Golden Week has officially come and gone, and everybody in the country has returned to their regular lives after the long holiday. Ena and I spent the last two days of our Golden Week taking a 2 day trip to Iki Island in the Japan sea.
Iki island is, along with Tsushima, one of two major islands in the sea between Korea and Japan. Tsushima is closer to Korea, while Iki is closer to Japan. Both can be reached by ferry from Fukuoka and as this was our first trip we chose the closer of the two this time round.
We had a really great time. Taking the ferry is a lot of fun, and ideal for cyclists like us as you can just ride your bike on and off at both ends. As soon as we got on board we ran up to the upper deck where we could sit outside and enjoy the view:
We got seats right at the front of the ferry, which had the best view but wasn't very popular with the other passengers, presumably because of how windy it was:
The weather was warm and sunny, with the daytime high being 27. The only problem was that the region was getting hit by a "yellow sand" event. These events are one of the problems associated with living close to China. Basically, sandstorms thousands of miles away in the Gobi desert scour sand off the desert floor and send it up to the atmosphere. If the prevailing winds are right (which they sometimes are in the spring) this sand gets blown across China and Korea and eventually hits Kyushu, albeit by the time it reaches us it has been dilluted a fair bit.
These are naturally occuring events, but they have become a major environmental problem in recent years for two reasons. One is that the desert is getting a lot bigger in China thanks to poor land use, meaning these events occur a lot more often than they used to. The second is that Chinese industry spews vast amounts of poison into the air (you may remember this being a big point of concern when Beijing hosted the Olympics), which tends to stick to the sand. So when the sand settles back to earth it is carrying all sorts of toxic stuff with it. Fortunately it is mostly dilluted by the time it hits us, so the health effects aren't too bad (though we do get occasional yellow sand warnings on the TV news when people are recommended to stay indoors). Korea gets it a lot worse and is a major bone of contention between them and China (which refuses to acknowledge that its industrial emissions have effects beyond its borders). This is what the storms look like from space:
Anyway, the reason I'm talking about this is because we were getting hit by one of these things as we departed, and we pretty much remained under the haze for the whole trip. This is the view of Hakata Bay as our ferry left the port:
The two islands visible on the left and right are actually extremely close to the ship but can barely be seen due to the yellow sand.
Fortunately however the air remained breathable and this turned out to be the only "bad" thing to happen on our trip.
The ferry ride took just under two and a half hours and despite the haze we had some really nice views:
The haze sort of made the trip more interesting as islands would slowly emerge from it in the middle of the calm sea as we passed them by:
Eventually in the far distance the outline of a large island came into view and we knew we were almost at our destination:
The ship sailed around the southern part of the island and then made the turn around the southwestern point and came into port at Gonoura, the town we would be staying at:
We rode our bikes off the ferry and went straight to the hotel (a big, ugly "resort" hotel that I couldn't bear to take a picture of) where we dropped off our stuff. We then stopped at a supermarket, bought some stuff to eat for lunch and began to explore the island.
We had a map we got on the ferry and decided to head towards Saruiwa, a big rock shaped like a monkey that was about halfway up the island, 13km from town. As soon as we left the town we were surrounded by beautiful countryside. Within about 15 minutes we came across a really pretty inlet and decided to stop and have a snack:
After that the quiet little road that we were riding along (Iki shima only has a population of 30,000 or so spread across 138 square kilometres, so pretty much all the roads are quiet with very little traffic) turned into the mountains.
At this early stage in the trip I realized that the Lonely Planet Guidebook, which had described Iki Island as "flat and ideal for cycling" is nothing but a pack of lies. Our entire two day trip was mostly spent going up and down some extremely hilly and often times quite steep country roads, with virtually no flat stretches. Fortunately though the scenery was fantastic and we enjoyed the extra exercise this provided us with.
The first major hill we went up had a little roadside viewpoint at the top, from which we could look down on the inlet where we had earlier stopped for snacks:
Ena felt an extreme sense of accomplishment at having made it up there on her little old bike:
The road took us through an un-ending stretch of pretty countryside with so many pretty vistas of mountain scenery with farmers fields overlooking the island-dotted sea below that I eventually stopped bothering to take pictures of them. To be surrounded 360 degrees by attractive scenery for such a long time is a rarity in Japan, where there is almost always at least one massive eyesore in site at any given time. It was a really nice change:
After a lot of hard biking through the pretty countryside we finally arrived at the Monkey rock, which lived up to its name:
Ena thought there might be some resemblence and took this photo for later examination:
We went over for a closer look. It is pretty much a straight drop down to the sea below but we braved it for as long as it took to take this photo:
Of course it only looks like a monkey if you view it from the correct angle, otherwise its just a pretty rock:
The whole coastline around there was really spectacular, with little islands and rocky cliffs:
Another interesting site, which was only a couple minutes walk from the monkey rock, was the remains of the Kurozaki gun battery. This was a small underground fort with a huge naval gun that had been in operation until the end of the war:
You could go inside as part of the tunnel was lit up, but it was kind of spooky and Ena didn't want to do too much exploring (ie she ran out in sheer terror about 20 metres in) so we didn't spend much time inside. If you walked on top of the little hill though you could see the massive hole that used to house the main battery:
The gun is long gone though, and it was never used in combat. Iki island is not far from where the decisive naval battle in the Russo-Japanese war was fought, resulting in the destruction of the Russian fleet, so I guess they were concerned about the American Navy attacking Japan from that side too.
Anyway, after that we went back to town the same way we had come, pausing here and there to enjoy the scenery:
When we got back to town it was getting late and we decided to watch the sunset over the harbor from a nearby park:
Then we went for dinner in town. I made the (perhaps unwise) decision that we should eat something local, so we stopped at a restaurant that specialized in sea urchin, where I had a refreshing beer:
We had the sea urchin mixed with rice, which wasn't bad. Our dinner course also included these rather large shellfish though:
This is what they look like close up. I ate not one, but two of these:
After that we walked our bikes back to the hotel and got a good night's rest to prepare for the second day of our trip!