A Travellerspoint blog

May 2009

Week 13, 23.May.09 - 29.May.09

Kawaguchiko, Japan to Tainan, Taiwan

View Week 13 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Kawaguchiko, Japan
I'm sitting in the bus terminal here in Kawaguchiko, about to hop on the overnight bus to Kyoto. Today's weather started out really nice - clear skies - so I took the cable car up for some great views of Mt. Fuji...

... and then hiked all around the lake.

I'm glad I got up to see Mt. Fuji when I did, b/c by afternoon, the clouds came rolling in again! Kawaguchiko is a nice little lakeside town that is pretty mellow, but I'm sure it gets crazy during the mountain climbing season.

Kyoto, Japan
Arrived here in Kyoto early (4:45 AM), dropped off my bag at the hostel for storage, then went and saw as many temples and shrines as I could by 5:00 PM (the closing time for most)! Each spot was incredible to see, as were some of the paths and streets leading from one to another.

Especially the Higashiyam District - the whole area is just filled with temples, shrines, gardens, parks... even museums, the latter of which I bypassed for sake of time.

My favorite - although tough to say - was probably Sanjusan Gendo temple, which contained 1,001 Golden Buddha and some 25 guardian statues all lined up in perfect rows. No pictures were allowed, but I snuck one anyway (although can't really make out too much w/out the flash!). I got pretty annoyed with the "no pictures" rule at these temples... I mean, I understand no flash, but how can it be against the religion to photograph Buddha if cameras weren't around for another 1,000 years after these statues were made?? Anyway, another highlight was Kiyomizu temple, mostly for the Chawan-Zaka (teapot lane) leading up to the temple...

... and Chion temple, as I happened to stop in while monks were chanting a hypnotic prayer ritual

I also got to spot a few Geisha strolling around the Gion District streets.

Reading my guidebook, its hard to believe but apparently I've only scratched the surface of Kyoto... I'll have to make another go at it tomorrow!

Another long day (that flew by) of sightseeing. Started out the day visiting Ginakuji temple, which has raked pebble gardens - the type that I've always pictured when imagining traditional Japan.

Took a walk along "Tetsugakuno Michi", Path of Philosophy, which followed a creek lined with cherry trees.

Then went to Heian-Jingu shrine, with its large red Torii gate, also iconic of Japan.

Went to a few other shrines and temples. Looking out over Kyoto from atop a hill, I'm amazed how compact the city appears, but once you enter into the shrines and temples, are all spread out over very large grounds. I finished off the day at the Tenjin-San market fair at Kitanotenman-Gu shrine, which is held only the 25th of each month. Lots of food stalls and trinkets for sale - it was a great way to see another incredible shrine in a more upbeat & fun way.

Plus this shrine was open later than most, so got to see the beautiful stone lanterns illuminated at dusk.

Now I'm heading out to dinner - going to try the Kyoto train station, where I've heard has a restaurant where you sit at the bar with a conveyor belt lined with plates of sushi and just grab what looks good as it rides by - pretty sweet! It'll be a great way to top off Japan - flying down to Taiwan tomorrow!

Taipei, Taiwan
Although relatively close neighbors, my initial impressions are Taiwan is very different than Japan - Taipei, anyways. The city is much "grittier" than any in Japan - definitely feels more authentically urban. Streets are a bit dirtier (but not outright filthy), sidewalks a bit more cramped and disorderly, and the hordes of motorbikes - all over the place. I mean, they're everywhere, and there are a lot of them!

My hostel in Taipei - although far from the nicest I've been in - has a huge bonus w/ free use of the laundry machine on-site (small things are big wins when you're backpacking)! Just got back from a karaoke bar where the crazy waitress, "Bo Bo", kept forcing me to drink and sing Chinese songs... I made up some interesting lyrics....

I really dig it here in Taipei - it is very easy to get around as most signs are in english (along with chinese), most of the (younger) Taiwanese speak english, and everyone is super friendly.. you don't even need to ask for help, if you're standing on a street corner looking at a map, its pretty much a guarantee someone passing by will offer assistance in a few minutes. Spent the day hitting many parks, temples, landmark buildings...

... and museums, including my new all-time favorite, "Su Ho Paper Museum", where they teach you how to make your own sheet of paper the traditional way - how fun!

Another notable thing of Taipei is the lack of tourists - specifically, Western tourists - compared to Tokyo, Kyoto and other Asian cities I've been to. When you do cross paths with one, it seems there is a knowing glance exchanged, as if to say, "Yes, this is a pretty cool secret!" Topped off the day visiting a couple more temples..

... and Shilin neighborhood, which more than lived up to the reputation of crazy things to buy/see at Asian night markets!

Had a more relaxed pace day today - went and saw a couple more temples and halls, but for the most part just wandered around the city and grabbed a coffee here and there.

I spent a good hour at dusk just chilling and people-watching at Longshan temple, Taipei's busiest. It was very peaceful and relaxing watching them do their praying, offerings, talking, eating, etc. - no sense of strict tension like at churches, mosques, and other religion centers typically exude...

Now I'm in Taipei's main station, taking the overnight train down to Tainan, Taiwan's former capital and oldest city. Should be a great way to kick-off the start to month #4 of traveling!

Tainan, Taiwan
Tainan is an awesome city - very historic yet modern, and compact enough to get around on foot... although, I did wear myself out with that "getting around on foot"! Arrived from the overnight train around 5 AM, and after a couple unsuccessful attempts, found a hotel w/ vacancy for tonight. Dropped off my pack for storage & went out to hit the sites from about 7 AM - 7 PM! Saw old temples, forts and museums..

There are tourists here in Tainan, but not western, for sure -- I'm definitely a curious site for most locals here! I just got home from grabbing a bite to eat for dinner & dessert (shaved ice with milk and fresh fruit - yummy), now crashing for the night - tomorrow I'm heading down to the southern tip of Taiwan for some days at the beach!

Posted by rd wrld1yr 20:52 Comments (0)

Week 12, 16.May.09 - 22.May.09

Easter Island, Chile to Kawaguchiko, Japan

View Week 12 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Santiago, Chile
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!

Pacific Ocean
Crossing the Int'l Date Line!

Tokyo, Japan
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...

Kawaguchiko, Japan
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!

Posted by rd wrld1yr 06:45 Comments (0)

Week 11, 9.May.09 - 15.May.09

Valparaiso, Chile to Hanga Roa (Easter Island), Chile

View Week 11 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Valparaiso, Chile
Well it didn't take quite 30 hours, but just shy, to arrive here in Valparaiso at 10 PM from Arica - turns out I needed to take two connecting buses from La Calera to make it over to Valpo. Of course, I had very little help finding the correct connecting bus. I got on one local bus for about an hour, and when we got to the last stop, I had no idea if I was actually any closer to Valparaiso, no clue what town I was in! The driver just pointed to a nearby bus stand, but not sure if he thought I wanted Valparaiso street or what. Wandered around for a while, and though, "Oh crap, there aren't even hotels that I've seen around here if I can't make it to Valpo tonight!" Fortunately, when I got on another local bus, one of the passengers spoke passable English and told me where to get off (another 45 minutes later). But anyway, today along the way really enjoyed the views - the Chilean countryside is just spectacular, riding along the Pan-Americana Highway weaving through mountains and along the Pacific shore. Too bad the guy sitting next to me since Iquique has really bad smelling feet (which he wouldn't keep in his shoes..). Now after that voyage I gotta go get something to eat and drink before I crash!

Santiago, Chile
Just checked out a few iglesias and museos here in Santiago - all gratis on Domingo!

I think this is by far the most westernized city in South America -- maybe Buenos Aires is a close second, from what I remember a few years back. Definitely dig the vibe here in Santiago - very modern and fast-paced, feels like I'm back in NYC! This morning was spent wandering around Valpo for a couple hours - wow, such a picturesque town!

But as most everything seemed closed on Sunday, decided to hop on the bus for the 1.5 hr ride over to Santiago. In Santiago, my hostel is in the Paris Londres barrio, with quaint buildings & cobblestone roads, my room faces out over a nice courtyard, which I was able to show the parents through my iChat! Looking forward to seeing more of Santiago tomorrow...

Another awesome day in Santiago - it is definitely autumn; the sky has been a gray overcast both days I've been here & its a bit cool (but not cold) - it is a nice change from the sweltering jungles of northeast South America as well as the sub-freezing nights in the Bolivian mountains. Today got in some hiking, climbing up both Cerro Santa Lucia (beautiful old fountains & curving staircases leading up to the summit)

and Cerro San Cristobal (well, halfway up the latter, at least!), while covering a good amount on the ground around the city, checking out the parks and other sites.

On the way back this afternoon, passed a local bar playing classic "hair-band" videos from the late 80s/early 90s, so I stopped in for 1 beer. Well, a guy from University of Santiago said that a couple girls he was with wanted me to join them, with him translating English for me. Then a couple more students showed up and next thing I know several cervezas later its midnight....

Now back in my hostel and time for bed - I have about 5 hours until my flight tomorrow morning to Rapa Nui (Easter Island)!

Sitting here nursing a hangover on the airplane, getting ready to head over to Easter Island. Also on my flight is Alan Alda & his wife - spotted him at the gate, so I went up and told him I was a big fan of M.A.S.H. - nice guy! Now I gotta catch up on some sleep....

Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Chile
OK, so no sleep on the plane (curse those tempting On-Demand video monitors and my weak will..), but flying into Easter Island with the views of Rano Kau crater & "motu" islets off the coast quickly woke me up.

I spent the afternoon meandering around a bit and observing some of the moai (statues) perched on their ahu (stone alters),

and visiting the local museo to get some education on the island's history. After a much-needed quick nap, went out to walk around the small town on the island, Hanga Roa, and caught the Kevin Costner-produced and critically acclaimed film, "Rapa Nui" (joke - I think this one went straight to video!).

Today dertainly made up for lack of recent gym workouts - spent several grueling hours biking around the southern part of the island, checking out Hanga Hahave ruins & Ahu Vinapu moai before ascending the (very) steep Rano Kau mountain to the crater - worth the effort, spectacular views!

Then hiked around up there at the summit to check out the ancient Orongo village ruins and petroglyph stone carvings,

ceremonial site of the Tangata Manu (birdman) competition, where men representing different tribes would descend the cliffs, swim to the motu (islets) to recover the first sooty tern egg & climb back up to Orongo & be proclaimed "Tangata Manu" for 1 year.

Learned all this watching Kevin Costner's "Rapa Nui" (well, at least it was educational!).

Had an outstanding day today! This morning went diving at Hanga Rod reef, saw a ton of fish (puffer, parrot, long skinny ones and big fat ones) and coral - the water temp was definitely cool (mid 20's) & current strong, reminiscent of the Galapagos Islands I dove at a few years back. After lunch I hiked around the western end of the island, up to the cliffs near Motu Tautara and Ahu Hangai Kio'e moai.
I got caught in a rainstorm while out there and was at least an hour from the town, so I used an empty cave on the cliff side for a makeshift shelter. After hiking back (dry!) to town, finished off the day with the obligatory "authentic" cultural dance show...

I discovered today that the island is much easier to navigate around on a rented scooter vs. bicycle or hiking (surprise!). Rode around on the first really sunny day (minus the morning shower) to all the rest of the major sites and saw enough moai to last a lifetime -- from Ahu Akahanga's toppled moai

to the "factory" at Rano Raraku crater where all the moai from the island were carved & dragged to their Ahu alters (while many more moai were carved but left at Rano Raraku),

to Anakena - Easter Island's sole beach where I swam for a while (in the presence of more moai),

& then finished up the tour at Ahu Akivi, to see the only moai facing out to the ocean (all others face inland), complete with a fantastic sunset.

After stopping for dinner at my daily ritual, "Taku Vave" restaurant on Hanga Piko bay for fish with rice and an awesome cucumber cilantro salsa, went out for some cervezas in town with the british couple that are staying at the same hostel. Great way to end the 4 day trip on Easter Island, and ~2.5 months traveling Central & South America... tomorrow is a flight back to Santiago for one day, then flying out the following day for a completely different experience - Japan!

Posted by rd wrld1yr 21:14 Comments (0)

Week 10, 2.May.09 - 8.May.09

Concepcion, Paraguay to Arica, Chile

View Week 10 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Pozo Colorado, Paraguay
Sitting in a sort-of diner inside a gas station in a small little blip called Pozo Colorado, just got dropped off the bus (which I almost froze on... what is the deal with A/C overkill on these buses???) from Concepcion. When I disembarked from the cargo boat this morning and wandered around Concepcion for some desayuno, I knew it was a small-time place when there's only 1 stoplight in the whole town...

... but just as I thought I knew what small was, the bus from Concepcion pulls into the dirt lot of this gas station at an intersection (no stop light) in "downtown" Pozo Colorado, where I think everyone who lives around here hangs out at this diner.

Now I'm waiting it out for a connecting bus that is supposed to (hopefully) be coming up from Asuncion, stopping here en route for an overnight trip back to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. There's no bus terminal here, but a mobile trailer home (parked in the gas station lot) with a sign for buses to Santa Cruz - hoping this works out, because I'm not sure there are hospedajes in Pozo!

Santa Cruz, Bolivia
Just spent the past ~24 hours bumping along in a bus on the infamous Ruta Trans-Chaco back to Bolivia, looking out over seemingly endless miles of brush & unforgiving dirt road.

Quite an experience and good way to see the Chaco area, but not one that I'll repeat anytime soon! Crossing the border in the middle of the night was quite interesting, having to get off the bus and walk across the border 1/2 asleep in pitch blackness. Now making my connection bus to La Paz (via Cochabamba), hopefully the roads will be better than in Chaco (can't possibly be worse!).

La Paz, Bolivia
Arrived around noon today here in La Paz.

With the bus terminal being only 1 km from central La Paz, decided to walk (after spending about 2 days straight on buses, couldn't bear the thought of hopping on another right away!) to find a hotel, and quickly felt the affects of all 3,660 meters - the altitude here has been taking its toll on me - I have a constant headache and nausea feeling. Did manage to (slowly) walk around a bit today and see some of the sights - the ubiquitous La Paz protest was occurring causing the National Police to block off the main plaza Murillo (I think this actually happens daily here!).

I decided not to take up the cause (today's protest something about clothing, I think) and instead headed back to the hotel wiped out - hopefully I'll be acclimatized by tomorrow, but the frigid temp once the sun goes down I know I'll not get used to!

Copacabana, Bolivia
Just got back from catching a band play at a small bar venue here in Copacabana (Bolivia, not Brazil!). Arrived a few hours ago, took the bus from La Paz (gazing out over the beautiful Bolivian landscape),

about 3 hours to Lake Titicaca, hopped on a water taxi to cross over (while our bus was on its own barge),

then another 1/2 hour or so to Copa. Small little waterfront town and really laid-back, good atmosphere here. Spent the morning and early afternoon in La Paz doing a marathon museum run - saw about 6 in total, I think. The best was the Coca museum, history of the Coca leaf, with free samples (just the leaf, not the cocaine extract!).

Tomorrow I'm heading over to Isla del Sol on the Lake to do some hiking.

Once again, just got back from catching a band playing - same band at the same bar (small town, we're talking here!). Had a great day over on Isla del Sol. Took the ferry over from Copa this morning with some other tourists, met up with a guy from Italy and girl from Germany, and hiked from the north end of the island to the south (about 5 hours), checking out the Inca ruins along the way.

Got back to Copa and - thank goodness - had hot water working in my hostel. The nighttime chill is no joke here! Met up with the hiking group from today and had dinner (sampled the local trucha criolla, Lake Titicaca trout), and then hit the bars. Now after a combination of hiking all day, in the sun, at ~3,800 meters and having several cervezas this evening, I'm ready to crash - hard!

La Paz, Bolivia
Back here in La Paz for the night. Spent the morning wandering around Copa a bit more to hit the market for some api (purplish hot sweet syrupy drink) & take in some of the town's sights like the magnificent cathedral - definitely gonna miss Copa!

But no overnight bus to Chile from Bolivia, so looks like I'm waiting it out in La Paz until morning.

Arica, Chile
Just crossed over the border to Chile and am already blown away by the scenery - just spectacular!

I have a 4 PM bus to Valparaiso (via La Calera connection) - just a wee ~ 25 hour jaunt down the coast of the continent getting me into Valpo sometime tomorrow evening - should be interesting!

Posted by rd wrld1yr 14:18 Comments (0)

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