Into the Alps

I’m in a small town called Takayama, enjoying an absolute downpour. I’m staying in another Buddhist Temple/Hostel. They have this underground labyrinth in the mediation hall that is completely dark. It is supposed to be a metaphor for life – you can walk down there in complete darkness searching for the ‘key’, symbolizing enlightenment or an end to suffering. Well on my first attempt all I found were spiders and managed to scare the heck out of myself. Maybe I’m not ready to find the key? Does the key exist? Will I forever be walking in the dark? Part of me wants to go down there with my headlamp but I’m not sure the priest will approve 🙂

Its rained for about 20 of the past 24 hours. I’m calling Takayama a ‘little Boulder’. Its about 90,000 people, has a nice small town feel surrounded by amazing beauty (which I haven’t actually seen yet because of the rain). There is also a decent night-life and plenty of Buddhas and castles to keep one busy for days. Last night as I was strolling through town I met a woman who chased after me saying “hello! hello!” and while at first I was a little nervous she ended up being a great person. A mother of 3, with a son studying in Oklahoma, Shigeko was excited to speak English with me as she walked her 14yo golden retriever that reminded me of my old friend Murphy, the dog I had growing up. She gave me plenty of advice on what to do and see, and I decided to sit down by the creek to read a bit. 30 minutes later she was back, offering to show me the town if I had time! It was incredible – I learned about the history, the festivals, the sake breweries and much more. Eventually she dropped me off at a Chinese noodle (ramen) restaurant for some grub and translated with the owner so I could get exactly what I wanted! I said goodbye and thank you and felt quite lucky to have such an experience. But it wasn’t over! Shigeko came back a little while later with a gift from her and her husband and a detailed guide on walking tours in the town that I used today to see the sites between downpours.  WOW. Its been a long time since I’ve experienced hospitality like that. It felt really good to connect with someone, to see how much she loved her city and was willing to change her plans that evening to show me around. When is the last time you gave 3 hours to a stranger from another country?

OK – so long story short Takayama is also the jumping off point for the high-peaks in the Japanese Alps. Tomorrow I’m headed up to a town called Kamikochi, the place of all places if you’re into climbing or hiking. I’m going to attempt to do a 34km, 3-day loop through the high peaks, despite being told there’s usually snow until July. I spent a few hours at the market today, trying to figure out what kind of Japanese food I was going to bring on my hike – I’m a little unprepared for this, with no stove or tent. Between the rice-cakes, things that look like pop-tarts and a loaf of bread I think I’ll survive. The Japanese have a hut system so I don’t need to worry about a tent- they are quite pricy ($65/night w/o food, $95 with food), so I’ve decided to pack it in.

The big x-factor is the rain- I’m guessing we’ve gotten 3-4 inches in the past 36 hours but the forecast says its letting up and should be beautiful by Thursday (Day 2 of my hike). It’s hard to find good information in English on the hike I want to do, so I will have to wait until I get to Kamikochi and hope someone at the tourist office speaks some English. I did find these two webcams (#1) & (#2), so you can get idea of how wet I am 🙂 . (** Update – I finally found a pretty good English link)  I am being flexible, however. If the rangers tell me I’m crazy, or the rain doesn’t let up,  I’ll find something else to do.

I’m excited for this – the mountains always draw me in, no matter where I travel. Its been almost a month since leaving Colorado and I am definitely a bit homesick.

I’ll likely be out of touch until Friday or Saturday, so Mom don’t worry too much about me!

2 thoughts on “Into the Alps

  1. Keith,

    This sounds terrific!! I have been enjoying your blogs and I am waiting enviously for the next one to hear about your hike!!! Glad you are having such a good trip and Shigeko sounds like a wonderful person!!!

  2. Keith,
    I look for to reading of your experiences each time I see that you have posted. Your descriptions are so vivid and fresh that I feel I get an insight in to your experiences. There is an artist or philosopher lurking inside you 🙂

    Thankyou for sharing.

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