A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: tdeits

Baseball in Japan!

Go Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters!!

rain 80 °F

I enjoy baseball and had some hopes of getting to a game in Japan, but with so much else to do, it looked like it would be a challenge to find a game that I could accommodate in my rapidly diminishing days in Japan. I did go over to the Sapporo Dome, where the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters play and talked to the ticket clerks about options. It turns out that it would be possible for me to get to a game and still return to Tokyo a day in advance of departure, so I grabbed a ticket. I had planned to spend a few days in Akita and Sakata and points north and the only way I could make a game was to travel from Kushiro in far northern Hokkaido during the day to make a 6PM start at Sapporo the same day.

I bravely decided this would work, and made travel plans accordingly. So I headed north, to Akita and Sakata, which I covered in the previous post. I then headed on to Kushiro, trying to get some flavor of far northern Japan. I had hoped to get to Wakkani, which is the true northern extreme of Japan where there are a lot of Ainu (the native peoples of northern Japan, genetically and culturally related to native peoples up to the Bering Strait and down into Alaska and beyond) but is was impossible to get a train ticket up there, and lodging was scarce as well.

Kushiro was pretty fun. I took a tourist train while I was there and despite the rain took a walk to an overlook.

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I had hoped to see some Japanese cranes but apparently you need to book a bus from the train station to do so, and I missed that detail.

The most fun thing to do in Kushiro was to visit the MOO (stands for 'Marine our Oasis') which includes a pleasant indoor garden atrium and a variety of food shops. Outside the main building is a long line of seafood stalls. You purchase tickets from a vendor at one end and then use the tickets to buy seafood from the various stalls.

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After making your selection, you cook your food 'rotobayaki' style - over hardwood coals. I sat next to a nice couple and we shared a few words of English and some squid. My meal is below as well - shrimp, salmon, oysters, eggplant, asparagus other veggies.

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After dinner, I wandered out front and came across a place with 3 Pokestops - Pokemon Go had only been released about the day we arrived in Japan, so it was in its explosive growth phase during our stay. All of the people you see in this photo are playing! (How do I know this? Level 21, dude!).

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I then ran across one of the most amusing items I saw in my entire stay -

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I guess if you win you could take your prize outside and cook it up for dinner!

The next morning I took the train to Sapporo to get to the ball park. Fortunately, I arrived early enough to check in at my hotel and get rid of my luggage (although almost all Japanese train stations have luggage lockers). I headed out to the Sapporo Dome, built for the winter Olympics.

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There was a familiar set of bouncy-things and other entertainment outside the stadium as the rather large crowd arrived. I was about an hour early and lots of people were already there.

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The first interesting difference I observed is that you are free to bring your own food and drink into the stadium, and many folks made a picnic of it. The only restriction is that you have to transfer your beer or soda to a cup.

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There is plenty of food in a bun or on a stick available at stands inside, of course.

Japanese baseball is a very lively event. They have a whole bunch of mascots and cheerleaders (and for some reason, Shaun the Sheep was there as well) who work the crowd throughout the game.

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The also have a whole lot of groundskeepers, snack sellers and even t-shirt cannons!

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The starting pitcher for the Fighters was Anthony Bass who, earlier in his career, played for the Fort Wayne Tincaps in the Midwest League. I may have seen him play against the Lugnuts!

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Perhaps the most interesting difference in the game was the cheering. There was a large section in left field that cheered and beat drums continuously whenever the Fighters were at bat. (There was a smaller section in right that did the same thing for the visitors, so the din was continuous). In addition, they had zillions of signs and even had individually composed songs for the regular team players. Here's a taste of the cheering.

As the game progressed, we reached the 7th inning stretch with the Fighters down by 2 runs. No 'take me out to the ball game' here - instead, the fans were give huge blue balloons which they inflated and then let fly around the stadium. (They did the same thing with white balloons at the end of the game...).

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Then the highlight of the game for me. A towering fly ball headed my way. It landed some distance away but then fortuitously bounced to a guy across the aisle from me. I had been watching him during the game - he was definitely a superfan. He had his own set of laminated display cards for each player (I believe all of them were autographed as well!) which he pulled from a canvas bag as they came to the plate. I asked to take a picture of him with the baseball he caught, and he insisted that I take it! We tried to chat a bit and he showed me his collection of some 30 autographed baseballs, so I didn't feel I was depriving him and it gave me a chance for a cool selfie in my Lugunts hat!

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The Fighters pulled the game out in the bottom of the 9th with a 3 run rally. I was fortunate enough to be able to get an action shot of Brandon Laird, another former Major Leaguer, getting the game-winning hit.

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On the way out, I gave the ball to a young boy who was absolutely stunned at this weird Westerner (I did not see any others in the stadium) dressed in a Fighters t-shirt offering it to him. He and his dad were most grateful which made me feel good. Despite that pleasurable event, I actually felt a bit more like these two guys and was glad to be able to get back to my hotel to prepare for my homeward journey.

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I have one more kind of off-topic post to do, but this pretty much ends my journal of my journey to Japan. I had an absolutely fabulous time. I met some very nice folks, saw tons of amazing things (many more than I have covered here), ate great food and got to spend time with my son.

I am living proof that you can go to Japan armed with essentially no Japanese but with a positive attitude, and do pretty much anything you want to do. Thanks for your patience and attention.

Posted by tdeits 10:00 Archived in Japan Tagged baseball seafood sapporo kushiro pokemon Comments (0)

Japan at your feet

A little side excursion

sunny 87 °F

Well, this is my last post I am pulling together from my great Japan trip. It's something I noticed as we walked all over. Japan is very focused on building infrastructure and one of the places it shows is, of all places, in their sidewalks. As you walk around you notice that utility covers are specialized in every town, featuring things like the local festival, dogs in Akita, seagulls in Hachinohe and on and on. In addition to these attractively utilitarian additions, some neighborhoods have lovely ceramic tiles embedded in the sidewalk that change as you go block to block. One of the tiles below designates a local bike path.

Anyway, I would encourage you to look down now and then - you may be pleasently surprised by what you see!

Here, in no particular order, are some of the city art that we ran across. Some are labeled, some you may be able to guess, and the rest are just there to show how cool they are.

Enjoy!

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Posted by tdeits 14:18 Archived in Japan Tagged art tokyo streets yokohama covers akita kushiro hachinohe morioka aomori utility Comments (0)

Quito and the Galapagos ahead!

Trying to plan without overplanning is a challenge!

I am taking advantage of my frequent flyer miles to head to Quito, Ecuador and on to the Galapagos. I decided to spend about 6 days in Quito and then about 12 days in the Galapagos, which should give me plenty of time to wander about Quito and pet tortoises in the Galapagos, with the occasional afternoon lounging with una cerveza.

My planning for Quito was pretty straightforward. I booked a hotel near the airport because I am arriving late, then will use an Airbnb place in Quito as a base for wandering around. I am not sure what I will do there as yet, but that suits my style of travel. I'll report on the hotel and the apartment later in this series of posts.

Now, I have done a lot of traveling overseas with virtually no knowledge of the local language, and have gotten along reasonably well. Sometimes, as in Germany, even if I did have some German, most folks would rather use their English with me rather than endure my German. On other occasions, my excuse has been either that I was going to a country where I felt that the language was way too challenging for casual study (Korea, Japan) or I was visiting so many countries that learning the languages was impossible (my RTW trip). However, as I would be spending considerable time in a country with a language I have heard since childhood in California, I thought it was high time to try and pick up a little Spanish.

So for the last month or so I have been diligently working through the Spanish lessons at Duolingo. It's a free site and I found that I enjoyed their gamified approach to language learning. They have a lot of languages available, including, recently, Japanese (now I don't have an excuse!). I have absolutely no idea if I will be able to use my spanish but I feel moderately confident that I can decipher basic signage, menus, etc. and probably ask for a doctor if I fall off a cliff. For what it is worth, I am what Duolingo calls Level 14 in Spanish.

So that's the Quito side of the equation. For me, though, the big question is how to approach the Galapagos. Of course, the wildlife is said to be awesome and it's really interesting terrain but, like many scientists, I view a visit to the Galapagos as a pilgramage of sorts, acknowledging the immense contribution to scientific knowledge provided by Charles Darwin. I consider 'On the Origin of the Species' to be one of the great scientific works (if not the greatest!) of all time. I believe this not just because he crystallized the concepts of evolution and natural selection for the first time in a coherent whole and then wrote lucid accessible prose to describe his thoughts and evidence, but because of the structure of the book itself.

Darwin does not present himself as an advocate for a particular position. Instead, he acknowledges that he has an idea of how things might work and then spends the bulk of the book trying his concepts out on the most challenging examples he could come up with and assesses whether his ideas can provide an explanatory framework across a dazzling array of biological systems, from orchids to barnacles. His goal is always to ask the hardest questions and go where the evidence leads. This truly scientific approach differs radically from the more frequent strategy of putting forward an idea and lobbing softballs (or outright lying about the evidence) and claiming confirmation - sadly, an approach we see far too often in American politics, for example.

Well, enough of that. Let me give a cool example of Darwin at work. He spent many years studying orchids; not for their beauty alone, but because he wanted to know if the amazing diversity of these weird and wonderful flowers served a function in nature or if they were merely represented the whimsy of a Creator.

In 1862, a botanist sent him this remarkable orchid, which I was fortunate enough to see at the McBryde Garden and Allerton Garden on Kauai.
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The only nectar in this flower is at the end of the almost foot long tube descending from the flower. The botanist asked Darwin how he would explain this remarkable structure. Darwin's answer was that there must be an insect that pollinates this flower that is actually capable of reaching this hidden treasure. Indeed, such an insect was discovered and Darwin's prediction was finally fully confirmed; it's a moth with a foot-long tongue! Final confirmation came more than 100 years after Darwin's prediction!

I highly encourage everyone to read On The Origin of Species. It's highly readable and Darwin's erudition and clarity shine out on every page. It's available online here and of course hard copies are easy to find.

That's the Darwin side of my motivation. I was also motivated by an incident in my family history that involves the Galapagos! No spoilers yet - I'll cover this in later posts.

OK, enough musings. What about actually planning? Well, my research showed that there are two general approaches to visiting the Galapagos. The first, and the one most people have heard of, is travelling island to island while staying on a ship. The ships can be luxurious or spartan, and the tour can be lesiurely or active. It was quite tempting as I love the idea of being able to jump off the ship into the sea as well as seeing a variety of locations and getting pampered a bit along the way. Of course, this approach is kind of spendy. I'm going to say something north of $300/day not including airfare.

In recent years (say the last decade), though, there has been some pushback to this approach. Primarily, the residents of the Galapagos (and yes,there are several small towns there!) reap minimal economic benefit from these ships that don't employ locals and don't fill local hotels or restaurants.

There is an increasingly popular alternative. Stay onshore in the Galapagos and then explore via day tours and the like. There are plenty of places to stay - Airbnb and related services have many offerings. So I opted for this choice. I am spending about half my time in the largest town, Puerto Ayora, and the remainder on the largest island, Isabela (why Isabela? Stay tuned!). You can fly between the islands (expensive) or take a 2 hour ferry ride (cheap and fun; that's for me!). I have not looked deeply into day tour options but I hope to do my share of snorkeling, photography and beaching.

So I'm off in a few days. Let's see if I have done my planning right!

Posted by tdeits 15:09 Archived in Ecuador Tagged puerto darwin lodging galapagos quito ecuador isabela ayora Comments (2)

On the way to Quito

A totally relaxing day!

semi-overcast 67 °F

As I was scheduled to leave Detroit early in the AM and arrive in Quito after 11 PM due to a long layover, I decided to find a hotel near the airport for my first night. I chose the Quito Polo Club Hotel. It does not have a website but it is on airbnb and Expedia among others. Even though my flight departure was delayed and I didn't clear customs until after 1AM (there are a lot of late night flight arrivals apparently, and the immigration/customs queues were stuffed with travelers) a driver from the Hotel was there to greet me and whisk me off to my room.

When I arrived, I was astonished by my room. Here is a 270 degree panorama taken the next morning from between the two beds. All three walls are 10 foot high floor to ceiling glass!

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(Not to worry, there are both screen and blackout curtains!) The table outside was my personal patio space as well.

The grounds are gorgeous - here are a few shots.

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One extra treat was that the restaurant is adjacent to the polo grounds, which are still used, at least for practice. Several people were out practicing, so I sat and watched and played with my camera to see what kind of action shots I could capture. I like the blurry one as you can see the path of both the polo ball and of the follow through of the mallet.

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I enjoyed several meals there, well prepared with good fresh fruit and good coffee. The hotel has only 6 rooms and has only been open a few months, so it surely qualifies as a hidden gem.

The next day, entirely relaxed and ready to go, I headed to Quito proper to do some more urban exploring.

Posted by tdeits 18:50 Archived in Ecuador Tagged hotels airports quito Comments (0)

Getting around Quito by bus

or- Mr Google lets me down!

semi-overcast 66 °F

I have several entries to post, but now that I have completed my days in Quito and am headed to the Galapagos, I thought I would first share the joys and challenges of travelling around Quito by bus. To preface this entry, I have made it a practice to use public transportation (busses/subways/hoofing it instead of taxis, for example) and I have had good success almost everywhere I have been. I had did well in Santiago and Valparaiso Chile as well as Japan, Korea, Greece, France, etc. However, my global sample size is relatively small.

Nonetheless, I can, with some confidence, state that riding the bus in Quito is cray cray! There are a zillion buses, all going as fast or faster than possible to grab fares before the next guy (I only saw male bus drivers, although I did see a single female taxi driver in Quito). The windows are full of destination signs, which should be helpful, right? Not. The one thing the windows almost never feature is an indication of a route number.

So how do I know these buses even have route numbers? Well, as many of you know I am pretty deep into the Android/Google universe, surrendering substantial bits of privacy for the convenience of telling me I am late for my plane or whatever. So as is my usual practice in a new city, I let Mr. Google know where I was and where I wanted to get by bus. Boopity boop and one or more routes were identified by name and number. Small problem. Neither the routes, the route names or the route numbers bore any resembance to the blue behemoths flying by. Worse, if I took Mr. Google's data and in pitiful Spanish (6 weeks of Duolingo is helpful, but it sure ain't fluency) asked any one of a number of individuals to point out where this bus might be, I got nothing. In one early case I had a route to go to the Terminal Carcalen (the main Northern bus terminal in Quito) from the Quicentro, the largest mall in Quito (never fear, you can get your Tiffany fix there). Easy, eh? I asked Mr Google, two people wearing transit system uniforms, at least half a dozen bus drivers, another guy who was offering tourist advice adjacent to my putative bus stop, some guy waiting for a bus, the info guy at the mall and a cop or two and every single one of them had a different take - I was offered all 4 cardinal directions as the answer to my dilemma.

In this case, I ended up using a desperation strategy. Mr Google at least gave an indication of the route. So I hopped first bus that came by pointed in the same general direction, hopped on and monitored my route. When predicted and actual routes began to diverge, I hopped off and looked for another bus going in the desired general direction. And so on. With a liberal addition of shoe leather, I made my first successful cross town trip.

Now, this may seem like kind of a spendy way to get around, but it aint. Buses in Ecuador are ludicrously cheap. I paid as much a $3 US for a two hour ride in a comfy bus going to Otavalo (more later) and as little as 12 cents when I boarded a city bus and the ticket person decided I needed the senior discount from the ruinous regular price of 25 cents.

It got pretty silly at times. On one trip, Mr. Google said to take the route 140 bus from the stop where I was standing. Lo and behold, this stop had a list of buses that stopped there and sure enough there was a Route 140 bus listed! It also had the same route names as Mr. Google said! Mr. Google said one came by every 7 minutes. Mr. Google was full of it - after 45 minutes, I bailed and hailed a taxi.

A brief (brief? Me?) rant about taxis. There are perfectly honest taxi drivers in Quito, there are some who are willing to monkey around with not using the meter, and a very small percentage will kidnap you for your ATM card. Never one to abandon a non-working approach, I turned to tech for taxis. I got an app called Fast Taxi apparently popular in South America. I hooked up my credit card, Uber-like and took a stab. I figured there were less likely to be rogues tied into this system and this may be the case - but I never got it to work. Putatively, you type in your destination and it pops up the location, then you can say that you want the taxi at your current location. Slick, eh? Riiiight. After doing all that, and getting down to the request a ride button, and after hitting it you are informed that you have to enter the numeric street address for both your location and your destination - even if your destination is super famous like the aforementioned mall and was filled in by the app. Ever tried finding a street number in any big city? No. can. do. So I abandoned the app and grabbed some guy who, true to form, set a price and skipped the meter. At least he got me to my destination, so all's well that etc. And yes, the $10 fare was probably twice the meter rate, but on the other hand a $10 fare for a 45 minute taxi ride through a major city does not seem like robbery to my USA eyes.

To be fair, there are multiple bus sytems in Quito, includng some quite modern ones in dedicated bus lanes. As Quito is laid out pretty much North-South, using of these tram/bus options can get you pretty close. I am referring to the E3 route, my one gloriously redundant success. I was coming back from Cotapaxi (more later - fabulous!) and was at the Quitumbe terminal. Mr Google said I needed to take the E3 bus. As a quite modern terminal, there was an info office and when I asked there, they said the same thing. I even found a platform labeled E3. And a bus labeled E3 pulled up and it went where I thought it should! Of course, this was my very last bus trip in Quito, so my bus-fu was never tested again.

On the horizon (Quito says 2019, I say 2022) a massive Metro subway system is going in that will run the length of the city. It will be great for those who can afford what will undoubtedly be a fare well north of a quarter. Whether the gleeful chaos aboveground with its cheap fares will survive is a matter of concern to those of limited resources, I am sure.

Oh, did I mention that as far as I can tell, there is neither hide nor hair of anything resembling a bus route map for Quito on line? Sigh.

So, for the possible benefit of future travelers to quito, I present photos of signs I encountered at random that appear to actually be bus route maps. May they serve you well in your own Quito bus adventures!

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Posted by tdeits 19:18 Archived in Ecuador Tagged taxi bus route quito schedule easy Comments (1)

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