In many ways Thursday turned out better than I expected when I woke up covered in bites, and in other ways it was pretty disturbing.
I spent a rather mortifying half hour with a plaster stuck lengthways beside my mouth, in which time practically everybody in the youth hostel decided to talk to me and stare at my Quasimodo face. Finally, after struggling to open my mouth wide enough to eat breakfast, I decided to take the plaster off and just be really careful with the bite. My terrible fears of my face swelling up like a balloon came to nothing thankfully, although I spent the day unable to look top-left due to my puffed up eye.
My plans to spend the morning on Miyajima and the afternoon in Hiroshima were sent awry by one of the youth hostel staff telling me there’s a swimming beach on Miyajima. All thoughts of history and culture were pushed out of my head by the thought of swimming in the sea. Plus you know, salt water is really good for bites… I grabbed my swimming things and hopped on the ferry (the youth hostel is practically on top of the ferry terminal). On Miyajima, I made a beeline for the ropeway, and ascended to the top of Mount Misen. This ropeway ride was rather more impressive than the one in Hakone, I think in part due to the improved weather conditions. My cable car swung in mid-air and I looked out over the forest to the bay and the mainland beyond. I made a transfer and took another cable car which glided past an incredible view of the Inland Sea, with various other islands dotted in the mist, and a beach far below us that I was itching to get to.
At the top of Mount Misen I took photos of the monkeys, trying not to make eye contact (apparently this makes them go berserk), and ate my lunch before attempting the hike down the mountain. I’m not going to claim that I’d really thought this hike through – it was about 30C and I was wearing slip on sandals – but all things considered it went pretty well. It was much cooler beneath the trees, cool enough for the mosquitoes to come out and bite me all over my arms. I suspect that some of the Japanese female psyche has rubbed off on me in the past three weeks, and made me believe that hiking in sandals was manageable (seriously, I’ve seen girls here hiking in 3-inch gold heels). My sandals held up okay, but weren’t too keen on the downhill action, so I spent the hour-long downward hike side-stepping gingerly, and did quite well, only falling over once.
And then I saw the snake. The sound I made was something along the lines of: “Aiiie-chi-cha-chi-cha!!!” I know, it’s not really the sound I expected me to make either… It was only a small thing, and slithered away as soon as I saw it, but I’m pretty shit scared of snakes, and I spent a good minute standing on the track trying to calm my hyperventilation. After that I hurried a little faster down the track.
Once back in Momijidani park I sought out the Tsutsumigaura nature walk that would lead me to the beach. You have to understand that by ‘nature walk’, I understood something reasonably sedate and pleasant, something designed for the gold high heel girls who couldn’t hack the hiking trails. I honestly don’t know why they didn’t label it more appropriately, maybe “Impossible Mountain Trail of Doom and Terror” didn’t pass muster with the Tourism board? Who can say. Regardless, I started scrambling up a fairly steep incline that I assumed would at some point level out and widen into a nice stroll. Up and up I went, and as I went the path narrowed, until I had to start pushing through scratchy ferns that were doing their best to knit together across the path. My only company was the buzz of insects, and the rustling in the undergrowth that I told myself were lizards. I reached a kind of plateau and found a sign entirely in Japanese, with two arrows at the bottom, indicating the number 30 in either direction. Concluding that this meant 30 minutes and that I had reached the halfway point, I decided I was best off pushing on and hoping the path ahead would start descending. Reader, it did not.
Instead it continued to climb, and the undergrowth continued to grow denser. Just as I was beginning to wonder if the sign had been some sort of warning and whether I should call Yen and ask her to send a search party after me, another snake shot across my path. I decided the sign had said something along the lines of
“Watch out! The path ahead is riddled with deadly poisonous vipers with extremely aggressive and confrontational natures. They can smell fear and they have a particular hatred for foreigners. And they’ve got frickin’ lasers mounted on their heads!! Good luck, Gaijin*!”
With this comforting notion pressed close to my chest, I discovered the spiders. Or rather, my forehead discovered their webs, several times. Now, I’m not too fussed by spiders. The little ones don’t bother me, and having encountered a few huntsman spiders in Australia, I don’t mind the big ones either. I’m just suspicious of the brightly coloured ones, the ones that are basically saying “don’t come near me, I can cause you a lot of pain and possibly make your arm fall off”. And these spiders looked like little deadly rainbows.
At this point, about an hour and a half into the “60 minute nature walk” and with no end in sight, I’m not ashamed to say that I stood on that path and bawled my eyes out. All alone halfway up a mountain, I wailed and sobbed and prayed for Ben to call me and find some magical way to get me out of there. Which is precisely when another tourist came pushing through the ferns in front of me. I asked him how much of this hell there was left, and he said about 15 minutes, mostly downhill, but with a lot of spiders still. I calculated this to be another half hour in slow, terrified, sandal-wearing Siri time, and steeled myself to push on.
And that is how I escaped the Impossible Mountain Trail of Doom and Terror and lived to tell the tale. By the time I reached the beach the sun was low in the sky and the beach practically deserted. I didn’t want to take a chance and discover it was a strictly no-swimming beach with waters full of manta-rays and jellyfish, so I continued walking to the ferry terminal and sailed back to the mainland. Exhausted and dehydrated, I decided I’d had about enough adventure for one trip, and spent the rest of my evening watching films on my laptop.
* Gaijin = foreigner