Swimming at the base of Mount Fuji

Swimming at Lake Kawaguchiko

Despite having dreamed of travelling for a while before starting this journey I had done little actual planning on what I was going to do when I got anywhere. I am also the kind of person who likes to have a plan when they arrive somewhere.

These two contradictions have resulted in much unnecessary stress along the path so far!

So it was that on my last day in Hawai’i I was sitting in my hotel room, laptop browser open with hundreds of open tabs, belatedly trying to plan the coming week in Japan. Thankfully many people more organised than I am have written thousands of posts with example itineraries for the lazy, last minute, traveller.

One excellent guide by Truly Tokyo was a day trip from Tokyo to Lake Kawaguchiko. Not only does the guide explain how to get there it has photos of each step and maps too. Perfect for people like me who cannot speak Japanese, do not know where they are going and are trying to avoid wasting days once they have arrived having nothing planned.

Full of confidence I followed the guide and arrived at Kawaguchiko Station around midday, after the bus battled through rush hour Tokyo traffic for twice as long as planned. If anyone reading this ever has the same idea then make sure you book the earliest bus possible to avoid the jams!

The temperature had reached 30 degrees Celsius with bright sunshine, a welcome change from the monsoon rain that had drenched me in the days before and drowned my Bluetooth headphones which I had relied on for my only form of English entertainment in foreign lands.

You can get a hop on/hop off bus ticket at Lake Kawaguchiko however for the same price you can hire a push bike for the day, and I much prefer the flexibility of going when and where I want. After paying 1,500 Yen, about £12, I had my bike and map in hand.

Lake Kawaguchiko is beautiful and, unlike the coast of Honolulu which was mostly private with limited public access, the lakeside is mostly publicly accessible with many entry points to the water and public footpaths with decorative plants.

Another welcome change from Honolulu was the use of cycle paths which don’t just disappear when reaching a junction on 6 lane roads merging with highway entrance and exit ramps – an occurrence far to common when cycling in Hawai’i and resulting in many near heart attacks.

The unrelenting sun, combined with a few miles of cycling up and down the hills, had made things rather uncomfortable and the water was too inviting to ignore. After starting with an exploratory paddle I could resist no longer and ended up stripped to my underwear and going for a swim, much to the amusement of several groups of Japanese tourists who appeared on a bank nearby and took photos of me!

I later found out my perfect secluded spot was right next to a major tourist attraction and I had not planned my public show location very well at all.

Now it turns out that it might be slightly illegal to swim in Lake Kawaguchiko and the other lakes around Mount Fuji, a fact I obviously didn’t know until afterwards. It seems that some people have tried swimming across the lake itself and succumbed to hidden currents and thermoclines ending in a few fatalities so the authorities banned any swimming at all.

That said it was incredible to be swimming in beautiful clear waters, in glorious sunshine with the awe-inspiring view of Mount Fuji rising up in the distance. Obviously I would not advocate for anyone else to repeat my mistakes but it was a wonderful way to cool down and enjoy the scenery.

After drying off in the sunshine and continuing to explore various attractions around the lake it was time to get the bus back in to Tokyo. The only regret of the day was not booking a later bus and having to miss the sunset over Mount Fuji, although now I have a reason to return another day.

Tokyo itself has been an amazing city. The food is delicious and amazingly priced, public transport is fantastic and cheap, it is easy to get around once you have figured out roughly how things work, and I cannot say enough how helpful, friendly, patient and polite the people of Tokyo have been with me.

Sadly my rushed schedule, and limited budget, mean my time here is coming to an end already and I am writing this waiting to get the train to the airport for my next flight. The adventure continues…

Hawai’i – The 39th, and final, State

Click to enlarge

Despite officially being the 50th, and last, state to be added to the Union (60 years ago yesterday actually – Happy Birthday Hawai’i State!) Hawai’i has an even greater honour now, being the 39th and final state I visited during my journey across the United States.

After nearly 3 months, over 12,000 miles of driving and 10,000 miles flying the Rainbow State ended a trip I had been dreaming of most of my life. Sadly I was not able to visit all 50 states in one hit, mostly due to the sheer cost of travelling the states.

The difference between the USA, where it cost a rough average of £40-50 per night, compared already with some of Asia, such as Japan and South Korea which have so far averaged accommodation around £15-20 a night, in addition to travel costs, food prices and hidden charges such as “resort fees” mean the money has certainly disappeared quicker than expected!

On the plus side it means I have an excuse to return in future and do some more exploring.

The one thing that has remained true throughout the journey has been the kindness and friendliness of all the people I have met, from the staff at hotels and attractions to random members of the public who stop just to have a chat. It is something I have never really experienced in the UK and it took some getting used to, for example having a happy conversation with someone stopped at a traffic light who just wanted to say hello as I walked past because they liked my T-Shirt!

Unfortunately spending so long in the USA has also highlighted some of the ways they are so different from us and make you miss home. The biggest thing which hit me was the shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas where 22 people were killed and 24 injured in about 6 minutes around 1040am.

It was only a few weeks since I’d been in a Walmart in El Paso myself and highlighted how easy it may have been to get caught up in something like that.

Unfortunately these shootings aren’t even rare;

As of July 31, 2019, 248 mass shootings have occurred in 2019 that fit the inclusion criteria of this article. This averages out to 1.2 shootings per day. In these shootings, 979 people were injured and 246 died (for a total of 1,325 victims).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mass_shootings_in_the_United_States_in_2019 (Emphasis mine)

I have, however, thoroughly loved the time I spent in the country and I am happy to say there was only 1 occasion where I met someone who didn’t greet me with a smile (a very unhappy security guard who did not appreciate me cutting through his parking lot when walking back to the hotel one night in Texas).

I have driven through some of the most beautiful places including The Arches National Park, seen some incredible sights such as the amazing SpaceX rocket launch and booster landing, and been lucky enough to experience unique opportunities for example being flown across Alaskan glaciers in float plane. It is impossible to pick a favourite but these moments will stick with me for life.

I have also learnt enough about American Presidents to last me another lifetime!

It was with a growing sense of nervousness, then, that I boarded a plane towards Tokyo, Japan and left the familiarity of the USA behind. No longer would I know the language (my two words of Japanese being sufficient to say “Hello” and “Thank you”), be able to read the signs (“左に出る”?!) or get help from people when I am lost.

Thankfully the amazing people at Google made this easier than ever. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being amazed at the way it can direct you not only to the train station but let you know which train, platform and even recommend the best carriage! Then the Translate app which allows you to hold the camera up at any text and it will translate it in real time, it is a life saver.

I am also humbled by the people of Tokyo. A massive city of over 9 million and yet they are all polite and welcoming. We may not speak the same language but you can feel their respect and desire to help. I have only been here for 3 days and I already love the people and culture.

I only have a few more days left in Japan before moving on again and I look forward to seeing what awaits…