Tuesday, August 20, 2013

One of the final missions: Climb Mount Fuji - 富士山!!!

Hello everyone!!!

While thinking about the final days I spent in Japan, I remembered what happened after my time as a backpacker in Tokyo (August 2011 to be precise)…

Once again, the Ueno Brotherhood was totally committed to make another of my dreams (missions as we called  them) come true and they volunteered as my guides for one of the things you have to do with a lot of time and energy in Japan: witness the dawn at Mount Fuji…

After the trip’s initial planning  we decided to stay some days before and after the climb at Shinkai Miho’s place(actually her family’s house). Shinkai was part of the ICYE Japan staff back in those days and she was a super kind host during my stay in Ueno-Tokyo. Shikai’s parents live in Fujinomiya, a beautiful place close to the volcano (yes, Mount Fuji is a volcano). From here, the plan was to take a taxi at 9 or 10 pm so we could get to the Mount base entrance at around 11pm and begin the 8 hour walk to reach the top…

Here are some shots of the preparations at Shinkai's place a few hours before we departed to the Mount base… The team was formed by Chiaki, Hiroshi, Yoshito, Miho and Hallic. It was very sad that Miyuki missed the trip because of work!

Before climbing at Shinkai's home!! McKnight ready! :D
Fuji Ninjas!! :D Climbing team and Miho's parents!! :D
One of those meals you can't forget!! :D

Also some shots after the taxi drove us close to the park’s first station and during the final preparations before climbing…

Moments before climbing! :D Up to the sea of clouds!

The whole climbing stuff is not an easy task!! After walking for some hours the weight of the backpacks (filled with food, small gas tanks for cooking, water and some extra clothing) seems to increase little by little. The idea is to continue without taking a lot of breaks because the body gets cold and when you start to walk again it takes a lot of energy to go back in a good pace.

But the long walk is very cool! The sky turns into a sea of stars and you can see a lot of small lights from other people climbing to the top and taking advantage of the only time in the year in which Mount Fuji is opened for tourists and is declared as safe for non-expert climbers… This season is the Japanese summer which it can get as hot as 40 degrees Celsius or even more. Nevertheless the top of Mt Fuji has low temperatures all year around and is normally 0 degrees at the top during summer time. That’s the main reason to wear warm clothes and to take a lot of rations!

When we walked for around 6 hours we all started to feel very tired and we had to discuss what to do because we were not going to have enough time to reach the top before dawn and well, for me it was not an option to miss the sunrise!! We knew we had little time left and I remember that at the moment we were close to station #6.

I knew that if you want to catch a good viewing angle for the sunrise location you have to get at least to station #8 and between each station the road is long and tiring so we all decided that I was going to climb alone as fast I could to reach station #8 for a nice view of the glorious dawn!

I climbed as fast as I could and the situation was turning a bit frustrating when the night time was coming to an end. I thought everyone else was far behind but to my surprise Hiroshi was relatively close to me and when we met for a little while on the way he told me that we had to run as fast as we could or we where going to miss the show!!
So… Time to run!! We where very VERY tired when we reached station #7, with no time to waste we decided to take a very short break and continue to station #8!!

All the energy we spent was worth it… Just a few minutes before dawn we made it to the eighth station and we found a place not as crowded as the main station area. I decided to move from the main road to a more dangerous place for a better angle (which I regretted when I had to go back!) and I had just a few seconds to pull out my camera for these shots…

Dawn... The sea of clouds...
I think I took this pictures from the 8th station... The brand new day...

And also a moment of great happiness (very hard to describe) was recorded in this video…

When what was probably the most beautiful sunrise I've ever seen during my lifetime was over, it was time to continue walking to reach the highest place in all Japan…

All the excitement from running and the spectacular view gave me a lot of energy to keep moving and after resting for a little while Hiroshi and I returned to the main path where we met the rest of the team. Later, in one of the upper stations (I forgot which number was)  we ate and sleep for a longer time, I know it looks uncomfortable, but it felt great to sleep in the rocks! I was probably so tired that I hardly noticed how hard the sleeping terrain was!

The gate of the gods... Some moments after the unique dawn...
Mid-break Super comfortable nap! :D
Picturing the sky! :D
What was left from here to the top was very heavy, but the distance was not that long and around 2 hours later I finally reached the top!!!

I was the first to arrive and after taking a look at the cloudy landscape and the volcano’s crater I had some time to watch another chapter of Dragon Ball Z!! :-D

Some moments before the top... I waited for the other team members so it was time for Dragon Ball! :D

Hiroshi arrived a few moments later and I was impressed at his physical resistance because he was the one carrying the heaviest packs! We decided to take breakfast right away and after preparing the fire a drizzle was on our shoulders… Some minutes after, the light rain became heavy rain which was very sad for the moment! Luckily the instant Ramen soups where ready and they tasted better than ever!

Breakfast by Hiroshi!! :D Preparing...
... And Eating The Mt Fuji Crater

Some moments later Miho, Yoshito and Chiaki arrived at the peak and after taking a rest and buying a wood souvenir with some writings about the volcano we started the 5 hour walk back to the main entrance!
The rain was abundant during our way back and everyone’s energy was almost depleted… I was actually very happy because the landscapes where something out of this world and the Ramen gave me the final boost for the descent! I could capture some of the moments…

Going back down... Ueno team posing :D
Same place... Same friends... Some years later! Tired as hell!!
From here to where...

FINALLY we arrived at the mount’s base and after the endless quest we took a taxi to an Onzen for a hot bath. We arrived later at Miho’s house and her parents had prepared a perfect dinner for our recovery and after some conversations about the long climb everyone was ready to sleep!

Meal for our return!! :D

The day after we had to return to Tokyo so we prepared everything and said goodbye to Miho’s family which were super kind and super nice! We walked from the house through a couple of roads inside beautiful forests and we also visited a farm like park where we had a great lunch with some ice cream!

Moments before going back to Tokyo... Eating at the farm park :)
Perfect :D :O ! :D
That feeling!!

Next we took the bus for Tokyo and after 3 or 4 hours we went separate ways at the final station. It was time for me to attend the volunteer farewell party at the ICYE Japan Office which I will talk about in the next post!

Back in Tokyo! Chiaki!! :D

I have so much to thank, once again to this unique and special group of friends from Ueno and also to Miho’s parents which were fabulous during our stay and gave us everything we needed for our way back home after such a hard and excellent walk!

I had a unique landscape for a dawn at Mount Fuji and one of the final missions was completed way better than everything I imagined!

As I can remember, I had only 1 week left in Asia…

Be happy!!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Backpacking in Tokyo!!!

More than a year has passed since I returned from Japan and is hard to remember the order of how some special events occurred ... And yes, I'm very late with the posts but there's no rush!!! :)

As I remember, some days before and after the last volunteer program in Kesennuma (気仙沼) I decided with the ICYE Japan Staff that I was going to search for places to stay in Tokyo during the final days in Japan. As part of the ICYE program they would find some host families for me, but I decided to make things different... This was very influenced by the experience I had in South Korea where I met some worldwide travelers doing exactly what I needed at that time: Backpacking!

The schedule was very busy for the final days in Tokyo... I was jumping from place to place in one of the most crowded cities of the world, meeting very kind people, sleeping in different neighborhoods and walking around with the Tokyo summer on my back at around 40 degrees Celsius!!! Some of the places where I walked and still remember ...

The blue way...Ueno...

Daily breakfast during Backpacking!!A round trip in Yamanote Line...

So, as Joe (an English friend I met in South Korea and with expertise in the backpacking stuff) told me in the hostel back in Seoul, there's a site called CouchSurfing where you can get in contact with people who are willing to share their couch to travelers for some nights. This way one can meet more people, places and there's more real cultural exchange!

Japan will never stop surprising me...

I decided to create an account at CouchSurfing and just a few days later I met some very kind friends in Tokyo! Some people just wanted to talk about everything while having some coffee or tea in one of the thousands of Starbuck's around and some others offered me a place to spend a few nights! :)

Backpacking was a fun and interesting experience... Before starting I followed the advise from Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings (We travel light!) so I packed the big and uncomfortable stuff in a huge and heavy case (most of my stuff were presents) and once again the brotherhood from Ueno saved my day! They allowed me to store the big case in their home! This was very important because traveling around with such a huge weight would have been a real pain in the trains and during the long walks!!!

The best energy source ice cream ever during the long walks!!! Castella Presente por Shinjuku!!!

I created a schedule for the places I would visit and where I would stay. Now that I think about all the places I stayed during the trip to Asia, I think I was in a total of 11 or 12!! This was excellent because it allowed me to get in touch with many people and visit some very cool spots but I have to admit that jumping around for so long was also very tiring. I had to move to a new temporary home almost every week and at the end I was exhausted... But it was totally worth the spent energy!!! :D

The very first person who offered me a place to stay was Tina from Taiwan. She was working for some time in Japan! The fun fact about Tina was that for both of us it was the first time to have a CouchSurfing experience! I had the honor to be her first guest and she was my first host! Tina had lived for sometime in Spain and we could talk a little Spanish, Japanese and English!

I stayed at Tina's place around a week before traveling to Kesennuma and even if we had some little time together every night (she had to work and I had to go out to seize the day) we had a very very nice time and I could understand the lifestyle and point of view from another foreigner living and working in Japan...!

The longest I stayed in a single place was at Mari's flat... If my memory is correct I was with Mari for about 10 days!! And again, is so nice when someone you meet for the first time trusts you at 100%! We also had little time together for the same reasons as with Tina. With Mari I could get a clearer picture of what work  in Japan means for a girl of my around age... And believe me, you have to be strong! I forgot some Dragon Ball Z collection cans at Mari's place which are still waiting for my return :D !!!

Yuko was another Couch Surfer who opened the doors to me. Is hard to express with words how kind she was with me and by another strange coincidence of life, Yuko had visited Costa Rica some time ago and she told me that that travel was a key fact in allowing me to stay with her :) When I met Yuko for the first time I also met Mehmet, a very nice guy from Holland who was traveling around Tokyo and South Korea mostly (a place he really loved and in fact, I think he's still around there somewhere!). Mehmet is also an IT guy (the only real Geek I met in Japan besides Seo San) and we had a nice afternoon at a Spanish-Style bar, we talked about many things and the contrasts between Tokyo, Amsterdam and San José...Yuko was an excellent person, she cooked a super delicious dinner for me and I could stay with her around 1 week!! Kindness in a whole new level!!! :D 

Ok... So I had to figure out how this works :D !!! Last lunch with Mari!! :)

Tsukiya tsuki!? :) Tomoko and her funny drawings!!! :D A very personal Ramen restaurant!

Besides this 3 special friends, I met a lot of kind people because of CouchSurfing and another site which I forgot but if I write about all the experiences and nice people I spend some time with during this backpacking time I would have to write about 20 thousand pages!!!

I could never find the appropriate words to describe how good I felt with so such unique people! You have to understand that in Japan is very complicated to host someone in your place because space is reduced, basic services like water and electricity are very expensive and also, to trust a foreigner is not an easy step to make (because I have to mention that they even gave me the keys to go back home at the time I wanted to!!!). For this and many other reasons you can understand how happy and grateful I am!! I had never experienced this kind of trust and it was something that changed my perspective once again!!!

I will end this special post with some of the pictures I took during that time...!!! Includes the zoo photos with  the ultra lazy panda that was always sleeping!!! 

Almost 2 hours in line and the panda was taking a nap!! :O At Ueno zoo!!!
Damn this lazy Panda :D :D !
Starbucks day near Shinjuku with Yukiko :D !!! Near Tokyo Dome I think...

I have to decide about to write next: Mount Fuji or Fuji-Q Highland... I'll keep you posted so have a nice day and be happy :D

Peaceful afternoon... Arriving!
Had to stay strong during the long walks everyday!!!