Monday, August 01, 2016
High on Hokkaido V: Lotsa Lakes
Four nights in Furano was really quite a stretch. All the major attractions had been covered so it was high time that we made a move. Breakfast was a simple affair with almond cake and bottled coffee. Before leaving for Lake Toya, we were supposed to attend mass at Furano Catholic Church (the name is very straight to the point hor?). Mass was supposed to be at 10:00 AM, but when we arrived, there was a notice at the entrance (in Japanese of course). The place seemed deserted, but we went in anyway. Didn't see a single soul. At about 9:45 AM, an old lady came in a taxi. She greeted us and when she saw the notice, she gave a little frown. Both the taxi driver and the old lady didn't speak English, but we kind of got the message that mass in Furano was cancelled and would be in Asahikawa instead. Opps. Too bad I couldn't experience mass in Japan.
With that little disappointment, we went on our way to Lake Toya. Waved goodbye to the white-capped mountain views and traversed more than 140 KM to the Toyako Onsen district. Of course we made some stops along the way, with Shimakappu being the most major. A gaijin-operated ice cream stall created a stir for KH. When he frantically called me over, I thought he saw Coat West filming their latest porn there.
Our scenic drive was next interrupted for lunch at Loghouse Bibi, a famous place for grilled meat. If not for the giant sign by the side of the road, one would not realize a log cabin nestled beside the Bibi bridge. Wooden benches are arranged around square grills, with ventilators above. Big windows offer views of the river and let in sunlight. To be safe, we ordered the assorted beef platter which offered Hokkaido Siraoi beef with different levels of marbling. As it was a DIY lunch experience, we were given an apron, thongs and a lump of lard to grease the grill. We started with the leaner cuts before proceeding to the fattier cuts. The meat was tender and delicious, and when eaten with the sweet-ish sauce, even more fantastic. Hankering for more, we ordered chicken and pork spare ribs. The Nakasatsunai young chicken was really pretty expensive. One whole thigh cost more than one chicken back home. However, the meat was very juicy and suited for grilling. The pork kalbi produced the most dramatic effect on the grill, dripping fat onto the fire causing it to hiss and throw up flames. When we paid the bill, I noticed a four leaf clover on the counter in a dish filled with water. As I was photographing it, the cashier picked it up and handed it to me, declaring it a "presento". A lucky day for me.
Fuel was running low and we had more distance to cover so we stopped at the petrol pump. The self-service station pump confused the hell out of us, prompting a twink-ish attendant with Nicole Kidman like complexion to walk over to help us.
Since the drive was a bit boring, we randomly stopped at Meisui Fureai Park. That decision turned out to be excellent because it was a beautiful river park concept. On the green, young families were having picnics and we were pleasantly surprised to find that one could walk down to the river. The municipal council had built a boardwalk near the water level where one could enjoy the river view up close. Children could also walk in the clean, shallow river, netting guppies as they go. Really reminded me of scenes from anime.
Before reaching Lake Toya, KH made a planned stop at another lake, named Shikotsuko, the northernmost no-freezing lake in Hokkaido. For the first time, we were charged for parking. So sad. Rather use the money to buy snacks. Breezed by the cafes and shops to reach the lakeside. Views of the lake stirred memories of Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan. It was a large body of water with canoes and paddle swans lazily traversing it's surface. Serene and peaceful with Mount Eniwa in the background. We walked around the rim and climbed up to the bird sanctuary to watch bird watchers. The lake was quiet enough for us to hold hands and kiss in the midst of the nature's beauty.
The way to Lake Toya was filled with tunnels, some as short as 400 M and some as long as 4 KM. Lake Toya is hard to miss. On the approach, one is greeted with apricot orchards and we were lucky that they were in bloom. The road snakes along the lake giving excellent views of Nakajima Island in the middle of the caldera lake. That evening, we checked into Granvillage Toya Daiwa Ryokan Annex. Such a mouthful right? On our first try, we went to Daiwa Ryokan, a very local inn. Judging by the look on the old innkeeper's face, we weren't the first blur tourists to wrongly turn up at his doorstep. The correct ryokan was much bigger, a multi-storey building in fact, and there were many tourist milling in the lobby. Once the check-in was completed, we unloaded our stuff. Everyone had to remove their shoes and wear sandals inside. True to the ryokan concept, our room had sliding screen doors, futons, tatami flooring and a balcony overlooking the lake (fantastic view!). There was a sink in the room, but no attached bathroom. Each floor had a common toilet, but for bathing, all guests have to proceed to the onsen in the basement.
Nights in Toyako were colder than Furano. Strolled for a while at the lake side in the failing light before dinner. We didn't really want to walk far to look for dinner, so we ate at a nearby restaurant called Marche. Warmed our bellies with a bowl of beef noodles, and grilled red salmon with rice. At 8:45 PM, most of the guests gathered at the balconies to catch the Longrun Hanabi, a nightly fireworks display launched from boats on the lake. It was beautiful to see the night flowers reflected on the lake. Right after the finale, KH and I changed into our yukatas (we made sure we followed the directions in the information card as yukatas for the living and dead is just a difference of left over right, or right over left) and went to try out the onsen. At the showers, we bumped into a Singaporean uncle (Budget Uncle) that KH met earlier during the check-in. He was telling KH that it was his first budget hotel experience in Hokkaido. Hmmm. Soaked our tiredness away and went back up to the room. No eye candy again. KH felt so hot that he stripped out of his yukata. Or perhaps that's just an excuse.
Switched on the TV to watch some show on Japanese ballet and a weird 'schoolgirl' with Crayon Shinchan eyebrows. Dinner didn't seem enough so we had a supper of instant noodles from Seicomart. I was so impressed with the packaging of the instant noodles because its so convenient. Sleep came easily that night but some reason we woke up at 5:00 AM, with our yukatas undone. Talk about easy access. That unscheduled morning call gave us the opportunity to observe Lake Toya at its most undisturbed. Breathtaking.