vrijdag 31 december 2010

No News is Good News

Blank space, white noise... Although we've been silent recently, have no fear- in this case, no news is good news. We've just been too damn busy to keep record of what we have been doing. That and NZ is not renowned for its internet services- but then, we're used to Japanese standards, which really are absurdly excessive when wanting to log onto and delve into your digital self. There, even the MacDonalds is a WIFI hotspot, luring teenagers there with their PSPs so that they can communicate sufficiently with one another. Here, things are different. Here, MacDonalds is just a DriveThru where the excessively fat have breakfast (even on Christmas day), and I haven't seen one PSP to date.
We rented a van, packed up our stuff and headed north out of Auckland. Almost immediately, we fell in love- deeply. This is one of the most breathtaking countries in the world, with a completely new landscape around every bend in the road. It is Ireland, Australia, America (and even Holland- we spotted a windmill) and a whole other array of familiarities bundled into one, but then all different. The people are real islanders- they don't "do" rules, march to the beat of their own drum, have a wicked sense of humor and are incredibly friendly and inviting. Also mentionable is the fact that everything is much more wonderful when doused in sunshine, and wahey- it is summer! We have yet again come to the conclusion that we contribute more positively to the world when the sun shines. Add everything up, and you have one sweet month of thrills and smiles.
We drove up into Northland first, where we found pristine white beaches, turquoise waters and dramatic rockfaces jutting out over the seas. We discovered the wonders of NZ's Department of Conservation (DOC), which not only takes care of Mother Nature so that generations to come can still enjoy the breathtaking beauty of it all (and maybe see some of the unfortunately endangered indigenous animals like the kiwi bird), but also has wonderful campsites dotted around the whole country. They're basic, with mainly cold showers (yeeeeeeehaw.. no better way to get that blood pumping in the morning) and strictly necessary facilities, but they're generally in places where you're so bowled over by the scenery that facilities fall under "whatever" (and we don't need 'em anyway, we like and excuse to be scruffy for long periods of time. That's why we like music festivals so much). Our first night, we were heading for a site that seemed to more like a fata morgana- all roads led to nowhere. This of course allowed for all sorts of old fashioned fun and games in the car (like the old favorite, "Question the Map Reader's Ability"), and even more when, after consulting a third party for directions, we were sent in the complete wrong direction. Needless to say, after 2 hours and a quickly diminishing supply of petrol, we were slightly crazed by the time we actually found the place. However, parking our "house" on the beach and sipping on a cold beer while watching the surf did erase most of the latter from memory as we indulged in our first evening of utter freedom. Since then, we've (mainly) let it all go and have taken on the mellow pace one needs in such blazing sun and heat. Obviously, a day-to-day account would be like being invited to your neighbor's house to sit through a slideshow of holiday "you-had-to-be-there"s, so I'll just sum up the highlights:

Matapouri Beach: A gorgeous bay, with crystal clear blue water and white sand. Frolicking in water like small children, check.
5 dollar campsite on Christmas Eve with the most incredible sunset either of us or our Belgian neighbors had ever seen. See the picture, then imagine even more intensity. Sheeeeeeeit.
An ethereal glow worm cave run for generations by a Maori family, off the beaten track. It was magical- imagine a starry night INSIDE a cave. Oh yes.
Cathedral Cove on Christmas Day- a bit of a walk down to a cove with great rock formations, where we took a dip. We spent the entire day unable to believe it was late December, and the airports in the Northern Hemisphere were closed for business. We did cheekily enjoy that fact though :)
Rotorua, a city sitting on boiling water- literally. It's a geothermal hotspot, with geysers spouting up all over the place and ground water reaching boiling temperatures. There are boiling mudpools, thermal baths and even a beach where you can dig your own hot tub- the water comes up through the sand piping hot! You just have to be able to enjoy the smell of sulpher- somewhat reminiscent of rotten eggs, until you find the underlying tones that are quite nice really. Outside of town is an amazing geothermal National Park called Wai-O-Tapu, which was fantastic despite the fact that we were walking around in high winds and horizontal rain. The minerals in the hot springs colors everything like an artist's palette- our favorite was the acid green lake. Unbelievable.
Our tramp accross the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which we are going to dedicate a solo-entry to because it was simply the most amazing hike we have ever done. Ever. Period.
As we speak we are in Wellington, having rung in the New Year with a rather lovely dinner out on the town (sure beats baked beans on toast!) and treating ourselves to a motel room where we can do a bit of stretching before we head back into our hobbit-sized home on wheels (love is: sharing what could be described as a single bed, or otherwise a double for very small people. Having spent considerable time observing other vans and couples at campsites, we figure we might be lucky we're not big boned- we've seen quite some circumferences crawling out of vans not too much bigger than ours, which has been pretty impressive). We had our first New Year's Day without the considerable hangover we saw others suffering from, which was refreshing for a change (that binge in Kyoto was enough to see us into the new year, believe me), and spent it at the most awesome (and largest- it's like a city in there) museum either of us have ever been to: Te Papa. We enjoyed it so much we are going to go again tomorrow, after having caffeinated ourselves at one of Welly's numerous coffee hotspots (Welington is the coffee capital of NZ- apparently, bad coffee is hard to come by here). Oh yes, we like.

vrijdag 17 december 2010

A Kiwi welcome


11 short hours from Japan was our next destination. We flew into Auckland at 5:30 in the morning, after no sleep in the plane and a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for breakfast (it was dinnertime for us, ahem). After a brief customs search of our bags (Heather had leaves in books, most of which ended up in the trash but then we wouldn’t want to be the cause of some bio outbreak really... There are some limits to art), we were off! A shuttle bus dropped us at the door of our hostel, which had provided us with the door code so we could chill out in the common room (because backpackers are NOT up at 6:30.. Although some are at 7:30, we found out. Strange people). We ended up pulling an all-nighter, and then an all-dayer, with a walk up to the local main street for coffee (which was soooooo good- they know how to make coffee here), a trip to the supermarket (where we asserted we could READ THE PACKAGING! Quite a welcome advantage after a month of gambling on products...), and renting a camper. We also met an English guy who took us up to a volcano summit close-by, where we could see absolutely nothing due to the weather (although the view is supposed to be fantastic) and then a quick drive round the center of Auckland, which was quite quaint compared to the metropoles we were used to. Another viewing point at the harbor provided us with more nothingness- oh well, more to see when we go in tomorrow. We finally passed out at 9pm, and had a good lie in today. Thinking it was dry, we went back up to the volcano and got completely soaked as it started to piss down again halfway up... It’s just not meant to be. But we are not complaining- we’re wearing sandals and no jackets, so we are HAPPY!!!
We have until Monday here in Auckland and then we pick up our camper. It’ll be great to have our own mode of transport!

New Zealand so far is great. It’s relaxed, it’s pretty, it’s friendly- Daniel felt like he had come home as it reminds him so much of Australia. Heather thinks she’ll feel like it’s home after not too long. We’re good :)

Last blog from Japan

As the train took us into Osaka, we realized we were entering a city that could only be rivaled by the likes of Tokyo. Seemingly endless grey blocks of flats, electricity wires looping in and out of streets and buildings, numbers of commuters rising with every stop closer to Osaka Station. Even though Nara had been relatively large -bigger than what we had anticipated- nothing compares to a Japanese big city. Once we ventured into Osaka Station, we promptly got completely lost (they’re renovating, and so it was like walking through Amsterdam Central but then x100 and in Japanese) and had to ask directions for the exit (which in any other country might have inspired a fit of laughter, but not in Japan- they take everyone seriously and no questions are stupid questions).
It was pissing rain, so we decided to spend our day at Osaka’s best indoor sight, the aquarium. Not just any aquarium- by true Asian standards, it involved things that had never been done before, in this case housing not one but TWO whale sharks and a great white. Worth the visit, obviously. So we and the rest of Osaka’s temporary residents (inculding lots of small children whose voices are greatly amplified by glass just in case you were wondering) spent a day admiring the latter, and everything else you can find in any ocean anywhere on Earth (it was big). We were impressed, but also decided we like aquariums as much as we like zoos- not much. The animals looked like they could use a lot more room. We also went to Den Den Town, Osaka’s manga district, where we fought the crowds of businessmen and Japan’s geeks stocking up on manga literature and figurines (it is serious besiness! So much so we wondered how some of these guys’ houses must have looked). 8-story buildings, and not just one but ten in a row, all selling books, dvds (even months in advance), magazines, action figures, do-it-yourself figurines of any and many sorts.... However, all literature is sealed and described in Japanese, so we ended up buying a souvernier manga magazine which was VERY explicit and VERY illegal in the Western world (although not in Japan, suprisingly), as it contained animal sex and even a story that involved children. Needless to say, we donated it to the nearest garbage can the next day... Oops. Fortunately Daniel’s other souvenier, a figurine of a maid (hot stuff in Manga world), was more than enough to take home.
We also spent a day wandering Osaka’s two hip-n-happening districts, America-mura and Dotombashi. The outfits got weirder and weirder, but were totally fashion-savvy at the same time. If either of us were to dress like that we would look like complete idoits, but the Japanese somehow make it work. Daniel shot 10 rolls of film taking portraits of Osaka’s young and fabulous, so we have lots to look forward to when we get home!

Ah, Japan. You were over before we knew it.

It was wonderful knowing you. We’ll be back.

zondag 12 december 2010

Hiroshima, Kyoto and Nara (or, Shrines, Temples and the Great Buddha's Nostril)

We left Hiroshima, sad to leave it behind us. It is such a beautiful, laid-back, even spacious city (by Japanese means). It is a special place- though the A-bomb is still a healing wound, the city and its people have accepted it as history and have built a vibrant, friendly, tolerant and peaceful community from its ashes. An inspiring place, and a lovely hostel! Daniel was particularly popular after he spent an evening cheffing it up in the kitchen introducing the entire staff to pannekoeken. The way to the Japanese heart is obviously through the stomach :)

Next stop was Kyoto. We arrived in on our anniversary, so we decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner out, which was lovely- we ended up in a restaurant where no one spoke much English, and the menu was illegibale apart from a few pictures. We managed to order some GREAT food, too much sake (there doesn't seem to be a language problem there) and some deep fried spaghetti, which made the experience more than complete. We went for one more drink at our hostel bar, which turned in to more once we got chatting to the Aussie barflies, and before I knew it I heard Daniel rounding up the troops for karaoke accross the room... Needless to say, it was a night to not remember :) We took the next day off, having determined the hangover of the century.

We did actually see some of Kyoto, too. One of Japan's major cities, it is seen as the cultural heart of Japan- and with seventeen World Heritage sites, who could argue. We managed about half- after 2 1/2 weeks of temples, shrines and castles, we were kinda shrined-out. They're all very beautiful, and very special, but there is such a thing as overkill... Suffice it to say that the International Manga Museum was a welcome change. We also spent a day wandering the streets of Nishijin, Kyoto's textile district. The highlight was definately the Textile Museum, where we were able to see various traditional Japanese artists and craftsmen working their magic- Daniel discovered his inner textilite, and Heather was reminded of why it was she wanted to specialize in textiles in the first place. Needless to say, it was an inspiring visit! Heather also found her new favorite textile company, based in Kyoto... and both of us have been back in the sketchbooks ever since. Some things were just meant to happen.

From Kyoto we headed out to Nara, Japan's first capital city. It's a small town, but it too boasts quality tourism- seven World Heritage sites, all of which fall under the category castle, temple or shrine. Daniel and I were ecstatic, naturally. We did see a few, one of which was really impressive- a massive temple (the largest wooden structure in the world) housing a 15 meter Buddha. Behind the statue one of the temple's pillars had a hole carved through it. The hole has the exact same dimensions as the Great Buddha's nostril, and if you can squeeze through then you will be ensured of elightenment. Thanks but no thanks, we already took a walk in a bodhisattva's womb in Kyoto. We also visited a 4 story arcade, a pachinko arcade, and we spent an afternoon watching tourists feed the "wild" deer at Nara Park, which was HILARIOUS. Last night we visited the public baths and soaked in boiling hot water with the geriatric population of Nara. This evening we had the most wonderful meal, and it was dirt cheap. We're happy campers.

Though many things, or really most things, go over our heads here, we like to think we have grown accustomed to the way of the Japanese. We sometimes even entertain the thought that we blend in rather well, that we are tourists going completely unnoticed (although the Japanese themselves might beg to differ- Daniel was quite the entertainment when he stuffed his hamburger with fries the other day). We had a complete conversation in Japanese the other night at the cash register of the 7 eleven- although it comprised mainly of 'hello', 'please', lots of 'thank you' s and several 'sayonara' s, all words were issued FLAWLESSLY and were reciprocated by the beaming cashier. It's really a shame we're almost leaving, as we seem to have gotten over the initial gawking fascination over everything that is odd (although we're still surprised every day, believe me) and are starting to see the next layer of the art of being here.

Tomorrow we leave for Osaka.

vrijdag 3 december 2010

Just some new pics

After a 3 hour uphill walk we cant be really bothered to write any more text! You've got to be fine with just some new pictures then!

donderdag 2 december 2010


We just wanted to quickly post about today while it is still fresh in our memories. We spent the afternoon at the site of the A-bomb here in Hiroshima, speaking to locals and visiting memorials and the museum. The impact of these was harrowing to say the least.
Hiroshima was completely destroyed within a 2km radius of where the bomb was dropped- burnt to the ground. A few structures survived, and one building in particular has been made a World Heritage Site- a survivor and a witness to what cruelty humans are capable of. We spoke to a woman whose mother could recount what she saw the day it happened, and was still haunted by the screams of people she could not help. We saw pictures of people whose skin had melted off, drawings made by survivors depicting the river full of corpses, and the effects of radiation of next generations. We saw the picture of the pilot who flipped the switch and felt no remorse whatsoever, who would have done it again in a second- just another day at the job. We saw the Children's Peace Monument, initiated by classmates of a little girl who died of leukemia (one of the effects of radiation) in the fifties. She had started folding paper cranes in the hospital, as she believed that if she were to fold one thousand, she would be relieved of her illness (cranes are for longevity and health)- she died before she reached her target, but since then her classmates and children al over the world have folded paper cranes in her honor and in the honor of peace on earth, and in remembrance of what evil has passed. There is so much more to see, and all of it is so beautiful... But so sad. We left feeling angry- what is the point of war? Why is it always the innocent citizens who have to pay for the decisions their leaders make? And what evil mind could possibly have thought of this evil?(Einstein actually signed a letter telling roosevelt to develop the bomb! Still think he's a smart man?) Who would want thousands of people to die this way? This was genocide. Impossible to fathom. Disturbing.

In light of today, it was kind of odd to read the following article:
Wikileaks: Nederland wilde af van kernwapens - WikiLeaks - VK
We both can't believe so many countries are sitting on so many lethal weapons, only to scare each other. We hope that in our lifetimes we will see the change happen.
Good riddance.

Japan en zijn contradicties'

Japan het land van de opkomende zon is zoals we merken een land waar de zon tegelijkertijd op kan komen maar ook onder gaat! Alles hier lijkt twee zijde te hebben. Als je net denkt dat je je als onbehouwen hollander een beetje hebt aangetast aan de japanse etiquette dan blijkt dat het tegenovergestelde weer waar is! Japan is de dichter bevolkt dan Nederland, toch lijkt niemand op elkaars huid te zitten, mensen hebben hier een omgangs vorm gevonden met elkaar die op een rustige en beleefde manier lijkt te werken. Het vreemde is dat je in een grote stad(kleine steden hebben ze hier volgens mij niet) geen vervuiling ziet op de straat! Maar aan de andere kant, als je een prullenbak zoekt is deze nergens te vinden. Overal kun je Sigaretten kopen maar nergens mag je ze oproken! Het is hier trouwens geoorloofd om om half negen s'ochtends een halve liter bier open te trekken zonder dat iemand je vreemd aankijkt. Dat is zelfs voor een doorgewinterde bierliefhebber(red. ik) best wel even opkijken. Het is hier vreemd om hand in hand met elkaar over straat te lopen maar gelukkig kun je in de Seks shop wel een real doll kopen die op een twaalf jarig schoolmeisje lijkt! Als je hier verkouden bent draag je keurig een masker voor je mond, en als je klaar bent met eten kun je gerust je eerste gang weer naar boven roggelen.
Het oude leven en het nieuwe gaan hier hand in hand! Ik ga maar weer eens een nieuw manga verhaal schrijven op mijn mobieltje denk ik........

Leaving comments

We've finally figured it out- we had something checked off in the settings which meant you couldn't leave comments. We have since changed the setting, so please- don't be shy, and let yourselves be heard!
We're still looking for the setting to enable some sort of email to go out whenever we post, but up till now no such luck. So you'll just have to check regularly :)

woensdag 1 december 2010


We have just installed ourselves in a cosy hostel in Hiroshima after a day of Shinkansen travelling, and after having had all staff on hand (and those finished shift) up in our room helping us decipher the wireless internet (conclusion: our computer just doesn't like it), we've found a little nook in the common room to update ourselves from. Fortunately the large group of Aussies who spoke of eating Spanish pa-ella (pronouncing that just as is, now) has retreated to their testosterone-soaked room to drink themselves into a total stupor, allowing us old folk some quiet time :)
From Takayama we moved on to Nagano, home of the 1998 Winter Olympics. Our Lonely Planet (read: Bible) told us there was close to nothing to keep us occupied for our planned 3 days. That was before we met Mama-san, our "parent" in the Zenko-ji temple. We finally found the place after consulting what turned out to be the neighbor, and after entering the dark gateway we were greeted by what I can only describe as a small, efficient, and eccentric lady. Mama-san. She proceeded to hurry us through the details of checking in (aha, aha aha, yaaaaaaah oh aha) because did we need to eat? Only 5 minute walk. But close at 7pm (it is now 6:45pm). You like soba? Soba nice. You eat soba. You walk (hand motions the Italians would be jealous of)... I take you. You ready?
We are shuttled off to what became our ultimate Japanese experience- A proper family-run Japanese noodle restaurant, where we sat on tatami mats at low tables and were served by people speaking NO English (fortunately, 'sake' is international). We had eaten a rather large lunch in the train (just wait till we explain those box lunches! See later on...), and up till now the serving sizes had been rather small (according to Daniel-san in particular) so we rather enthousiastically ordered the 800 yen type of dinner after some confusion, which turned out to be the biggest bowl of buckwheat noodles you have ever seen. Times two. Delicious, but thought I was going to explode half way though. We resorted to drinking the broth, as it looked like we had eaten more.
After rolling home to the hostel (a huge house connected to the Zenko-ji temple, a rather impressive temple complex in Nagano), we talked to Mama-san about all sorts of things, including the onsen, Japan's hot springs. We'd been looking to try them but had not yet had the opportunity... Mama-san carted us off to the local, where we were separated (as the Japanese mainly believe in gender-seperate bathing rituals), and then stripped down to enjoy the wonders of what is Japanese onsen! I can only speak for myself, as Daniel was on the other side of the wall, but it was a bloody fantastic... After extensive cleansing (which made me cringe, eczema-lly... But when in Japan.....), you head out to the baths which in this case were salt baths and baking soda baths, outside and in. Loverly indeedy. Daniel even went into some dark room with a shallow pool of water to relax, which he thought was wonderful. So we shall be frequenting the onsen, that is one thing that is certain!
The next day we took the train up to Yudanaka, where the famous Monkey Spa is. We'd seen it on tv, and almost couldn't believe it- it's a national park, where a family of Snow Monkies (or Macaques) are housed, and they tend to get cold and want to take an onsen themselves. The park was insane- once we entered, we were literally tripping over monkies. They totally ignore you, but aren't afraid of you at all- they almost walk over your feet. A little futher along they've built a bath (onsen) for them to soak in, which is really odd- they seem so human! Unfortunately you can't bathe with them (which we both really wanted to do of course), but watching is enough. Wow! We also spent a day in Matsumoto, where there is a famous castle which was pretty nifty. We also really enjoyed the town museum, where we learned a lot about the local culture.
Today we took the Shinkansen to Hiroshima. The Shinkansen is, in itself, an experience. While waiting on the platform, you stand in the correct line and wait for you car. Then you find your seat, and the fun begins... The conductors bow before they enter and leave a train carraiage, the ladies who sell food from a cart are super polite and bow when you buy something (or even look at them, as far as I am concerned)... But there's also the chance that someone behind you might clear their nose audibly- it's not a problem to hock a loogie here (as long as you have a penis), and the train is no exception. We did think however that the guy behind us in the train was perhaps nasty even for Japanese standards... I think we got to know his inner nose better then he might even know it himself. Yeesh.
And now, Hiroshima... So far, we like it!