Saturday, 3 November 2007

Day 12: Kiso-Fukushima - Narai

Distance covered: 21.7km
Weather: Misty, then fine

We breakfasted at 7am and left Ryokan Sarashinaya just after 7.45am. It was cold and misty outside, and for the first couple of hours I wore my fleece vest over my long-sleeved shirt, the first time since leaving Kyoto that I'd had to resort to wearing the vest while actually walking. We took our first break of the day just before the town of Mienokoshi at the halfway point of our journey. We joked that there was no longer any point in turning back, as it would be quicker to carry on to Tokyo.

Soon after that we got a little lost trying to find a footbridge across a river, and had to climb up to the main road to get across. On the way we passed a large sumo ring, which seemed oddly out of place in such a rural setting.

A little further along we came across a trio of elderly cyclists out on a day ride, who seemed very pleased to meet us and insisted on taking some photos.

Leaving Mienokoshi, we found the road ahead blocked where some work was being done on stabilizing the hillside above the road. We'd successfully negotiated roadworks before and so were confident of being allowed through, but when we asked the workers if we could walk past, they told us it was too dangerous. We pleaded with them, explaining that we had walked all the way from Kyoto, and they eventually relented. "It wouldn't be fair to make you walk all the way back," one of them said.

Further along we had the unusual experience of walking along the middle of an abandoned stretch of highway (a tunnel had recently been built nearby, rendering the original section of highway obsolete). There were weeds and saplings growing through cracks in the tarmac, and the bush was encroaching on the road on either side. The abandoned highway ran alongside a picturesque river, and as the autumn colours were at their peak, there were quite a few photographers here.

We arrived in Yabuhara slightly after midday and had lunch at a place just off the main street. I bought some chocolate as I'd been feeling a bit listless the last few days and thought I needed an energy boost, especially considering we were about to tackle yet another pass: Torii Toge. The pass was tough but took us through some beautiful terrain. There was a big bear bell half way up, and another one on the other side.

The descent took us into the town of Narai, where we arrived just after 3pm. Like Magome and Tsumago, Narai has many old buildings and retains much of the character of an old post-town. We wandered down the long main street rubbing shoulders with noticeably well-dressed tourists before retiring to a rather chic coffee shop for refreshments. I had coffee and cheesecake, and Erik had some apple cinnamon tea. He liked it so much he even ate the apple out of the teapot! I had a bit too, and must admit it was pretty yummy. We then found our minshuku and checked in.

Our room was on the small side, but the innkeeper was very friendly, and agreed to have breakfast ready at 7am the next morning even though they didn't usually serve it until 7.30am. Dinner was nice, although it was spoiled somewhat by the presence at the next table of an extremely opinionated Japanese man who wouldn't stop talking to us. They say that travel broadens the mind, but in his case it seemed to have had the opposite effect. At one point he pronounced that he was disappointed with the food in Italy, declaring that the food served in Italian restaurants in Japan was better! Go figure. He then started talking politics, at which point we retired for the evening.

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