Monday, 25 October 2010

Adventure # 37: Wakayama City or Bust

It feels very strange to reflect that I have been in Japan for almost three months - surely it hasn't been that long? or perhaps longer? I've heard several fellow-JETs comment that time here seems to blur, that the weekends bleed into one another and the weeks are over before they've started. We owe this perhaps to the odd rhythms of life here in Wakayama, of (mostly) pleasant rural monotony punctuated by surreal "did-that-really-just-happen?"moments. Yesterday had several such moments:

Finding myself in Arida on a Saturday afternoon with no particular plans for the evening, I decided that a bike ride to Wakayama city, 30 km north, would be the perfect way to spend a brisk autumn day.  This plan also had the advantage of allowing me to explore a still-unfamiliar city come nightfall (just how I would get back to Arida after dark never crossed my mind...). 

After a quick search on Google Maps I hopped on my bike and headed due north as per the website's instructions. At the edge of town, however the bike paths by the highway disappeared as the road climbed an orange-covered mountain, with very big trucks swinging around the bend at 70 km/ph. So much for Google's "pedestrian friendly" route. Frustrated, if not quite defeated, I rode back towards town and into a convenience store to consult a map. A nearly-invisible white squiggle a few cm left of the highway promised to be mack-truck free, so I took to the road once more. 

30 minutes later, I cursed myself for forgetting my camera as I stumbled into a mountaintop a view neatly framing the contradictions of Arida's landscape:  Giant, rust-stained orbs  and intricate pipes sprawled from the smokestacks of this town's oil refinery like the roots of a great metallic plant reaching for the sea.  At my feet, neat rows of orange trees carved into the mountain; in the distance, the glimmer of the pink afternoon sun against the Pacific Ocean.   

As luck would have it, not one but two mountain ridges separate Arida and Wakayama, the second of which I reached just as the sun descended behind the first. The road deteriorated as I climbed, the insects got LOUDER, and my overactive imagination started sending those delightful shivers down my back. I passed an abandoned shack, a dilapidated roadside shrine, a large sign reading: BEWARE OF BOARS.
Two bright red dots gleamed in down the road as I began my descent, and for a brief moment, an image of the vengeful boar demon from "Princess Mononoke" flashed in my mind's eye...

....and yet, somehow, I pedaled into Wakayama an hour later, unscathed by my encounter with two sparkler-topped plastic construction cones. I slurped a satisfying "LARGE RAMEN, EXTRA NOODLES" the city's most famous noodle joint and prepared for the long night ahead. I picked up Halloween supplies at Don Quixote, often called the "Japanese Walmart," an apt description except here   the ubiquitous smiley-face is replaced by a demented blue penguin, the store stays open all night, and there's a whole section devoted to sex toys.

And then, tragedy struck - the ominous hissing of a back tire and a sinking feeling in my gut telling me that my plans had been foiled by a broken glass bottle. Dejected, I slunk into the nearby CoCo Ichiban curry house and ordered something to raise my spirits: level 10, maximum-spicyness curry with beef innards and spinach. It was awesome.

T, my lovely JET big brother, and his significant other, S, came to my rescue within the hour. We even got milkshakes on the ride home. Thank you guys!!!

The moral to this sordid tale? Friends are awesome, and level-10 spicyness curry with cow guts and greens makes it all better.


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