Shiretoko National Park and World Heritage Site
Sep 21, 2006
|Today I woke up in a campground in Utoro, which is the gateway to Shiretoko National Park and World Heritage Site. From what I understand, a World Heritage Site is like a National Park, but is special enough to warrant designation from the United Nations as a unique habitat or ecosystem that exists nowhere else in the world. From what I've seen so far, it certainly deserves that distinction.
Yesterday was spent in transit, with (another!) very long train ride through the Hokkaido countryside. It reminds me of Wisconsin, with a lot of agriculture and the ever present smell of manure. But in a good way. It certainly is rural, and is beautiful, in a rural, midwestern sort of way.
The first picture is of the campground. You can see the difficulties that I'm having, as there is not a word in English. It hasn't been a real problem so far, and as I head back west on Saturday or Sunday it'll get better, but this far east there is little help for a poor gaijin. I do a lot of pointing and grunting, and am building up a little bit of a vocabulary. It's a pretty straightforward language, with few pronunciation quirks, and slowly I'm getting the hang of it. By now I know all the curse words and how to ask where the bathroom is.
The next picture is a view from the road down to Utoro station, where I got the bus up to Shiretoko. The Ainu (Hokkaido natives, kind of like our Native Americans) called this place "the end of the world" and you can kind of see how it got the name. Along most of the coast there's no gradual slope to sea level, it simply ends in a steep drop of a few hundred feet.
I was planning on doing some multiday hikes in the mountains, and even bought a ridiculous amount of gear for that purpose, but my pack was so heavy that I decided to leave it at the bottom of the mountain and just do a day hike. It was a good choice, as I had trouble making it just carrying my water bottle. I climed to about 1500 meters, which I think is just under a mile, from sea level. Unfortunately, the peak is at 1661 meters. There came a point where I just couldn't go on. Call me what you will, but YOU didn't go to Japan and get 95% of the way up a mountian. So there. (Can you tell I'm a little bitter about not making it?) I'm disappointed, but not beaten. There's more mountains ahead; of smaller stature sure, but mountains nonetheless.
Peak or no peak, I got some great pictures. The first two mountain shots are about halfway up (I told you it was high). They didn't turn out so well, as I'm still learning how to use the settings on my new camera, but I'm including them to show the kind of landscape I've been living in for the past day or so. In the first one (called Shiretoko1, you can see, to the far right, a small, light greenish area with a lake in the middle. That's Shiretoko goko, which I'll talk about in tomorrow's entry. The next shot (Shiretoko2) is another nice one. You can see the road waaaaaay down below, in the peninsula in the middle of the picture. That shows how high up I was.
The next three pictures (Trail1, Trail2, and Trail3) are of the trail that I had to follow up. Trail3 is my favorite. That's the kind of shit I had to climb over. As I said, there was absolutely no way I could have done it with a pack on. The people you see in Trail2 are older than God, and they seemed to have no trouble, but, as the mountain reminded me, I am woefully out of shape.
The next picture (Rausu-dake) is of the famous mountain. From where that picture was taken it's about an hour up. I stopped about where the light green portion of the landscape ends. The air is awfully thin, and I couldn't make it any further. It was high enough to get some great pictures though. There's one of Mitsumine-dake and one of a bunch of islands off in the distance. Those islands are Russia. Pretty neat, eh? Although they're officially owned by Russia, Japan claims that they're theirs. Technically, the two countries are still at war from the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05, as there was never any peace treaty between the two countries. World War II didn't help anything either. Needless to say, the two populations don't get along.
There's a couple of more mountain shots in there, including one near the top of Rausu-dake of a small shrine. I asked a Japanese guy who spoke English what it said and he told me it was about "a boy. A boy who wasn't famous..." He admitted that even the Japanese have trouble with the Kanji (the Japanese writing system). Go figure.
That's it for today. Tomorrow, on to Shiretoko goko...