TLRJ – Days 21, 22, 23 – Vladivostok to Matsue
Wednesday: in the morning, I had a preventive shower in the hotel. Who knows when I would have the next opportunity for it. I put on my motorbike gear and grabbed my two bags. When I paid the horrendous hotel bill, I was hesitating if I should take a taxi to the port. But, I wasn’t that far and I was walking downhill. So why?
After 200 m, I recognised that my preference for walking was a bad idea. Yes, I was walking downhilll, but it was moderately warm. But the humidity felt close to saturation. In motorbike gear. When I finally reached the passenger terminal in the port, I was already drenched in my own sweat. Pacific climate.
After some investigations where to start the procedure, I entered the security check and passed customs and passport control. And there was the gangway! I entered the ship and got the key for the cabin. As I had feared, it was a room with four mats and sheets. SO this was my „first class’ cabin. Luckily no-one else showed up so I had it for my own. Later I learned that the difference to second and economy class is the fact that i) it’s only for four people and ii) it has its own bathroom. Very basic, but at least you don’t need to share it with everyone. Until the 4G network would fall away, I made use of it and had a noodle soup in the bar.
The promotion video of the Korean DBS company is in sharp contrast with reality. This is no luxury sea cruise, but a very basic and pretty run-down ship for budget travel. You can buy basic things, but compared to any European ferry, it’s only about getting to your destination. The Koreans who travel in families or large groups seem to enjoy it. At 6 p.m., there was an announcement about dinner that would start now. I bought my ticket for it and went to the „restaurant“. Well, feeding place would be the more appropriate term. Take your soup, a bowl with vegetables, rice and some chilli sauce, accompanied by a cup of water. In 20 minutes, everything was over, everybody gone (except me) and the place was cleaned again. Wow. Restaurant, yeah.
The whole day I was reading my large Lonely Planet travel guide, almost 1000 pages. I tried to get an overview on possible places to visit and itineraries to go. However, in the end it will depend on the weather where I will go. It looks that my plan to go south first will make sense, the weather seems to be all right for the first days. This means visiting Hiroshima and the island of Kyushu where the Honda production site of the XBR is located in Kumamoto.
In the evening, I had a beer in the bar (more reading) and walked around the ship again (not that there’s so much to see). There was music coming from the night club. There was music coming from there so I had a look. I watched the end of a live rock concert played by staff from the ship. Immediately, disco music was started and all the ladies and gentlemen (age 60+) rejoiced and jumped onto the dance floor. Amazing.
In my room, I tried to get some information out of the 10 Korean TV channels (impossible), read a bit more and switched off the light.
I had put three mats over each other, but after some hours, I woke up with a terrible pain. What was this? My back? No. It was coming from the left side. I don’t know what had happened, but somehow a nerve must have been pressed. For the rest of the night, I tried all positions to reduce the pain. In the end, I managed to get a little bit more sleep.
Thursday: after the announcement, I trotted again with the herd to the feeding place. No rice and Kimchi for me, please. Some corn flakes and a bead roll will do. And a cup of complementary water.
I realised that my mobile phone must have caught (a South Korean) signal again and loaded some messages. One of them was a message from my telephone provider that I had passed my data volume and extra costs were charged. But this was impossible as I had a package large enough for the whole trip. Despite the coverage, I could not check my data usage. Bloody Proximus!
I had received a message from a DHL coworker in Japan who are supposed to ship back the back. Giving the details about the drop off, he also mentioned that the bike would be transported a non-DG (dangerous good) only. WHAT???
This would mean that I have to drain petrol AND oil completely??? How am I supposed to do that? I seems that my experience with transport providers will be enriched by another tale. Aaaaargh!
While almost all the other passengers left the ship for a visit of Donghae in South Korea, I stayed on the ship as I had to change my cabin from first to second class. Actually, despite sharing it with other seven people, I had a proper bunk bed. The day was not very exiting, reading, a nap, eating, looking. Informed via SMS texting, MJ found out that South Korea does not enter my phone plan, so this was the reason of my connectivity and billing problem. I made acquaintance with a Swiss family and we chatted a lot. A wave of a lot of middle aged, very excited and loud Koreans embarked in the afternoon. For them this is apparently a sea cruise for fun. I overheard a Korean talking in English, saying that this ship was very old, it reminded him of the nineties. So this was not only my impression. I did not go for the Korean dinner at 6 p.m., but had some fried chicken later in the bar. I checked quickly the night club again – yes, the Philippines were doing their group dance and all Koreans were watching – and I hit the sack. I slept quite well until I woke up because of the heat. They must have stopped the airco!
Friday: I got up already at half past six and had a shower in the common shower room. Excellent. We were close to the Japanese coast and internet worked again. This was a relief, but it showed how dependent we have become on this little device. I had breakfast with the herd and packed my luggage. It was sunny, warm and very humid.
We disembarked at 9 a.m. and the Japanese passport control was very quick. The customs officer wanted to see everything, but he helped me to put the stuff back again. After the exit, Tatiana from DBS Ferries was already waiting. I had contact with her for many months and took care of all the paperwork that was now in front of me. She welcomed me and explained me again the procedure. First, I had to get the XBR out of the ship and into the customs zone. I noticed that the people who had ridden it into the boat had not closed the fuel tap again – luckily the carb did not leak!!! In the customs zone, the bike was inspected and luggage was checked. I was glad that I had changed my motorbike pants to some trekking trousers – the air was getting sticky now. In the waiting time, I had a chat with Tatiana, her service in preparation of this day had been really outstanding. The drug swipe test was also negative, so now the next step could begin. In principle, I needed to get a taxi and drive to the town of Matsue (30 km), where I needed to pick up a translation of my carnet de passage and a translation of my driving licence from the local branch of the Japanese Automobile Federation (JAF). However, Tatiana had arranged that a colleague would bring me there for much less money than a taxi (everybody’s happy!). My driver was a very nice guy (I think his name was Ryu, if I get the spelling right). The drive was quite long, so I got my first lessons about Japanese traffic rules. First of all, respect the rules. Speed limits are extremely low. 50 km/h in cities, 60 km/h outside cities, but often it is limited to 40/50 km/h. Japanese make Norwegians look like reckless drivers! After 40 minutes, we arrived at the JAF where all the papers were prepared, I just needed to sign everything. And we drove back. Ryo invited me for a coffee and gave me a lot of good (survival) tips. We had really a nice conversation. Back at the harbour, I needed to present the paper at customs again and got my Carnet finally stamped. Then I needed to pay all the fees and the motorbike insurance with Tatiana. I went outside to prepare the bike. A few minutes later, I got the green light. Tatiana and Ryo passed by to say good bye and I was free to go. What a fantastic service by both of them! If all imports would be that easy!
So I set off…driving on the left. I noticed indeed that riding in Japan is riding in slow motion. Slow. Sloooooooow. I will not cover great distances, but it will take time, that’s for sure. My first stop was the famous black castle of Matsue. It was on the way to the hotel. I had decided to ride in the trekking trousers, but as it started to rain, I put on the rain suit. I had troubles to find the parking so I found a place that I defined as a ‘parking’ and left the bike there. I walked up to the mighty castle. Built in the early 17th century, it is (apart from the foundations) made entirely from wood. There are several floors that one can climb and the view is great from the top. I was drenched in sweat again. Below the castle, there is a shrine and an old historic guesthouse for official visitors.
I only had 9 km to go to the hotel Katsuien Minami that is located in the Tamatsukuri Onsen (i.e. Spa). I finally found the entrance and was already awaited. I got a shaded place for the XBR and I was led into the lobby. There I made first contact with Japanese hospitality: under a lot of greetings and bows I was led to a table where I was served tea.
A young man in suit kneeled down in front of me and arranged the check-in. I booked already dinner as I read that these traditional ryokans (‘guesthouses’) serve good food. The place is run like a ryokan, but has the size of a large hotel. There is a large shop with local products, a beautiful garden with ponds, three different baths, a restaurant, (karaoke) bars…I was now welcomed by a young woman in a traditional Kimono who spoke good English and she showed me the room. She explained me everything and with great respect. My room is in traditional style, but with modern amenities, i.e. real beds and an own bathroom. I had a quick shower and dressed for my first visit to a Japanese onsen (bath). I put on the Yakuta (garment) and tied it with the obi (belt). Using the (much too small slippers), I toddled to the bath. I left my stuff in a basket in the changing room and entered the bath with my little towel. You wash yourself on a little stool. Then you enter the hot water in the pool. It is so hot that you only stay for a some minutes, but it’s quite nice, similar to a sauna. I washed myself again and went to the outer pool in the garden where dragon-flies flew on the water. There was some water from a fountain dripping into the pool – and it was very hot! Yes, you’re directly sitting on the Ring of Fire! A great experience – to be repeated.
At 7 p.m., I went to the restaurant and was attended by the same lady (probably her English is the best). She explained me the menu and gave me some tips how to eat what. What to do with the cook-your-own-soup-at-your-table, for instance. I had some interesting new dishes I did not know yet. The raw fish dish was served on ice and was super fresh, a delicacy!
Tomorrow will be a short ride to Hiroshima. I got the suggenstions from Tatianan and Ryo to visit the Izumu shrine at the coast. If it’s not raining, I will do that. I booked two more hotels. It seems that the weather will be good for the next days, but then rain will catch up. I’ll have to be flexible then.