Indiana Jones and the intrepid travellers (Day 204)
Vine Bridges, Scarecrows and strange vans pop out of nowhere - sounds like Indiana Jones and the intrepid travellers.
A long journey was ahead to the Iya Valley, Jan and Simon kindly picked us up at 7am and away we went. Tim was voted tour guide and Simon the driver. Apparently, we drove over many bridges and through tons of tolls, but Jan and I were too busy relaxing and chatting about all kinds of things in the back of the car with many interjections of laughter to notice.
After quite a while, the scenery of cluttered grey apartment blocks and industrial areas changed to steep mountains covered with a variety of deciduous and coniferous trees. Suddenly, Tim directed Simon down a narrow lane to find a small petrol station. The weird thing was that at first, we thought there were no petrol pumps. Simon parked up and the pump assistant pressed a button. The petrol pump descended from above! We’d never seen that before. The tank was filled, our windows cleaned and we were guided out of the garage. What great service.
As we were climbing the windy mountain roads, Jan told us to look out for a Tanuki. We’d never heard of this animal so Tim looked up what they’re like; a fluffy racoon and according to Japanese folklore, they are “reputed to be mischievous and jolly, a master of disguise and shapeshifting, but somewhat gullible and absent-minded.” They are also known as golden balls and not for the same reason as David Beckham!
Eventually we stopped for lunch at a wooden bench and table at the side of the road. The view was spectacular, well I expect it was beyond the thick white cloud. Our picnic of an onigiri, a stick of radish and cucumber and a quarter of an apple sufficed. We realised we had just three bananas and some peanuts left for our dinner and breakfast. Oh dear! Beyond the clouds we imagined tanuki, brown bears and Japanese serows all peering down at us through the bushes. (Serows are like a furry mix between a goat, pig, donkey and an antelope - weird)
We carried on our journey, driving past huge ravines with concrete dams and signs of mountain falls. Our next stop (which we missed and Simon kindly turned back) was Oku-Iya Nijū Kazurabashi Vine Double Bridge (phew – that’s a mouth full) where there used to be 13 suspension bridges made of mountain Wisteria vines. Think Indiana Jones – the Temple of Doom. The two remaining bridges are Husband Bridge with 44m span and Wife Bridge at half the length both rather precarious to walk across, especially Jan’s small feet could have easily slipped through the gaps. Across the first bridge was a waterfall and we did have such a laugh trying to fit us all into the photo with the waterfall in the background. We carried on walking along the river and came to a wooden cart suspended on a rope over the river called a Wild Monkey Bridge. We wondered if it was just for transporting goods. I was game and hopped in whilst Tim pulled the rope. Yes – I survived, so he pulled me back and hopped in himself with Jan and Simon taking over the pulling so we glided over the river. Having seen us safe on the other side, we got the cart over to them and in they got and we hauled them across. I realised that if I took one more step towards them, I would have been over the edge – Health and Safety calling! But we wouldn’t have had so much fun.
Onto the scarecrow village, Nagoro where throughout the village scarecrows who have seen better days are scattered around. I think Jan and I did a very good representation of them – fitting right in. We finally arrived at our hotel (no Airbnbs here) after driving through lots of villages that seemed abandoned – is there something they know but we don’t? Large schools were boarded up, no people around, dilapidated shacks, old rusty vans hanging over the mountain edge. The Hotel looked very upmarket. A young man came and carried our bags in with a young lady in her kimono scurrying manically around.
The Hotel didn’t provide food so we jumped back into the campervan and drove around to find a restaurant. Simon by this stage had been driving for over 12 hours – well over the UK Lorry limit, and I hoped we could find something quickly, we were all starving hungry and we certainly didn’t want any “HAngry” to happen. Suddenly Simon decided to turn left, we didn’t think there would be anything up there, yet Simon insisted and then we knew why. We saw a tiny little van playing a tune and as it turned the corner, we saw large metal pots in the back. It stopped, we parked up, I jumped out and ran to the van. An elderly couple were selling Ramen – Hurrah! That’s what Simon could smell. We stood and chatted with the elderly lady, using Google translate and Jan using some of her 20 phrases she had learnt whilst the elderly gentleman was busy cooking the noodles. As I didn’t want the pork, I got two hard boiled eggs with my noodles, miso and bean sprouts and the others had pork instead of one of the eggs. It was delicious, filling and hot. A perfect end to a long yet oh so much fun day.