Tuesday, May 7, 2019

I Just Ryu-can't!

Okay, I know I've been derelict in posting to the blog, but I have my excuses. And now I have even more! Turns out that internet on the ship is a little more sketchy, and a lot more expensive than originally divulged. I'll deal with it by preparing uploads offline and then using the minimal amount of time needed to send a post. Photos may be few, but will be augmented after I return to civilization.
My room. 

Continuing on with Karuizawa, my stay was at a ryukan, or traditional Japanese Inn. This meant sleeping on futons on the floor, and several shoe changes throughout the day. Before even entering the ryukan, you had to take off your shoes and step into communal slippers. I will say that one size doesn't fit all, and I nearly fell down the stairs several times when one would live up to its name and slip right off my foot.

House slippers
Despite having put on clean indoor slippers, you were still not allowed to wear them into your room, which was carpetted in tatami mats. They are quite beautiful, but even clean slippers can't be worn on them. Don't tell the folks at the inn that I accidentally broke that rule several times! I took them off as soon as I realized my faux pas, but forgetting the rule made me feel quite stupid.

Bathroom slippers

 I didn't, however, break the rule that you had to change out of the house slippers into toilet slippers when you used the restroom. (Not bathroom, as that is an entirely different thing.) That one was easy to remember, because as soon as you opened the door to the shared facilities, two pairs of red slippers were right there, not to be missed.

Once inside the facilities, it was still difficult to cope. These toilets also had bidets, but I couldn't even figure out where the controls were. Low/High flush lever, but in Japanese characters, so I had no idea which direction to go.

You be the judge. Which way is low and which is high?

Only cold water in the faucet, that came out with a vengence when you managed to pull the handle just right. I'm just glad there were no tatami mats! The bath was a communal event that I managed to avoid. In many ways, I guess it's no different that sharing a hot tub at the local recreation centre, but I felt no need to participate in this event. I also opted to not get meals at the ryukan, not because of any fear of what might be served, but because I read that if you were on the meal plan, it would be incredibly rude not to show up, which would mean missing a couple of hours of prime birding time. Some people might find this style of hotel the best thing in the world, but I felt like I was camping in the home of a judgmental stranger. I would not do it again.

I was leaving too early on Friday for the inn to offer me a shuttle, so my 85 lbs of gear and I opted for a taxi rather than me dragging (all of us) to the train station about half an hour away.

Ah, yes, the trains! Remember when I tried to get a reservation to Karauizawa, and the agent said he couldn't book me? Well, in addition to actually giving me a ticket from the wrong terminal, he also never mentioned that I would need a reservation to get back to Tokyo from Karauizawa. Once I found that out, I tried to reserve online, but it was too close to the departure date. And even if I had been able to, I would have had to go to the station the day before departure to pick up my tickets. I hopped on the bus, rode to the station, got my reservation and looked up the bus details for the trip back. Heh. Holiday week. They stopped at 6. No problem though, as there waw a train--and then a fifteen-minute walk, but at least I wasn't carrying 85 pounds of gear. But I did have to walk up several small roads and laneways in the dark to get back to the inn.

The ryukan was situated in an excellent location, though, for access to the wild bird forest, and was an interesting place to bird, in its own right. Between a walk Tracy and I did on Thursday, and a very early morning stroll on Friday, I saw a pair of Bullheaded Shrike, a Gray Wagtail, a Dusky Thrush, a Green Ring-necked Pheasant, and many more.

Bullheaded Shrike pair. He was singing to her!

The area is beautiful,  and I definitely would have been happy to explore the area more, but it was time for the next stage of the trip.

Tracy and I met at the train to Tokyo on Friday morning, and enjoyed the mostly empty train until it was time for us to part ways and head to our separate hotels in the big city. By this time, most of the cruise participants were already there, or on their way. I was heading to the same hotel as Michael and Christian, not far from the Port of Tokyo Wild Bird Park.

Next up: Tokyo!

Now here's  where I get to leave you in suspense. The internet situation is going to be sketchy (as in, I may not have any) or the next week.  I promise I will work on the blogs and the photos so that I'm ready to go the next time I can upload.

Let's just say that there have been some disappointments, but also some birding experiences of a lifetime. The group is doing well, and everyone seems happy  Tonight, we are leaving Japan, heading towards Petropavlovsk, Russia. More adventures ahead!

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