One year after my first visit to Japan I found myself making plans to return, however this trip was guaranteed to be vastly different than the first time around. I hadn't even been planning to go to Japan again, but a few failed plans a fast approaching Chuseok holiday led me there anyway. While my first trip was solo, busing cross country, Couchsurfing and exploring, this time I was signed up for 3 days of biking with 40 other foreigners. Although I'm not one for organized travel, I didn't want to stay in Korea alone, and thus signed up with my friend Sara for a [kind of] organized group trip to Tsushima, an island of Japan I hadn't even known existed. Our trip started with a few hours sleeping on the floor at Busan station, after being turned away from a Jimjilbang (sauna) for being foreigners, and with that I knew this was going to be an interesting few days.
We made our way to the ferry around 6 am where we found a chaotic mess of foreigners and bikes, clearly organization was not a priority for this trip. Once successfully upon the ferry I promptly passed out, despite the rocking of the boat which sent many passengers rushing for the bathrooms (why are there vomit bags on airplanes but not high speed ferries?). Thankfully, there was minimal biking required from us the first day on the island, our only task was to find lunch and make it to the campsite. I had a flash of panic when I realized I was in Japan and once again did not prepare myself for the language change, but was soon relieved as almost all the signs were in Korean. Never in a million years would I have guessed I'd one day be on a remote island of Japan and find comfort in recognizing a menu written in Korean, funny how life works out that way.
The ten minute ride to the campsite included a lovely hill which brought me back to the reality of what I was about to get myself into. I knew that we'd be riding somewhere around 50 miles over the course of the next three days, but I kind of overlooked the fact that there'd be hills. Once again, I pushed these thoughts out of my mind and enjoyed the night with new friends. We set up our tents only meters from the beach, found a nearby mart to grab a few beers and spent hours talking, not a single person on their cellphone which was a welcome change to the technology driven world we're usually swimming in.
The next morning Sara and I were up early and decided to pack and take off before the others, knowing we had a long day ahead of ourselves. We had planned to hit the mart on the way out of town for some biking snacks, but to our dismay the store did not open until 9, we decided to push on, hoping there'd be something else along the way. I quickly picked up on what the theme of our ride would be; completely exert yourself on the way up (maybe walking a bit) before relishing in the downhill bliss which usually ended in a small fishing village, all the while taking in the beauty of our surroundings. If you were lucky the next corner would end with a tunnel which was not only flat, but also provided a brief reprieve from the sun and heat.
Thankfully we did find a small shop along the way where we bought drinks and snacks (peanuts and sausage - the selection was not very large) as well as tried to chat with the friendly store owner. I must give credit to Sara though, her Japanese skills were impressive, much better than my blank stares. A few hours into our ride the heat and hunger were getting the best of us so we decided to stop for a lunch break in one of the small fishing towns to enjoy our aforementioned snacks. I thought some of the others would have passed us during the day, but we'd only seen two from our crew, where were the rest of our biking companions?
About five hours in hunger once again came upon us, but we suspected we were nearing our destination. Not only were we growing tired, but apparently our bikes were doing the same, my rear brakes thought it'd be a good idea to tighten and drag on my back wheel, while my front breaks just gave up, fun! Sara's bike on the other hand offered only two low gears, not ideal for long distance, and a constant squeak. When we reached our "fork in the road" which led to our campsite we tried to ask if a mart was nearby, not sure of the name in Japanese. "Mart, 7/11, super...?" Ahhh supa!! 5k ---> Okay I can do another 5k, and so on we went.
Alas, we arrived at the Super Value where we proceeded to wander with hungry eyes and growling stomachs. Although friends and students advised me not to eat the sushi because of radiation, I threw caution to the wind and dug in. Did they really think I was going to Japan, land of cheap, delicious easy to find sushi and not indulge!? We were so hungry there was no question, we'd be enjoying our spread on the bench outside the Super doors, no time for more biking.
Stomachs full and energy coming back we figured it was time we get back on our bikes and figure out just where exactly we'd be staying that night. That morning my listening skills weren't quite awake, I had remembered two important turns, but failed to listen to further details, including the name of our camp site, oops. When we saw a hill to our left leading to a temple we didn't even consider it, no more hills and instead pushed on wards, only to find...nothing. While standing on the side of the road contemplating which way to go, a friendly Japanese woman pulled up beside us and started rambling, when we heard the words help and camping we shrieked. Yes, yes, campsite - that's where we want to go! This woman was kind enough to drive slow as we pedaled our hearts out behind her. We were headed back to where we had come from and yes, in fact up that hill I had previously dismissed. If she had a bigger car I'm sure she would've insisted on driving but with the two of us and our bikes that wasn't an option so the slow trailing and lots of giggling had to suffice.
When we reached the campsite we were met by three others from our group, one of which actually got a ride from the same angel that had just led us there. We sat around as others slowing joined, some looking a bit worse than others and a few admitting that they had also hitchhiked their way there. I'm not sure if it's because I'm foolish or stubborn, but not once did I even consider this as an option.
The night was spent similarly to the previous, plus the added bonus of a gorgeous sunset atop a nearby observation deck (which no, we did not ride our bikes to). Showers were enjoyed by all, a few grocery runs were made to fuel our empty stomachs and a nights worth of makeshift entertainment was had. We shared stories of that days adventures, doubted what we had gotten ourselves into and eventually found entertainment in solving logic riddles, before calling it a night in order to regroup for the next day.
Recognized for great Sushi and Ramen, there's so much more to this country than its food. Rich with history and culture this small group of Islands is a place not to be missed.