Milk Tea and Camping in Hakone

by Jennifer

Beverage of choice: sweetened tea with milk

Either served cold in a paper carton from Lipton at 100 yen from any convenience store or so hot in a can from a vending machine that I play hot potato till I can find a high enough place to set it down without my heavy backpack causing me to perform a serious squat exercise in returning to standing position.

An abundance of milky teas choices in japan
An abundance of milky teas choices in japan

I walk enough to avoid added exercise in my daily routine.

Fuck stairs. Where are the escalators?

In the night, about 9:30p, we were woken by voices. Sandy quickly grabbed the blanket and draped it over his airing balls. The sound of footfalls on the concrete steps leading to our campground. Not again.

A young man’s voice. A female, light, hint of nervous, giggle and we realized we were in the middle of this guy’s date night plans.

To forestall any creeping around our tent, when Sandy saw the man’s flashlight a lighting in our tent, he shot up and yelled to him, “Hello. Do you speak English?”

Just as good a spot to camp as any
Just as good a spot to camp as any

The man was completely startled. I can only imagine his face looking like that of one climbing slowly up dark stairs in a horror movie and finding himself startled by something at the top of the steps. He took a moment to compose himself and sidled, “Yes. A little,” and skipped back down the stairs to the 2nd floor balcony choosing to concede the coveted top floor to us.

I remained in a fetal position, trying to ignore this foray, listening as the man both credulously and fiercely whispered “Gaijin!” to his questioning female partner who had probably turned back down in horror seeing our tent looming at the top of the stairs.

“Foreigners,” is the translation of what he said. Having looked up what Eric meant when he wrote we ought to “gaijin smash” on our way out of Japan – which loosely means that foreigners assert themselves in ways that defy Japanese tradition with little rebuff as the natives are too polite and non-confrontational to curb our rude behavior – I later chuckled to myself that one could make a Japanese horror movie of a protagonist constantly being accosted by foreigners committing minor faux pas’s to the point of madness.

Anyway, not long after this hushed whisper we heard the fireworks start. Low, infrequent rumbles that made them seem launched by amateurs, but before long, a 20 minutes display continued. I’m not sure what the fireworks were for, and have no curiosity to inquire, as it was all rather another odd coincidence in a series of funny inconveniences.

Sleep continued intermittently, but I did not care as each time I woke enjoyed walling to the opposite end of the long balcony where I could squat and peeing into a gutter, sitting and listening to it pool at the top before tinkling down the drain.

*****

Morning at 4a, a little breakfast, packing up, and off we went to the public bathroom down the street to wash up, put on sunblock, and start our 6 hour hike down the rolling roads of Hakone, back to Odewara JR station.

No fishing allowed in the Gora Station bathrooms
No fishing allowed in the Gora Station bathrooms

A luxury, we later discovered, to be up so early and walking when it was cool. At 9a it started to cook – inching towards 90, although the shade of all the tree lined roads made it feel cooler than walking under the open gray skies of Tokyo’s imperial garden. “Good experience” I figured as in a day we would be waking up at midnight to climb Japan’s highest peak, Mount Fuji.

Mount Fuji is a bit of a daunting task for me. At 13,000 feet, the altitude alone poses a threat to my health and my ability to summit. That, a lack of recent hiking, and low will power stand in my way. Sandy, on the other hand, temporarily lived and ran at this height while in Ecuador. He had hiked Chimborazo, at 20,700 feet. He also has a lot more will power than me.

Sandy would make it. I might die – or more likely pass out and need an expensive ambulance to take me down the mountain. At the least it would be really cold at night, and with my poor blood circulation leaving my limbs frosty as ice, I would be partially miserable. However, many of us do things we won’t enjoy because we enjoy the challenge – like Sandy toting an extremely heavy backpack all around Japan – complete with tent, macbook air, and everything else he would need during our trip.

Why do we do so many things we don’t really like to do?

“Because we have so much time on this Earth,” I think to myself as I spend six hours walking down Hakone with my own heavy backpack.

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