Friday, May 30, 2014

Dominoes fall

First off, I enter the Russian consulate in Sapporo. I wait there, about one hour before it opens. I meet a russian guy, also waiting and realize I haven't completely forgotten my Russian.
The lady at the window tells me to wait. She is very nice and reassuring. She tells me not to worry. I think about all that the contempt with which, we, europeans, have treated the russian people. The refused visas, the accusation of prostitution, of belonging to organised crime, the uptight snobbish tone of french journalists Gilles Bouleau and Jean-Pierre Elkabbach asking Putin about his inhumane acts while their own country was massively dropping a asylum demands for Ukrainian refugees... like Jack the Ripper having an ethics debate with a gas chamber.

I will not get that visa, I thought. And hell if I understand. Had I been Russia, I would stamp a big fat fuck you on every european passport.

"Your russian is really good," says the consul and gives me the visa. A day early, in 9 days instead of 10 and without all the compulsory documents.

So what? Am I pro-Putin or something? I am not. He is a smart and possibly very talented leader but he is a fucking dictator. He spreads a lot of hate, for practical purposes maybe but I have become very critical of hate and dictatorships since Turkmenistan. There is little excuse for that.
And there is little excuse for mass-killings to preserve oneself by closing borders as we do in Europe.

We are made humans, not computers, we are supposed to make emotional decisions together with the rational ones. That is why, at the price of inconsistency, we are able to understand beautiful truths, ones that we could not appreciate were we purely rational.
I think I'd rather die with a conscience than live as a turing machine.

I take my visa and run to the center of Sapporo, to the HeartLand Ferry, for the last time. It is May 29th, 3 days left to go before I emerge in Russia. I hope they haven't changed their mind.

They have not. I am in that conference room again. I get ice tea instead of coffee because it's warmer now. After I show the visa, they give me the a white and pink piece of paper: the ferry ticket.
My ticket!

Visa and ticket

They asked me when I will manage to reach Wakkanai, the Northernmost city of Hokkaido, I tell them the day after tomorrow, on 31st. So on 1st, I will embark on a boat to Rishiri island and I will take the last ferry back to Wakkanai.

I should meet one of the executives on my arrival, contact him and he will give me a ticket. The official reason why I embark for free is that I am their Public Relations person, it's even written on my ticket.
Then on June 2nd, I will embark on my ultimate trip to Sakhalin.

T. tells me that the CEO will be on this first trip and I can drive with him from the harbour to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, 40 kilometers North.

With this dream-deal, I leave Sapporo with the hope of covering some ground before it gets dark. Unfortunately it is dark pretty fast and I am walking there, in the wet night with my tablet playing music into my ears but with the warm feeling that I am almost there.

At last, I get a ride with some huge car which looks everything like a monster truck. In there is a young guy and his girlfriend and they buy me lunch. Turns out I am not falling into money as fast as I though.


I am picked up by a monster truck, North of Sapporo
I put my tent and sleep like a baby. The next day it is raining. Picks me up an old lady but we get stuck in heavy rain in a restaurant and we eat excellent Hokkaido food. I think it's some kind of shrimp soup.

The old lady is of Ainu origin and she was born on Sakhalin. However, she was thrown out after the war. I think she still has relatives there though. She invites me into her house until the rain stops. But since it doesn't seem to stop, she just tells me to stay there and goes to visit her mother. 
So here I am, having a house all for myself. There is stuff to cook and chocolate. And yes, internet!

The old lady comes from Sakhalin
The next day I don't start early. first off, I feel very comfortable in that house, it is actually the first time on this trip that I have complete privacy together with the comfort of a shower. Scratch that, bathtub. Last but not least, she made a nice little sign for me saying Wakkanai. That would be last sign for this trip. Ever. A japanese sign saying Wakkanai written by an old lady from Sakhalin who lent me her house. I don't know but as I realize this I perceive it as a quite moving.
But the trip is not over yet, I should get to Wakkanai. It threatens to rain again and nobody is picking me up. The thing in Japan is according to hitchwiki, rain transforms you into an untouchable subject so I have to catch cars in brief times of drought.

A couple of guys stops, they are going to Wakkanai, straight to the ferry terminal because there is an annual marathon around the island. They decide to buy me so much food that I can't put it into my bag. I notified the executive that I arrived and he told me shelter me somehow because of heavy coastal winds. I set up camp in the harbour, under a little concrete roof.
Everything was going well except there is a glitch: the ferry arrives at 9 AM at Rishiri island and leaves at 5 PM. That leaves me 8 hours total and if I miss the last ferry to Wakkanai, I am screwed. My ferry for Sakhalin leaves the next morning so even if I take the first ferry tomorrow from Rishiri to Wakkanai, I will miss Sakhalin and I doubt I will get a second international free ticket.

In short, I have 8 hours to ascent and descent and the ascension only takes 6 hours and the total time ascent+descent is estimated to 11 hours. It is a tough climb. And these numbers are taken on experienced climbers (now I have learned the hard way to take Japanese estimations seriously) and they are taken from base camp, situated 5 kilometers from the harbour where my countdown begins. Plus, the assumption doesn't include my 25-kilogram heavy backpack with all my souvenirs and heavy deer horns on top.
To assume that I can hold a 5km/hour walk in a mountainous terrain with a heavy bag, I will spend 2 hours walking to and from base camp which leaves me exactly 6 hours to complete my ascension and descent that takes 11 hours theoretically, with no luggage.

Thanks god for my ego which clearly concludes that I can do it even though experience attests otherwise. But I want to climb up Mount Rishiri, I want it so much because I have never yet been on a mountain in the middle of sea and while yes, it is kind of the case with Mount Halla in Korea, trust me when I tell you that the Rishiri mountain is a completely different mindfuck. 
Wakkanai
The only thing even more fucked up than Rishiri is Matua island in the Kurils. And there's a very good argument for Japanese ownership of the Kurils: they are crazy.
Mount Rishiri rises up from the left side and from the sea as if it were a spatial object. It grows up, as a floating mountain, you can't actually see it's base at the beginning, just it's top and it really feels fucked up. Everyone is crazy with cameras, taking pictures as if the object could disappear anytime as easily as it had appeared.

I have embarked on the first ferry but before, I have decided to make my bag lighter. I have hidden it under some rubbish between two buildings in Wakkanai, a little distance from the harbour. I had then met my friend from HeartLand Ferry who gave me a ticket addressed to "Mr. Hitchhiker Filip" which I guess, has a nice ring to it.
Going to climb Mount Rishiri

The mountain in the sea suddenly appears

Seagulls are usually resting on the boats
After an incredible ride, we finally arrive at the harbour. The sky is blue which doesn't happen often on islands like this which usually accumulate clouds. I press myself towards the exit to save every minute I can for my superman run. 11 hours in less than 6. Of course I start by getting lost in the coastal village and lose time there but I find myself again soon. I hitch a ride for about 500 meters and then the road is empty. All people who wanted to be on the top again already began the ascent. They arrived by yesterday's ferry and camped there. But this doesn't discourage me. I walk and run on the road up. Nothing to see there, I'll slow down when I am on the top. I won't have a choice anyway, I'll be too exhausted. I have a small piece of paper detailing ascent and descent in 10 steps with optimal times. I read the times for descent and try to fit them into my ascension phase. And every time I want to slow down I imagine the ferry leaving without me and energy finds me again.

At the bottom of the mountain the vegetation is full of leaves and dense, I almost can't see the sky. But as I climb quickly, I am actually quite amazed by my speed, it thins out and snow begins to appear. The wind, too becomes stronger. 
The vegetation becomes thinner and I can see the sky
The view is unbelievable, it is as if I was floating on my mountain in the sea. I am in a mountain, but there is nothing around. flat blue, that's it. It's like I am flying.

It's like I am flying
Strange flowers are starting to appear and I sometimes slip on the snow. I still manage to keep my climbing average under my optimistic expectations. I guess I have acquired quite a physical condition over this trip. I start to encounter people but they are mostly going down. Soon, I get to a shelter. It is a shelter that allows people to rest and possibly camp near the top, maybe in hope to reach the top very early and see the sunrise. That should be a sight to behold. I leave the rest of my bag in the shelter. I now don't carry almost anything, not even my bottle of water. I even left my tablet.
Strange flowers start to appear
As I reach the 9th mark of my 10-mark itinerary to the top, the path turns to a series of volcanic rubbish which just slides under your field. The wind blows fiercely but now it pushes me up. I climb on the wind up to the top. I see the ferry leaving. There still is one to go. Mount Rishiri, being the sea mountain that it is, it goes from 1750 meters to zero very fast and it feels like you are watching the ground from a small plane or a parachute.

I see the ferry leaving
Soon, I reach the top and I am still on time. Fuck yeah! The view is unlike anything I've ever seen. Either I have never lost my sense of wonder or Japan is just an inflation of awesomeness. I guess the same effect could be achieved with a fair amount of drugs but seriously, since our dearly soon-to be departed Shulgin is soon-to-be-departed, who can make decent LSD these days? So next best thing, I am on a cone in the sea, wherever I look there is blue, yet I stand on a fucking mountain! Far away, to the south, I see the prominent silhouette of Wakkanai bay. It looks just like on my map on my tablet, except now, it's real. I never manage to see the link between maps and reality, they always tell me shit, it always looks different than advertised except now.

Right in front of me is the island of Rebun also called Flower Island. And a little bit more north, I see the vague Silhouette of Sakhalin (or Karafuto as the Japanese call it). I can't believe I am going there. Oh right, yes, I am going there. I better run down that mountain, now!
Panorama of the top of Mount Rishiri
I run and slide down that mountain and while it took me 3 hours to climb instead of six, surprisingly it only took me 3 hours to get down instead of four. At base camp, I met a couple going back to the village who saw that I was in a hurry and drove me all the way to the harbour. There, I realized that I still had an hour left so I wondered around.

The ferry was overflowing with people because everybody was coming back via the last boat. I was just lying there on the floor (that is normal in Japanese ferries, people sit on floors); resting whatever I could of my poor body. I don't regret failing Shiretoko and Asahikawa, Mount Rishiri just was worth the shot.
On my return, I recovered my things in between the two buildings and I built my tent at the usual camping spot. I set all my electronics as alarm clocks to wake me up tomorrow morning. I just can't miss that boat, that would be the summit of stupidity. To be sure I wake up tomorrow, I don't sleep.

On June 2nd, in the morning, the hall is full of people with costumes and cameras, TV crews everywhere. It is the 50th anniversary of HearLandFerry and in a period of crisis this company is most direct mainstream link between Japan and Russia. So I guess it is of some importance.

The good executive wishes me good luck and farewell and gives me a deck of cards with the company's brand. Mascots and TV crews are filming us as we embark on the Eins-Soya. Music is playing as they wave us goodbye. And I am sitting on the ferry deck wondering weather or not I am on drugs.
счастливо пути, nice Japanese effort in Russian language

Embarking on the ferry to Sakhalin

Goodbye Wakkanai, goodbye Hokkaido!
The boat is almost empty but I am on it. Someone brings me a tray of japanese food. Neat! Lunch comes with the free ticket. That might be the last great food I am going to eat, I hear myself thinking. The great volcanic Mount Rishiri appears again on the horizon and then disappears as we sail even further away. We are now in Russian waters.

Dominoes fall. Dominoes are on the ground.