I slept pretty well again in my tent, camped in a forest on the side of a mountain, and woke early around 5am as the birds started singing. However, it was freezing and I didn’t want to move out of my nice, warm sleeping bag.
I hate getting up in the mornings anyway, but especially when it’s dark and freezing outside. The cold certainly accentuates all my bodily defects, of which I have many; knees, back, ankle, wrist, neck, brain etc. My pyrocarbon finger also doesn’t work very well in the cold. Actually, it doesn’t work very well in the warm either. It was the product of an old high-diving injury from my younger days serving as a Clearance Diver in the British Royal Navy, when I thought I could dive from the top of a ship through a floating lifebuoy. Turned out I couldn’t, and in the attempt I left one of my fingers behind as a reminder.
After a good breakfast of the recently usual bread and sliced roast beef, I packed up a dry tent and hit the road back to the coast in order to ride to Muroto point, a ride recommended by one of the ‘Gaijin Riders’ (the Japanese word for foreigner) I’d been chatting to on the web. It would have to be good to be better than parts of the ‘193’ and coastal road I rode yesterday.
In the daylight the valley I had camped in was actually very beautiful, and it was even better when the sun came out and started to warm things up.
Random observation: There are absolutely no bugs on my helmet! I suspect this is something to do with the time of year – still too cold for most insects. However, today is forecast to be a real scorcher in the 60s (16 C) – heaven compared to the freezing black ice last night.
A couple of hours later back down more twisty, mountain roads, I went from the snowline to the heavenly warm sand of Ozuna Beach on the southeast Shikoku coast, famed as one of the best beaches in Japan. The sun and surroundings felt so good I almost pitched the tent again and stayed there for the day. It was serenely quiet and tranquil, and still no-one else seemed to be around. Where was everybody?
Actually, Ozuna Beach has a superb purpose built camp park with showers and everything! However, it was shut. It was also only 11am and far too early to settle down for the night.
Having not been too successful in the ‘luxury camping department’ the past couple of nights, I did double promise myself I would find somewhere beautiful and warm to camp nice and early; after all, there must be loads of equally gorgeous beaches further along the coast – right?
After a while a couple of cars did roll up and from one of them out popped a middle-aged man to start his morning exercises. I have noticed many Japanese people exercise frequently out in the open, and think it’s a great way-of-life to have developed. However, I wasn’t sure this gentleman’s method was quite right, as his running on the spot looked more like a drunken shuffle on the dance floor. But at least he was giving it a good go.
Sitting on that beautiful beach, I really couldn’t have been further away from the noise, traffic, lights and bustle of Osaka, and I loved it. Eventually, when I had completely thawed out from my night in the mountains, I forced myself to tear away from this scene of beauty and continue down the road.
Along the way, the coast was frequently dotted with numerous temples (as is the whole of Japan) and occasionally I’d stop to look at one of the more interesting looking ones.
The wetland area around Kainan, southeast Shikoku, is a bird watchers paradise, so I stopped for a break. I’m not a twitcher (well, not yet at least), but the place reminded me of Whitlingham Broad, a lake back home near Norwich (UK) – a great place for boating, picnics, walking the dog and jogging.
A guy parked next to me in a car was listening to a ‘Learn English’ CD. He got out and was clearly surprised when I greeted him in English and complimented him on his fine efforts. However, he couldn’t formulate an answer, and so I had no choice but to mark him ‘must try harder’.
I continued through several small villages – all pleasantly immaculate in design, cleanliness and order, as is the Japanese standard. I think Japan is probably the cleanest country I have ever been to, and it’s very rare you see a speck of litter anywhere. They are also very efficient at recycling their waste, and in place of every dustbin you see, there are actually 3 recycling dustbins for you to separate your rubbish into cans, plastics and burnables. This is, of course, something the whole world should do, and Japan seems to be ahead on many counts.
I was surprised at first to see baseball fields in many schools and recreational parks, but then learned it was introduced by visiting Americans in the 19th century. Although Sumo Wrestling is Japan’s National Sport, The Nippon Professional Baseball league is actually Japan’s largest professional sports competition in terms of television ratings and spectators.
During a bit of reflection on the bike, I realised the past two nights camping and exploring with minimal (no) planning has been good for me. For the first week in Osaka, although I enjoyed it, I got too enthralled studying guide articles on where I should go and what I should do that I lost my way a little, and ended up not doing half the things I could have done. Now I’ve reverted back to my default travelling philosophy of ‘just get out there and explore’, and I feel much more comfortable with that. It may mean I have missed a few things, but I have also been lost on some of the greatest roads I’ve ever ridden and found some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen that aren’t in the guide books. Of course, like everything in life, there is a balance to be made; it is not good to walk around in complete ignorance (or have nowhere to sleep in the middle of nowhere!), and so some research is useful.
Just south of the wetland area I found my favourite beach so far – Keino Matsubara Beach. The beach was huge and remotely sandwiched between the ocean and a large stretch of pine forest.
I sat on the seawall and enjoyed complete solitude. If I could meditate, I would have done, but I can’t (‘things to do’ list), so instead I just pretended to meditate and got leg cramp.
I stayed on the wall for a long time, enjoying the view, and then wondered down to the ocean. I almost went for a swim, but thought I’d find somewhere nearby to camp first, and then go.
Now approaching Muroto point, the huge speared headland grew rocky, as you would expect, and the ocean grew clearer. Numerous rocky bays peppered the coast, and I felt like jumping into each one with my diving kit and exploring, maybe catching a few lobsters for lunch, but unfortunately I didn’t have my diving equipment (and OK, it was cold and I wimped out!).
I must have passed hundreds of little fishing harbours on my journey round Japan so far – no wonder they eat so much seafood. Each one is clean and tidy, and the small fishing boats all look the same with white hulls and green decks. I rolled into one around lunchtime, so sat on the dock and ate the picnic I’d bought from the grocers earlier, and fed the seagulls.
An hour later I arrived at Muroto Point and headed north up famed Muroto Skyline drive. For the first time I saw other bikers, enjoying the lovely weather and great, twisty roads on a lovely sunny Sunday. The bike was riding like a dream (as usual) I couldn’t help but grin as I raced through the turns, catching glimpses of the coastline far below. Somewhere down there was the beach I was going to camp on.
‘Well I’d better hurry up and find one’ I thought, as the afternoon was already rolling on.
I headed back down to the main road and followed it west towards Kochi. I thought Kochi might be a little, quaint town by the water, but boy was I wrong.
As I approached Kochi the traffic slowly started building, and I saw no sign of the quaint little town in my imagination – only a huge, sprawling mass of industrial estates and heavy traffic. Soon I was bogged down, and the road had diverted inland away from the coast. I soon scrapped the idea of trying to battle through to the other side of town, and bailed out, turning south to try and rejoin the coast.
After a couple of wasted hours, I eventually fought my way through to the outskirts of this not-so-small city of 350,000 people and found a road leading back to the coast. Unfortunately first I had to climb a huge mountain which had suddenly appeared between me and my camping beach. Once again I found myself twisting up familiar narrow mountain roads, but this time I was surrounded by bamboo forest. In places the bamboo was so thick, you would find it hard to walk through. It was beautiful, and just about worth the 2 hours of traffic nightmare preceding it.
By the time I made my way back down to the coast, all the sandy beaches had evaporated, and all that remained were rocky headlands, rocky bays and fishing ports.
I explored every nook and cranny south of Kochi hoping to find some space big enough to put up a tent and park my bike nearby to no avail. I saw sunset over a tiny fishing port and continued further down the coast. I couldn’t believe it was happening again! I thought to myself it was a good job I was on my own, as I knew any pillion or partner would by now be hysterical and demand I pull over immediately into the first hotel we came across.
In contrast, I thought to myself “it isn’t so bad”. I had my bike & my health, and the freedom to do whatever I wanted ahead of me. However, I did need a shower.
As if my prayers had been answered, around 7pm I found a shower in some public loos on the coast and didn’t waste this rare occurrence. My first shower after 2 nights and 3 days travelling & camping rough felt like being reborn. However, the water was incredibly cold and almost froze me to the floor.
After my shower I gave up looking for a beach to camp on (as I no longer needed to wash in the sea) and started to look for anywhere suitable to throw a tent up. Whenever I camp rough I always try and be as discrete as I can by finding somewhere off road I’m not easily visible.
Following the coast south, I twisted and turned up over more mountains, and once had to backtrack at Okitsu when the road came to a dead end. It was another dark, cold night, and I started dreaming of my warm sleeping bag and a hot meal.
Being an island (or several islands), Japan is of course hugely reliant on shipping, and therefore ports and ship building dockyards are a common sight. However, I was fairly surprised to find this road that ran right through the middle of a port. Usually they are well away from public roads due to safety and security concerns – but not in Japan obviously.
Eventually the rocky coast came to end an end and I found a perfect camping spot at Sagakoen Park around 9.30pm, somewhat layer than I intended. I climbed off the bike and lay on the floor – my back stiff with the full day’s ride. Pending starvation stopped me falling asleep there and then, and I fired up the stove and knocked together another delicious one pot-meal of curry beef and pasta. Soon after that the tent was up and I was soundly asleep, dreaming of another exciting day tomorrow as I turned to head up the west coast of Shikoku.
The only ones up before me were the fishermen, who’d probably been up all night, and one mad person walking his dog at 5:30am right past my tent. Why is there always one? And why do they always find me?
One good thing about getting up so early is you get to see great sunrises like this one.
Another good thing is you really do have the whole day ahead of you to explore.