Saturday 15th October 2016
It wasn’t a surprise to me at the fact I woke up cranky and uncomfortable from a so-called night’s sleep on a small couch. Craig was awake too looking quite uncomfortable from his couch but optimism drove us forward as we were leaving Kanazawa’s suburban life for the beautiful countryside buried within the Japanese Alps. What was great was that Garu offered a lift for us to get to the train station so we did not hesitate with his generosity. At 7:30am, we left Garu’s apartment one last time with our heavy rucksacks hauled into the back of the car including myself. We set off for the train station with Craig and Garu trying to talk to each other through the streets of Kanazawa. It was nice to be driven around again but it would be short lived, we soon pulled up outside the station raring to get inside. We thanked Garu for everything as well as saying farewell to him as we watched him drive off to work.
With the heavy rucksacks on our shoulders, we slowly walked into the station and straight to the JR lines looking for a way to get to our final destination; Takayama. After a small moment of studying maps and routes, we realised we could use the shinkansen bullet train to head to a place called Toyama where we could connect to another train bound for Takayama. We wasted no time in getting to the right platform, yet we did have time to buy cookies for the journey to the Alps. The train was not due to leave for another 20 minutes so, we decided to have a quick walk to witness the train realising how jet like it looked. We also had a quick glance of the famous gran class but we could not see any elderly women lining up to get on. We took the long walk back to the non-reserved carriages immediately climbing aboard and taking our seats for quite a short journey; when I say short journey on a bullet train, it was still going to be miles of ground to cover.
We were slowly pushed back in our seats waving goodbye to Kanazawa heading for Toyama. Time went on as we ate our cookies enjoying the country views along the way before the call came out for Toyama. Without wasting time, we headed for the necessary platform for our connecting train. We were kind of walking blindly to the platform, as we couldn’t make out the specific location. We tried to get information from train drivers and station guards but all were providing different locations. It took a while until we finally figured out where the platform was but luckily, we had another 30 minutes to use up before it arrived. We tried to conserve our energy so instead of walking anymore, we sat at the quiet platform in peace enjoying the sounds of distant trains leaving there platforms, Japanese chimes and announcements across the whole station.
Our peace would be broken when our train elegantly arrived at the station as we clambered aboard immediately heading for Takayama. In an instant of leaving the train station, the scenery was phenomenal with the sight of Japanese Alps everywhere we looked. It was a hell of a lot more greenery and with the sun now beaming out, it provided us with the heat we thoroughly needed. Studying the route we were taking, we soon realised this was going to be a long journey on a slow train but my god the scenery was heavenly to lack care in how fast we were going. This was definitely my type of area with tree-covered hillsides, mountains, fast flowing green rivers and autumn colours glistening across the land with small valley openings; I genuinely couldn’t keep my eyes away from the window and Craig felt the same too as he would claim that ‘it’s alreet this like’. This was immediately marked down as one of the greatest views I had ever seen on a train journey.
The sound of the wheels clunking at the tracks was very therapeutic as well as the slight swaying of the train. We encountered countless tunnels but exiting each one was quite thrilling to say the least as more breathtaking views of nature graced us both. Time went on as we passed a few stations enjoying life until we finally arrived in Takayama. Off the train, we went with our rucksacks looking for the station stamp and necessary information for camping in the Japanese Alps. Originally, we were planning to find a discreet forest area in Takayama to make a temporary camp but what was great was that a coach trip away was a great camping area at a place called ‘Hirayu’ deep in the Japanese Alps.
We did not hesitate and headed outside to the coach station to pay for our fare. We still had plenty of time to use before getting on the coach so, we decided to take a quick tour around Takayama hopefully to grab some food along the way. It wasn’t long before we stumbled across a small bakery which seemed to be a god send to us as we couldn’t get enough of them. It took a while before we came back out again filled with sweet bakes already wolfing them down like hyenas. Back to the bus station, we went and what was great was we were first in the line. 20 minutes went by and the queue was building up right behind us but finally, the large coach arrived right at our feet. Confirming that this was the right coach, we soon hopped onboard straight at the front seats. With everyone aboard, we set off for another small adventure to Hirayu.
As expected, the scenery was incredible with the same scenario as the train journey of autumn coloured trees. This was a 15-mile drive so we had many views to store into our memories. A while later, the call came out saying that we were approaching Hirayu and so we readied ourselves to get off. After retrieving our bags from the hold, the coach left and I soon realised I had left my sunglasses onboard. I was angry with myself but it wasn’t the end of the world. A heavenly view was right in front of us both, autumn trees surrounding us on the hills with a huge mountain dead centre. With the fresh Japanese air in our lungs, we took the walk across the road to where we thought the campsite would be.
We were heading in the right direction as we stumbled on the main site house for the camping ground. We entered thinking we would have to pre book a plot but it was as easy as renting a bike at Kanazawa. What was fantastic for us was all it cost for 2 nights pitch was equivalent to £8. With everything sorted, we were both told to pitch our tents at any numbered area up the nearby hill so we took a walk with great smiles on our faces. With an area picked out, we got down to work building our temporary homes. Although it wasn’t a race, I managed to complete my tent already setting my bedding by the time Craig finished his. We were enjoying the thrill of camping and then it hit home to me that I was camping with my cousin in the Japanese Alps; this was truly a special moment and as Craig had put it, ‘it’s alreet this like’.
Once everything was sorted, we left the campsite heading for Hirayu village that was only 5 minutes down the road. Constantly, we would gaze upon the magnificence of what nature provided us. We also noticed that it was becoming that bit colder but not too much to bother us. The first place we came across was a place called Hirayu no-mori that was an onsen spa. With all the time in the world now, we entered inside as curiosity got the better of us both but once again, we had to take our shoes off as we were on the beautiful tatami mats. We soon realised that it was a private spa area the deeper we walked in to the place so we didn’t spend a great deal of time there. We did notice at the entrance was a type of onsen where people could place their feet inside. Instead, I stuck my hand in to feel the temperature and I couldn’t believe how hot it was. The other thing I noticed was the strong egg type smell lingering in the air. We soon realised this was produced by the sulphur from the geothermic grounds of Japan.
We continued down towards the bus terminal that was home to more than just drivers and tickets. It housed a shop, restaurant and indoor onsen at the top floor. We walked into the busy area browsing around, picking out things to buy later as we headed into the restaurant. Like Kyoto, we had to order our food with a self service machine but we became master Jedi at this point as we soon awaited our food to be ready. Pork cutlets, egg and rice was on the dish today and we thoroughly enjoyed every bite. With everything eaten, we browsed around the shop one more time grabbing a few snacks for the late evening at our camp.
We left the bus terminal now taking a small walk into the tiny village where we came upon another small novelty shop but what was better was the onsen water feature. Inside one section was 2 bowlfuls of eggs that were being boiled by the natural hot spring which we found very interesting.
With not much more to see at the small village, we headed back to camp and along the way we came across a unique dog that looked very beautiful indeed and became quite friendly to me. The cold air was hitting us now resulting in my hands and nose feeling like blocks of ice. It was great to be back at our tents immediately putting all our thermal clothes on feeling the warmth already.
With the light quickly fading away, the insects were becoming relentless so we both headed into our separate tents, even the spiders were trying to get into my tent; no chance of that happening. We spent the rest of the evening inside our tents with head torches on, as we laughed the night away and joking on. As I was safely in my tent, I could hear Craig outside trying to create fire with great difficulty. So instead, he returned to his tent where a slight bit of peace fell across the land as I read my book, ate my snacks and hearing the river nearby. It was truly nice to sit and relax but really, I was hoping for a pleasant and comfortable night’s sleep.