Saturday, December 30, 2006

Three Day Backcountry Camping Trip... Surprise!

The day after Christmas I got a call from Josh asking me if I wanted to go camping. I do not exactly remember the conversation, but looking back I must have thought he said "in two days", when in fact he said "for two days". Camping sounded fun to me, so I agreed. Having not been hiking for a while, I decided to go to the gym and do a little bit of a warm up. After all, I had a day to recover. I worked especially hard on my legs and back, ran home and was ready for a big meal. That night we had loads of people over, but because we were eating pizza, I didn't want to eat too much. Well, at dinner I learned that camping was not planned "in two days" but "for two days". I was told to pack quickly and lightly, but that preparations had already been made earlier that day. So having packed a light bag I headed up the hill with the Bleechers to prepare in their house. We then packed our bags while I slowly consumed 14 or so cookies.
We set off the next morning, but not before a final check of our supplies. It went something like this "Credit card" "Yes" "Tent" "I have it" "Food" "It's in my bag" "Stove" "I'm carrying it" "Stove fuel" "I filled it" "Sunscreen" "I've got it" "Water" "I have 2 liters" and so on. We left the house at around 5:30 so as to get to Volcanoes National Park before 7:30 and thus avoid the $10 charge at the gate. Sadly, we got there just a little too late, and had to pay anyway. We went into the visitors center and registered. Nick officially became our group leader at that point. We also found out that the place we planned on camping Halape, was currently full, so we decided to go to Ka'aha, the furthest camping spot from any usable road in the park, on the first night, then go to Halape the second night. We met one guy in the visitors center who had been to both places. We asked him how they were, and he replied "I've been there. It was a long time ago." He was unable or unwilling to give us any more information. Thus "prepared", we drove (despite the incorrect directions of our group leader) to the start of the trail and began our hike.
And hike we did. We started at around 8:50, as I recall, and hiked until probably 3 or 3:30 with only a few minor breaks. On the first part of our first day, hiking was not yet a chore, so as we hiked we were able to do several things to keep our minds busy. We sang songs from musicals. Josh and Nick did the entire rendition of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall". Nick, Vanessa and Oriana recited the Princess Bride from the first line of the movie till approximately 3/4 of the way through. And for an hour we all spoke only in verse, keeping as true as possible to the meter of the song "Bear in Tennis Shoes". It rained. And while the rain kept it from being hot, it make our feet very wet and uncomfortable.
Still, it happened that as we got to the second part of the day, we began to get very tired. Not only that, but the trail vanished! Ka'aha, it seems, is not a popular place. We navigated by going from trail marker to trail marker, pushing our way through whatever vegetation we needed to push through. Josh, as he tired, began to make rhyming verse with a slightly mocking tone towards Pele, at which point Vanessa responded with the gem of all our "Bear in Tennis Shoes" inspired lyrics: "If ever gods did live on Earth, then in Hawaii there is no dirth!" This picture was taken shortly before Vanessa had restored in Josh the lyrical fear of Pele that possessed the rest of our group.
In the last two miles or so of our first day of hiking, the trail basically ceased to exist. We finally came over a ridge, wanting nothing more than to arrive, and saw the shelter where we could refill our water bottles. However, actually getting to the shelter proved quite difficult, as none of us could see where the trail was and we somehow had to scale a very dangerous looking cliff with heavy backpacks. In the end Oriana found the trail and we descended into Ka'aha.
Ka'aha is a nice little place. There seems to be an underground river that flows into a sandy little tide pool, and there is very little trace of human activity. I saw a big fish jumping around playfully in the tide pool. But after a day of hiking, still sore from the day before and starving since I had been carefully eating the same amount as everyone else so as not to eat someone else's food by accident, I can't say that I appreciated Ka'aha as much as I would have on another day. Just before we arrived at Ka'aha we realized something else: Vanessa may indeed have filled the gas canisters for the stove, but no one remembered packing them. In fact, we did not have fuel for the stove, which was a shame, since our dinner on the first night was couscous and dinner on the second night was pasta. We laughed to keep from crying. Just before dark, we made camp...
And re-hydrated our couscous in a plastic bag. We ate our feast with a single spoon.
We went to bed as the sun set, Oriana and Josh in his "one man tent", and Vanessa, Nick and half of my body in Vanessa's rain fly. She hadn't brought her tent in order to save on weight. That night we learned that Ka'aha has some real downsides, the big one being the ants. These ants didn't bite, but they made sure to check every inch of Nick, Vanessa and I before moving on. After a while, you really stop caring that ants are crawling on you, but this only comes after several hours. Sunrise couldn't come quickly enough, I though.
On day 2 we first broke camp, then returned to the shelter where Nick and Vanessa had left their bags. Nick was traumatized to discover that cockroaches had attacked his backpack and had actually managed to eat through a plastic bag to get at the food inside.
We filled up our water (which I had not been drinking enough of since I thought we had less than we did), gave ourselves some medical attention and moved out.
This is me and Oriana before hiking on the second day.
And a massive pile of Opihi shells that Vanessa found behind the shelter.
Our parting shot of Ka'aha. Finally the elusiveness of the man at the visitor's center made sense. How was Ka'aha? We went.
Our hike to Halape was a perfect temperature , I thought, but everybody else was roasting. I'm telling you, long sleeves help a lot if you are going to be hiking in the sun. Anyway, around noon we arrived at Halape.
And this is what Halape looks like from a distance.
Now, Halape is right on the ocean next to some very precarious cliffs. This cliffs slide on occasion. There are also cliffs under the ocean that slide on occasion. In fact, it is quite possible that someday this entire part of the island will slide into the ocean, producing a massive earthquake and tsunami. Tsunami have hit Halape before. In 1971, the story goes, almost an entire boyscout troupe was killed by a Tsunami that hit Halape. We were all agreed on this trip that if we felt an earthquake we would run for high ground as fast as we could. Halape also has an old heiau and a little sandy inlet where hawksbill sea turtles come to nest.
Here we are playing in the water.
Our food situation wasn't getting any better, though, so Josh tried to climb a coconut tree and pick a coconut for us to eat. Sadly, he didn't have enough energy to get all the way to the top.
It was around the time that Josh was trying to get the coconut that I began to feel really bad. I got a headache and began to feel like I had lost blood. I sometimes have this problem if I am in the sun too much. Heat is rarely a problem for me, but direct sunlight can sometimes be painful. Stupid lack of melanin. I ended up taking shelter under my sleeping bag until Vanessa and Nick built a shelter. We read Jeves and Wooster for a while, and at long last sunset came!
Here is the beach at Halape at sunset.
Well, after sunset we returned to camp for dinner. Cooking pasta in a plastic bag having been a failure, it was a dinner of bread and honey. I advocated eating somewhere other than where we slept, and was sure to walk away from camp before eating my bread, but my advice must not have been loud enough, since I was the only one that did so. Well, after dinner we packed up the food and began to prepare our sleeping area. Then the first dozen cockroaches arrived. That was enough to send Nick scurrying into Oriana and Josh's insect proof tent. About 50 cockroaches later, a scorpion showed up, and that was the final straw for Vanessa, who also jumped into the tent, leaving me alone outside.
When Josh bought his tent the dealer said "It's a one man tent, but you can fit two if you squeeze." Already packed with four people, I was sure that I would be more comfortable outside, cockroaches or not. Sure, the scorpion was a little demoralizing, but not really that bad. But my mind kept returning to one thing: The cockroaches came to eat the food we dropped. The scorpions came to eat the cockroaches. What eats both cockroaches and scorpions? Why, the only insect that terrifies me of course. Centipedes. The more I dwelt on the fact that the Centipedes might be coming, the more attractive the tent looked.
But in the end it wasn't a centipede that drove me into the tent. I looked at my sleeping bag and saw about 10 cockroaches on it. But that wasn't what drove me in the tent. It was the fact that I suddenly felt that the place where we were sleeping was haunted that did it. In no time, I too was in the tent. Five people to a "one man" tent. Several cockroaches came in on my pants and caused a major uproar. But once we cleared the tent of vermin we were able to sleep in peace. Kind of.
How we slept could fill an entire page, but it is enough to say that it was hardly comfortable. As soon as the alarm went off at 5am that morning, I was out of that tent. The food having been consumed, the cockroaches were gone. Soon everyone else was also awake, and we began to break camp. Here is Oriana with her many injuries. About half of the injuries on this trip were Oriana's. It was nice of her to take the bullet for the rest of us.
We began hiking back to the road. An 11 mile trek, sometimes through grassland...
Sometime through lava fields that reminded us of Mordor.
After about 5 hours of hiking, we arrived at Chain of Craters road. In total, over the course of 3 days we hiked over45 kilometers, often over terrain that had no clear trail. The footing was bad the entire way, so I was lucky that my knee only started to hurt in the last mile. Once we got to the road, Josh hitchhiked to the car and drove down to pick the rest of us up.
Here is our path. The first day is the red dotted line, the second day is the green dotted line, and the third day is the blue dotted line. This is by far the longest hike I have ever done, and while I feel like I could do longer hikes, there are a lot of things that I would do diferently.
And that is the story of my surprise backpacking trip. I apologize to everyone who was as shocked by my sudden disapperance as I was. I hope that the good story at least partially makes up for my absence. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas 2006

In the end I actually did it! I was able to make 1400 christmas cards. I handed them out to all my students dressed in a Santa suit. Due to the fact that I had blond hair and blue eyes, I was told that I was the best Santa that anyone in Shibukawa had seen. Apperantly the board of education heard that I was a good Santa. On Tuesday they called me up and asked me to be Santa at another pre-school in town. Now, Japan is in the midst of being hit hard by a Norovirus epidemic, and the younger the child, the worse it is. Some kids have been out of school for 2 and a half weeks. Well, the final pre-school I went to was apperantly the hardest hit, because, if I understood the guy who called me from the board of education correctly, there was actually fatality due to Norovirus recently. Being Santa was the least I could do...

Anyway, on Friday I set off for Hawaii. By setting off for Hawaii, I mean I started my trek to Narita airport. First stop was Manabu's house. Sadly, due to a communication error, when I got to Manabu's house he wasn't there, so I sat outside for a couple of hours until his girlfriend came by and took me out to dinner. Then his dad came by. In other words, Manabu's house was quite full. Me, my luggage, Manabu, his girlfriend and his father.

The next morning we got up and went to the Emperor's Birthday. We met Takaya and Koki at Tokyo Station. Takaya, as it turns out, has just gotten a job as an announcer for Yomiuri Television, and he starts work later this year! He was elated. Anyway, I don't think any of them had ever been to the Imperial Palace before, so it was a new experience for all of us. Speaking of new experiences, it is not every day you see this many Ultra-Nationalist vans in the same place. I am blissfully ignorant of the exact beliefs of the Japanese Ultra-Nationalists, but they don't seem very friendly. As I snapped this photo my companions exclaimed "don't take photos!"
Here is our party. Takaya, Koki, Manabu and his girlfriend Hanako. And some older gentleman in a blue coat.
Here is a part of the crowd. In total, I would guess 60-100 thousand people attended.
Here we are entering the palace. I have never seen so many police in my entire life. There were all the regular levels of security (bag check, pat down, x-ray, radiation detection) but the really amazing thing was the final level of security. Just before entering the palace gates there were about 40 very well trained looking plain clothes policemen who just stared at every single face that went in, looking for any suspicious behavior at all.
Here is the press corps.
Me in front of the Imperial Veranda. We got very close. Within 20 meters I suspect.
The Imperial Family. Now I have never been impressed by celebrity. I met many famous people and don't care in the least. I thought the Japanese Emperor would be the same. But when he rounded the corner I was filled with excitement. There was something about the Emperor or the way he was presented that was very exciting and mysterious.
He spoke but I understood nothing that he said. His Japanese was too polite and far too slow for me to really make sense of it. Nobody else understood either, so no loss.
Lot of Japanese flags, huh? Strangely, I did not feel out of place being there.
And here are Takaya, Koki and after lunch in the Marunochi Building.
Then I flew to Hawaii. Surpprisingly there was no crowd in Narita at all. Got to Hawaii, slept, then went to the Wessel's Christmas party. Look at the food. Slight reverse culture shock when I saw the quantity.
So, here is 69's the next day. Almost no waves, even though it was Christmas Eve Day.
Here is the tunnel I made for our model train out of Christmas presents.
And the train.
Went to the Bleechers for Christmas-eve. The fireplace was damaged in the earthquake, so they improvised.
The tree on Christmas Day.
Grandpa, me and Grandma on Christmas day. This is the only picture I have ever seen when two flashes went off at the exact same time.
Christmas morning breakfast. Bacon and eggs, as always. But this time, since I didn't cook the eggs, they were actually good.
Then the Kona McManuses and Daniels came over.
I have always wanted to get some pictures of Santa at the beach, so I donned the suit.
A note to all. Swimming in a Santa suit is dangerous. I nearly died. Swimming in heavy clothes I can do, but the beard picks of water like a sponge and makes it almost impossible to breathe. I had to ditch the suit in the middle of the ocean. Such a shame.
I was not the only one to almost drown. Lisa had a go at it too.
Here is Ryan Kayaking.
Beautiful day, isn't it? I was a little disappointed that we couldn't surf on Christmas.
Here is dinner.
And finally, for all of my readers who don't know what Apple Pie is, this is Apple Pie.
This is Pumpkin Pie.
And the cookie in the foreground is Gingerbread. All three are traditional Christmas deserts.
Still in Hawaii, enjoying the warm weather. Happy Holidays to all!