Mongolia and Japan - May 31 - June 28, 2017
Bob and Alan



[Camera notes: You can click on many of the photos to bring up the high resolution version and then click on the high resolution version to zoom in. Also, early on an internal camera lens got a smudge I could not remove which shows up in both photos and videos.]




Mongolia - June 1 - June 17, 2017
Led by Bahu, Tamara, Saken, Baybolat, and Olonbayar of
Altai Expeditions and "Jay"




[The Mongolia part of our trip was Bob's responsibility. He says: Our entire trip in Mongolia was organized and led by Altai Expeditions which I recommend very, very highly if you wish to have a fabulous adventure in Mongolia. And western Mongolia, among the mountains and peaks and rivers and lakes, is a particularly wonderful place to hike and/or horseback ride. It borders both Russia and China and is primarily a Kazakh culture.]

Favorite video - On our first morning of horseback riding, we began by crossing a river. I am last to cross and Alan is ahead of me.

Day 1, May 31, Wednesday

Flew from San Francisco (SFO) to Seoul. Dogs sniffed all luggage in SFO.

Day 2, June 1, Thursday

Met Alan in Seoul and together we flew to Ulanbaatar (UB), where Жаргалмөнх Гансүх (or Jargalmunkh Gansukh according to Google Translate or "Jay" as he suggested we call him) picked us up and drove us to airport. We liked him so much, we hired him to guide us around UB the next day. Stayed on the 8th floor of the Bayangol Hotel in a room with a balcony. To have power, we had to insert (and leave) one of our room cards in slot on the wall.

Day 3, June 2, Friday

Videos:
View of UB from Russian Monument

By 4:30 AM the outdoors was light with sunrise around 5 AM. Before 6 AM we went down to a large dining area with chandeliers and a huge selection of foods for breakfast with lots of veggies, fruits, cereals, egg dishes, meats, etc and beautifully laid out tables. A theater screen was silently playing a video about Mongolia.


Alan went back to the room after breakfast, while I went walking down the street and saw various parks and statues. And hillsides marked with lettering and I presume Chinggis Khaan.





At 11 AM Jay picked us up and we toured the city, seeing: Biggest Buddhist temple in Mongolia (Buddhism and Shamanism are major religions in Mongolia); Mongolian National Museum; Government Square; Winter Palace; Russian Monument with a view of an impressive statue below; a mall where we had lunch and a grocery store near the hotel. A carnival near the motel played music through most of the night.









Driving in the city is amazing compared to driving in the US. Alan, who has experience driving in Boston and thought that could be bad, said driving in UB is far worse - scary. Honking is non-stop. We really enjoyed the special car horn Jay had that started with the usual honk, but then faded out. And when all the parking spaces are taken, one simply pulls behind those parked cars, blocking them completely, and leaving a phone number on your windshield so they can call you. Not only do cars drive within inches of each other, pedestrians are also within inches. You do not put your hand out the window. We saw two car accidents today.

Day 4, June 3, Saturday

Videos:
Stop on road, landscape, Bahu pronounces his name
Circling hawk
Eagle Hunter
Alan holding eagle
On the road to first camp
More on the (wet) road to first camp
Crossing a plank bridge to first camp

Got up at 3 AM (2 AM Ulgii time) to fly to Ulgii. In driving to airport we ran red lights, but Jay told us red lights could be ignored at night. A police cruiser passed us and also ran the lights. On the flight to Ulgii we made an unscheduled stop to pick up some Russians. We thought this was our destination, but stewardess, who did not speak English, got excited and verbal when Alan started taking down his luggage from the overhead bin. Other passengers told us the problem, but we were then allowed to get out and take photos of the little airport, as did others.

We both noticed that the woman sitting in front of us with long black hair kept untying and tying her ponytail many, many times during the flight. Two other women, Helen and Pearl, were from Singapore and were going to be hiking up Mount Malchin, just as we were.

Bahu picked us up at the Ulgii airport and, after a brief stop at a small grocery store that we requested, drove us to his family's house where we were served lunch. We then went next door to meet an eagle hunter. We each got a chance to hold an eagle.

Now we start the real adventure, beginning with a 6 to 7 hour ride to the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park entrance through western Mongolia. Scenery was spectacular. In fact, it was so beautiful I made up a page with photos from just that day.

We saw 1 fox, 1 rabbit, many marmots and camels, and herds of yaks, goats, horses, and cattle.

Whereas the paved roads in UB were memorable because of the driving, these roads were amazing because they were more like fire roads in a US national forest: unpaved, dirt, 2 tracks, occasionally water covered, very few other cars on them.

We were riding in an old Russian van with no seat belts, windows that did not open except for the small rooftop and triangular ones, and we stopped twice so our driver could go underneath the van and fix something (brakes, as I recall).

It was a blast and totally enjoyable.

When we got to the park entrance, we camped, after driving across a bridge that I was surprised could take a car. I had assumed we would walk over it.

Prior to entering the park, we had to be registered, because we were so near the Russian and Chinese borders:

Day 5, June 4, Sunday

Videos:
89 - Hawks around first camp
90 - Loaded camels being led to base camp
92 - Hawk around Malchin base camp

I got up in the night after the moon had set and saw the Milky Way galaxy, constellations and a shooting star. I later got up shortly before sunrise in order to watch the surrounding peaks light up as the day began. I used the tented toilet facilities and when I came out I found a group of yaks had wandered over. That was a surprise. They then wandered over the river.

Around 5:45 AM Alan awoke and wanted a picture of him in his new sleeping bag, which he liked very much and which kept him quite warm. (See picture under Equipment below). Then he went back to sleep and I hiked up some nearby rockpiles, taking a few more pics before my battery ran dead.




Tamara, who had gotten up early as she always did, had prepared us breakfast (and a box lunch to take with us) of eggs, bread, homemade jam, prunes, cookie sticks, and, of course, coffee for Alan. Tamara cooked many different and tasty meals - breakfast, lunch, and dinner - throughout our adventure in western Mongolia.

Today we would hike a little bit over 10 miles (about 5 or 6 hours) to our base camp below Mount Malchin where we would spend 2 nights. Camels would take our gear. What we did not need we loaded into duffel bags and put in the van to lighten the camels' load. At one point we considered crossing over the stream, but it was flowing too fast (see third photo below).




As this sign notes, the trail on occasion got quite muddy: "Please be careful in mud!"

As we hiked we occasionally were passed by camels and horseback riders.


We also met a young lady on horseback who was learning how to lead expeditions. We took pictures of her, which we promised to email.

The hike was of course beautiful. Here Bahu and Alan are eating the lunch Tamara prepared.

The following are several images of the trail as we followed it. Click on any image to see the full resolution of the photo.

We arrived at the base camp where other small groups were also camped, getting ready for tomorrow's attempt to summit Mt. Malchin. The setting for the base camp was beautiful, right next to glaciers, snowpacks, and surrounding peaks. The photo below shows Malchin peak with the base camp in the foreground.

Day 6, June 5, Monday

Videos:
94 - Malchin mountain from trail with surrounding landscape
95 - Hail and eating on Malchin mountain
96 - Right after we slid down snow to avoid possible lightning

Got up at 4 AM and at 4:30 AM Alan I climbed up a nearby rock ridge to view sunrise about 600' above camp. Beautiful. And we got to see camels and horses grazing.



We were looking forward to eating breakfast and heading off under Bahu's leadership to hike to the summit of Malchin, the 5th tallest peak in Mongolia. Tamara made us pancakes with honey and jam for breakfast and also made us box lunches.

Then we started what would turn out to be a 16 hour hike with a very scary experience.

Ahead of us at the start of the hike were a young lady with a guide and another group of hikers from Singapore. The hike started out easy and relatively flat often beside a stream. This changed. As we started up the mountain the trail became very rocky and gravily and difficult.

As we climbed we passed the Singapore group, then met the other two hikers coming down. I asked the young lady what had brought her to Mongolia and she said she had ridden there on the trans-Siberian railroad after having spent the last year working for the Peace Corp. She wanted to continue her adventures. There was some question as to whether those hikers had made it to the actual summit or an intermediate summit.

We saw thunder clouds moving in, rain in the distance and hail fell on us. At this point we could see both the Russian and Chinese borders. We passed the intermediate summit and approached the Malchin summit.

Suddenly, as we got close to the summit, both Alan and Bahu felt electricity in the air. Then we heard a buzzing sound. All of us realized we were way too exposed to a possible lightening strike. The ridge leading up to Malchin peak had snow on one side and rocks on the other. We had stuck to the rocks. But the rocks were getting slippery from the earlier hail and we wanted to get down fast.

So we sat on the snow and sledded down on our rear ends, Alan taking the lead and Bahu behind me helping me with shoves when I slowed down. We stayed near the ridge as we went down and after a while moved back over to the rock side to get down the rest of the way. We could see the Singapore group far in the distance below us.

Day 7, June 6, Tuesday

Videos:
97 - Camels/horses being readied to leave Malchin base camp
98 - Alan rides a camel
99 - Bob rides a camel
106 - Alan onn stream crossing path
108 - Trail back from Malchin to first camp
109 - Bob talks to horses on trail
110 - Gers and barking dog
111 - More barking dog
118 - Alan gets in glacier melt river where we camp

In the morning, we took our chance to get on camels as you can see in the above videos..



Hiked about 10 miles on an easy, mostly downhill path through beautiful landscape.



I hiked some distance either in front of or behind Alan and Bahu in order to quietly enjoy the serenity of the scenery. At one point when I was well in the lead I passed a ger with a loudly barking, large dog who ran to check me out. And followed me some way before returning. A while later I heard him again, as Bahu passed. Then once again as Alan passed.

When we reached the park entrance, the van was waiting fully loaded and ready to go as the camels had already brought back all our gear. We got in and drove about an hour along a "road" to a campsite near a river. After setting up our tents, Allen got into the river of glacial melt.

Tamara served us a dinner, mine vegetarian, of fruit salad and Mongolian dumplings, followed by strawberries for dessert. Alan and Saken arm wrestled.

Day 8, June 7, Wednesday

Videos:
119 - Our campsite near the river in the morning
122 - Riding horses across a river


This would be our first full day (5 hours) of horseback riding. Because the camels were still not recovered from winter and lack of food, we were told we would be sticking to roads and the van would carry our equipment to the next campsite. Alan and I were worried that we were giving up back country trails and staying on roads.


No need to worry. As described above, Mongolian roads here in western Mongolia are akin to US forest service trails with few people and even fewer motor vehicles. Basically, we were alone in the wilderness. The horseback riding trip was glorious.

Alan got a horse that loved to gallup and he did much of that. My horse, on the other hand, walked at a slow pace and fell behind the others as they walked. I would often have to kick him with my heels to get him into a trot to catch up. I may have galluped once or twice. Our horse leader, Baybolat, would often ride just to my side and a bit behind and use his horse whip to encourage my horse. That meant my horse would suddenly start trotting and catch up with Alan and Bahu.

Alan named his horse Lightning. This was after we found out horses were not given names in Mongolia.

They are not given names, because they are eventually eaten.

One of the sights we got to see was a rock covered with hieroglyphs placed on them 1500 years ago by Turks. We also saw what in the distance seemed to be a shrine the size of a building, but upon approaching found it to be a small, but pretty, shrine.



At the end of the day Baybolat was helping me dismount and my leg was not clearing the saddle. Suddenly Alan decides he can help and comes up on the other side of the horse. Horse goes wild, Baybolat tries to control him, and I luckily manage to get off and back away.

For dinner Tamara prepares noodles with vegetable sauce, along with salad with a yoghurt (?) dressing, all very good. We also have a Russian bottle pictured below.

Bahu and Alan decide that once it gets dark (which is very late), they will go out with flashlights and try to catch fish by hand that are attracted to the light. Alan had no luck fishing, so returned to camp around midnight. Bahu, however, stayed later and successfully caught 1 fish.

Rain is forecast for the next day and I worry that I have brought no waterproof pants. But I also figure that the jodhpurs I am wearing for horseback riding under my usual long pants will be of some help.

Day 9, June 8, Thursday

Videos:
125 - Riding horse on trail and trying to video
126 - Van crosses a river
128 - On the trail

Tamara cooked and served the trout with breakfast and it was very good.

We then rode horseback for 3 hours, only rain was a light, short drizzle that was no problem.







We arrived at our campsite near a river and set up our tents.


Got into tent by around 3 pm. It began to pour, first off and on, then continuously.

Around 7 there was a brief break in the rain and we quickly went over to the cooking/dining tent, where Tamara had prepared soup, brown rice with vegetables (and also mutton for everyone else) along with chocolate bars for dessert. Saken broke open a bone, pulled out the marrow, and dropped it in Alan's mouth.

At the next break in the rain, we hurried back to our tents for the night.

Day 10, June 9, Friday

Videos:
131 - Campsite morning view
132 - Alan tries to start van with crank
133 - Trying to push start van
134 - Hawk and clouds
136 - Alan and Bahu horse race with 3 others who came to see us
137 - Landscape and rare car on road passes us near end of day
138 - Kids helping us to put up tent

What a fun day!




It started with the van not starting, so all of us, including Tamara, got behind it to push with Saken in the driver's seat. After a few tries, we got it going. Then we went in for breakfast centered around an omelet. Then we got on the horses and rode for several hours.




At one point, Bahu went galloping off. We realized he was chasing a marmot, which eventually got away into its burrow. With this example, Alan and Bahu later both galloped after a marmot.

At another time, we saw 3 horsemen herding sheep up on a hill. Suddenly the three of them came riding down to Alan and Bahu. They were 3 boys, 8, 13, and 17 years old. Alan asked them if they had any questions about the U.S. The youngest asked: "Do you have lots of pretty girls there?" All of them then galloped up the hill.


Later, at Bahu's urging, Alan then galloped and chased after a yak. Later, he galloped after a dog.

Then came the big surprise. Near the end of the day the van drove up to tell us there was a change in plans. We had been invited to a wedding tomorrow. The people did not know any of us, but it was customary to invite travelers to a wedding. So we went to a new campsite near a rivulette with a house less than a mile away. 6 little boys and girls, maybe 5 to 12 years old, came pouring out of the house and ran up to see us. They enthusiastically helped with putting up 3 of our tents. So fun.



I had brought several gifts appropriate for children. I spoke with Bahu, he looked through all the gifts and we agreed which we would give to the mother to distribute to the kids. Shortly thereafter the mother (of some of the kids) came to the camp with her husband. All the kids gathered around and I presented the gifts to the mother. Alan took a lot of pics. A bit later we had tea (and cookies brought by the mother) in our usual cooking tent. Lots of good conversation - they wanted to know about our marriages, children, why our wives did not come, animals in the US, did my son support me. They were very impressed with Shirley being able to garden and handle rattlesnakes.

The wife said she, like Shirley, had a bad knee and what could I advise to help her. I said I really did not know. Alan jumped in and said he had a solution with him. If she would spin a magnet over her knee, it would make the pain go away. He then told her the story of spinning the magnet to make my tooth pain go away on an earlier trip. I told my version with opposite conclusions. However, I ended by saying we agreed on one thing. We both hoped the magnet on a string would work for her.

Alan gave her a magnet on a string.

After dinner we went up to their house. It turned out one of their boys had been with the dog Alan chased and thought Alan was chasing him, though Alan never saw him.




Alan asked the kids if they had any questions for us. There were two young girls and a younger boy. The boy asked if it would be possible for him to go to college someday in the U.S. We told him anything was possible buthe would have to work hard to do so. One of the girls was so shy she hid behind the other

Bahu also found out there were 7 kids, not just the 6 we had met, and the 7th, a little girl, had been in tears because she did not get a gift and in a particular not one of the little mirrors. So after our visit the kids came back with us to my tent and I handed out to Bahu my only two remaining gifts - a set of colored pencils and a pad - to let her choose 1. She got pencils and was very happy. Bahu said he had taught them how to use the pencils.

Day 11, June 10, Saturday

Videos:
141 - Horses and yaks near our camp in the morning
147 - Hawks and wedding venue when we arrived
151 - Wedding party arrives in balloon decorated jeep
152 - Wedding song with bowing bride - 8 minutes long, first bow shows at 4 minutes
153 - Wedding candy throwing
154 - Putting on the wedding rings
155 - Putting on bride's maid ear rings, more candy throwing, Alan taking photos
156 - Champagne pouring
157 - Champagne serving and drinking
158 - The prize horse for the top wrestler
162 - Wrestler ritual
164 - Amateur loses to professional wrestler
164 - Hawks at wedding


This was the day we attended a wedding, among much else, and it was so packed that I have put the complete diary entry on its own page.


Day 12, June 11, Sunday

Videos:
169 - Morning landscape near camp site
171 - Herding horses


Up at 6 with porridge for breakfast, followed by 3 to 4 hours of horseback riding covering 10 to 15 miles in scenery reminiscent of and as beautiful as Alaska, just stunning. Weather was perfect until last half hour as we approached huge lake surrounded by peaks (one peak, seen in distance between others, was in China, about 9 miles away). Very strong winds off lake blew directly into our faces with a smattering of rain.

When we arrived at lakeside campsite, they said it had been calm and warm until we arrived.

During ride we met 2 very young boys (8 or 9?) who were herding yaks up to a ridge. They asked if we would use our horses and do it for them. We said yes and Alan and Bahu did it. Alan is now a Yak Herder!

We set up our tents facing the white capped waters of the lake. Several times Alan chased yaks, once getting videoed while doing so. When he picked out a mother and baby I yelled at him and Bahu als told him to go after a bull.

And we found out the magnet worked for woman with knee problem! She tried to find Alan at wedding to thank him.

Day 13, June 12, Monday

Videos:
172 - Morning panorama near camp site
0 - Alan gallops
1 - A very large herd of goats and sheep approaches quickly
2 - The herd checks out our lunch spot
4 - Alan helps herd yaks
6 - Landscape about an hour from campsite
7 - Riding horses across river on a plank bridge that the van will also cross.
8 - Alan gets in river


In 2 days I will be in phone contact with Shirley! Whom I miss a lot. The blanket they provided which I put over my sleeping bag is covered with flowers and makes me think of my gardening wife.

Woke up early just as sun was rising, walked a mile or two along lake beach before breakfast, saw the sun on top of peaks, then had an omelette for breakfast.

Rode about 4 hours with good weather in beautiful scenery. For first time since wedding saw several vehicles, mostly large flatbed trucks packed full. Bahu says people moving to summer homes. At the end of the day stopped at a rare little store, there because a military base was nearby. Bahu said there were just a few soldiers, under 20 at the base, there because we were so near the Chinese border and there was some trouble with Chinese coming over to get herbs, animal horns, etc. China is about 9 miles away.

Inside of the store was packed with oddball stuff, like a disorderly estate sale, but did have beer at about $1 a can, which Alan wanted.

Rode across wooden bridge with loose planks over a wide river, then to camps. We will stay here 2 nights.

Tomorrow Alan & Bahu will ride 5 or 6 hours roundtrip to see some waterfalls nearer China. I told Bahu I will hike alone all day around the lake and forest below mountains. Yay!

Alan, Bahu, and Saken each had a large beer. Alan went chasing goats.

For dinner had potato salad and dish with vegetables, noodles, omelette, then chocolate. Three little boys (12, 10, 8 years old) came into tent and stood quietly. They were fed too, then they left. Dinner talk was much about politics, prejudices in the US. Mongolian presidential election is June 29, 2017. [No one got a majority and in a July 7 run-off the Democratic party candidate beat the Mongolian People's Party candidate - the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party contested the election calling it fraudulent].

Day 14, June 13, Tuesday

Videos:
11 - River rapids in early morning
16 - Panorama at snow pack just after leaving forest on hike
17 - Panorama from lunch spot, horses above and below

Awoke around 5 AM, walked to place near river to get pics of rapids.

Around 6 found Alan in camped and we walked, then had pancake for breakfast and Tamara prepared our box lunches, one of which I put in my day pack. Began hiking around 9 AM after saying I would be back by 6 PM, no later than 7 PM. Alan & Bahu began their ride to falls shortly thereafter.

Perfect weather.

On the way up near the beginning of the hike as I passed some distance from gers two little girls ran to see me. I took pic and gave them high 5 after showing them pic.

Hiked 4 hours past lakes, through forest, spring flowers, brush, small snow packs, marshy areas to get to ridge line. There were lots of small spring flowers along the way.

Started up ridge with snow packs below and horses above. Just before gaining ridge a horseback rider coming down from ridge came over and got off horse and shook hands. His name sounded like Rubik.

Found picnic spot looking down across snow pack to horses with foals below and other horses eating grass not too far above.

On the way back I picked some of the pretty little spring flowers to see if I could dry them for Shirley (and sneak them through customs). There were lots of wildflowers of many colors. I put them all in my diary to dry. My favorite was a larger one, sort of like a small, yellow rose. That was the one flower that while I was in Japan apparently dropped out of the diary.


As I neared camp, Saken drove the van over and picked me up. I got back from hike around 4:45 PM.

Alan, after talking with Bahu, decided we should tip our horse guide Baybolat $80 total and each of the other 3 $100 (they were with us longer).

Dinner was veggie salad ringed by standing potato chips, followed by veggie dish.

Day 15, June 14, Wednesday

20 - Hawk near our camp in the morning
21 - Van crosses plank bridge over river

Baybolat left with horses before 5 AM and I got up a little after 5 AM. At breakfast we tipped Bahu, Tamara, and Saken $100 each (so $150 paid by each of us). Alan actually gave solar and other equipment to Bahu in lieu of cash with a promise to mail more back from the US. Tamara and Saken each got a gift also - key chain and blood monitor.

After breakfast packed up our tents for the last time, with a hawk nearby watching.

Then we began 6 hour drive over usual terrible "roads" to Ulgii. The roads were not always cleared:

There were also several stops so Saken could work on noisy, overheating brakes. At one such stop we saw far in the distance a jeep stopped. Using my camera's 60x zoom I was able to capture the driver standing beside the jeep taking a photo of us. Later we drove up to the jeep and met the riders.

In Ulgii we stayed at the Eagles Nest Hotel. Alan and I got separate rooms. We took the opportunity to visit a nearby market place. Alan's room had hot water, mine did not at first, so we took turns using his shower. Yay! I even washed a pair of socks (this will shock those that know me, what with me being such a big believer in the health value of human microbiota).

Here we met Bek, the owner of Altai Expeditions, who took us to dinner at a Turkish restaurant. It was very good, but quite funny. Alan's dish got served after quite a wait. Then much more waiting and mine was served. Bek got served quite a bit later. Back at the hotel I spent quite a lot of time doing an email, then power went out and I lost everything.

Day 16, June 15, Thursday

First thing in the morning I went and knocked on Alan's door and sang Happy Birthday. Then gave him a gift Clar had asked me to bring. It was fun watching him unwrap it and read the wrapping note.

Then we went to breakfast and were told our plane would be an hour early. So we really rushed to airport. Plane was not early. We did not have enough Mongolian currency to cover cost of excess luggage. US and credit card not accepted. No ATM. We gave Bahu $20 US and he paid in Mongolian. Flight to UB smooth and non-stop.

Jay met us at the airport to drove us to hotel and my debit card worked at the ATM! Alan and I share room on 11th of 12 floors. Jay takes us to dinner at a Mongolian restaurant. Very good.

Day 17, June 16, Friday - Our last day in Mongolia

Got up and ate good hotel breakfast, then Jay picked us up at ten AM. Driving around UB much worse than in US. Roads are paved, but how many lanes of traffic, butting in and out, honking is frequent and arbitrary. An adventure.

Stopped at department store, black market, Indian restaurant, department store, ice cream stand for rum raisin ice cream. Bought lots of souveniers including cashmere scarves, statue, felt bags.

Japan - June 17 - June 28, 2017
Guidance provided by Kudo and Tomoko; arranged by
Global Base Camps

Our Itinerary as provided by Global Base Camps.

The Japan Part was Alan's responsibility. He says: I had been speaking with Global Basecamps for quite some time and received excellent service from them! They put together an amazing custom itinerary with everything we requested. I wanted to stop at Hiroshima and Tokyo, but we also wanted to get some great hiking in. The trip was orchestrated extremely well and even though we were doing some fairly intense hikes in an amazing setting, we were pampered with great food and wonderful accommodations! The Kumano Kodo Trail is a must see in Japan! It is some of the most beautiful hiking I have ever done. The Japanese Hospitality is wonderful. Even though the transportation can be quite complicated, Global Basecamps provided detailed instructions and excellent support if we needed it. This type of independent travel is the best way to do a trip. We had enough guidance and instructions so we were able to figure out what we needed, but we also had flexibility to venture out on our own. Thanks to Global Basecamps for putting together this truly memorable trip! I plan to go back to Japan and I will be calling Global Basecamps to plan my trip! https://www.globalbasecamps.com/tours/japan


3 favorite videos - street performers in Japan:
Face mask and contortionist
Unicycle balancing act
Chair balancing act



Day 18, June 17, Saturday

Video:
23 - Alan wins a prize (with assistance from helper)

Accommodation: Shared room at Cross Hotel in Osaka, Japan

Flew into Japan via Beijing, which was polluted beyond belief. Woman next to us on plane was from UB and had friend in Beijing. They would compare who had worse air on any given day during the winter, when UB also becomes massively polluted. UB has the coldest weather in the winter of any capital city in the world.

I was very impressed at the Beijing airport when I saw the wording on cigarette cartons for sale.

I consider the tobacco industry to be the epitome of evil. Their business would fail if they could not addict children: 88% of adults who smoke daily started smoking by age 18; 99% started by age 26.

And they know the addicted children will then grow up and probably die early because of that addiction: Among those who continue to smoke, about half will die earlier than their non-smoking peers, losing on average about 13 years of life..

We were picked up at the airport in Osaka, Japan in a Toyota Crown, a most luxurious Toyota. The driver was a well dressed and quite young man in a suit. Whereas driving in UB was insane, worse than Boston with constant honking, driving in Japan is far more polite than anywhere in the US. And no honking. The hotel room had a scale - I was 150 lb, a loss of 7 lbs, all of which I would gain back and more in the next two weeks.

After checking into the hotel, we wandered the streets of Osaka - so very, very different from anything in Mongolia (or in the US for that matter).

Day 19, June 18, Sunday

Videos:
24 - Bullet train leaves station
25 - Our first bullet train arrives
26 - Our train goes from 0 to 141 mph (5 min video) - scenery flashing by
27 - Our train gets to 178 mph - even faster scenery
30 - Alan rings Hiroshima bell
31 - Deer on the sidewalks
32 - Alan rings bell

Accommodation: Shared room at Hotel Granvia in Hiroshima

After breakfast, we took a bullet train to Hiroshima and checked into our new hotel, the Hotel Granvia.

In Hiroshima we visited memorials.

Our guide Kudo then took us to an island by ferry which had several temples (Buddhist) and shrines (Shinto). Kudo practiced both faiths. The island had many deer, very tame, wandering around on the town streets. We walked up the mountain behind the town a little bit to see more temples.

When we returned to our hotel in Hiroshima Alan decided he needed a new, smaller, carry-on suitcase, then have the hotel send his large suitcase to Tokyo. BIC Camera had such and he bought one.

Day 20, June 19, Monday

Videos:
38 - Scenery from bullet train approaching Kamuro station
40 - Scenery from cable car
41 - Cable car approaches station
42 - Temple where we stayed

Accommodation: Shared room at Eko-in Shukubo

After breakfast, we took various trains, subways and a cable car to go from Hiroshima to Mt. Koya to Koyasan where we are up in forested mountain with lots of temples. We saw a lot of pretty countryside on the way.

We walked the town looking for someplace to purchase actual, fresh fruit, but had no luck, though going through the town was fun. We met David Taylor, another guy who seemed much like us - liked to travel and see foreign lands. Later found out that David had recently retired in March, 2013, as CEO and President of Ball Aerospace company.

We checked into the temple where we would spend the night.

Then we walked around a bit, seeing other rooms in the temple, a graveyard and Tommy Lee Jones advertising BOSS coffee. I had not expected to see images of Tommy Lee Jones in Japan, but later read that well known people who did not want to be seen in ads in the US, instead let their images be used in foreign countries.

While at the temple I tried meditation, but walked out after about 15 minutes. Our dinner was brought to us and served in our room at the temple. Later, mattresses and quilts were brought into our room.

Day 21, June 20, Tuesday

Videos:
43 - Ritual stick burning (long - 11 min - video)
44 - More ritual stick burning (less than 2 minutes)

Accommodation: Shared room at Kiri-no-Sato Takahara Lodge

In preparation for an upcoming religious fire ceremony, I wrote "Happiness and good health to friends and family" on a stick. We then went to the ceremony where all such sticks were burned along with much chanting and percussion.

After the ceremony we ate breakfast, took a photo of the next door temple where the fire ceremony took place, and walked around a bit. As we walked around we ran into David Taylor again in a small cafe. He is building a 54 ft. boat in Croatia that he wants to sail around the world on. After Alan talked about his own love of sailing, David mentioned he was looking for crew.

A car then picked us up and drove us to a hike orientation, stopping at one point so we could walk over a bridge to view a pretty waterfall.

After the orientation we caught a bus to the start of the Kumano Kodo hiking trail.

At the trail head we met 4 elderly women (older than me!) who were going to attempt the same hike as we were. One wore a shirt with "finished marathon" on it. We began the hike a bit after them, but soon passed them as trail became quite steep. We doubted they would be able to complete the trail.

We were wrong.

The trail was well maintained with interesting sites and beautiful views. At one point early in the hike there was a narrow passage under 2 large bolders. The legend was that if a pregnant woman could make it through the passage her baby would be delivered successfully. Alan made it through fine, as the picture below shows. At another point we saw an insect that looked like a 2 inch long wasp. We were later told that it has a powerful sting, but that it gives its possible victim 3 different warnings before doing so.

Some of the trail was paved road with homes and gardens to the side. At another point we passed a shrine surrounded by very large, old growth cedar(?) trees.

It took us 2 1/2 hours to complete the trail (including time for Alan to go back to find his hat at one point). The women arrived at our hotel about an hour after us.

We had a nice room with a view of mountain ridges and forests.

I took my first real Japanese bath with large, rock hot bath off one wall and hand held shower heads and soap/shampoo off opposite wall. Had it all to myself. After showering, luxuriated in hot bath, then rinsed off. Marvelous! And it led to my wearing a kimono for the first time, as pictured at the top of this page.

As shown under Equipment below, we also had a very high tech toilet!

We ate a good dinner, then the proprietor took a photo of us and the five ladies who had also completed the 3 mile or so hike.

Day 22, June 21, Wednesday

Videos:
45 - Stream crossing and crab on Kumano Kodo Trail
46 - Stream crossing
47 - Stream crossing

Accommodation: Shared room at Tsugizakura Minshuku

Started out with a wonderful breakfast featuring a roasted mackeral out of which "John" the English fluent proprietor pulled the backbone/spine and I ate all the rest.

Because it was raining, we held off starting our hike until 9, then headed out.

It was pouring. We were quickly soaked through. My "rain jacket" is not waterproof and apparently not even water "resistant". However, it was warm enough and strenuous enough that it was not a problem. Streams, literally, of water poured down the paths.

We saw over 150 crabs (yep, I was counting for quite a while), each about the size of the palm of your hand, crawling on the paths. We also saw many frogs.

The pouring rain ended around 10:30 or 11, then rained off and on the rest of the day. We hiked for about 8 miles.




We stopped at a store and bought 2 packages of crystallized ginger (we would be eating a LOT of crystallized ginger the rest of this trip). We also each had ice cream in memory of Alan's dad, who died on this date, and of his mom, who loved ice cream. Earlier Alan had stopped for coffee. At the store we met a guy from Ireland and a young Japanese guy.

At the end of the hike we had to hunt around a bit for the driveway leading down to street on which our accomodations were located. It was a private house owned by a chef of many decades who now rented out rooms.

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We were still completely soaked. Alan changed into a kimona and I changed into dry clothes (our suitcases had been delivered to our room as before).

We sat down for tea with the two other guests, Hillary from Ireland (she did not know the Irish guy we encountered before) and the Japanese guy we had seen earlier.

For dinner the owner/chef prepared a marvelous 8 course dinner which his wife presented so well. A young woman who had just moved into the area from New Zealand helped serve the meal. Alan made it clear how much he liked the hot spice wasabi.

Day 23, June 22, Thursday

Videos:
48 - Alan singing about wasabe on trail
49 - Stream crossing

Accommodation: Shared room at Adumaya Ryokan

Woke up to a wonderful , many course breakfast. Hillary brought in a tube of wasabi hot spice and gave it to Alan. The chef prepared another wonderful meal: a Japanese lunch carry out for us.

No rain! We stepped outside, took a couple of photos of our lodging, and continued on our way.



We hike about 16 miles on roads and trails, through deep forest, along rivers, up to ridge lines and along them with steep dropoffs on both sides and mountains in the distance.

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As shown in the last photo above, we had to take a detour "because of a major crack in the mountain...caused by a massive Typhoon in September 2011". Where the trail was very steep with steps the newly cut support stumps stood out.

Alan takes the opportunity to point out his age, given his recent birthday:

The next two photos show swaths of forest having been removed from the hillside. The second photo gives a close up of the first, which shows a second swath in the far distant mountain.

Towards the end of the hike, we had a choice to take a shorter route and take a bus to our hotel, or take a longer hike all the way to the hotel. We chose the latter. We found out that the rains earlier had caused landslides that closed roads and it was not clear the bus could have made it to the hotel. This also had us worried about our plans for tomorrow.

The hotel was very nice with service in the room. Alan played around a bit with his tube of wasabi, much to the amusement of the woman who served us.

Day 24, June 23, Friday

I wake up and weigh myself: 156.9 lb. Yep, I gained back all I had lost in Mongolia. At the hotel we meet 2 young Americans with a 7 month old boy who live in San Francisco.

Accommodation: Shared room at Nakanoshima Hotel

Buses were not running to our next destination, an hour and a half ride. The cost of a taxi would be a $140. Instead, the owner of our hotel insists on driving us to our next hotel. Although the owner would not let us take him to lunch, we insisted we had to stop for snacks and then insisted he share the snacks and choose ones he liked that we bought.

He knew we had missed seeing a temple, so he took us to another one that was along the way.

We will be unable to take a scheduled river trip which also was cancelled (we were refunded the cost we had paid for that).

We took a ferry to our modern, new hotel that was on an island, checked in, then took the ferry back into town. An interesting site was on a forested hill across the water from the hotel: a swastika cut into the hill. Using Google I then learned that the swastika was a symbol used long, long before Hitler associated it with his horrors.

We wandered around town looking for an ATM, crystallized ginger, chocolate, and ice cream (how did I gain that weight back?). We were not having luck finding an ATM, but then we got interesting help from an older man near a vending machine. He directed us to bank. As we headed in that direction, he drove by us to point the way. Then he appeared in the bank to make sure we got there. The bank directed us to post office for an ATM. As we were walking to the post office, the man drove by, stopped, and directed us to the post office. We got there and found an ATM that we used.

Day 25, June 24, Saturday

Videos:
50 - Waterfalls
51 - Noise and comment at waterfalls
52 - Waterfall close-up

Accommodation: Shared room at Park Hotel Tokyo

In the morning we went up to the roof of the hotel where there was an entrance path to the top of the island. The views from there were very nice. And there was even a hot spring foot bath.

Checked out, took ferry, went to bus stop to drop off luggage for the day, where we discovered that storage lockers big enough to hold our luggage were over at train station. So we went over there and stored luggage. Then we wandered around until we found bananas and ginger.

We then got on a bus to go visit a temple and magnificent waterfalls. To get from the bus stop to the temple and waterfalls, we climbed a path through a cedar forest, giving Bob a chance to hug a huge such cedar. It was one of a pair labeled "husband and wife".

After going up many, many stairs we got to the temple with a view of the falls. Then we walked down to near bottom of waterfalls.

We then walked backed to bus stop, passing a shop where Bob bought David a dragon.

At the bus stop we met two women, Karen and Rebecca from Australia. Earlier we had met a young couple from Singapore who turned out to be on this bus also.

Got back to town, found yet more crystallized ginger, got our luggage, and got on our train to Osaka. However, we got on the wrong car and it was not possible to move to the right car through the train. So at a later stop we got off and ran to the right car, dragging our luggage, having a very short time to do so. I fell. Not much damage, barely made it to right car.

At Osaka we switched to the bullet train, but ticket problem caused a delay (we each needed 2 tickets that worked in tandem but no longer had 2nd ticket), so we got on train with no time to spare. The following are random pictures taken from train windows.

In Tokyo we got a taxi to our hotel, but at an intersection the taxi hit a motor scooter and the driver of the scooter was thrown to the ground as his scooter was knocked over. Our driver called another taxi, which was there almost immediately, and so we got to our hotel.

One of the women who worked at the hotel, Yoshimi Kitayama, and who helped us out had recently graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, which is also where Bob had graduated back in the 1970's.

The lobby of the hotel was on the 25th floor, and our room was on the 27th, so we got a nice view of the city. Later, we went outside and found a place to eat.

Day 26, June 25, Sunday

Video:
55 - Wedding carriage

Accommodation: Shared room at Park Hotel Tokyo

As usual, we came down early to the hotel restaurant and had a good breakfast, went back to our room.

Our guide showed up and we came down to the lobby at 9:10 AM (hotel lobby is on 25th floor). Tomoko Furukawa was her name. She took us to temples and shrines, garden on Emperor's palace and a street packed with teenagers all shopping. As in Mongolia, we stumbled onto a wedding, although unlike in Mongolia we had not been asked to participate.

After we returned to the hotel, Alan went out to a pizza place by taxi by himself. Bob ate nuts, fruit and chocolate; watched BBC TV with English subtitles and bathed.

Day 27, June 26, Monday

Videos:
56 - Lots of butterflies
57 - Wonderful street performers! Video 1
58 - Wonderful street performers! Video 2
59 - Wonderful street performers! Video 3
60 - Alan plays a game, but does not win

Accommodation: Shared room at Park Hotel Tokyo

On our own today, we visited a nearby garden (which had a tree full of butterflies, far more than show in the photo below); took trains and subways; shopped; and toured parks.

The top of the day was seeing 3 street performers who included jugglers, contortionist, a unicycler and were absolutely amazing.

Part of the shopping objective was to find a particular tea sold at a particular store. We found the store, it was closed but had directions to another such store on its door, which kind passers-by translated for us. The other store was closed also. We did however have a fun time walking the streets.

We went to a nice restaurant, then back to our hotel, which turned out to be hard to find.

Day 28, June 27, Tuesday

Video:
61 - Amazing conveyer belt, self serve restaurant

Accommodation: Shared room at Cross Hotel Osaka

On our last full day in Japan, we ate our hotel breakfast (and got to see the board they used to track which hotel guests were sitting at which table getting their breakfast); gave a present to Yoshimi Kitayama, Bob's fellow Berkeley grad working at the hotel; rode subway and bullet train back to Osaka (buying a nice lunch as we traveled) and walked to the Cross Hotel.

Whereas we ate very nice Japanese food, we certainly had the opportunity at the various train and subway stations to eat American junk food - note both 7/11 and McDonald's below. After we got to the hotel, Alan went to Cross Fit Exercise.

Day 29, June 28, Wednesday

After one last yummy breakfast we went to the aiport and took the long flight home, stopping in Seoul where we split up, then I headed for San Francisco, while Alan headed for Phoenix with a stop in Seattle.

Once I was back in California, Shirley met me at the Santa Rosa bus stop and drove me home, where surprises awaited me, including a large bag of crystallized ginger in a yellow bag. Alan and I had never mentioned we were buying and consuming large quantities of crystallized ginger. How sweet it is!


Equipment

Camera

I bought for this trip a Sony DSC-WX500 digital camera. It has a fabulous 30x optical zoom lens (60 times digital) and is lightweight and small enough to put in your pocket. Videos and pictures are beautiful. Now the bad news. It got a smudge on an inner lense that I and Alan did not know how access or clean. Once that smudge was on the lense, it stayed. That is the reason both videos and pictures above have an annoying, roundish discoloration on the left of the screen. Fortunately, some scenery disguises it and zooming in apparently gets rid of it. The second problem I have been having is the shutter protector, which opens when the camera is turned on, then slides back into place when it is turned off in order to protect the lens, has stopped working.

Toilets

Alan and I were surprised at how different toilets can be. The photo below on the left is of one at the airport in Ulgii in Mongolia. Next to that photo is a picture of a Japanese toilet, with controls and instructions. The Japanese toilet seat automatically lifted when you entered the restroom.

Camping Gear

Alan was very happy with his new sleeping bag, demonstrated below at 5:45 AM in the morning.

Contact/Website Author:
Bob Phillips [phillips bob 27 at yahoo dot com - no spaces]
Santa Rosa, CA
April, 2015

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