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Leeds, United Kingdom
heading east...

Friday, 2 July 2010

conquering mt. fuji

i now understand why people say 'you've got a mountain to climb!' when there's a lot of work to be done. fuck me. the past 24 hours have been the most physically intense i've ever known.

we got up yesterday at 5:45am and got straight on a few trains to fuji-san. we had made a bold decision not to start climbing from the halfway point, where most people begin, but from the nearest village away from the base of the mountain. this pretty much doubled the climb. its got to be at least a 40km trek up and back down again (even though we were going back down again (even though we were going to get a bus back from the halfway point. after trekking for about 18 hours the last thing i wanted was 6 hours of forest at 80% humidity).

we were at the town, fujiyoshida, by 10am and were told to walk to the shrine where the trail starts as it was only 2km away. hell, what was another couple of km on top of the rest.

we were pretty well equipped: jacket, zip-up, scarf, russian hat, rainproof mac, high energy food, water, altitude sickness tablets, victory cigars for the top of the mountain, camera & tripod. muzz however was a little too prepared. his bag had 8 litres of water in it, with 2 litres of 'rehydration salts', he had a huge first aid kit, suncream, and for some reason baby lotion (?!). who knows what he was planning for up the mountain.

we got to the sengen shrine and picked up a couple of carved wood walking sticks, these would be branded at wood walking sticks, these would be branded at the mountain huts up the mountain. a great souvenir, yes, but i'm not sure how i'll take it back on a plane without them classing it as a dangerous weapon.

the start was fairly level forests, full of bugs and lush green, but with barely any incline at all. the weather by now had reached 30 degrees though, and the humidity was intense. we were all soaked, muzz most of all with his 20kg bag.

we got up to the 1st station to find a crowd of buddhists chanting and praying as they made their way up to the tori gate (the symbol of the start of the fuji accent), we stopped to watch and didn't realise our luck. it was the 1st of july, technically the very first day of climbing season. this was a ceremony to bless the mountain and its climbers. they began burning hundreds of incense sticks which were stuck in a mound of salt, whilst all chanting cross-legged in front of the gate. one of them came to me and said 'are you interested in this? if so, stay until the end and we will bless you for your climb.' i was there.

the end of the ceremony came as one of the buddhists broke the string in front of the gate with his hand to open the walkway. then the incense and the salts were wrapped up together in a cloth and bashed on the stone until it was all mixed together. then they began blessing each other by beating the mound of hot salt on the backs of each other and they knelt down. after they had finished we were all invited to kneel to receive the same treatment. it was very surreal, but we were lucky to be walking by at that exact time, because it wont be happening again for another year. we thanked them all and continued walking up through the forest.

each station we got to seemed to be an abandoned wreck. we were dying to see something worth stopping for but each time it was another 20 minutes, then nothing, then another 40 minutes, then nothing there again. it was tough going, plus the incline had seriously picked up now and midday heat and humidity was just unbearable. this was the easy part.

by 4pm, after about six hours, we reached fifth station. the first manned station on the mountain. here we saw a few more new faces as well as others we had passed on the way up. our legs were already so heavy. we had to take a break. my guide tells me that usually people climb this bottom half on one day, sleep, then climb the second half the next day. but not us. we were either foolish or... i dont know what. we were probably just foolish.

i ate some cake and chocolate as well as a couple of rice balls. some good solid energy to burn off over the next few hours. we got our sticks branded for the first time (muzz had managed to snap his already, so he was getting half branded, much to the amusement of the woman at the hut). we took an hour at the station and dried the sweat off in front of the stove where the branding iron had been heated.

at about 5:10pm we continued up. this was apparently where it really started getting tough, and they weren't wrong. our legs felt like lead, none of us were talking anymore, the terrain was now a loose volcanic sand that made each tiny step twice as hard. it was agony already twice as hard. it was agony already. we made it to sixth station 30/40 minutes later. it was a medics hut, so there was no branding or stopping here.

as we left sixth up the loose zig-zagging trail, we caught our first glimpse of the peak and the long trail up it. the cloud lifted for just a few minutes before rolling in up the moutain again like smoke off a fire. it was a long, long way up. it would only get steeper too. our original plan of getting to the top for sunset, coming back down for a sleep, then returning for sunrise had gone out of the window. daylight would be gone in 2 hours. all we could do now was try to push on ahead and get to our rest point as early as possible. none of us had torches and the mountain would not be friendly to accend in darkness. we all knew that it was unavoidable though. our 8th station bed was at least four hours away on good legs.

we ploughed on as the light began to lessen. the air was getting noticably thinner now, and my heart was constantly racing like i'd just run my heart was constantly racing like i'd just sprinted around a track. we got a couple of brandings at about 2700m before carring on up to the seventh station.

we met a group of americans and europeans at a hut a few hundred metres above the seventh. we had around 10 minutes of light left and at least a two hour climb ahead. it was all least a two hour climb ahead. they were debating whether carry on now or not. it was all rocky from now on too, so navigating through that would be far from ideal in darkness. we could've bought a torch, but risked not having enough money to pay to sleep for the night. if we didnt keep going, we'd have a tough four hour climb to the summit in the morning anyway, still in darkness. it had to be done. i could barely see my feet below me but we steadily made our way up the rocks.

the air was thin, my head hurt and my legs and feet hurt even more, but the saving grace of the high altitude was the temperature had cooled. it was nice to feel a cool breeze again.

by about 8pm we were at the 3000m mark. our bed was somewhere around 3400m. we still couldnt even see it ahead of us. muzz was struggling with the weight of his bag and trundled behind us with a glow stick around his neck, he had gone through about 8 litres of water, but his bag was still far too heavy for this. the altitude was obviously affecting him most too.

we desperately hoped that every hut we went past would be the last on the mountain and our place to stay, but it never was. it was just as before, 20 never was. it was just as before, 30 minutes, then nothing, 45 minutes then no luck again. it was all rocks now as well, as tough terrain as we had come across. the muscles in my legs just burnt each time i took a step.

at about 9:15pm, after nearly twelve hours of climbing we got to a hut to get branded and asked how long it was until the last resting point on the mountain. '30 minutes' he answered. i couldnt even imagine it at this point. a bed would just feel so good. we pushed on with the last bit of energy we had, now having to stop every two minutes to catch breath as the air thinned even more.

just as we were told, by 9:45pm, we were there. we paid a steep 5500yen for a cramped bed, with aaron and i sharing a duvet. still, i didnt care, it took me about ten seconds and i was asleep for a glorious five hours.

it wasnt nearly over yet though, at 3am we got up and begain again. i tried to walk behind another person who had a flashlight for a bit just so i could stop falling over, but after 30 minutes it didnt matter. light started coming in slowly. i could see the top. it spurred me on so much. sunrise was at 4:30am, and i knew i'd make it.

by 4:20am i was there. a combined 13 hours to the top. i watched the sunrise and checked out the volcanic crater. it was amazing. maybe it was the altitude or the lack of sleep and exhaustion, but i felt a little emotional. i was very of sleep and exhaustion, but i felt a little emotional. i was very proud of myself. 3776m up.

after an hour or so at the summit we made our way down, which was thankfully much easier than the accent.

by 10am i was back down at 5th. up and down in 24 hours. the hardest thing i have ever, and probably will ever do.

we slept all 3 hours on the bus back, then slept until 11pm this evening, another 8 hours in the hostel. i still ache, but i did it.

the japanese say that a brave man climbs fuji once, but a fool climbs it twice. now i totally understand what they mean, because there's no fucking chance you'd get me climbing that mountain again, my lovely legs just don't deserve that kind of treatment.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

catch up.

its been far too long since i wrote anything, but we've all been pretty ill. trying to get round to doing anything is an uphill battle in the heat and humidity when you're at 50%. we've had to change a few plans and sacrifice some stuff because of it which blows a little, but it was ultimately unavoidable.

i last wrote when we were in beppu in kyushu, which is southern japan. humid as fuck. i didnt wake up once without a headache because of it. very intense place. we took a 4 hour trip into the deep jungle in the south, to a place called takachiho. the most beautiful place i've ever been to without a doubt. big spiders, bigger trees and bigger gorges than anyway i think i'll ever see. it looks like this:

pretty nice right?

i wish i could upload some of my own pictures but that'll have to wait, i forgot that in japan nowhere has the right card slot for me to upload pictures, and i cant afford to buy a card reader, not on these exchange rates.

from beppu we were supposed to get a ferry up to shikoku and travel through more forest anyway, but we were so unprepared for the day lost being ill that it just wouldnt work.

instead we decided to get back on the bullet train lines and move up to kyoto, which was party/temple central last time we visited, which is a pretty perfect combo for travelling. last time we came we stayed at a place called 'kyoto cheapest inn' which delivers everything you'd expect from that snappy name. possible bedbugs, broken toilets and a stinky 18-bed dorm. its a great, great place. we werent able to get there for our first night in kyoto though, so we booked a place across town that was about 600 yen pricier.

it was pretty luxurious to be fair, and was also the biggest hostel i've ever seen at something like 12 floors. we finally got some washing done after sweating through everything we own, then bought a few baskets of chu-hi (the japanese equivalent to special brew i think, a mix of vodka and lemon at 8%, it seriously knocks you out) and revelled in the magic of kyoto. before we knew it we were getting ruined with a few australian guys, one from canberra, one from melbourne. at about 1am, after pissing off the hostel staff for being rowdy we left to try find a bar, which was surprisingly hard to ask for in a taxi. naturally we got dropped off in the pouring rain on a dark street somewhere. luckily the saving grace of the japanese is their helpfullness, as a couple of guys walked about ten minutes with us to take us to what was apparently a good bar. it turned out to be the biggest club in the city, a place called world. i paid equivalent to twenty pounds to the nice man at the door with a six-inch nail through his nose, taking that as a sign that this was probably an interesting place to go. it turned out to be a house night, with the odd indie coming in every now and again, but it was good. expensive, but good. i can barely remember a thing to be honest, same as everyone else. must've been alright.

after that night we moved across to our favourite hostel, kyoto cheapest inn. i wish i could say that it was a blast but it just wasnt. our first night was quiet as hell, before forty english rugby players from kings college in london turned up on our second night. the last thing i want when i'm travelling japan is forty private-schooled rugby boys with no interest in japan and less common sense. attempting to watch the england game was an absolute nightmare, each one of them reminding me exactly why i dont find england nearly as enjoyable as everywhere else. they were total idiots. pricks. the best part of them being there was aaron hacking into the internet server and changing the name of the internet to connect on to 'yourmumsaslag', which nearly prompted fights:

'what internet do you connect to?'
'your mums a slag'

it passed the time. we intended to change it to something incredibly offensive about rugby before we left but sadly forgot to.

on our last day in kyoto we checked out a great onsen as well, which is like a public bath, except this one had a twist. usually i'm not allowed because of tattoos, but this one seemed fine with it, the only mention of it was from some old man praying to the japanese bosatsu on my arm, which was a little uncomfortable but not really a problem. anyway, the onsen was had an electric current running through it, which was just insane. aaron and i ended up going with a german/australian guy called philip who had told us about it. the feeling was very odd, my hands and arms cramped us as though i was grabbing an electric fence. absolute madness, i'm unsure of its level of safety, but i felt great afterwards for the first time in a week.

after that philip left to go to kyoto and we picked muzz up from his sleep and went across to see some tori gates in the mountains. i hear they were on memoirs of a geisha, but i've never seen it. if its not funny or a romantic comedy i'm clueless. i got bitten to shit by the vicious mosquitos, but we had some good training for fuji, running up thousands of steps in the 85% humidity. definitely needed the practice.

before we left kyoto we did an amazing thing. we had seen at a burger place they had an advert for a 10-burger high burger in the window. it couldnt be real, surely, but we had to try, just to say it had been done. sure enough the gigantic burger existed, 10 cheese slices and 10 burgers high. it was absolutely ridiculous. a heart attack in a bun. it dripped grease, and 3/4 of the way through i was sure i was going to throw it up. i dont think i'll ever eat anything that bad for me again, but we all conquered it at least. we did all sweat meat for the next 48 hours though. my digestive system was screaming.

we were due to get back to tokyo that night for a party but there was a problem. the bar we were going to was usually right near our hostel, but it was all booked up for that night. we were having to be homeless for a night, then check in the day after and catch up some sleep. definitely a very long night, but our only option. to be fair, it saved some dough too.

the party was for gazz, mie and aaron, who had all had birthdays that week, but when i got there i realised that i had also been included even though my birthday isnt for another few weeks. there was piles of cake and kebabs on the bar for it, so much food that we all struggled to get drunk at all. mie gave us all presents and cards which was unexpected and definitely appreciated. i just felt bad that i hadnt got her anything. another classic case of the west taking what it wants and giving nothing back! i'm ashamed, i really am. we tried for karaoke after anyway, but it didnt happen. far too expensive, so at 5am we checked into a cyber cafe for 6 hours to try sleep in a chair. not ideal. it was a rough morning the next day.

we did manage to get across to harajuku and asakusa that hangover morning though, which was a good show, although muzz was definitely struggling. that's all the tourist shit out the way though, presents bought and a hanya mask to hang on my wall. done.

we checked in at 3pm and just crashed. before i knew a thing it was 10:30pm. fantastic, that was my body clock fucked yet again. its no wonder we've been so ill really.

the japan game was on at 11pm anyway so we went to check that out, which was great, before they lost. the japanese are just so happy for there team to be there though, even if they lose. i think english fans could take something from that. theres just zero animosity in the bar.

we ended up in a bar on a corner opposite our hostel until about 5am for some reason. it wasnt our local, but i think the japan loss bummed us all out a bit.

and that brings us up to today. i took myself off on my own for the first time since being away and chilled around ikebukuro, scouring the craft and antique stores for something good (and cheap).

we're having a night in tonght so that we're prepared for tomorrow. the big climb up fuji. we're on a 6:50am train and then its two days up a mountain. i'm shit scared of it at the minute really, but i'm determined to conquer it. next time i write hopefully i will have done! brap brap.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

far east.

so we made it across to japan, after one final night in moscow that turned out to be the best yet. along with some other people from the hostel we went off to a huge club in moscow, 5 floors to be exact. it was the friendliest place in russia yet. getting drinks bought all night was as easy as saying 'andre arshavin'.

the next day we did nothing but relax, before saying bye to our hostel and russia. 9 sleepless hours later we were in tokyo.

we turned up at our favoured hostel, only to realise we hadnt booked a thing. bad times. we had no other option but to get the cheapest room available to catch upon some sleep, costing us triple the price. we found it hard to care in our sleep deprived state and passed out as soon as we had dropped our bags. this ruined my bodyclock totally, and i havent slept right since.

that night we went out for a beer before going to see our friends at the best bar in tokyo - lomanesque. it had been two years since i saw them, but after five minutes it felt like we had never left. we spent the night sampling whiskeys and listening to rod stewart. who could ask for anything more?

from leaving lomanesque at 3am to now has been one big struggle. both muzz and i have managed to pick up an awful virus. i havent eaten for around 22 hours and couldnt even try. its a rough state of affairs.

in that time we've worked our way down to Beppu, in kyushu, a good 10 hour train trip. its been a long, long day. i totally forgot that its monsoon season in japan at the minute too. its humid to hell with heavy rain constantly. thats going to be interesting when we go into the jungle in a few days!

i massively need sleep anyway. hopefully i'll kick the virus and have something interesting to report back.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

from russia with love.

i use that saying in jest. there's no love in russia, that's for sure.

we've been mincing our way around moscow and st petersburg for a few days and generally getting on the locals nerves. yesterday i got shouted at on the tube for being a disgrace because my jeans were too low. i don't need a russian to tell me that, but i think disgrace is a tad harsh.

that aside, there's some interesting stuff here. we checked out red square and all that guff, as well as the peter and paul fortress in st petes. its all been fairly underwhelming so far to be honest.

our first time out on the streets and we treated ourselves to a beer, assuming that it was fine to drink on the streets here, mainly because EVERYONE does. a couple swigs later the russian police have pulled up, not looking best pleased. why was this? i didn't get it either until i heard the word 'policia' from them. we were sat drinking on the steps of the moscow police station. brilliant. of all the buildings it could've been.

we've also all bought hats, as intended. russian style. they're made from real rabbits, so you know they're good.

this morning we just got back off our night train, probably the highlight of russia so far. we got one of those great old school trains with the sleeper cabins, just like something off an old Bond movie. the way there was party times, with a lot of beer and vodka. we shared a cabin with a middle aged russian guy, who was only too happy to accept a glass of vodka. thank god that stereotype is still in tact.

the journey back was certainly much more stressful. prior to this we've had nothing but trouble with the tube system here. its ridiculously complicated , and couldn't be less tourist-friendly if it tried, so i expected nothing less from the russians than to stress me out. so, here we are, ambling into the st petersburg train station twenty minutes before our train leaves, at the station we had arrived at that very morning, only to be told that the return train was now leaving from a station on the other side of st petersburg. bastards.

we high tailed it out of there and found the nearest taxi driver. did he speak english? i think you know the answer. we had to approach every person nearby to explain it to him, which luckily someone did. he drove like a madman across the city, nearly killing us and a couple cyclists on the way, before dropping us off in some dirty car park and shouting something in russian at us. apparently it was the closest he could get, so it was a lovely 5 minute run with bags to find the station (i should probably add that we had supped a couple beers and eaten our weight in burritos just prior to all this). luckily we got our night train back with 2 minutes to spare. there was little partying that night.

today we relaxed and stayed in our hostel. tonight's our last night in russia so we're going out with a bang, going to a club across town. it should be good. dangerous, but good. next time i write i'll probably be in japan, and you dont know how happy that makes me.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

the plan.

this time it's asia!

Aaron, Muzz and I will kick everything off next wednesday (16th) with a flight across to the Russian capital, straight under the iron curtain and into a land of vodka, unpronouncable alphabets and some great looking hats (in fact, the reason we're visiting Russia is to buy a hat for our end-of-trip expedition).

we'll be taking an overnight train across to St Petersburg on a train not disimilar to the one's from those old movies. you know, the one's that people get silently murdered in and such. it should be a blast.

we'll return to Moscow a day later to see out the sights, before hopping back on a plane to Tokyo.

we then have a day milling around Tokyo before heading south to the island of Kyushu on the bullet trains. we'll work our way back up to Tokyo over a week, moving up through the island of Shikoku on the way.

then, after a few days we've decided to climb Mt. Fuji. It's 4000m high, none of us have had any experience or training and it's BARELY in climbing season, but i'm sure it'll be sound. i've walked to my house from leeds once and that was well over nine miles, so i'm sure that i'm MORE than equipped for it.

it is a 2-day, 30km round trek/climb, but we'll worry about that later. here's a little snapshot of the little devil:

yes, those are the clouds halfway up it.

i'm currently buying a victory cigar in preparation. party on.

Thursday, 20 May 2010