Saturday October 28th, 2017

Took eight Taipei Hikers to Yilan to hike the Taoyuan Valley Trail (15KM)

It was extremely windy up on the ridge ... I had an earache and a headache at the end of the hike

Perhaps doing a ridge hike while a typhoon was passing the island wasn't the best idea!

Still one of my favorite day hikes just outside of the city

October 7th-8th Hiking Weekend ...

Took thirteen Taipei Hikers on a rainy 10KM city hike ...  the only image I took during Saturday's hike

Led four Taipei Hikers on a 10KM hike in my backyard ... made it  home minutes before the downpour

Enjoying the little things during today's hike ... we also ran into a bamboo viper

Levi basking in the sun in her box ... it's been a very rainy October

Saturday September 23rd, 2017

Our leader, Francis (aka Pineapple)
Entering the Lujiaokeng Ecological Protected Area on Yangmingshan was exciting! We had to apply for permits a few weeks before the set hiking date. Upon arrival, the gate was locked but the permit approval letter had the code on it! The hike itself wasn't too difficult though finding the trailhead at the start was tricky. We didn't realize where it was until we came back down to the start of the trail.

The trail markers were stacked rocks like this for the entire trail up and were hard to spot at times

More trail markers along a very bouldery trail

The Fenglin Waterfall (楓林瀑布) on Yangmingshan: the second highest waterfall on YMS (25M)

Hualien Road Trip (September 16th-17th, 2017)

Day Lillies for miles at Sixty Stone Mountain (六十石山)

A quick stop at Shitiping (石梯坪) along the #11

The Hualien crew on our rental scooters

Hualien Road Trip (September 16th-17th, 2017)

Our route over the two days

Taking a break along the #11

Day Lillies at Sixty Stone Mountain (十六石山)

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

The Sandiaoling trail leading to the falls
With all the rain we'd been having, I thought a 10KM from Sandiaoling to Shifen waterfall would be a good idea. The trails were muddy but there was very little water at the falls.

I led nine Taipei Hikers (all women, which never happens) on the hike! We had a lot of laughs and it seemed that everyone enjoyed the hike!

One of the falls at Sandiaoling with very little water flowing

The #106 road to Shifen Waterfall with Wufenshan in the distance

The Shifen Waterfall is always flowing and it's now free of charge

Japan: Day 24 — Hakone to Tokyo ...

The Odakyu Limited Express "Romancecar" train
I was up early for one last onsen before packing up and making my way back to Tokyo. The commute was straightforward. I hopped on the Hakone Tozan Train to the Hakone-Yumoto station. From there, I was able to reserve an observation deck ticket for the Odakyu Limited Express "Romancecar"  to Shinjuku. I wasn't sure exactly what the 'observation deck' meant but I read that you can sit at the very front or back of the train for wonderful views. There was very little difference in the ticket prices so I purchased one.

I had the entire car to myself for the ride down to Odawara. I sat at the very front of the train. It was quite special with the big open windows. There were some nice views but the day wasn't clear enough for one final glance of Mt. Fuji as we whizzed on past.

I was back at Shinjuku station in less than two hours and set out in search of a capsule hotel that wasn't too far from the station. I opted to go outside and walk around the station rather than go through it as the stations in Tokyo were extremely busy and huge and it was easy to get lost.

The Booth Net Cafe & Capsule Hotel (girl's room)
I followed my GPS to the hotel. Check-in time was twelve noon, which was wonderful. I could get into my bed immediately ... not that there was much to get into to.

I was staying at a place called the Booth Net Cafe & Capsule. It had very cool decor and the check-in was quick and easy. The place was spotless and there was an all girl's floor. While searching for capsule hotels online, I found that many don't allow women. Overall, it was a neat experience and one I thought I should have in case I never make it back to Japan.

I didn't spend much time in the capsule as there was very little space. I found a nice restaurant in the area for lunch and then ventured over to a park with a temple that I had missed during my first week in Japan. It rained a lot the first few days, so I didn't make it to a few places on my list. When I got to the park, I was too exhausted to enjoy it. I knew in my heart that I was done with touring around and ready to go home. I went back to the capsule hotel and set out to a pub for a beer or two and some dinner.

Shinjuku at night
After dark, it was apparent that Shinjuku was the heart of the red light district. Bars with pictures of barely dressed women on the doors were everywhere and men were coming up to me and aggressively pushing me to go to their restaurants. I had seen a sign warning tourists that people would do exactly that and once you got to their restaurant they would give you very strong drinks and scam or steal from you.

I opted for a small British Pub that was packed and smokey. I had a quick bite to eat before setting back out to the comforts of my tiny capsule. I had an early morning bus booked back to the Narita airport and the time couldn't quite pass quickly enough. I absolutely loved my time in Japan but was very looking forward to getting home! Thank you, Japan! What an amazing trip!

Japan: Day 23 — Hakone ...

Hiking up to Mt. Kintoko (1,212m)
My last day in Hakone and my last hike in Japan! This picture here is certainly one of my favorites. The forests in Hakone were absolutely magical!

There was a constant rushing fog from the volcano (which most likely was not the best to hike in) but it gave the forests a sense of eerieness.

I was up early and took a morning onsen. The plan was to hike Mt. Kintoki. I missed the first bus to the trailhead and the second bus wasn't scheduled to arrive until after 9am.

Taxis were parked near the bus stop so I decided to hop in one. It was ¥2300. The driver spoke a bit of English and dropped me off right at the trailhead. He even got out of the car to show me the map and gave me a suggested route!

One of the signs at the top of Mt. Kintoki
It was early and it seemed I was the only one around. I set off on my own and hoped to run into a few others along the trails. The hike itself wasn't too challenging. It was another steep climb but the trail let up in parts.

It took me about one hour to reach the top without any breaks. The breeze was wonderful up top but there were zero views. On a nice clear day, Mt. Fuji is in the backdrop but I had no such luck. I took a rest and had a small bite to eat before heading back down a different route.

I hardly ran into anyone on the way down. I was planning on hiking to the trails I was on two days prior but the day was hot and the sun was beating down. The trails had zero shade, so I opted to take another route down the mountain and hoped I would be able to find my way back to the hostel.

I found the main road and a bus that led me right back to where I needed to be! Perfect! I took the afternoon to do some laundry and relax in the onsen. I was scheduled on a train back to Tokyo the following morning. My time in Japan was quickly coming to an end but to be honest, I was ready!
On the way down from Mt. Kintoki via the Sengokuhara trail

Japan: Day 22 — Hakone ...

One of the pathways around Lake Ashi (eastern side)
My last journal entry for Japan was on Day 21, so these words are coming from memory two months later! I was tiring from three weeks of non-stop activity but there was more to see in Hakone. Zoe had moved on and I was alone.

I used my Hakone Free Pass and took the cable car up the mountain to the Hakone Ropeway. One must get off at the Owakudani Volcano so I stopped for another quick visit. It's a spectacular sight and it didn't hurt my feelings to be there again.

After a quick look, I made my way to the second ropeway that heads to Lake Ashi. I walked more than halfway around the eastern side of the lake. There weren't too many views along the way and I ran into very few people, mostly locals walking their dogs.

I was making my way over to the Komagatake Ropeway. (¥1300) This ropeway is not included in the Hakone Free Pass but pass holders are offered a discount.
The Komagatake Ropeway car with Lake Ashi in the background
The day was cloudy and I knew there wasn't going to be a view of Mt. Fuji (there is on clear days) but who doesn't love a good cable car ride (7 minutes) taking you up to 1,300m above sea level?! The view of the lake below was stunning! Once at the top, there are trails to follow and a small shrine. The clouds were rushing by making it eerie at times.
The Tamadareno Falls
I stayed at the top for some time before taking the ropeway down. I found a bus to the Hakone Ropeway. I went back via the volcano and the Hakone cable car. I then took the train to another waterfall that was on the tourist map. The place was called the Tamadareno Falls. They, unfortunately, were not too exciting.

The falls were behind a touristy hotel. The place was a zoo. There were ducks everywhere along with people. Loud music was playing and there were people dressed up in stuffed animals costumes. They were parading around and dancing. I was hoping to be in a quiet forest.

I was too exhausted for all the commotion and took off quite quickly back to my hostel and went straight to the onsen. The water was almost too hot to get in. The water in the onsens came directly from the Owakudani volcano and the temperature couldn't be controled. There was a sign saying that the water temperatures depend on the 'mood' of the volcano! I thought that was quite cute. You are able to add cold water into the pool but even then it was too hot! I was only able to get in for a few short minutes and hoped the volcano's mood would be a bit cooler for the following day!

Japan: Day 21 — Hakone ...

Cedar Avenue in Hakone
I was up early and treated myself to a coffee and an onsen. Zoe and I were heading out together to explore Hakone. I purchased a Hakone Freepass that was valid for three days and cost ¥4,500. This free pass would allow me to use most of the transport in the area for free. I could also get into the attractions for free or for a discounted price. The free pass saves tourists a ton of money and is highly recommended!

Zoe and I were on the first cable car up the mountain at 7:41am. There were very few others with us and we didn’t figure out why until we got to the top. The Hakone Ropeway doesn't start running until 9am. The people at the guesthouse neglected to offer this information. No problem. We opted to take the bus. It came at 8:24am but the driver wouldn’t let us on as the Owakudani Volcano doesn’t open until 9am. The driver told usto wait for the 9am bus. Why on earth is there a 7:41am cable car?!?!

Dropping into the Owakudani volcano on the Ropeway
I felt bad for getting Zoe up so early but we had a lot to talk about and knew this was just the way things went when traveling. In the end, we decided to take the ropeway since we had to wait until 9am for the bus. We figured the ropeway would be more fun and more interesting.

We were in the first car for the eight-minute ride up to the volcano. It was fun being on a ropeway but the best part was going up over a mountain peak and then down into the Owakudani volcano. The entire car ‘ooh’ed and ‘aah’ed. It was a spectacular sight! The volcano immediately reminded me of my time at the Ijen Crater in Indonesia. Owakudani was spewing out smoke and it was very clear why the trails in the area were closed.

Our first stop was at a small food trailer near the volcano that was offering fried food. I ordered the fried potato and bacon balls. The dish had three balls on a stick with small pieces of bacon in between the balls. There was also a massive slab of butter on the side of the plate. At ¥380, they were tasty enough and hit the spot!

We enjoyed the views of the volcano but there wasn’t much else to do in the area. We had a look around the gift shop and then made our way to the next and final stop along the Hakone Ropeway, Lake Ashinoko. The ropeway offered gorgeous views on the way down! We made our way over to the waiting area for the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise. It is a pirate ship with pirates on board! The ride over was comical with the performers playing around with the passengers.

The lake is stunning though there was no view of Mt. Fuji because of the cloud cover. On the other side of the lake, there is a cedar forest. The pathway is beside the road but it is easy to forget that while wandering along the path. The trees were so tall and gorgeous! It took about a half an hour to complete the trail. It popped us out near some restaurants and we decided to stop for lunch. I had Udon noodles and tempura for lunch. Lunch was ¥1,200 but only OK.

The Torii Gate near the Hakone Shrine
After a small lunch, we made our way over to the Hakone Shrine. We were both very interested to see the torii gate near the lake. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Fuji from this spot which must be stunning. We had no view but it was pretty. The area was busy and we had to be patient to get a shot without any people or paddle boats in the image.

The Chisuji Falls
After the shrine, we caught a bus to a waterfall that was a short hike off the main road. There were very no signs so we followed GPS and were a little unsure that we were going the right way. We finally found a sign that led us into a beautiful lush forest. The Chisuji Falls were longer than they were high. We had the place to ourselves which was wonderful. I guess we were a bit off the beaten tourist path of Hakone!

Our guesthouse was only 30 minutes away so we decided to walk. We found a 7-11 and stopped in to pick up dinner for the evening, breakfast and snacks. The 7-11s in Japan have anything and everything one could possibly want! I picked up a ton of food! Upon arrival at the guesthouse, it was straight into the onsen! Lovely!

Zoe and I went downstairs for dinner at 6pm. She set upstairs early to sleep while I stayed downstairs to enjoy two beers while making a plan for the following day. The weather wasn't exactly cooperating! I had trouble keeping my eyes open after 9pm and finally gave in to sleep.

Japan: Day 20 — Hakone ...

At the Hakone Open-Air Museum
I was the first one awake in my dorm room. I had a morning coffee in the kitchen and then took my first onsen, which is a Japanese hot spring. There were two private onsens in the hostel and they were open 24 hours. One pool was bigger than the other and I opted to try the room with the big onsen first. It was wonderful! I floated for some time before showering and heading upstairs to see if anyone else was awake.

Jess and I had talked about going to the Hakone Open-Air Museum together. The place opened at 9am and we wanted to be the first ones in. The museum was a 15-minute walk up the road and what an amazing place it was! It exceeded my expectations!

The grounds were huge! It took us almost three hours to get through the entire museum. Besides the outdoor art, there was a Picasso room that never seemed to end. Most of the work was stuff that was Picasso inspired but there were some awesome pieces of work in there!

And just when we thought the tour was over, we found ourselves in another room with interactive art. One could stand on a box and move their body which would be mimicked by different figures on a huge screen in front of you. When one stepped off the box and got back on, the figure would change. They had six different figures and Jess and I were in stitches trying them all out!
The Hakone Open-Air Museum

Another fun thing was a screen that changed colors and shapes as you changed your voice. Jess started beatboxing! Ha! It made the screen look very cool! We had a good laugh and spent quite a bit of time in that room.

After buying a few things in the souvenir shop, we made our way back to the hostel. Jess had a train to catch early that afternoon. The dorm room was empty when I returned and I wondered who would show up that day.

The skies were blue and after having a bite to eat and a beer at the hostel, I headed out to do some hiking. I wanted to climb the mountain I could see from my room as it was within walking distance from the guesthouse. It was a three-hour hike, reaching the peak at 924m and an extremely steep climb.

The map of the character 大 (dà)
On the 16th of August, there was a festival in Japan where they burned different characters into the mountains. This particular mountain, Mt. Myojogatake, had the character 大 (dà) burned into the mountain. I reached the character and thought it was neat that there was a map showing the exact measurements of the character and how to walk around it.

The sun was scorching hot and there was no escape so I continued on up to the peak. There was no sign to celebrate your success, nor was there much of view. The trail was muddy and slippery on the way up and I was worried about sliding my way back down the mountain. The trail was also dense with greenery so it was dark and there were a lot of mosquitoes. Most of my images were blurry because of the darkness. The air had a lot of smoke in it which must have been the volcanic gases coming from the nearby volcano. I wondered if it was safe breathing it in. The trails near the volcano had been closed due to too much volcanic activity.

I returned to the hostel covered in mud and sweat. Thankfully they had a hose so I could clean myself off. I grabbed a towel and headed directly for the onsen. I had bought enough food for lunch and dinner on the way home from the museum so I didn’t need to go anywhere else for the day.

During my lunch, I had met a girl in the kitchen named Zoe who had just finished bullet climbing Mt. Fuji. She was exhausted and wasn’t able to get into her room until 3pm. She was in my room and we fast became friends. She was from Ontario but lived in Vancouver for 12 years before moving to the  UAE for three years to teach English. She was on her way back to Vancouver. We had a lot to talk about as we shared very similar experiences in life.

We had dinner together and shared stories before going back to the room to sleep! I was exhausted after that hot afternoon hike and slept like a baby!

Japan: Day 19 — Osaka to Hakone ...

I was up early, of course, and went to the ATM to get prepared for Hakone. It seemed there wasn't going to be much in the way of convenience stores up there and the hostel’s website said they only accept cash as a form of payment.

Checkout at the Airbnb in Osaka wasn’t until noon but I wanted to get on my way. Something told me it was going to be a long trip with all the transfers I needed to make. I set off around 9:30am so that I could dawdle along the way, which I did. I took my time and carefully looked where I needed to go and if I wasn’t sure, I asked.

About to hop on the bullet train, Shinkansen 
I took a pink train line from Nippombashi station to Namba station. From there, I transferred trains again for Shin-Osaka station. When I got off the train, the sign for the bullet train, the Shinkansen, was right there. I bought a ticket for ¥12,000. This train stopped at most stations and would take three hours. I wasn’t too bothered as I couldn’t get into my room at the hostel until 3pm.

Upon arrival in Odawara, Google Maps suggested I take a bus. I noticed a Hakone tourist information center so I went there to find out. The lady spoke perfect English, gave me some maps and suggested taking the train. The ride would be one hour with one easy transfer.

The Hakone Tozan Train
The train ride up was awesome! I went via the Hakone Tozan Railway, which is the oldest mountain railway in Japan! The train zigzags its way up the mountain. It was a bit confusing at first as the train was moving forward and then after making a stop, we were moving backward and heading back to where we came from. The train makes a series of switchbacks to get up and down the mountain.

I arrived at the guesthouse, Hakone Tent, around 4pm and was shown around and taken to my room immediately. It was a nice looking place and kept quite clean. When I got to the futon style dorm room that slept six girls, there was an Aussie girl sprawled out on the floor. She had just come back from bullet climbing Mt. Fuji and was exhausted. Her name was Jess. She was a riot and we hit it off immediately. She was fresh out of high school and had been doing an internship in Japan for six months. She was on her way back home to start university.
One of two private onsens (hot spring) at Hakone Tent which I used at least twice each day!
After discussing Mt. Fuji and our time in Japan, I left her and went downstairs to inquire about the area. I needed food! This is when I met another Aussie girl named Demi who worked at the hostel. It was her day off. When I said I was going to look for a store to buy some cold beer and snacks, she asked if she could come with. She showed me around on the way to Lawson’s and gave me some great tips for Hakone! I stocked up on beer and snacks. I was going to treat myself and eat at the hostel that night. I hadn’t had much to eat and was ready for a proper meal.

I ordered an avocado and smoked salmon pizza and a Caesar salad from the guesthouse for ¥1,600. Both were delicious and I had half the pizza leftover for the next day! Demi, Jess, myself and another girl from Denmark sat around in the common room and drank beer, ate and shared stories. It was a very fun night and it was nice to finally meet some folk. We were in bed somewhat earlyish after too many laughs and beers!

Japan: Day 18 — Osaka ...

I had a relaxing morning before making my way to the Osaka Castle. It opened at 9am. I wanted to get there early to beat the crowds but no such luck. There was a huge line waiting to get into the place. The castle was extremely disappointing, especially after my visit to the Himeji Castle the day before. Not good planning on my part.

There wasn’t a great view of the castle. They don’t let you get up close and personal like you can at the Himeji castle. The route basically puts you inside the castle, herds you up a bunch of stairs with a gazillion others to the top floor where you get a view of the city below. Each floor has some history about the castle but overall, it wasn't that interesting.

The waterfall pathway at Minoh Park
I stayed at the castle for 45 minutes before heading on my way. There were gardens next to the castle that I was excited about. I was hoping they would be half as good as the gardens I was at the day before. I took a quick glance before going to the ticket gate and could see it was a big open field with a guest house. I took a miss. I wanted to head to a waterfall outside of the city, so I made my way there instead.

It took 45 minutes by train to get to Minoh Park where there is a 33-meter high waterfall. The area was gorgeous. It was quiet and cooler up in the mountains. There were a bunch of trails but nothing was mapped out. It was hard to know where to go and if the trails would loop around so I stuck to the main trail.

The waterfall at Minoh Park
The waterfall was beautiful and the area was not terribly busy. The walk worked out to be almost ten kilometers. It felt so good to get in some exercise! There was a small bakery beside the train station where I grabbed some fried chicken and a slice of pizza. I brought them home for lunch and enjoyed them with a beer.

I got home around 2:30 and took a nap after my lunch. I was exhausted! I had one more thing on my list that I wanted to see. At 5pm, I got up and wandered over to Dotonbori. It was within walking distance from the apartment I was staying at. I thought the place I went to yesterday, Shinsekai, was busy but this place was ten times busier. The number of people was overwhelming. I got to the canal about one hour before sunset and as it came closer to the sun setting, the streets became more crowded.

I wandered around snapping a ton of pictures. There were so many illuminated signs. My tummy was grumbling and I knew it was time to find something to eat. Most places had long lineups. I walked around for what felt like ages and was getting hangry when I noticed an Indian guy holding up a sign for his restaurant. Perfect! The food was quite good and the restaurant was quiet which was a nice break from what was going on outside!
The Dotonbori Canal at sunset
It was my last night in Osaka so I stayed out a bit later and enjoyed the busy lanes of Dotonbori. It was quite an exciting place after sunset. I giggled my way through the tiny alleys and took a bunch more photos. It was time to head back though. There were too many people and I had a half a bottle of wine in my fridge that needed drinking!

I stayed up a bit later than normal enjoying my last evening in my own space as it would be back to life in a hostel for the remainder of my stay in Japan!

Japan: Day 17 — Himeji and Osaka ...

The amazing Himeji Castle
I awoke to OK weather so I decided to make the trip out to the Himeji Castle. This is said to be one the best castles in Japan. It opened at 9am and was two hours away by train from Osaka.

Finding my way there was fairly easy. I arrived at 8:30am and noticed hoards of people also making their way to the castle entrance. It’s a one-kilometer walk from the train station and the castle is in clear view. With each passing step, I could feel my excitement rising!

I got to the gates just as they were opening. I bought a ticket (¥1000 + ¥40 for the gardens) and went inside. The path leads you through the gates and into the castle. Himeji has wonderful old wooden floors. You must remove your shoes before entering. The floors were perfect for sliding around on! Good fun!

The inside of the castle was packed and it felt like we were being herded through which took away from the experience. I felt myself rushing through the castle, mostly to escape the crowds and the noise. After the indoor tour, the path takes you outside beside the castle. What a sight it was! It is massive! I sat on a nearby bench for a while just staring in awe. It was even better than I had imagined and definitely a highlight of the trip.

The Kokoen Gardens in Himeji
After staring in awe for ages, I made my way to the Kokoen Garden that belonged to the castle. The gardens were absolutely stunning! Best gardens I saw during my time in Japan. Those gardens will be forever etched in my mind!

After my tour of the gardens, my tummy was grumbling. There was a sign for gourmet food under the train station so I went in search of something to eat. It was at B1 level and the floor offered plenty of ready-made food. It was hard to choose something with all the choices, but I settled on some fresh sushi rolls. I got a sashimi tuna roll and a cucumber roll. They cost next to nothing and were ridiculously good and fresh!

I got back to the apartment around 2pm. I wanted to rest but I had four or five things on my to-do list with only one full day left in Osaka. It seemed I didn't give myself enough time for this stop!

The tallest skyscraper in Japan, the Abeno Harukas
I set off at 4pm making my way to the tallest skyscraper in Japan, the Abeno Harukas. It was only ten minutes away by train. It's a magnificent structure in the heart of the city center. It cost ¥1700 to go to the observatory at 288m. The views were stunning as was the design. Can you say eye candy?! The bathrooms were awesome and to think I almost left without visiting them.

After the Abeno Harukas, I walked over to an area called Shinsekai. There were people everywhere! The place had big lit signs, lots of cheap places to eat and a huge casino where people were gambling. It was an interesting area and I wandered around for some time enjoying the signs and the fake food displays that Japan is famous for.

This area is known for their kushikatsu, which is basically breaded and fried food on a stick! You could order just about anything on a skewer starting at ¥100/stick. I grabbed a cold beer and tried the onion and Chinese yam on sticks. I also ordered some udon noodles. The kushikatsu was delicious!

After dinner, I wandered around. The signs were lit, the place was loud and it was packed with people. It became a bit much so I left the area and walked back to the apartment. I relaxed for the rest of the night and went to bed early a bit unsure of what to do in the morning. The day was calling for rain, again!