Monday, May 25, 2009

White Washed

I decided I should go for a Dental Checkup, since it has been almost 2 years since my last one. The way it’s set up in Japan though if you want a cleaning, and want it to be partially covered by your insurance, then you need to go back 3 separate times. You go one time to clean the bottom row, the top row, and then a polish to finish. Overall I kinda wish I got it done in Canada so it would all be over with. The good news is at least I still have healthy teeth.

I’m sure other interesting stuff happened during the week but it’s a little monotonous writing about it all the time. Japanese class Thursday, sushi Tuesday, this and that here and there, etc. The new stories come in with the weekend as it usually does as I went on yet another adventure. This time I went to Minakami in Gunma prefecture to try Cannoning and White Water Rafting for the first time.

I couldn’t go up Friday night because I had a work party for Tatsuno’s new teachers that night. I drew the number “1” in the seating arrangement, so I was the only teacher to join the principle, vice principal and other VIPs at the special table. I didn’t mind too much. Sure we couldn’t talk much and I was under dressed, but the food was good and when the drinking starts people migrate all over the room anyways.

I wanted to go to the second party, but I needed to leave my house at 7 in the morning for the adventure and the bus that took the teachers to the first party practically dropped me off at my house in Ina, easily saving me an hour hassle of dealing with the train. It would be silly to refuse. That’s another thing, I should be using the train more, but with my car being so cheap on gas and driving being such a convenience, it’s hard to go back. I’ll drink more with my new teachers the next time we get together :)

So I left my house bright and early, feeling a little bleary still, and drove a couple hours up to Saku again to meet up with the rest of the carpool convoy. From there we drove a couple more hours and arrived at Minakami. Before long we were being outfitted with wetsuits and lifejackets and helmets and all kinds of stuff. Then we got on a bus and headed to a nearby stream.

For those who don’t know, like me before last weekend, Cannoning is a strange sport. You float around a river in your wet suit falling down waterfall drops and sliding down rocks. The first part of it was fun: lazily floating down a small stream with your friends, splashing the ice-cold mountain water on other people. I’m sure the snow is still melting up top. But then we got to our first waterfall.

It was a 20-meter, near vertical drop. Standing nearby you couldn’t see the bottom, only hear the screams of your comrades as they slipped over the edge and plummeted into the abyss below. My heart was in my throat, and soon more people like me were huddled near the back of the line wondering if there was a way out of this. Sadly there was not. There was however, the guide lowering you more slowly down the side should it be overwhelming. When I somehow forced myself up there, it’s hard to describe my terror; my arms were shaking and I couldn’t focus. I was lowered somewhat more slowly, and stuck to the right side as suggested to take an easier fall, but it was still one hell of a rush.

After that, everything was easy. One girl was crying by the time she got to the bottom so I guess I wasn’t the worst. There were neat little slides to go down, with cool grooves carved out of the rocks after many years of water slamming into it. You tried to think of it as a waterslide as much as possible; without the safety walls and made out of rock.

The next big drop was about 5 or 6 meters. We were told we could do it in 4 different ways: go down feet first, go down headfirst, go down backwards or just jump. Haha it was so cool. I went down feet first the first 2 times to loose my nerves, then I went down head first superman style. I didn’t have enough balls for the jump though; my terrifying jump in Vietnam was fresh in my memory. Anyways you were advised to tuck in your head when you hit so you do a bit of a flip and come up easier.

A couple small drops followed, then it was our last big drop, maybe a 4-5 meter doozy. The pool was a lot more spacious this time, and you could climb up to a nearby ledge to jump in. After the first jump to get rid of my terror, I did a couple cannonballs ;) I was maybe the biggest guy there and I heard my splashes were pretty awesome. I couldn’t see them of course, with being underwater and all, but I heard the splash went all the way up to the ledge I jumped off, and got people’s heads wet who were waiting up there :) I only wish we could get something like that on picture.

On that note, there was a man taking pictures for everyone with a waterproof camera. We would pose while floating, pose while scaling rocks, and try to hide the terror on our face as he got an angle shot before plummeting 20 meters earlier. The unfortunate thing was they charged way too much money for pictures. Your first picture was $7 and any additional one was $5 each. If you wanted a CD of all the pictures though, everyone in the group would have to pay $20 each, so that one person doesn’t buy and share with everyone and our large group would have to pay over $400. But this was a whole dark side of the trip you don’t need to here. (not pictured: the bottom of the 20 meter drop)

That aside, we had a BBQ that night. Half of the place’s employees were foreigners so they had some nice touches, like crown royal on the shelf and actual, real BBQs to cook real burgers and hotdogs from Costco. (This has made Neal more determined to make a trip out there sometime with my expensive membership, and load up a car full of goodies.) Some dude in our group was having a birthday and people in his block area (kinda like a group) bought him a keg and had their own, awkward party to the side of us; but perhaps that is another completely immature-JET related story I don’t need to recall.

A couple of us didn’t want to wait for those horrible charcoal grills with all the hungry and drunk wolverines hanging out around it, so we went up and got real BBQ for additional, but well spent money. Ah, it was such a good taste of home, a fat hot dog with all the fixings and extra onions making a mess everywhere. We had to get more than one :)

A plus though, like some people were saying, this trip weeded out a lot of the JETs that just plain fail at being human beings. Lots carry their politics on their shoulder, coupled with the grieving, whining and baggage. For example, Richard and I were talking with this cool Canadian about hockey and beer and other stuff we missed from home when some jackass shouted out for no reason “Canadian Beer Sucks!” Dude, really? Could you do a better job of not making friends? You know us Canadians are nice people, but I was suddenly feeling prone to violence if my feelings of pity for him weren’t more overwhelming. There were a couple more times through the trip I saw him make similar statements to other people seemingly at random to try and start fights.

Jerks like him aside, I met some really cool people and made some good friends now I think; like a couple of interesting blokes from England. Not only were their accents charming as hell, borderline Scottish as they were from the Northern areas, but some of the stories they told me were just fascinating. For example before Japan they hardly had to deal with traffic lights at all; almost every intersection is a roundabout. Traffic is always moving, always safe and just plain better. We talked about all kinds of things from taxes to Americans to space travel and so on; it is great meeting different people like this and seeing how they operate.

That was some good sidetracking… so anyways we had something of a party, (I use that word loosely) until 11:30 that night when the bus would drive us to the cabins for the night. There was a live Irish band, and later on techno music playing in the dance lounge, but I was simply exhausted and was more amused by the bright stars as seen near the top of a mountain, serenaded by the rumbling water from the stream nearby. When we did get back to our cabins, Brian is Irish and was super drunk, and went around swapping out shoes at different places; causing a ruckus while everyone else tried to sleep for the rafting the next morning. Also my sinuses hurt like hell from having water forcibly shoved into them when it went up my nose plunging down all those waterfalls. You really should breathe out a bit when you hit!

So ya, the one time we locked the door and turned off the lights to pretend we weren’t there, but he somehow hopped up high enough to get his face pressed against the window and started banging on it. Haha that guy is awesome. It was a cold night and our cabin was basically one big room with a tatami floor and we were cold, so some of us cuddled with cute partners to stay warm :) Not a bad night at all I must say.

Alas we had to get up early again, but this time it was for white water rafting. The guide made a very humorous introduction to the basics and such, we made groups, and out to the river we went. I pushed for a team name like I usually do, and we came up with “Bondage Kitty” after Neal’s exploits in the bondage themed hello kitty love hotel room. We said “BK” for short, which got the other teams on different rafts confused while we splashed them with icy cold water with our paddles. “Let’s go to the BK lounge!” (Pictured: I am in the front)

Of course I was scared at first, especially after hearing for 20 minutes on what to do should your life be in danger and stuff like that, but I warmed up to it quickly. I can see why people love it; it’s so exhilarating. You’re rushing down and over all these rocks, jumping around and relying on your team to stay afloat. The cold water burned the exposed flesh of your hands, but you are having so much fun you hardly notice it over the huge smiles of your comrades and the serene scenery that surrounds you. Terrain like huge mountainous walls covered with tree and birds and some remains of decrepit structures being lost to the roaring currents.

Half way down the river we stopped at a quiet patch. There we got out and jumped off a rock on the side. This jump was higher than yesterdays, and after you came up you had to come quickly back to the rocks to get pulled in, lest you get sucked out into the river for the rest of the ride. Again after my first terrifying jump, my second one was a ballsy cannon ball again. I know this drop was higher because my butt was numb for 10 minutes that followed, but I heard the splash was epic. That icy cold water sure woke you up too.

After that, we switched seats when we got back on the boat. I rode in the middle before, but went up to the front with Richard where you were in more danger, got wetter and lead the crew in rhythm. An amazing, exhilarating, unforgettable adventure. I highly recommend anyone to go, you will not be disappointed.

We got back around noon, worked out in our team what photos to buy and share with each other (ended up spending over $70 between the 6 of us) and spent the next 6 hours getting home. I went to bed at 9 last night… that’s way too early, but I’m feeling well rested today after that crazy weekend. I can’t wait to go again sometime.

"The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek." -Joseph Campbell


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