Chillin’

We’ve had a relaxing few days. We’ve done nothing. Zilch. Nada. Well, the bare minimum, anyway.

Wednesday was a day at the beach. The overnight rainstorm was loud on the old tin roof of the bure, but it was nice and warm and dry inside.

The Pacific and Liesel

We sat on the beach, went for a dip in a warm Pacific Ocean, greeted the few passers-by and generally soaked up the Sun.

The wind blew an old plastic Coke bottle along the beach, and we thought about chasing it and binning it… nah… But it’s the thought that counts. Taking it easy.

Selfie of the day

The toilets and showers were locked up: it’s not the busy touristy season which is why we had the beach to ourselves. The newly purchased beach blanket and towels were tested to the limit. As was the SPF 30 sunblock.

I went for a nice Fijian massage. I wasn’t expecting two ladies, one at each end, but it was a very nice, relaxing experience. One picked up the tightness in my feet from all the walking. The other found the knots and tightness in my neck and shoulders. (Hey Dawn, you’re still my number one choice for a massage but if there were two of you…)

Thursday again began with a thunderstorm. The rain continued all morning, on and off, the poor little birdie outside looked a bit sorry for himself. He could have taken shelter, yes, but I think he enjoyed me imitating him mimicking the other birds.

We did walk down to the shops for a coffee, I did some things online that required a better signal than we can get at home. Liesel read her book, I wandered round, sent postcards to a couple of people who aren’t online and who don’t have to put up with this drivel. Laid back, yes, but not totally idle. We bought a bag of tortilla chips that turned out to be stale, even though well within the best before date. Such a to-do.

Nudity is frowned upon in Fiji, apparently, and on most south Pacific islands, but don’t worry, I was let off with a caution.

We have to admire people who are working in these conditions. I’m just typing but my fingers are soaking up the humidity like a sponge: anyone would thing I’ve been in the bath too long with wrinkled old fingers like this. It’s certainly confused the phone’s biometric fingerprint scanner.

The young lady that cooked our samosas in a hot kitchen is a hero. Heroine. She’s a star.

Liesel and I both have good books on the go at the moment, we still haven’t felt the need to turn the TV on, and I have a huge backlog of radio programmes to listen to. We’re still waiting for the UK Government to collapse and/or Brexit to be cancelled but that reality is so far away from here. We look at each other across the room, sigh, wipe the back of a hand across a damp, furrowed brow, get up and walk about a bit, have a drink, have a snack, sit back down again.

I went out to talk to the birds and my reward was several mosquito bites. Other wildlife we’ve seen include a Fijian ground frog in our bathroom. Liesel asked Doug to remove it. He said it wasn’t poisonous, but we weren’t planning to eat it, anyway, to be fair. I did tell Liesel that if she’d kissed the frog, it might have turned into a handsome prince. She said the last time she kissed a frog, she got me and she’s not making that mistake again.

Not our frog but a very good likeness

We have a pet gecko in our room too. We’re keeping him because he can hoover up the ants and other bugs.

Something makes a horrible noise during the night, it might be frogs, it might be werewolves screeching at each other, it could be guests in other villas on Hibiscus Drive shouting at the rain. Pretty sure it’s not the gecko.

We were idly wondering what to do next. This was tempting: Fire walking.

Fire Walking sign needs fixing

Unfortunately, we couldn’t work out exactly where to go. Bummer. Next time, maybe.

Drinking coffee at the Skinny Bean Café left us wondering: is the design on my latté hibiscus or, as Liesel first though, plumeria?

Coffee and hibiscus

I think this was as profound a discussion as we had all day. A pair of brains taking a day off. Two pairs of feet putting their feet up too.

Yeeah, maaan

Friday began with another storm. There was also a very loud cricket outside, chirruping away, maybe a couple. As the rain became louder, so did the cricket (or grasshopper, or whatever). Somehow, Liesel slept through the whole thing!

Other loud noises included fireworks and a really loud thunderclap right overhead. The lights dimmed for a moment: but we have candles to hand, just in case.

We have another gecko in our room. The first one was a surprise, so a little bit scary. This new one is a baby. We’re now looking out for a ginger one, a sporty one and a posh one so we have the whole set.

Baby gecko

During the night, I felt a couple of rainspots on my arm. I couldn’t believe there was a hole in the roof, but in the morning, I did notice a very slight gap between two of the tiles. Taking into consideration factors such as ferocity of the rainstorm, its duration, the size of the gap in the roof, wind conditions, angle of slope of the roof, the area of my exposed skin, height of room, height of my bed off the floor, I calculated that the chances were that 2.14 drops of rain would land on me. Isn’t mathematics brilliant?

We took the bus into Suva. Our third bus ride, and the third method of payment. The man I sat next to said ‘Bula’, and shook my hand, and we had a chat. We’re not in London any more, I realised.

We decided to take a taxi rather than another bus to Colo-i-Suva Forest Park. The driver told us that Prince Harry was here a couple of months ago and that he planted a tree using the same shovel that his grandmother used when she visited in the 1950s.

Brand new Welcome sign

Summertime and the living is easy. We had a nice walk in the forest, but it too was loud. The odd bird but mainly, cicadas. They have an eight-year cycle in Fiji and although we didn’t see any, we certainly heard them. It was like walking through a tunnel of tinnitus, albeit a slightly lower frequency than what I usually experience.

Nice new path

There is supposed to be a lot of wildlife here, but all we saw was a mongoose run across the road. One dragonfly and a couple of butterflies.

We stopped by the car park for a natural break, wishing that we, like others, had had our taxi drop us off here in the first place! Oh well.

The park ranger told us that Prince Harry was here a couple of months ago and that he planted a tree using the same shovel that his grandmother used when she visited in the 1950s.

The trail now was narrower and definitely made for walking on. Newly improved too, for some reason, at grest expense. There were bures on the way, picnic tables, even rubbish bins. We heard the waterfall before we saw it, and we climbed down to the Upper Pool. There were a few locals enjoying the water, and I thought it would be nice to cool off too. The thing I was most worried about in the water was leeches and I’m so glad I never encountered any. No frogs either.

I heard: “There are frogs in there.”

What Liesel actually said: “My glasses are fogging up.” (We’ve both agreed to have hearing tests later on.)

Don’t go jumping waterfalls
Please keep to the lake
People who jump waterfalls sometimes can make mistakes

The water was cool, but very refreshing, and the water falling on my head was quite forceful: so glad I wasn’t wearing the toupée.

On the way back to the entrance, a charming man offered us a lift in his car We had a nice chat. He told us that Prince Harry was here a couple of months ago and that he planted a tree using the same shovel that his grandmother used when she visited in the 1950s.

Nice plaque for Prince Harry’s recent visit

We waited just a few minutes at the entrance to the park for our taxi to arrive.

Suva City Library was helped in its early days by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, whose name it now bears. We spent a few minutes here looking at the children’s books. Was it air conditioned? Nope. But the windows were open! We were here to video us reading a couple of books to Martha and William. We send them a new one every few weeks.

Then, over the road to Hare Krishna Vegetarian Restaurant. Here, I ate my breakfast: a plate of six curries, a thali, most of which was delicious but number 6 was far too salty.

Don’t see ads like this any more at home

It started raining when we were on the bus back to Pacific Harbour, and it was still precipitating slightly when we walked home.

Doug and Loata passed by and we later realised, judging by Doug’s beery breath, they’d been to the pub.

Advert outside a shop that did have avocados in stock
Papaya don’t preach

Our hosts, Doug and Loata, left us a bowl of fruit. Unfortunately, the mangoes hadn’t ripened by the time we left.

In other news, our Alaskan friends and family are still experiencing strong aftershocks in Anchorage. Young William has taken his first few steps. Santa has written to him and Martha, following our request at North Pole, Alaska.

We’ve now moved on to Nadi, another three-hour bus ride, and another method of payment! All the buses have a sign “No eating, no drinking, no smoking”. Well, we’ve seen nobody sparking up so I suppose one out of three ain’t bad! A lot of people carry a lot of stuff on buses: big boxes, sacks, bin bags all full, presumably, of food. I asked Liesel if that was a chicken I could hear at the back of the bus and she said no, it was the soundtrack from the TV show.

Some of the cattle (outside, not on the bus) looked really healthy but there were some that looked like a blanket had been thrown over a clothes horse. All in the same field, so you’d think, with the same access to good feed.

In Japan we had MaxValu. In Fiji, it’s MaxVal-u Supermart. Here in Fiji, as in Tonga, some men wear skirts. It’s rude to stare but you can’t help but do a double-take sometimes.

Our new Airbnb here in Nadi has air conditioning which is welcome. I went to the local shops, missing out on the rain, while Liesel did the first of two loads of laundry.

The 4G signal here is much stronger too, so I have been able to listen to a couple of my radio programmes with . . . out the . . . . . . . . contin . . ual b . . . . . . . uffering.

At the airport, where the bus dropped us off, I was delighted to see this advert for The Bangles’ new single.

Walk Like an Egyptian

The bad news is that Liesel’s voice is a bit croaky right now. Thank goodness you can get Strepsils even in Fiji!

We’re having a very quiet, relaxed Saturday evening and we are surprised by how warm it really is, every time we visit the bathroom.

A Day in Naha

We woke up this morning to news of a big earthquake in Anchorage. All our friends and family are OK, with minor damage to property. As far as we know right now, there are no reports of fatalities nor serious injuries. It’s a world away to us right now, but we’ve seen pictures of huge damage to roads and bridges, shops and houses. Sending love and good wishes to all in Alaska.

Liquor store in Anchorage

We took a gentle stroll to nearby Fukushuen Garden. Naha and Fouzhou in China, are two close and similar cities bonded by friendship that share ties of amicability. BFFs, in modern parlance. The garden has many interesting Chinese features, including a pair of pagodas that are modelled on Fouzhou’s twin pagodas.

Mount Ye and the Pavilion of Ye

Pavilion of Ye, waterfall and rainbow bridge
I thought this was a negative too, at first
Cheers!
Hobbitses live here

The entrance fee was ridiculously cheap: the equivalent of about £1.40. You have to wonder, how can they maintain the gardens with such a small income? Or, conversely, what do gardens in England do with all the money from their (relatively) extortionate entrance fees?

One of two enormous Chinese vases, behind glass

We fed the turtles. Well, we tried, but they’re just not as fast as the fish. If a turtle doesn’t grab a pellet of food within a microsecond, a big, greedy carp comes right up and devours it. We watched the heron too, wondering if it has its eyes on a fish supper. It walked silently from rock to rock, a ballerina en pointe, its eyes gazing a gazely stare into the water, but there was no bird on fish action. Liesel was just grateful there were no baby ducks on the menu, like that day in St James’s Park!

Turtles v carp: ¥100 for a box of carpfood

We wandered home, ate, read and wondered what to do on our final day here in Naha. As I write, it’s just gone midday and mainly we’re just sorting stuff out, a prelude to packing tomorrow morning. Not very exciting, I know.

This is more interesting

This is very pretty… we need Shazam for flowers. Or, alternatively, we could just take notes from the captions by the plants in the garden.

Zamami

There’s nothing quite like a relaxing day on the beach. Today was a mix of relaxation and commuting. Yes, we joined the rush hour crowds on the Yui Rail monorail for just one stop. It’s a great service, but a reminder that we don’t enjoy having to stand up on crowded trains too often.

One stop though: yes, we could have walked that far, but by the end of the day, we’d walked over ten miles, despite it being a day of ‘relaxation’, so that little reprieve was of some benefit.

A pair of these dragons didn’t stop us, we’re not scared

We rode the high speed ferry, Queen Zamami, to the island of Zamami. High speed, and it bounced pretty high on the waves, too.

Thanks, I don’t mind if I do: a nice souvenir of a very bumpy boat trip

There were two beaches of interest, each a 1.5 km walk from the port, but in opposite directions. We thought, we’ll walk to both, and back, for a total of 6km. Not too far at all. Huh. We hadn’t figured in walking to the ferry terminal, walking along the beaches, mooching around the little town behind the ferry port, and walking back home via our dinner venue. Ten miles, all told: very proud of Liesel (and of myself).

It’s a very peaceful, quiet island, at least it is this time of year.

Looking tropical
The long and winding road

We walked to Ama Beach along the road and only a few vehicles passed us. This is a nice sandy beach, reminiscent of Kailua (Hawaii) with vegetation right at the top of the beach. I wandered over to the end of the beach looking for rock pools but they weren’t very interesting. A couple of people were paddle-boarding, and a couple of others were snorkelling. Othar than that, we had the beach to ourselves. We sat down, watched and listened to the waves and attempted to keep our eyes open.

We saw some almost see-through crabs, a spider and some crows. Plus, some tracks that may have been birds but maybe, more interestingly, signs of a baby turtle hatching and heading for the sea.

Selfie of the day
Turtle tracks?
Ama Beach
Ama Beach
Ama Beach as depicted on the brochure

On the way back, I walked up the steps to a bluff: the map showed us a Statue of Marilyn. Marilyn who? Well, there was no statue at the top, although the view over the sea towards the other islands was stunning.

It turns out Marilyn was one of a pair of lovers. Her statue is here on Zumami while her lover, Shiro, is way over there on Aka. Disappointingly, Marilyn is depicted as a dog. And the statue is by the road.

Marilyn’s Statue

It was a hot day and we are very grateful for the vending machines dispensing copious water, fruit juice, soft drinks and coffee, although the latter is often too sweet.

The town was very quiet, just a few locals going about their business. One guy watering his plants, another trying out his wetsuit. Several little old ladies were tending small plots by the side of the road. The caff was closed, as was the International Guest House with its mixed dorm and its female dorm. It was a very small house and presumably very cosy at peak season.

Our lunch consisted of the snacks we’d brought with us. Then we walked to our second beach of the day: Furuzamami. This time, we didn’t walk along the coastline but up and over a hill. It was steep. We knew the total distance was about 1.5 km so we kept going, but it was a long haul up that slope. We could look down on the smallholdings below. Small fields with fresh furrows. There was even a goat. I helped as much as I could by clapping and scaring some crows away from eating the seeds.

Lots of hard work going on here

Downhill the other side was no less steep and we were grateful that again, very few vehicles passed us, including the local bus a couple of times.

This beach wasn’t as nice, not much sand, mostly broken up coral and seashells, so a bit bumpy underfoot. But the sea was gorgeous, the sort of bluish green colour than never quite shows up in photographs.

Furuzamami Beach
Feet of the day

Liesel had a nice long rest while adventurous old me walked to one end of the beach, passing a mere three other people who were having a dip in the sea. I saw a discarded toilet seat and I thought to myself, if I needed to warm up my bum, I could just sit there. Then I realised: it probably wasn’t plugged in.

Plans to walk to the other end of the beach too were thwarted by two things. The camber of the beach became very uncomfortable, I felt I could have toppled over into the water at any moment. Plus, the knobbly stuff I was walking on was beginning to annoy my feet.

So I rejoined Liesel for a long, long slumber, listening to the waves, thinking about things, solving Brexit and Trump and all the other horrible things going on in the real world that we try not to think about too much but which we can’t totally avoid when we’re online, even if we look at Twitter through our fingers because it’s all so negative.

Liesel said that there were two things missing: maybe we should have brought our swimwear. And, if we’d had a car, we wouldn’t have to walk back to catch the boat. A third thing that would have been nice: a trolley dolly coming by selling ice creams and cocktails.

Sun, sea, sand (well, shells) and snoozing, that’s the way to do it! No book to read, no internet, no people.

Queen Zamami III
Thar she blows!

We had to get back for the ferry, then more walking in Naha, stopping for a meal on the way back to our b&b. Ten miles: that certainly wasn’t planned! Liesel was asleep by 8pm and I wasn’t far behind.

Okinawa and its islands are overrun by these guardian lions, or lion/dog hybrids, depending on who you believe. They’re usually in pairs, one to keep in the good spirits and the other to keep out the bad. Not everyone takes them seriously. many are traditional but there are plenty that have been updated, made fun of.

Okinawa lion
Cat on a hot tile roof
Another one
Loads of them
And another one
And another one
And a couple of mice to complete the set

Some Mighty Fine Shrines

We went on a pilgrimage today, visiting quite a few shrines. They’re all interesting, they’re all different, they’re all peaceful.

The names on the brochures don’t always exactly match the names on Google Maps, so sometimes, we couldn’t be sure exactly where we were. But that doesn’t matter: we had a very nice, strenuous walk.

As we set off towards the mountains, we were delighted to see a flock of birds of prey circling… we were curious but didn’t really need to see what they had their eyes on. Too small to be eagles, not fast enough to be falcons, maybe kites of some kind.

We are the birds of prey

Let us know if you can identify it from the silhouette!

Here’s an interesting sign that invited us to deviate from our course.

I wonder what this says?
Oh yes, we’ll go there

It was a very steep path, rocky but covered with moss and leaves. After a ridiculously short time, we realised that this path wasn’t for us: hard enough going up, never mind coming back down. We never even got as far as the back of a cow.

There’s a path there somewhere

We returned to the road, wondering what we’d missed seeing up the hill, but we needn’t have been concerned. Just round the corner, we came across a Buddhist Temple.

Sooji Buddhist Temple

There was nobody around, so I don’t think it was open for business nor for visitors.

A challenging wheelchair ramp?

Wheelchair users must be made of stronger stuff in Japan, if they have to contend with ramps like this one. It’s probably for bicycles to be pushed up and down, really. There are a lot of cyclists around here, partly because, I’m sure, the roads are so narrow. A typical car from Anchorage wouldn’t fit in here.

Away from the town centre, this is a typical road

We thought we’d walk up these stone steps, up the mountain. Only later did we learn that this was the path down which the gods came to Earth. It was steep, it was long, it was a challenge, we had to stop several times.

Up, up and away

Here’s a delightful little shrine that we came across: this wasn’t the main attraction. It looks like somebody just wanted a small place to worship halfway up the mountain: maybe they just couldn’t climb all the way.

A nice little shrine
Keep going, I’ll catch up in a minute….

After a long climb, 538 stone steps, to be precise, on this warm, humid morning, we reached our target: Sessha Kannokura Shrine, or Kamikura-jinja Shrine, depending on which source you trust. My translation program couldn’t read the signs at all, so that’s no help!

We’d passed and been passed by a Japanese lady on the way up and at last, we all caught up with her husband. He very kindly took this picture of us, so of course, I returned the compliment.

Photo taken by our new friends
The rock behind the shrine is where the gods first came down

The view over the city of Shingu towards the ocean was a fine reward for our exertions.

Shingu from the Shrine

Walking back down was in some ways much more of a challenge. For a while, it looked as if we would step off the edge of the world, the steps were that steep.

Going down… eek…

The palms were very sweaty, and not just because it was such a humid day.

The man playing the flute near the bottom of the climb had left by the time we returned. I was looking forward to sitting down, having a rest and listening to him for a while before proceeding.

Apropos of nothing at all: who wants to see a mole with boobs?

Holy Moley

And who wants to see a picture of a big spider? Huge, it was, with its several siblings, sitting there, overhead, waiting for flies or the opportunity to drop down somebody’s neck.

Holy spinnarets
Someone in Covent Garden’s been looking for this sign…
That’s our shrine near the top of the mountain

We walked around town for a while afterwards: it felt strangely reassuring to be back on a nice, flat, horizontal surface. A cute little café provided cute little cups of coffee and the cutest, titchiest little cream jugs in the world!

ᴬ ᵗᵉᵉⁿʸ⁻ʷᵉᵉⁿʸ ᶜʳᵉᵃᵐ ʲᵘᵍ

Watarigozen Shrine is just round the corner from where we’re staying and as well as being delighted by the small shed-sized shrine itself, our minds were blown by the bamboo growing behind: it certainly put our old beanpoles into perspective.

Watarigozen Shrine dwarfed by the bamboo

Kumano Hayatama Taisho Shrine is also very close. It’s on a much bigger scale, really impressive in its own right, and it was reassuring to see so many people paying respects and praying here.

Kumano Hayatama Taisho Shrine
If you’re not on the guest list, you’re not getting in
Kumano Hayatama Taisho Shrine
The ancient and revered Nagi-no-Ki tree

The Nagi-no-Ki tree is over 800 years old and well cared for.

I put money into the box and picked out my O-mikuji, a random fortune printed on a strip of paper. I was surprised at how much text was printed there but of course, I couldn’t read it. Later, in the comfort of the Airbnb house, I translated it as well as I could. Suffice to say, I was relieved not to see something really bad.

Yes, I will cherish my twinkle twinkle

We carried on walking and found ourselves by the Kumano River. By this point, the sky was getting darker, we wondered whether a thunderstorm was on its way a day early.

In one direction, more mountains and in the other, bridges over the river as it flows into the Pacific Ocean.

Towards the ocean
Towards the mountains
Looking ominous

We went home via the tourist information place where we picked up some info for tomorrow’s trip. Then at home where, several hours later, it still hasn’t rained, by the way, we chilled: read, typed, listened to the radio, cooked, ate, and eventually, we’ll walk up the wooden stairs to Bedfordshire.

Today’s tour was just a small subset of our original idea, to hike from shrine to shrine on the Kii peninsula, several miles each day, for a number of days. That was probably too ambitious, and I think we’ve got the balance right, now.

To Shingū

Another day, another move, which means getting up at a reasonable time, eating as much food as possible for breakfast so we don’t have to take it with us and then packing.

My extra task was to walk up to the Post Office and send something home for a little chap’s upcoming birthday. That was a very hot half hour and I felt a little sad that we’d be on a train for much of the rest of the day.

I spent some time writing a thank you note for our host. She’d offered us a lift to the railway station, so it was the least I could do!

Arigato very much

I just hope I haven’t written something incredibly rude, by mistake.

Thunderbirds are Go! At Shin-Osaka

The ride from Shin-Osake to Shingu was nearly four and a half hours long and fortunately, we were able to reserve seats.

Liesel watched TV on her phone while I was entertained by books on my Kindle, my new book of (seemingly impossible) Soduko puzzles and typing. Tupingg on s train is trrribly difficult, sp I have up. And when I stopped, I was glad to see that the view from the train had vastly improved. No more concrete, steel, glass and bricks, pylons and wires. Just good views on both sides. Hills to the left, sea to the right.

Hooray, the sea, through the train’s window

<ph sea

We were right next to the sea for quite some time but on this occasion, we didn’t need to follow the instructions given on the card.

Tsunami escape route
The Pacific Ocean

<ph tsunami

<ph more sea

There was a lot of damage, presumably caused by the recent typhoons. Some of the beaches were covered with broken trees.

A beach of dead wood

We had a 1.4 km walk from the station at Shingu to our new Airbnb place. It was a long 1.4 km carrying our heavy bags and it was mostly uphill and the streets became more and more narrow, towards the mountains. Then we had a battle to open the the metal box that held the key. Then we had a battle to use the key to unlock the door. These tasks would have been so much easier if we’d been less tired and, oh, if only we’d had a cup of coffee!

While Liesel prepared supper, I walked back to buy some essential groceries. You can’t get nice big loaves of crusty bread here, it comes in packets of 5 thick or 6 less thick white slices which is ok for toast but a bit disappointing otherwise.

The house is nice and big but it was very hot when we arrived, so thank goodness for the cooling units. On the downside: mosquitoes. Grrr.

The host’s mother came by to say hello, well, to say kon’nichiwa, since she had no English at all. She gave us some Japanese coffee but it would have been incredibly churlish for me to say “Huh, thanks for the coffee, but where were you when we needed it? And why didn’t we get a lift from the station? Huh?”

The toilet has a control panel to rival Apollo 11’s. If the next entry on this blog is sent from the Moon, you’ll know I pressed the wrong button.

It’s a nice start to our first full day here in Shingu and we’re planning to go for a hike… well, we’ll see how that works out. Here’s the view from our house: gorgeous but steep!

Over the road from our b&b

Zoo Time

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning and the first thing that I saw was a video of Martha riding her bike. Yes, we are a little bit jealous that we’re not riding bikes right now. It would make a welcome change from all the walking.

Martha’s a Tour de Force

Of course, it wasn’t really Chelsea, but that song just popped into the old noggin.

We planned to visit the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living, which recreates buildings and streets to give an idea of living in Osaka in the past: this would be interesting and inside.

We also planned to visit Nagai Botanical Garden: this would be fascinating and outdoors.

In the end, after a slow start to the day, we went to the zoo. A no-frills zoo: no frills for us customers, and not many frills for the in-mates.

Yes, Tennoji Zoo was very cheap to enter, compared with London, Chester and Anchorage Zoos, for instance, and there was no big gift shop at the exit. So, with such a small income, it’s no wonder that many (most?) of the animals didn’t seem very happy.

The first animal we saw was a koala way up at the top of a eucalyptus tree. We don’t know if he had friends or family with him, but if not, he had a lot of space.

Koala

The pelican seemed happy enough, a nice big pond to swim in, but as with many of the exhibits, the wire mesh made it difficult to get decent pictures.

Pelican

If we were kids, we might have taken up the offer to eat polar bear curry.

Mmm tasty polar bear

We were too scared to visit the aviary as the ducks are the size of bears. Plus, we didn’t want to be pooped on. Certainly not by a bear-sized duck.

Ducks the size of bears

Against expectations, the polar bear seemed to be the most contented of the large animals. He looked a bit grubby but was having a great time playing with his toys.

A rare green-nosed polar bear

I suspect the green cone and the buckets are the food delivery system but even so, he was so much happier than the poor old thing confined to concrete at Chessington World of Adventures just a few years ago.

We were particularly taken by the huge rat pen. I mean, the pen was huge, the rat was just a normal rat.

Rat

Oh, it turns out this was a bear enclosure. The rat was eating the spectacled bear’s food.

Spectacled bear

A lot of the animals seem to require visual aids: here is a nocturnal spectacled owl.

Spectacled owl

Chinese wolves, one of the tigers and the giraffe all seemed to be very short of space which was a little depressing. The lions seemed resigned to their situation. Only one of the females was walking around in circles, the other two just soaking up the Sun.

The days of being allowed, nay, encouraged to ride an elephant at the zoo are long gone. Or so we thought.

Blue elephant and no, you haven’t been drinking

The sad news is that the real elephant here has packed his trunk and said goodbye to the zoo. He’s in elephant heaven now hopefully with plenty of heavenly plains in which to roam.

Rhinoceroses mark their territory by scent, according to the sign.

Rhinoceros toilet habits

The rhino we saw was slowly eating, and wasn’t afraid to dive in to the pile of grass horns first: he looked as if he’d just been for a swim with the hippos.

A rare green-nosed rhinoceros
Grey-crowned crane
Demoiselle crane

My phone has a clever app on it which can translate text into English. The results are variable: sometimes it makes sense but sometimes absolute garbage comes out.

And sometimes, you understand the message while the words displayed are just funny.

Useful instructions for using the dog park
I think the translation software is drunk

The zoo was very clean, no litter littering the place and just before we left, we saw a chicken being fed. We don’t know whose dinner the chicken was intended to be but what a strange sight after all the exotic fauna from faraway.

In the evening, I went through all the paperwork: maps, receipts, tickets, brochures, confirmations of bookings, boarding passes… and binned it all! Yes, the days of keeping paperwork only to throw it away years later are over! This is a major leap forward. (But, hedging my bets, I did take photos of it all, just in case, y’know…)

A day in Nara

Nara was one of the places we particularly wanted to visit but as usual, there’s too much to see and do in one day.

We haven’t been able to find out the name of the Japanese art of knitting electric and telephone cables in the sky.

Knit 1, purl 1

But this is what we see on our walk to our local railway station.

The trains cater for all sorts of people. There are ‘women only’ carriages which reinforces yet again how nasty and disrespectful some men are. But there are low hanging hangers for short people (hello Liesel).

Low hangers

Two trains later, we arrived at Nara.

On the way out of the station, we were engulfed by Jehovah’s Witnesses. One approached me and said ‘Hello, my name’s Hirokiro, I’m a Jehovah’s Witness, what’s your name?” I was impressed by his honesty. At home, we’re used to JWs offering a free magazine, asking what you thing about the state of the world, anything other than be upfront and admit what they’re trying to sell you.

And that wasn’t the end of the day’s nuisances. Nara is famed for the deer that live in and around the parks in the town centre. Quite nice to see the first one or two, but eventually, we were trying to steer clear. You can buy food for them, and some are so well bred that they bow in the Japanese manner for a tasty treat.

Deer mixing with people like it’s normal

There’s an expression in Nara for when something is blindingly obvious: Does a deer poo in the High Street?

We dodged the pellets and the pee and perambulated towards the parks.

The first, Yoshiki-en Garden, was free for foreigners, which we appreciated of course, but we couldn’t see why they did this.

As you’d expect, it was very peaceful. There’s a Moss Garden which prompted me to hum the David Bowie song of that name (and to play the real thing for Liesel when we got home in the evening). We regretted not appreciating our own moss garden in Chessington, but we wanted grass.

Moss Garden

There is great respect for old people in Japan, but also for old trees. They’re not averse to using props to help the oldies stay upright. (Trees, not people.)

Lean on me

We’ve been bitten a couple of times by insects, but we’ve not actually that many. A few flies, a couple of bees, and a bright yellow butterfly that’s followed us here from Tokyo. It usually flutters by too fast but I managed to catch it today in Nara.

Elusive Butterfly

Why have a boring old brick wall when you can have something as ornate as this?

A very pretty wall

A bit further along, we found Isuien Garden. It too was very pretty, and we can only imagine how colourful it would be in Springtime. Yes, we agreed we’d have to come back. But Autumn has its own colours too.

Isuien Garden – this is real, not a painting

The gravel path was ok on the whole, but every one of the millions of stones tried to get into my sandals and a few succeeded. How the locals must have laughed as this Englishman holding onto a tree while kicking a foot as if at an invisible dog, shaking stones out.

Gravel path
Liesel and a gardener
Just look at his shoes, so unusual
Oopsie: we peds got by, cyclists had to turn back
One of our better selfies
Thatched roof
Todaiji Castle

We walked to Todaiji Temple, trying not to trip over the relaxing wildlife. Make yourself at home, I said. We are at home, he replied.

Deer me

At this Temple, there were no restrictions on taking pictures. The Great Buddha resides in one of the world’s largest wooden structures.

Buddha: Live long and prosper

The wooden guardians do a great job: the facial expressions are enough to frighten anyone away. But we were here with good intentions, so I don’t think they minded much.

Wooden guardian
The heads of two more guardians of the Temple

Equally, they didn’t protect us from the hordes of school children practicing their English language skills. We were approached by several groups, each asking a series of questions. Where are you from? What’s your favourite animal? What do you want to see in Japan? We were given a small origami model by one of the groups, a cue to other groups that we’d been interviewed. Some of the older students, 6th grade, 11-12 years old, I think, asked: What is the goodness of Japan? Well, the people are friendly, helpful, welcoming, the views are stunning, we could have given a long list. Then: What is the goodness of your country? UK? USA? Hard to think of much positive in the heat of the moment, what with Trump and Brexit. So I think I said British weather was interesting. What a cop-out.

They were all very polite, though. We’d spent a day at Disneysea and the children there were all well behaved too: no tantrums, no siblings fighting, I don’t think we even heard any babies crying.

Walking back to the railway station, we passed some of these posts. They played announcements, maybe adverts that we couldn’t understand, of course, and in between, they played some nice, light jazz music.

A street post, not just a lamppost

Amongst all the modern shops, we found this cute little place. Is it a shrine? A private house? It’s a mystery, to us.

A very pretty little place on the main street

On the train back to Kyoto, we fell into conversation with a pair of doctors. The coronary specialist spoke reasonable English, the endocrinologist not so much. But we talked about the Japanese pilot who’d been arrested in England for being drunk in charge of his aeroplane. We showed each other pictures of our respective grandchildren: his two are a few years older and we saw videos of them playing an electric keyboard at home. What a nice bloke and what a pleasant way to pass a long train journey.