One of the reasons we had chosen Japan for our late October trip instead of the numerous destinations in Southeast Asia that are on our travel list was our nostalgia for autumn. Kyoto, in particular, was rumored to be breathtakingly beautiful in the fall, with its ancient temples surrounded by colorful foliage. We got a heavy dose of autumnal weather, but not much in the way of scenic landscapes during our five-day stay in the Kansai area. Fortunately, we found what we sought in the mountains.
Posts tagged ‘adventure’
Japan – the land of chatty appliances and heated toilet seats; gas station sushi, seaweed snacks, and breakfast udon bowls; tiny hotel rooms and indoor slippers; inscrutable signs with dubious English and incomprehensible (to us) kana and kanji characters – has long been on our travel bucket list. In fact, before D landed an eleventh hour assignment that forced us into a three-month separation, we had planned to visit Japan during our transfer from Washington to Manila. It was only fitting that we’d make the land of the rising sun the first international destination during our first Asia tour.
Considering that we are living in an archipelago nation known for its beaches and dive spots, our beach-to-trail ratio appears to be a bit off. We have gone on several day hikes. On the other hand, it took S four months to make it to the ocean, and the only sand D has seen in nearly two months in the Philippines is the beach volleyball court in Manila Bay, where his ultimate frisbee team practices.
Lakes, volcanic craters, and mountain trails abound just beyond Metro Manila’s urban sprawl. To reach them, one just needs to penetrate the metropolis’ omnipresent traffic. Gridlock can be a powerful deterrent for a day trip, especially since the only reliable solution for escaping it is to hit the road before the sun is up. There is usually no dodging the congestion on the return trip, but by that point an epic adventure is in the books, which makes a couple of hours in traffic seem like a small price to pay.
We ended our ten-day trek through Arizona and New Mexico in Sedona – one of the Southwest’s most acclaimed destinations. In addition to the gorgeous red rock buttes that ring the town, what struck us most is how different Sedona felt culturally and spiritually from the rest of the state.
A third of the way through our Southwest road trip, Christmas Eve found us in Artesia, NM – a small town that owes its name to a long ago depleted artesian aquifer and whose present existence is supported mainly by oil and gas refineries. A ghost town under ordinary circumstances, Artesia seemed doubly so as we navigated its deserted, halogen-lit streets. Even grocery stores were closed on account of the approaching holiday. The neon billboards of fast food restaurants, which remained stubbornly open, provided the only sign of life as night approached. We had stocked up on groceries before our arrival and hunkered down in our inn with a board game to while away the evening.
Hands down, the top highlight of our most recent trip to the Southwest was a visit to Chiricahua – a little-known national monument that is tucked away in the southeast corner of Arizona, near the border with New Mexico. The park receives between 50,000 and 60,000 visitors a year – less than one-tenth of the number of people who visit nearby Saguaro, where we had spent the previous day.
While the Grand Tetons get top billing, we found Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains not only every bit as spectacular, but also much more sparsely frequented. Whereas the Tetons were swarming with visitors, we did not see more than a couple dozen people on the trail in the Sawtooth Wilderness. Our first hike there – a five-mile ascent to the Wilderness’ eponymous lake – proved the most memorable of our home leave adventures.
Since returning home from Kigali, we had been in a state of limbo. Naturally, we took advantage of D’s home leave to go exploring out west, but S was forced to cut her travels short, returning to DC for the start of her Foreign Service Orientation. The opaqueness of the assignments process and the temporary lodging she took up in Virginia while D stayed out west only served to further underscore the sense of suspense and uncertainty. Should we settle in and get comfortable? Or would DC serve as but a brief stopover before our next overseas destination? Until Flag Day, it was impossible to tell.