As I said yesterday this is the beginning of the ancient post route from Kyoto to Edo, the original name for Tokyo. We are again really grateful to our good friend, Christine, who, when she heard we were thinking of visiting Japan, sent us an article on the Nakesando Trail. Once read we really wanted to go there. We started sporadically to research it. Unlike the Torres del Paine, there is not a lot of information in English, online, about this trail. Most of what we read was written either by the organizers of walking trips or people who had been on these organised walking trips. There is a group called Walk Japan who seem to do most of the organising. The only other report we could find was by a lone guy who was walking the whole 300km!!! Given our allergy towards organised trips we decided to work out our own route and accommodation. The only difficulty is the lack of English translation of the accommodation sites. Dr Google really does not do a good job on Japanese translation!
So here we were setting out on the Nakesando trail. We had read somewhere there was a service organised by the Tourist Office and run by the post office, which would carry your bags to the next post town. This was simple to organise so we were up early at the tourist office with a couple of other intrepid travellers to off-load our backpacks. On the dot of 8.30 the doors opened. We paid our 9 euros equivalent for two bags and were on our way. First priority was to find coffee. The village of Magome does not wake up until 10 o’clock. But a delightful little eatery did open for coffee and delicious toast and jam. With fuel for the trip we set off in a state of real anticipation. The start of the trail is steep enough but the fact that it is paved with big uneven stones makes it a little uncomfortable to walk on. We were surrounded by magnificent hills with trees right to the top. The signposting on the trail is excellent. It is only 7.7km to the next post town. So we sauntered along drinking in the views around us. There are some trees still in blossom. It must be magnificent at blossom time. We met a couple of other hikers, but these were few and far behind, and were Japanese. At one point we were passing a lovely old building from in which emerged a gentleman who offered us tea. We decided to accept. The building was an original teahouse on the trail and is maintained by the government. Not only did the gentleman offer us tea but also prunes soaked in Palm wine. Just the job to propel us along the route.The prunes reminded us of the fruit soaked in a rhumtoff in the German way.
Further along the way we stopped for our ‘pause cafe’. We had bought delicious rice cakes each with a different flavour, followed by tiny biscuits.
We arrived in Tsumago just after 1 o’clock. Our bags were there for us at the tourist office. Our accommodation for the night was well out of town. That was as much as we remembered. We also knew the hotel collected guests from a train station further along the trail. We asked the lovely man in the tourist office who asked where we were staying. We gave the name and he replied “very nice”…. He gave us a bus timetable in Japanese! He indicated where we could find the bus stop and where we could have some noodle soup before our bus.
We had hit Tsumago on the same day as some youth Japanese baseball team. They were delightful teenagers but their presence in this small village resulted in it being crammed. In the middle of this melee a lovely Australian lady approached us to ask where the noodle house was. Just at that moment I spotted it. Already installed was a young French man and his 5 year old son that we had met on the road. In the manner of these encounters it turned out he had worked in Bantry in Ireland!!! The world is getting ever smaller.
Ourselves and the Australian lady had our noodle soup, chatted and parted as one does on these trips. Unfortunate lady had chosen a very akward travelling companion and they had decided to go their separate ways for the moment.
At the bus stop we checked the timetables none of which seemed to correspond to ours. While waiting we were approached by a small group of Chinese girls who were on a school trip from Beijing. They wanted to practice their English. Turned out their teacher was Irish!!! We Irish do get about.
A bus came, at no time which corresponded to any timetable. It turned out to be a shuttle bus from our hotel. It was then I remembered we had booked a fairly snazzy hotel for tonight. This was for two reasons. There was nothing available in Tsumago and I also thought we might need a little pampering.
What splendour! We, in our hiking boots, entering this hotel was somewhat incongruous. Our backbacks were transported to our room which was a completely serene experience. The room was bigger than any of the apartments we have stayed in! We were told we could wear the Japanese dressing gown throughout the hotel. Everyone was wandering around in these. It was hilarious. It reminded us of Reid’s in Madeira. We profited from all that was on offer including the outdoor heated jacuzzis. Dinner was a culinary experience, a vast buffet of salads, hot and cold meats, curry, etc.. The hotel seems to be owned by a brewery. Only disappointment was the dining room was a vast characterless space. Most guests are older than us!!!!
We have now shared an experience with Joanna Lumley, the BBC presenter, whose photograph is proudly displayed in the lobby of the Kiso Hotel. It has a message of ‘thanks’ from her to the management for a great stay at the hotel. We had watched her Japan programmes and were totally underwhelmed. We understood now why the programmes seemed to be so sanatised. This was because she had only experienced one side of Japanese life – that of the luxury hotel…
Another day another experience….