World Cultural Heritage ... Monkeys

Trip Start Mar 11, 2006
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Trip End Aug 01, 2006


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Flag of Japan  ,
Thursday, March 16, 2006

From the festival with the least to compensate for, we boarded a series of trains to a small town called Hirakata between Osaka and Kyoto for our first CouchSurfing experience. www.couchsurfing.com is a website that brings travelers and hosts together to save money for the traveler, create fun, new friendships for both, and with the understanding that the traveler, once back at home, will pay it forward by putting up as a host as well. We all put up individual profiles online (you can see mine at www.couchsurfing.com/profile.html?id=526534) and, once a traveler sees someone that looks cool to stay with in an area where he wants to go, he establishes contact through the site and if the message is replied to, arrangements can be made.
I should mention that there are 2 other good sites that I am a member of and use (www.globalfreeloaders.com and www.hospitalityclub.org) but I've found CS to be the best because of their very user-friendly interface and their verification and vouching system. Go ahead, sign up now, I love it, tell 'em that I referred you :)
Our first host was a great guy named Dave and his cool fiance Ivy, a young couple from Philly who had been teaching English in Japan for a little over a year. We had actually hung out with 2 CSers before: Yumiko in Tokyo (a young Japanese banker who took us to see Japanese rockers and a shrine in Harajuku, as well as out to a club that night, but not one of those shady "hunky punky" joints as she put it) and Leanna at the Komaki festival (an American girl from Ventura teaching English in the Aichi prefecture who, with her family and work buddies hung out with us along the parade route and assured me that I was not in fact placing iodized shoe salt into the sake), but Dave was the first overnight host. They were great, fun folks and we had lovely late-night chats both nights we stayed with them. Plus what made Dave my personal hero was that he and Ivy picked us up from the train station and gave us fun of his washing machine and the first clothes dryer that I've seen outside of America. Oh and I'll use this pulpit to give a plug for the brewery that they are going to open back in the States, place your orders now!
Kyoto is one of the brightest of the world cultural heritage gems, boasting thousands of ancient temples and shrines. The beauty of the place is said to be surpassed by few other places on Earth. The magnitude of the importance of these architectural and aesthetic masterpieces ... well, you catch my drift. Well, Ryan and I are either groundbreaking or incompetent or both, because we found our own way to experience Kyoto.
We started the morning off right with a supermarket budget breakfast of melon loaf and cold spam(?) scramble for myself and for Ryan a massive loaf of crusty bread without the accoutrements of cheese, meat, jam, butter, or good taste. Our full intentions of temple-touring were at first confounded by driving rain, then by the long trek in search of a Citibank, then by our first significant train blunder, ending up miles outside the city on the "Romantic Train".
Once back in Kyoto, given the approaching darkness, increasingly enthusiastic rain, and gross lack of knowledge of the area, we concluded that the best course of action was to head up that mountain over there, after all the training we've conducted for Nepal so far (opting for the stairs rather than the escalator out of subway stations) seems somewhat insufficient. It actually was very pleasant and got better as the trail turned into sparse gravel turned into a storm drain turned into a small sluice carved out of the rock by falling water. Soaked to the bone at the end, which was fun until the wind picked up, we shivered, cursed, and laughed through chattering teeth all the way back home, where I wrapped by body around the space heater for the better part of an hour.
The following morning we were determined to accomplish the one thing that had eluded us the day before (well besides of course all the landmark sites that Kyoto, as the old Imperial City, is famous for): Monkey Mountain, a hilltop where our simian friends roam unfettered and free. After monkey-proofing our gear at the station, meeting up with Aussies Luke (dead-on Steve Irwin impression), Dominic (Canberra food kingpin), and Americans Annie (journalism grad student) and Rob (who invented those rad shoes I had as a kid that light up as you step!), we learned the first 2 rules of Monkey Club (besides don't talk about it, twice): do not reach towards them and DO NOT look them in the eyes. Trust me, should you prefer to not have them hiss, bare their teeth, and charge at you, the rules are there for very good reason.
The lil' furballs were cute in a scary sort of way and they liked the apples that we fed them through the cage we stood in to protect the humans. I had brought my guitar along and soothed the wild beasts with my song, but they did not seem to like either Jack Johnson or even The Monkees, maybe they're more in the 'Stones. One even took special care to show his appreciation by splashing muddy water all over the side of my pants to I chased him until he snarled at me.
Finally caving in (gosssh!) and resolving to see at least one temple properly in Kyoto, we took a bus across town to have a gander at the Silver Pagoda and grounds which were quite phenomenally. A great aura of beauty and serenity, as had the Shinto graveyard that we stumbled across a short ways away.
Feeling cultured as we had reasonable hope of being, it was time to keep on truckin' to Hiroshima to see my main man Jeff "Nemo" Niemetschek!

Moral of the story: "Monkey" means "awesome" in any language.
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