Time to finish my story!
Before we headed off to bed the first night, we hung out with a big group of young people (in their 20s) in the "Soul Kitchen." One of the guys that was sitting behind us ended up being designated our driver for the next morning. I'm not sure how that happened, but the next day, on his day off, he drove us 4 hours (2 there and 2 back) out of his way all the way to our next destination, Kirishima. Not only did we not have to try to find rides to an out of the way location, but we were also rested, clean, and fed (they gave us 2 rice balls each for the road and a bottle of tea).
This is Kirishima. Check out how flat the side of that volcano is on the left! We didn't climb that (obviously), but it was cool to see. Instead we took a leisurely stroll up and around a mountain and went by three lakes.
After enjoying some time by the water, we were hiking and ran into this couple. The man spoke very good English, so we enjoyed talking to him. He studies English at the YMCA. ;) This is Meg and them at the Red Pine sign.
When we were done exploring Kirishima, it was time to get back on the road. Boy, did we get lucky for our next ride! A nice older couple stopped for us. It turns out that he is a principal at an elementary school in Kagoshima and his English was pretty good! His wife was really small and cute. And, they had with them their 27 year old daughter. She has down syndrome, so she acted like a child, but she was really really sweet and took an immediate liking (loving?) to us! We both felt at home right away. After about 5 minutes of driving down the mountain, they asked if we had any plans for the rest of the day. We said no and they invited us to go to Sakurajima (a volcano) with them -- of course we jumped on the opportunity! One the way (and it was a pretty long drive), we stopped at his old elementary school (where he used to be the principal), and at a foot bath spot right on the water. We got to talk to the family more and the daughter, Aichan, fell in love with us. She was holding our hands and sleeping on Meg's shoulder in the car. So adorable! They took us to Sakurajima and the mom was telling us how the people that live there now have to always be prepared just in case the mountain explodes again. The father told us that when he was in school, they climbed this mountain, but it's not allowed anymore. It's been 70 years since the last eruption. Kinda scary to think about, actually.
We took the ferry back and they offered us a place to stay for the night! They have a (nice) house in Kagoshima city, but they don't live there. I'm pretty sure the dad just lives there during the week so that he is closer to his new school. They treated us to a nice Japanese dinner (amazing!) and we went back to their house and talked/ate more food they offered us. The mom was teaching us all sorts of Japanese customs. For example, all good Japanese housewives should be able to make good tsukemono (pickled vegetables). Also, she explained how the tea cups she used to serve us tea (nice china with a top) are used only for the most important guests. The next door neighbor would never be served tea in the cups that she served us tea in. On that same note, she explained how guests should always be given the biggest tatami room with the tokonoma (can't remember the English translation of this one) with comfortable futon to sleep on. Well, we were definitely treated as very special guests! We watched NHK (like PBS in Japan) English hour with the dad and got a kick out of "WHAT A SHOT" being translated into "NICE SHOT" in Japanese. Oh Japan... The next morning they treated us to a breakfast viking (how they say buffet in Japanese). It was hard to leave these people. They invited us back to their house this summer to come and explore Kagoshima more...too bad that won't be possible, but what a nice gesture! :)
So, we were back on the road. It was raining now...no fun. We had to walk a ways to find a good spot, but we did find a ride sooner or later. The guy was going where we needed to go, so it was perfect! He dropped us off at the Ibusuki train station, which happened to only be a kilometer and a half away from the sand bath that we had to experience! We walked and waited our turn for our chance to be buried in naturally hot sand (from all the magma action under the ground). It had stopped raining, so it felt nice and cool outside...perfect for wrapping ourselves in hot sand blankets! Observe --
Meg (left) and me (right) enjoying the sand. We stayed like that for 15 minutes...mmmm sand. The kids behind us were giggling so much and saying "it's hot it's hot!" over and over. It was really funny and cute.
Ok, so the story of our next ride actually came before we got in the sand. We were standing in line, in our yukata, and wanted to have our picture taken. I was debating on whether I should ask the family in front of us or behind us. I opted for the family behind us. It was a father, mother, their daughter and her husband. They took our picture...
We started talking right after this and we quickly found out that the husband and the daughter LIVE IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD!!! Holy cow, what are the odds?!?!?! We were so loud and excited when we found this out. The dad spoke some English and asked us what we were doing and where we were headed next. He, like most others, was surprised to find out we were hitchhiking, but jumped on the opportunity to take us to our next destination -- soumennagashi (a restaurant with spinning noodles...will explain next). Well, he did promise, but Meg and I didn't think too much of it. We didn't see them after we got in the sand and we just took our time showering, enjoying the onsen, and getting dressed. When we walked out, however, there they were waiting for us! Again, we were stunned and amazed at people's generosity. So, we drive a while and pass the "Mt. Fuji of Kagoshima."
Spinning noodles!!! Originally, this has been done with a long bamboo shoot where the noodles run down and everyone sticks in their chopsticks to get some. This is a new invention -- and it is SO cool! I wish I could do this again. It's really fun! Stick your chopsticks in and wahlah, you've got noodles without trying! haha.
The mother was so adorable! I think she took a real liking to us. She had enough food in her bag for everyone and she kept offering us more and more food. She did, however, give us homemade koroke and mochi, which was fabulous! :)
We passed by this amazing field of wildflowers and they stopped to let us get some pictures and enjoy the scenery -- with lake Ikeda (the biggest lake in Kyushu) right next to us. We also got to see the world's largest eels...
They then took us on a gorgeous drive through the mountains back to Kagoshima city and finally to the eki. I think that had it been a couple of hours later, they probably would have offered us a place to stay, but it was still too early to start thinking about that. I think this was my favorite family/ride of the trip because the family got along so well and they welcomed us so warmly! Meg and I decided that it was too late to try to go anywhere, so we just hung around the eki. We took some purikura (of course), ate a nice dinner, and saw Spider Man 3 -- yes on Friday, the release date. Also, it was only 1,200 yen as opposed to 1,800 yen because we saw the "late" show (after 8). Oh, but dinner. Ohhhh dinner. We went to this restaurant with a bakery and ended up getting "pan tabehoudai" or "all you can eat bread." Not too much different than a restaurant in the States putting bread on your table, but they did have a variety of homemade flavored butters at the "butter corner." I took pictures. haha.
Mmmm butter corner. Wait, no...Ewww.. but their butters were pretty good, I gotta admit. They had brown sugar, mixed berry, apricot, maple (my favorite), regular butter, and one more that I can't remember what it was. No more butter!!!
We ended up staying in a hotel that night (we were lucky to find a room during Golden Week) and slept in until check out at 11. The next day it was raining still and we were getting tired and worn out, but we tried to hitch anyway. The first guy that picked us up was a younger guy that works at Family Mart (a well known convenience store here) head quarters. He told us that he hitchhiked in high school! So, he knew what it was like for us. The next ride came from a captain in the Japanese military. He was nice enough, but didn't say much until he tried to explain to us that we should get on the highway and at the end. He took us on the highway and ended up dropping us off at the second major service area. He bought us coffee at the first one. Aww nice! Before he dropped us off we exchanged email addresses and have already had contact with him again! He says that if we come back to Kagoshima, he will tell us all the neat places to go. Look how many contacts we have in Kagoshima! Cool!
Being on the highway wasn't how we really wanted to travel, but we found ourselves there and had to get ourselves out. There is only so much traffic leaving from the service area, you know, so we tried to be smart and made a sign. We bought a box of omiyage, collapsed the box, and made a sign that read, "In the direction of Nagasaki Prefecture."
"We can speak Japanese!" -- we got picked up in the next 5 minutes by a nice older couple. haha. They drove us all the way to Kumamoto city (yes, where we started off after the ferry on Wednesday). For some reason, they dropped us off right outside the toll booths. We had to cross the ROAD and got asked to leave after about 2 minutes because it was dangerous. The guy was nice about it, though. ;) So, we moved and tried again. No luck...really. It was raining, we were wet, tired, and it was getting late. But, here's possibly the most amazing part of our story.
As were were standing there, a man came up behind us, put 15,000 yen (almost $150) in my hand, and walked away. I tried to refuse it and give it back to him, but he WOULDN'T take it! I didn't even know what to say except "no no no no no no...." When Meg and I really realized exactly what had just happened, he had disappeared. WOW!!! I still don't know what to say. Amazing!!!!
So, instead of risking not getting a ride, we took a taxi to the train station and took trains all the way back home. The money the guy gave us got us part of the way home and will be enough to buy presents for the people that hosted us those couple of nights. At least we are spending the money for what he gave it to us for...but still! I'm still in shock! We got home later that night, exhausted, but with some great memories. Thank you Meg for doing this with me -- I had an amazing time!
That's my hitchhiking story. Did you enjoy? I realized that most of the time, I forgot that I was the hitchhiker. I really felt like part of the families that picked us up and treated us so kindly. As a matter of fact, I felt more comfortable with them than I did when I first arrived here. I guess that shows that I have become very accustomed to life here. :) Thank you, Kyushu!!!!