Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Nametoko And The Tengu Highlands At Last

What was supposed to be a 2 or 3 part series about last Monday has been delayed a whole week. I was a bit too lazy to sort through the RAW photos of everything last week. It was hot and humid and I was out of my mind. I hardly remember what I did all week. Today was a stark contrast to the past several days. It was clear and sunny with a bit of a coolness in the morning air. It warmed up considerably but not so much that it was uncomfortable. As I prepared dinner tonight I was struck with nostalgic feelings of cool autumn evenings as the sun slowly would head behind the trees. The smell and temperature reminded me of football practice and a number of other fall related things.

But more of that later. Back to last Monday. If you are up to date, then you should recall I woke up at 2:30AM and went to shoot pictures of the sunrise at Torigata. At about 5:45AM I left the mountain side and started my next lengthy journey of about 80 or 90 kilometers south east. I descended the mountain the same way I had come up. I did some research and on the maps there was a long old tunnel through the mountain. Because this isn't a main road I didn't think it was possible to drive into the tunnel to get to the other side. Sure enough, that tunnel was locked up and looked like it was ready to catch the first person who tried to enter. Remind me to start taking more pictures of these random things I encounter. I could tell a much more vivid story if I had pieces of the adventure (pictures) all along the way. In fact lately it has been on my mind to do this very such thing but every time the thought pops in my head I just get lazy and think, "I'll just write about it." To which I regret not having taken the picture once I'm back.

Anyway, having been lost earlier in the morning didn't turn out so poorly because I knew exactly where I needed to go. Route 439 is supposedly one of the longest scenic roads in Japan or something. The 439 stretches far across Shikoku so I think it fits its claim to fame.There was a special last fall about it on TV, which I missed regretfully. I did a bit of searching online and people said it wasn't that great. I still would like to see it just because it's my area and all. Some major sluething will be necessary to figure out where I could view this program. This road is a very beautiful scenic drive through windy mountain passages, cedar forests, tunnels, rivers, and rice paddies. All of these are best viewed with your own eyes as pictures never do such sweeping scenery the same justice. Plus, there is just too much to photograph anyway. The roads were mostly deserted till I proceeded into Ehime. In the back of my mind I'm waiting for the day I get pulled over (not really) by the police. I never see them waiting to gun cars but people speak of getting tickets. Well I take that back because I once did see some police hanging out along another road in Ehime. Freaked me out too because I was going really fast not expecting police at all. I didn't see any police on Monday and enjoyed cruising through lush valleys in the early morning. Sometimes foggy. Sometimes sunlight breaking through. Other areas completely clear. The valleys took on their own character from one place to the next.

I ended up at Nametoko Valley just before 8AM. Nametoko gets the name because of the unusually smooth rocks and boulders in the valley. I'm too lazy to look up the actual name of the most famous geological feature in the valley but it is listed on the top 100 waterfalls in Japan. As I believe I mentioned before it is more like a water slide though. When I rolled up to the parking lot everything was pretty quiet. Nobody else was really around except for some guy who was sleeping in the car with it running. It was a pretty mild morning temperature wise so I'll never figure that one out. I just wanted to get to the fall and swim in it before I encountered anyone else. I guess you can defile a water fall by swimming in it but doesn't the flow cleanse it? That is what people thought the Chicago river would do back in the 1800s as they dumped stock yard carcasses and butchered animal remains into the river. The river wasn't so self cleansing as they thought. Well this is nowhere near a million plus population center so I think it was okay. I didn't take too much to get up to the fall which was a short 1.4km away or something. Kilometers sometimes seem short and on the way back seem oh so long.


A nice piece of slippery rock. I've never seen such a natural water slide in my life. There are some places out in the western United States that have similar locations. I stumbled across some videos one day and it got me dreaming. So to have then come across this waterfall I was rather delighted. The whole drive over I kept thinking how great it would be to slide the fall. It never occurred to me until I got to the bottom of the fall how scary it actually was. It was much more steep than it looked in pictures. I started to have some second thoughts about the safety of trying to slide down it. Then I reminded myself that I didn't drive 130km to this natural water slide to only take a picture of it. The walk up to it got me sweating so I quickly changed into my swimsuit at the bottom of the fall while hoping no one was going to stumble across a random foreigner changing his clothes in the middle of the valley. Without too many more second thoughts I threw on my shoes and went a little bit up the side of the fall. Before taking a higher and steeper plunged I sounded out the ride ability by starting lower. I pushed myself slowly into the water stream and before I could get centered it was so slippery the water didn't need to try hard at all to push me along. Even at this small height there is little control once you are on the slippery slope. I believe that scared me more than anything because not having control to position myself to hit the deeper water at the bottom was somewhat unsettling. Yet that didn't turn out to be a problem. The first trial run sent me splashing into the slightly chilly waters with a grin on my face.


The highest I went was about half way up because any farther and it gets very steep. It would be insane without some sort of safety gear to try sliding down that steep part first. You would likely just slide off onto the dry rock and get some nice rock rashes. I had some nice rides and managed to shoot several videos of the excursion for the history books. Those can be found somewhere on the internet I'm sure. The whole time I was playing at the fall no one ever showed up. It was just too early and a Monday for anyone to really be there. I love having places to myself. More often than not that is the way things go. Granted this is more of a tourist spot because of the top 100 water fall status but it is a peaceful place. 


After having my fun I made my way up the valley to see what other interesting things were waiting for me. The map said 2 hours to the last marked spot in the Nametoko valley. There was some sort of water hole that I wanted to check out. But after 2.5km and not having eaten more than that apple at 2:30AM there was no indication when I would get to the final spot. I turned back and headed out through the valley. I later looked at the map when I got back to the parking lot and I was so close to the final spot. The only problem there was no sign that told me where to go at the fork in the river. It seemed the only option was toward a mountain trail. That was a little defeating after I had walked so far. Such is my life of exploring. Some days you see more than you ever hoped and other days you just see the same roads you have driven a million times before. It's worth it for the former when you do find it. There was a restaurant near the parking lot that I had my belly set on while i was walking back. You have no idea how hungry I was. It was driving my pace into desperation mode (melodrama, okay?). Then I realized the restaurant would probably be over priced and less than satisfying compared to something else along the way back. Given my hunger, I managed to drive almost half way back without eating.

Thankfully the town of Yusuhara met my hunger needs in the best way possible. There were a handful of little eateries and rest areas with food but none of them could get me stop. I kept telling myself to just pick one and eat for the sake of eating. But my thrifty nature kept telling me no! I pulled into the grocery store in Yusuhara and began to browse the premade lunch items, none which looked too delicious or affordable. So without a second thought I figured I would buy everything to make my own lunch. This included a clump of 4 bananas, 12 slices of pastrami, loaf of 6 slices of bread, olive oil chips, and a small individual serving of ice cream for about 750 yen. I rationalized the purchase by telling myself I could eat the rest of the food later at home. I couldn't have been more pleased with the purchase. Those bread and pastrami sandwiches with chips in the middle were some of the simplest and best sandwiches I've had to date. Perhaps it was the hunger or my low standards for food satisfaction. People get the wrong idea when I say I have low standards for food consumption. It's hard to explain my eat all philosophy appropriately. Many things just taste good to me that others would whine about (see ketchup spaghetti and hot sauce bananas). I ended up eating all the pastrami in two sandwiches, two bananas, chips, and the ice cream. I maxed almost all of it and felt so good. 

With my soul renewed by pastrami and ice cream I continued my journey onward. For over a year I had been wanting to visit the Tengu Highlands. I just never took the time to drive down and scope it out. All the pictures I had seen looked rather beautiful and many had told me to visit there. One thing about driving in the countryside here is that sometimes certain signs will only be posted one direction on the road. I have no idea who made these decisions. It might have been for saving money. Needless to say there have been countless times where I'm navigating and pass a road I needed to drive on. It isn't until I turn around that I find a sign telling me the way I wanted to go. That happened but there was this TINY sign post that pointed the right direction that I had missed. What am I complaining for though? I kind of like figuring things out even if it makes the journey harder. I almost always do anyway. After a windy road that switch backed up the side of a mountain it opened up to a very wonderful view.


I've never been to a place like this before. The Tengu Highlands are a karst. Reminds me of somewhere in the Alps I've never been to. Lots of wide open grassy fields on the top of this mountain with craggy rock outcroppings all over the place. It is a very stark change of scenery compared to the densely forested mountains surrounding it. The views from Tengu allow one to look all around at the nearby mountain ranges. Most of the grassy areas are fenced off however. These are cow pastures. Seeing fields with cows in Japan is very rare but I enjoyed the smell and familiarity of it all. I was never put off too much by the smell of farm animals growing up and have come to enjoy it. Fills me with many nostalgic memories. We even went to a dairy farm in elementary school for a field trip. Can't tell you how much I loved that. I think that explains some other things related to dairy things... if you know what I mean.

I had a pleasant conversation with a lady selling コロッケ (Croquette). Usually reminds me of a deep fried potato salad. We talked about teaching English and where the cows go in winter. She told me it can get very snowy up there and its too difficult to drive up so they move the cows down lower. 
I once wrote on a bucket list of some sort that I wanted to fly a kite up here someday. I promise you that I will fulfill this dream. It's just too wonderful to not do such a thing. I want to run around the fields (if there weren't cow patties) and laugh my head off while eating sugary candies. I bet I can come close to doing that too. I won't turn my back on such dreams. Tengu feels kind of magical to me in a way. Possibly because it is very different from the terrain all around it. The lack of trees and open hillsides with grass have a depressurizing effect on my mind. When that happens there are all sorts of things that can happen...
Token shot of some cows just so you know I'm not lying. After this picture I didn't spend too much time up there as I was very tired from the day. I sped off down the mountain and was suddenly trapped. I saw a vending machine with Pepsi in a 500mL (20oz) can. I couldn't refuse. I think subconsciously I was just giving myself a boost for the drive home which wasn't as half bad as I thought it might be. No nodding off earns an A plus for the day. But as soon as I hit the couch at home I fell asleep. After being up since 2:30AM and having been all over, there was not much else I wanted to do.  The only thing remaining was to file my day into the permanant storage sector of my brain. 
You must go somewhere in order to go back.

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