It lies south of Kagoshima, about a two-hour drive and two-hour ferry away and is just under 30KM across. There's only one main road around the coast, and precious few offshoots inland, mostly because the only thing that rises faster than the elevation is your pulse as you look over the edge of the good old mountain roads.
It's main tourist draws are the mountains, which harbor (among other wonders) deer, monkeys, the tallest peak in Kyushu, Mt. Miyanoura, and the oldest cedar trees in the world.
Set scene for the three burgeoning adventurers: myself, Kristin, and Alex, both fellow ALTs. After a bit of fumbling (and missing our cheap, slow ferry and settling on the fastest, most expensive one), we hiked into the mountains to see the legendary Jomonsugi, hailed as the oldest cedar in the world at 5000-7000 years old.
MOUNTAINS UPON MOUNTAINS
get away from the sprawl
Anyways, it was nice, and we survived the freezing cold nights just fine.
|My bunk mates and I with the deer stirfry the man on the right had prepared and shared!|
I say I was comfortable, but that was just thanks to my winter layers.
"Why is there salt on the trail?"
"So Kristin, I think that salt was ice. It's -3"
But after two nights we were freezing, and we booked it to the nearest onsen, or public bath. Kristin and Alex were booked on a departing ferry in the afternoon, and I had two days to bum about. I started talking to a local guy there, and asked him if he knew of any nice places to stay.
"OK OK! I'll drive you, I'll drive you!"
He seemed really awesome, but we had four hours to kill before K+A's ferry, so I passed him on it.
"It's OK. I'm free today. I'll pick you up at the port at one."
Let me tell you, if I ever look a gift horse in the mouth, give me a right and sound hiding.
Among his many monikers were Isamu (His real name), Sam (foreignified), Isajiro (a nickname of untranslatable origins), and Pooh-san, which stumped me until he told me that all the local kids called him that because of his undeniable resemblance to a certain honey-loving quadriped.
And more importantly, he made the next two days one of the most incredible travel experiences I've ever had. He started by confusing me, dropping me off with his friend, Nami, and then disappearing for an hour and a half to do I-still-don't know-what.
|Namiko and I|
Anyways, by the time he finished, I had a cheap guesthouse, two new friends, and a dinner invitation.
Over the next two days (he insisted that he take the next day off because, "I have no boss, and I like you.") I traded English conversation for dinner and drinks with friends,
trips to two tidal onsens, a waterfall, play time with his lovely dog, Koro. He took me to see his "Yakushima mother" who gave me a couple bottles of her homemade Yakushima orange juice and even hooked me up with his friend who took my river kayaking!
What hit me, and what made it so incredibly special was that besides getting the chance to speak English, he had no debt to me, no compulsion to help. Sam just wanted to chill, to make friends, and to make sure I had an amazing time. I've lived in Japan for coming up on two years now, and I'm very familiar with people who only want to use you as a practicing board, or to up their exotic factor, but this never once felt like that.
The only vibe Isajiro ever gave off was one of hospitality, and I can't help but be grateful. Humans can be so beautiful and so genuine, and for two days one human showed another that reaching out can be a life-changing experience.