Friday, August 20, 2010

Hakone: A Pure Lake and a Smelly Valley (Part 2)

The great thing about the whole 1-Day Hakone Panorama Course is that we got to experience different modes of transport within Hakone, from the regular ones like trains and buses to more uncommon ones like boats, ropeways and trams in order to reach the various Hakone sights. This was so much more interesting than if we were to take a "real package tour" where we would only get off and on coaches.

Directly after lunch, our next leg of the course was to take a 20 or 30 minute cruise across Lake Ashi to Togendai, where we would then take a ropeway up the mountain to visit Owakudani Valley. Because we had such a full lunch, I was initially worried that I would get motion sickness during the cruise (which I sometimes do on boats) but I needn't worry because the lake was as calm as it could be.

The cruise boat was hilarious. It was the pinnacle of cheesiness and had fake puppet pirates dangling form the sails, and the colours were utterly gaudy. Although the Japanese are into "Kawaii" (cute) things, I thought the boats were totally un-Japanese and decorated in bad taste. You can judge for yourselves here:

Chinese colours, old European decor....strange

On the deck, Pirates of the Caribbean

The journey across the lake was a respite after all the walking and the lunch. The one thing that we did not expect was how bitterly cold it was on the deck. We were rapidly pulling on our hats, mittens and scarves in a hurry as the wind bit into our skin. It certainly wasn't THAT cold on shore! But the lake was glitteringly beautiful, against a backdrop of mountain ranges and of course the ever present Fuji-San.

Soon we reached Togendai and proceeded to take the ropeway to ascend to Owakudani Valley. Owakudani is a crater left behind by the eruption of Mount Hakone 3,000 years ago, and is now home to sulphuric springs and the famous Owakudani eggs (eggs cooked in the sulphur springs which would prolong your life for 7 years for each egg eaten.)

The Hakone Ropeway - Up we go!

We arrived - 1,044 metres above sea level

The ropeway ride was exciting, and the views were spectacular. Too soon we arrived at Owakudani, and the landscape was rocky and bare, a discernable tinge of smelly sulphur in the air. I think the lack of plants in the area is a direct result of the presence of sulphur.  Outside the Owakudani Ropeway Station, we were immediately greeted by a Hallo Kitty in Owakudani Egg disguise.

Eat Me!!!

We had to climb up a long trail to where the sulphur springs are, but already from the station we could see tendrils of smoke coming out from the rock crevices indicating active volcanic activity. For a moment I morbidly wondered what would happen if the volcano chose to erupt there and then, then decided there was no point in wondering because I would be dead instantly. As we went up the trail, the sulphur smell became stronger and stronger, and in the end, due to Samurai T's asthma which could appear any moment as a result of the overwhelming smell and thin mountain air, we decided to retreat back to the station and do some shopping at the souvenir shops instead. Naturally we had to buy the "long-life" Owakudani eggs.

Hell's Gates

After our shopping, it was already 4pm and the sun was starting to set (it was winter). Hence we made our way back to the station to take the ropeway down to Souzan, where we would take a cablecar (!) to Gora, and from Gora, take a local train back to Hakone-Yumoto for our return ride to Shinjuku. Our ropeway ride down to Souzan was visually amazing as we gazed at the setting sun amidst the mountainous landscape.

One last look at Mount Fuji in the evening, looking very different from morning

Our fantastic ropeway ride down the valley

The cable car ride from Souzan to Gora

We reached Shinjuku, Tokyo, just a little before 7pm, totally exhausted by our wonderful day trip to Hakone. Oh, and the Owakudani eggs? I think we bought about 5 in all, and had them for supper in the comfort of our hotel room. Since I told Samurai T that men usually have a shorter life span, he should eat more, so in the end he added 21 years to his life, and I added 14.

In one word - Fabulous.

The amazing life extension eggs

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