I awoke to the crowing of roosters and
the passing of a nearby train. I was in the Mikki House, a
"rider house" (or youth hostel), near a town called Onbetsu off
of Route 38.
I exchanged contact information with Hiro; he had told me to contact him
when I got near his hometown because he would be home by the time I came
to that area. I packed up and said goodbye to my remaining fellow
travelers and got on the road at 8:30. The lady proprietor kindly
saw me off and I stopped to take her picture before moving on with a wave.
Though it wasn't raining yet, it was overcast and the
weather was forecast to rain in varying percentages pretty much all across
Hokkaido. I took an inland route heading west. There didn't
seem to be any point in taking a longer route just to traverse the
southern tip. There was some nice mountainous terrain and roads but
it became difficult to enjoy because I ran into a heavy cloudburst around
midday. I came across a new onsen (hot spring) near
Hobetsu-cho. According to
the sign, it had opened up just four months before. Ready for a rest, I
stopped to check it out. Indeed, it was very new-looking and very
clean. It offered nothing unusual but did have a nice rotenburo
(outdoor bath) that I imagined would look striking surrounded by snow in
Although I hadn't yet seen Hakodate, a major city I had
hoped to see, my sore butt and the weather conspired against me and I
decided to leave Hokkaido and take a ferry back to Honshu from
Muroran. That way I would also get my lodgings resolved by spending
the night on the ferry.
I worked my way out of the mountains back to the coast
and joined Route 235. I came to Tomakomai -- the port where I
had arrived on Hokkaido -- and stopped for lunch at a ramen shop.
After my brief lunch, I continued heading east on Route 36. About 25 kilometers down the road was an Ainu tourist trap
near Shiraoi. The Ainu are the indigenous people of Hokkaido whose
populations were decimated in a story similar to that of the Native Americans.
It was indeed a tourist trap but had some interesting displays of how the
Ainu had lived. The
sad part is that it's probably not even run by or for the Ainu
themselves. There were some bears kept in cramped pens and a couple
of poor bear cubs on short chains. I hoped that they were at least
given a little more space to exercise after hours but I'm sure that that
was just wishful thinking.
I found the hot spring resort town Noboribetsu which
was another 20 or so kilometers down the road much more interesting and,
more importantly, not at all depressing. On the contrary, there was
some element of adventure (and danger) because the whole town is founded
on a volcanically active area. The volcanic action creates
sulphur-laden hot springs which feed its many hotels and is reputed to be
very healthy. In fact there is a fairly large hospital in the town
where, I'm sure, much of the treatment consists of taking baths in the
natural hot spring water. There is also a natural formation called
Jigokudani or Hell Valley, which indeed looked like it probably wasn't the
best place to build a house. It looked like a blast zone through
which ran steaming streams of mineral-laden hot water.
It was just a short hike to Oyunuma ("Big Hot
Water Pond"). After I got there, it became apparent that you
can drive right to it but the short hike was worthwhile anyway.
Oyanuma was a small lake of boiling water. Water temperature,
according to the sign, was as hot was 130C (266F). The water itself
was black as if it was full of volcanic soot which it probably was.
There was more smoke or steam coming from the small peak behind it,
looking like a little volcano.
As I had stopped at an onsen earlier
and it was getting late anyway, I didn't stop at any baths in the
town. Much as I would have liked to soak in water that smelled like
rotten eggs, I would have to wait for another day.
It was after 6:30PM by the time I left Noboribetsu and
I went straight to Muroran in the fading light of the day. After
securing passageway on the ferry to Aomori, I stopped in a coffee shop at
around 8:30PM for dinner and to kill time before the 10:00PM departure.
This time the ferry was even more crowded than
before. I knew there was a big festival in Aomori going on and that
the fireworks would be tomorrow so I guessed that was the reason for the full
boat. As before, the cheapest ticket bought me passage for my
motorcycle and the right to sleep on a carpeted floor, assuming I could
find a spot of my own. It was already crowded and I didn't find an
ideal place next to a wall as I would have liked. But I found enough
room to lay down without somebody else's feet in my face. At least
by riding the ferry, the issue of where to spend the night was taken out
of my hands. This was goodbye to Hokkaido.