Every day for the last 14 years, Spouse and I methodically perform a daily ritual known as “coffee talk.” Coffee talk obviously derives its name from the ritualistic consumption of the caffeinated beverage which enables each member to hoist his or herself out of bed, but a more imperative objective of this communion involves the quotidian need to plan that day’s formula for exhausting the Offspring. Spouse and I were delighted with Tuesday’s plan for pooping them out by cavorting through scenic Kyoto via the Romance Train followed by hurdling down the Hozu-gawa river in a boat. We failed to consider the possibility of killing Grandmama in the process.
On Tuesday, we headed West to Kyoto. (For background on Kyoto read here) Carefully plan the trip to Kyoto or risk a tragic final vision of this historic town- face down in a Zen rock garden, choking on incense having overdosed on Temples all the while begging Buddhist monks for french fries and a fully loaded Coke. Then again, it could be we Clampitts have a limited appetite for cultural displays and short attention spans.
After Grandmama’s inaugural ride on the bullet train, we spent the night in a traditional Japanese Ryokan (Hotel) on rows of futons in the single room allotted to our group. The Offspring and I passed around the pamphlets for the “Sagano Romantic Train,” and “The Hozu-gawa River Tour,” and tucked in anticipating the fun ahead. Grandmama was asleep before the pamphlets were returned to the backpack. Almost immediately the most horrific noise produced by a human being commenced. Although technically defined as snoring, this combination of whistles, snorts, grunts, and the cacophony of other sounds emanating from the nasal cavities and mouth area must have another more serious medical definition which described the din we suffered through out the night. Occasionally sleep would overtake one of us until one of her rousing trumpet blasts would jolt us all awake. The next morning we pulled ourselves hand over hand up the railing to the train. A well rested Grandmama hopped on as if assisted by a pair of giant wings.
No other sleep deprived tourists broke Ouisar-san’s Number 1 rule for traveling. Because all of you have been so supportive of the many foibles I’ve shared over the last several months, I’ll share my Number 1 Rule of Traveling and most secret of secrets: Always get to the park/train/boat when it opens because everyone else is just too dang lazy to be the first in line. As usual, my secret of secrets worked like a charm-we caught the first ride out at 9:07- which allowed us full access to all of the primo picture-taking spots, some blessed by the conductor, others cursed.
This, in the conductor’s mind, was a great photo-op, so I sprinted to the middle of the train to get this National Geographic photo moment. It was a competition after all. With the right adjustments, these will probably pass as an authentic Black Bear family from Yosemite National Park. I kept expecting a rousing rendition of “Song of the South” from Splash Mountain at Disneyland as I looked at this family. Can someone remind exactly who these guys really are?
Since Grandmama had been long asleep when the Offspring and I were reviewing the pamphlets, she began to fret when these folks floated by:
“Mom- we’ll be wearing helmets, life jackets, and the wet suits are buoyant so when you fall in there is no doubt you will float. And I’m pretty sure you can touch the bottom. Don’t worry- it will all be FINE. The beer will really calm your nerves.”
The Offspring looked at me- then to her. Back to me. Offspring #2 turned to me,
“Mom….” She was very worried.
“She and I have been at this for 46 years- don’t worry.”
It’s really important to seize these opportunities when presented as they don’t come along that often.
Grandmama gave me the Thin Lips indicating motherly disapproval.
After 30 minutes on the train the terrain flattened. The ride ended when the rice farms appeared.
Our boat really looked like this:
The boat had three men- pushing, steering and rowing. The man in the back controlled the rudder, one in the front rowed, the other in the front ran a long pole along the bottom of the river. He placed the pole on the river bottom and would then run from the front of the boat to the mid portion pushing the boat along the bottom as he ran. Every so often the men would rotate positions. The river has been navigated by this type of boat for centuries. The rocks bare holes from the poles placement to steer the boats away from the rocks when going through the rapids.
There were several items of interest not covered on the official brochure- like the triangular concrete doodads below. These are used all over Japan to prevent erosion of coastal areas as they act like sand dunes.
The captain (seated) entertained the entire crowd for two solid hours with a constant banter that rocked the boat with laughter. We didn’t speak enough Japanese to understand his jokes which not deter him in the least- he splashed us with water to keep us with him.
The spot below now occupied by a lone fisherman was reserved for Emperors and Shoguns throughout previous centuries. Lucky. Although I think he’s either a plant from “Visit Japan” or just learning as only a novice would abandon a baited hook unless retrieving a beer from the cooler.
It wouldn’t be Kyoto without a Buddha sighting.
We hadn’t killed Grandmama yet, but it was only 12:00 when we got off the boat. We still had the whole day left.