offering similar shops to Park Place. It definitely has a sports shop, and that my friends, is my knowledge.
Judging by Google Streetview, Bistro Shun was being built in Dec 2015 – so I was lucky to find it at the end of January 2016! Really close to the station, in the same building as Hotel Smart Sleep, it’s located under the stairs and maybe could host 10 people at a push! He only sells Heineken and wine, and in his little cubbie he has a kitchen – hence the Bistro!
Very friendly, reasonably priced, it makes a cool little place for a quick beer, or maybe a date!
The only place I know in Oita that has Guinness on draught! And thus is well worth a visit for this alone. An underground bar, it has, to me, the air of what would make a cool Jazz venue. The bar offers other import drinks like Blue Moon, but Guinness, so why bother? What’s nice is you can go in just for a drink, rather than the izakaya-style food & drink menu, but it also serves some hot nibbles and food, allowing you to develop a thirst from some salty, salty, fries.
If there’s one place you’re guaranteed to find ALTs, foreign students and Japanese people who can speak English, it’s PEI. A great, ‘Canadian’ bar, North of the station in Miyako-machi, it’s a melting pot of people from all over the world.
On a quiet night, Meg and Richie are real easy to chat to, both being native speakers of Japanese and English. The food is super delicious, my recommendation is the nachos and Oreo milkshake, and they frequently have nomihoudai offers.
Once a month they have a themed trivia night which always brings out the competitive spirit, and the last saturday of the month is Haze, a nomihoudai banaza, with dancing, which a huge mix of expats, University students and Japanese people – it gets messy!
Be sure to ask for a shot from the snake bottle!
For Y3000 a night, you get half hotel/half capsule. Though you get your own room, the doors don’t lock, nor do the walls reach to the ceiling, instead, having curtains for the top foot or so. Alongside your TV is a computer you can pay to use. The bathroom facilities have individual showers, this blew my mind! It’s 1 block from the North side of the station and allows hour access, with check-in from 1700 and check out at 1000.
It offers male and female dorms, so is one up on New Gloria (see below), however, it is further from PEI!
Either new, or under redevelopment, this place is a real hotel, so great for friends sharing. We booked a triple room for Y9750 – Y3250pppn. As small as any Japanese hotel, it offered comfy beds and a small private bathroom. It’s location is pretty central to all the nightlife and restaurants, and half way between the station and PEI, offering a quick trek back.
New Gloria (Capsule) Hotel
After a hard night partying, you may want/need/be taken to a bed in the nearby capsule hotel – so long as you have a penis, sorry girls.
If taken here, try not to panic.
Waking up in a coffin, to the sounds of invisible people snoring is terrifying. Having no memory, and the only clue being a key on a hair band around your wrist, is like waking up in the middle of an escape the room game.
“But at least I have my clothes on.” I thought to myself, “Time to get out of here… Argh shit my head”
Shuffling my arse closer to the illuminated edges of the curtain at the bottom of the bed, my legs reached out into thin air.
“For fuck sake” As I attempted to curve myself into a backwards C, so as to get my feet on the ladder, without smacking my head.
Grabbing the guide rail, I swung out, over shot, ricocheting off the bed next to me, and heavily dropping to the floor, like a hangover cat, after gnawing on the wine infused scraps of a good beef bourguignon.
This morgue of beige and brown had me trapped. I walked to one end, only to find further endless pods, like a 70s inspired, alien birth room. The other way lead to some stairs, and a number of mirrored automatic doors. With no windows, I had no idea if I was up or down.
Choosing the stairs, the hieroglyphics on the wall offered no information beyond that I was 3rd floor. There I was, with a key and a floor number.
Going down to floor 2, I found the stairs went no lower. At the end of the second floor corridor was another mirrored sliding door.
Panic set in, and I ran back up stairs.
What was this key for? What did the number mean?
I ventured towards the mirrored sliding door, at least I still looked handsome. Then it opened, the sight so abhorrent, as a naked man, caressed by gentle steams, walked out.
Walking, I sharply turned, not missing a beat, as if my aim was to walk in a ‘U’ shape all along.
Back down the stairs. But surely this door also lead to an onsen?
I ventured closer, when I an idea pushed itself forward from the back of my mind and made itself known.
There was a wall of lockers.
And I had a key.
Looking down, I had no shoes on!
Searching for 248, the key slid in and fitted.
Inside, were my shoes.
This had to be the entrance, so maybe it was the exit? Tentatively I made my way to mirrored door. It slide open to reveal a reception area I had once been to before, and across the room, a familar spiral staircase lead down to a exit to the streets of Oita.
I had escaped the room.