Easter Island, Chile to Kawaguchiko, Japan
16.05.2009 - 22.05.2009
Arrived back in Santiago early evening (lost 2 hours with the time change from Easter Island), staying back in the same 'hood at the same place as before. Went back to the 80's/90's "hairband" bar for an encore, but had enough second-hand smoke to last me forever so called it a night after a while.
Sitting here in the airport early evening waiting for my flight to Narita. I was able to catch the last part of the Red Wings/Blackhawks Conf Final game streaming from WXYT radio on my laptop - gotta love technology! Of course with this technology I was also able to browse the news websites for the headlines and right there next to Sri Lanka's Tiger Rebel cease-fire was an WHO announcement about the sudden rapid spread of the swine flu outbreak in - yup - Japan over the weekend. Went from 5 cases to 78 (I think it said). So it'll be interesting traveling into Japan, as well as when I travel outbound and further, to see how this pending epidemic will affect global travel... Well, fortunately Santiago airport's bookstore had a travel guidebook for Japan, so I can spend the next 18 hours or so reading up on the next stop!
Crossing the Int'l Date Line!
Well if I was looking for a change from Central/South America, mission accomplished! Flying into Narita Int'l Airport, we were kindly asked by the flight attendants to remain seated while gov't quarantine personnel, all dressed in hazmat suits, boarded the airplane to read every passengers' body temp with some thermal infrared handheld machine to see if there were possible swine influenza candidates. Then everyone on board was handed a face mask and required to don until clearing customs (I kept mine on for a while after leaving the airport, to blend in with about half of the Japanese population who wear these things everywhere).
Arriving at my hotel a couple hours later & checking into my room, which was little bigger than a walk-in closet, with a mattress on the floor and mini-fridge and TV stacked up on shelves (also included robe and slippers), I ventured out & wandered around the neighborhood... but with mini cloth banners hanging over the frosted glass windows and sliding doors (or lacking windows altogether), I was having a difficult time understanding what places were (1) businesses/restaurants/bars and which were private, and (2), what places were actually open (I walked into a few places I thought were both a bar and open, but think I walked in on a private residence once!).
The first impressions I have of Tokyo are how immaculately clean it is, especially considering it is the biggest city in the world... looking down on the streets and even in the subway station tracks, not a single piece of garbage can be found. What's even more amazing is the apparent lack of garbage cans that I can tell... you definitely need to search for them... so I guess people just hang on to their garbage until they can throw it away (NYC could learn a thing or 2 here). Also, although I already had a preconceived impression of this, but was amazed at how orderly everything is. There are directional markings on the ground & staircases to keep pedestrian traffic to one side or the other - not even in transportation stations, but on the sidewalks in the streets as well. And people adhere to it (forget about crossing the intersection at a red light)! I had some noodle soup with meat(?) for dinner, then finished off the day at a karaoke bar - I took advantage of a few available english titles by singing "Yesterday" from the Beatles, which earned me a round of applause.
Started out the morning (around 5:30 AM) at the Tsukui wholesale fish market to witness the spectacle of unloading & auctioning off the daily catch - we're talking fish, eels, squid, octopi, snails, sharks, lobster, crabs, shrimp & lots of other sea creatures I've never seen before...
I was able to pick up some sashimi... not my first choice for breakfast, but while watching the guys cut up the live tuna in front of me, I figured it can't get any fresher than this so better try it! Spent the next several hours wandering around the city to see parks and temples and shrines etc...
Now I'm back in the shoebox to shower & head out for a birthday cocktail or 2!
Well, no cocktails after all. Trying to take a "quick" nap at 7PM, after wandering around for hours in the blazing hot sun with jet-lag at its peak was a recipe for not making it back out! For today, I spent more time wandering around the city along the river and visited a couple museums and temples...
before topping off the day at Kokugikan, a sumo arena to catch a tournament! Very cool to see the traditional rituals (throwing salt, stamping feet, etc.) being followed...
I'm standing here along the shore at Lake Kawaguchiko, waiting for Mt. Fuji to make its appearance from behind a blanket of clouds. Kawaguchiko is a quaint little town that borders a lake with the same name, at the base of Mt. Fuji.
When I took the 2 hr bus ride from Tokyo this morning, I had read about the "official" Mt. Fuji climbing season not beginning until 1-July, but wanted to come and see if there was a chance to go up earlier here in the off-season. Well, riding in and looking up at the mountain earlier when it was peeking through the clouds, and observing that it still has a pretty thick layer of snow up at the top 1/3 of the mountain, began having some doubts (not to mention stepping off the bus and feeling really chilly even at the base!). When I inquired at the Kawaguchiko information desk, there was no longer any question -- no services were open on the mountain, and unless you have proper equipment (heavy winter gear, crampons, etc.), there is a good chance that one could fall and/or freeze to death (both of which apparently have happened with these conditions). So as adventurous and risk-taking as I am, decided here is where I draw the line! Tomorrow I'm hiking around the town (not the mountain), and hope to have some clear weather for better views!