From here to Tokyo: a story about two adventurers’ cycling trip to Japan

(For an English translation, please scroll down)

Cherwin & Sjakoera on their trip around the world

Cherwin & Sjakoera on their trip around the world

Dit keer een verhaal over Sjakoera en Cherwin over hun fietstocht van Nederland naar Japan.

Op 7 januari 2012 vertrokken wij, Cherwin van Meeuwen (22 jaar, voorheen korps marinier) en Sjakoera Jongenelen (21 jaar), vanuit het dorpje Ridderkerk op de fiets naar de wereldstad Tokio. We waren op dit idee gekomen door een krantenknipsel over een Japanner die na zijn studie terugfietste naar zijn Japan vanuit Berlijn. Om 03:00u ’s nachts begonnen we, de eerste 150 km te fietsen, nog niet echt beseffend hoe onze wereldreis zich zou vormen of welke route we zouden nemen.

In Duitsland stond er langs de meeste delen van de Rijn ‘hochwasser’ waardoor we gedwongen werden om de heuvels door te fietsen. In Augsburg begonnen de eerste hevige sneeuwvlokjes neer te dwarrelen waardoor een Duits gezinnetje ons ‘krank!’ noemden toen we afscheid van ze namen om onze weg naar München te vervolgen.

Nadat we door Italië waren geraasd, werden we aan de grens van Slovenië verwelkomd door mannen die ons appels, worst en kaas meegaven.

In Kroatië maakten we voor het eerst kennis met

‘Bora’. Dit is een wind die ontstaat boven de Balkanhoogvlakte en wordt gekanaliseerd door de bergtoppen waardoor plaatselijke windstoten tot wel 180km/u kunnen ontstaan. Daar fiets je dan, op een weg langs de kust naast een afgrond met windstoten die je wegblazen. We werden letterlijk van onze fietsen afgeblazen de struiken in.

Door de plensregen in Albanië met kleine kinderen die ons verwelkomend “f*ck your mother” toeriepen, enorme plassen die de tevens zo enorme kuilen in de weg verborgen (eerste slagjes in de wielen), constant getoeter en het enorme aantal overreden dieren langs de wegen, arriveerden we in Montenegro, waar de

kustroute weer prachtig was met witte stranden langs de bergen.

Griekenland was zwaar. Direct over de grens meteen een berg opstompen, mooi, maar niet op de fiets. Alhoewel, zodra je naar beneden raast door ’t prachtige landschap zijn al je inspanningen ’t waard geweest.

In Turkije dachten we ’t laatste beetje sneeuw te hebben gezien totdat we arriveerden in Georgië. In de zomer zou het daar vast prachtig zijn, maar wij waren alleen maar bezig niet uit te glijden over de sneeuw en het ijs.

De natuur in Armenië was adembenemend mooi.Enorme bergen, bepakt met een dik pak onaangeroerd sneeuw. We waren, ondanks de kou enorm gelukkig in de prachtige krachtige natuur.

Iran was toch enorm spannend voor ons, alle waarschuwingen uit Nederland en positieve aanmoedigingen uit Armenië in ons achterhoofd, fietsten we uit de sneeuw de grens over.

Na een soepele grensovergang fietsten we door een valleitje richting Tabriz, het kwik steeg van 4°C in de bergen in Armenië, naar 31°C in de open vlaktes.

Langzaam maar zeker verdwenen onze jassen en warme kleding. Iran bleek een land vol vriendelijke geïnteresseerde mensen; tot bijna irritant aan toe bleef men ons aanhouden en bood een slaapplaats, voedsel of een lift aan. We kregen watermeloenen van wel 13kg mee, alsof we het niet al zwaar genoeg hadden.

Na 2.097 km door Iran te hebben gefietst, werd  het tijd om de grens van Turkmenistan over te gaan.

Bij de grens waren we stiekem aan het wachten tot het donker werd om onze tent op te zetten. Immers, je mag niet overal zomaar kamperen. Helaas werden we ‘betrapt’ door een politieagent. Hij nam ons mee naar een hotel, maar dat paste niet in ons plan. We wilden alleen bij mensen thuis of in ons ‘4*sterren- tentje’ slapen. De eigenaar van het hotel bood ons een gratis overnachting aan, die we als echte Nederlanders

natuurlijk niet afsloegen!

Na een warme douche- en driegangen menu werden we de volgende ochtend wakker gemaakt met ontbijt op bed!

Het was een opluchting om in Turkmenistan weer

korte kleding te mogen dragen en de verandering in

kledingstijl te zien. Het is een land vol kamelen maar een heel stuk heter dan in Iran, wat ons fietstempo onwijs versloomde op een visum van 5 dagen voor 550km!

Na Oezbekistan waar we alle visums voor de ove-

rige ‘stans’ hadden geregeld arriveerden we in één van onze favoriete landen; Tadzjikistan! Prachtige bergen, natuur, rivieren, pittoreske kampeerplekken; het was allemaal adembenemend.

Het was niet erg om de bergen op te moeten stompen aangezien ’t uitzicht alles goedmaakte. Toch werden we blij van een tunnel op 2200m hoogte waar we vervolgens niet doorheen mochten fietsen, aangezien de weg een rivier was vol kuilen, ladders en ventilators midden op de weg.

We werden samen met onze fietsen een vrachtwagen in gezet en kregen een lift door de tunnel, waar de chauffeur weer hielp verscheidene ‘Opel astra’s uit kuilen te sleuren (je woont in Tadzjikistan, 94% gebergte, koop dan een verdomde jeep?!).

In Kyrgyzstan was de natuur even prachtig; groene bergen maar dan met grote blauwe meren in plaats van rivieren. Enorm veel schapen, paarden, paardenmelk, yurts en ranzig ruikende kuilen in de grond met plankjes waar schijt op is ‘gemorst’ erboven als toiletten. We zagen Kyrgyzstan als een voorproefje van hoe Mongolië eruit zou zien.

Voordat we Mongolië konden bereiken, moesten we eerst nog door het rijkste van de ‘stans’; Kazachstan. Omdat we dachten dat Kazachstan net zo’n armoedige grensovergang zou hebben als de andere ‘-stans’ dachten we dat, als we zelf onze visumingangsdatum zouden vervroegen in onze paspoorten, ze ’t vast niet zouden merken. Helaas was niks minder waar; vergrootglas, scans, urenlange ondervragingen en heel wat computerwerk volgden en uiteindelijk gingen we het land binnen op ons visum van Kyrgyzstan. Na Kazachstan gingen we op weg naar het land van de Rode Draak; China.

In het westen van China maakten we kennis met het drukke verkeer en wegen zonder vluchtstroken. Zwaar beladen vrachtwagens raasden op een afstand van 30cm langs ons heen, waardoor wij zowat van de wegen werden geblazen. Ook blijven de chauffeurs er doorrijden met lekke banden wat wegen vol metaalsprintertjes veroorzaakte, die ons maar liefst 16 lekke banden bezorgden op een route van 480km.

Ons visum voor China was maar voor 30 dagen. Daarom besloten we via Mongolië naar Beijing te rijden.

Nadat we vanuit China de grens met Mongolië hadden bereikt, vonden de grenswachters het belangrijker om hun worstelheld aan te moedigen tijdens de Olympische Spelen. Met hun ogen op de televisie geplakt, stempelden ze ons zo snel mogelijk in en voordat we het wisten stonden we alweer buiten.

We waren blij China uit te zijn, maar wisten niet dat we aan het begin stonden van het meest saaie- en oneindige deel van onze gehele fietstocht. De eerste dag was mooi, we hadden de zon die ons verwarmde, de wind in de rug, adelaars in de lucht en niemand in de verste heuvels te bekennen. Het heerlijke zonnetje veranderde al snel en de modderige wegen dwongen ons een bus te nemen naar de hoofdstad Ulaanbaatar.

Mongolië heeft geen infrastructuur; enkel modderpaden waarvan je moest weten dat ze bestonden want ook wegwijzers waren er niet.

Met enorm veel gezeik kregen we onze fietsen mee in een mini- busje waar we extra voor moesten betalen, in plaats van de grote tourbus waar we al tickets voor hadden gekocht. In het busje werden nog 21 extra personen gepropt en vervolgden we onze rit van twee volle dagen. Het busje was eigenlijk bedoeld voor maar 12 personen, maar daar nemen ze het daar niet zo nauw mee.

Onderweg was de enige verandering in het landschap de kleur van het gras.

Na de vreselijke tocht waarbij het busje in de nacht een paar keer vastzat in de modder, door een rivier getrokken werd en een lekke band kreeg waren we er helemaal klaar mee. We verbroken dan ook ons record door 168km op een dag te fietsen richting Beijing, China.

Vanuit Beijing ging Cherwin ‘nog even’ naar Noord Korea. Even op een uitstapje zónder fiets. Noord Korea bleek een schitterend land; de natuur nog echt en ongerept, de zeer strenge voorwaardes en een escort van vijf agenten gaven je het gevoel dat je ergens was waar je eigenlijk niet mocht zijn en dat gaf een enorme kick. Na vijf dagen zat het er helaas weer op, na het nodige gezien te hebben en zwaar onder de indruk van de enorme ‘Arirang’-dansvoorstelling, (de grootste dansvoorstelling van de wereld, om de verjaardag van Kim Il- Sung te vieren),  was het weer tijd om terug te keren naar Beijing.

Om het drukke verkeer in Beijing te vermijden begonnen we ‘s nachts te rijden naar Tianjin, 150km verder, waar we in de ochtend de ferry zouden nemen naar Zuid Korea. We hadden eten vergeten mee te nemen, en moesten de hele tocht op droge noodles met glaasjes kraanwater doen.

Op de ferry naar Zuid Korea raakten we aan de praat met een Koreaanse monnik die ons uitnodigde bij hem thuis te komen logeren in het zuiden van het land.

Onderweg door Zuid Korea maakte de zon plaats voor zware bewolking en regen als gevolg van een tyfoon. We fietsten we door ondergelopen dorpjes en voelden de paniek in de lucht hangen. Uiteindelijk raakten wij zelf ook ingesloten door het water. Er was geen uitweg meer mogelijk. Zelfs de politie wist niet wat te doen, terwijl het water langzaam bleef stijgen.

We moesten door en besloten om tot onze borst door het water heen te waden tot we een droge plek vonden. Daardoor waren we compleet de weg kwijt, maar met ons kompas wisten we toch de juiste richting te vinden.

Aangekomen bij de monnik konden we onze spullen

laten drogen. Onze waterdichte fietstassen bleken vol kleine gaatjes te zitten. Van hem kregen we nieuwe

kleding en vervolgens fietsten we door naar Busan voor de veerboot naar Japan.

Binnen tien maanden hebben we Japen bereikt.  Het voelt raar, maar ook goed. De tijd is zo snel voorbij gegaan.

24  September arriveerden we in Fukuoka, Japan. Van daaruit zijn we naar ‘t zuiden gefietst richting Nagasaki en hebben een klein rondje gemaakt op het zuidelijke eiland Kyūshū. Hierna vervolgden we onze weg langs de noordkust van het eiland Honshū naar Tsuwano, om vervolgens de zuidkust te volgen richting Osaka en Kyoto, waar we een parade en een vuurfestival in Kurama hebben meegemaakt.

Na Mt. Fuji op te hebben gefietst en daarna naar de top te zijn geklommen, vervolgden we de tocht naar ons ‘echte’ einddoel; Nicki en Mun Yoshihara, Sjakoera’s nicht met haar man in Tokio.

Door hun warm onthaal voelden we ons snel thuis. Mun en Nicki hebben hun overheerlijke kookkunsten al laten proeven en zijn heel behulpzaam; na tien maanden enkel spaghetti, rijst, noodles en leven in een tent is dat wel even wennen.

Na de 1.172 km door Japan te hebben gefietst staat onze teller op 18.463 km door 24 landen en vinden we het wel prima de hele dag in bed te liggen; langzaam plannen te maken voor de terugreis.

This time a story about two heroes Sjakoera and Cherwin about their amazing journey cycling from The Netherlands to Japan.

On January 7th 2012 we, Cherwin van Meeuwen (22 years old, former marine corps) and Sjakoera Jongenelen (21 years old), left from our home town Ridderkerk to cycle to the cosmopolitan Tokyo. We came by the idea from reading a newspaper clipping about a Japanese guy that cycled back to Japan after he graduated university in Berlin. At 03:00 AM we started on our first trek of 150 km no yet realizing what shape or form our trip around the world would take or what route to take.

In Germany along most parts of the Rhine rive there was ‘hochwasser’ (high water) which forced us to cycle through the hills. When we arrived at our first guest home, we told them we thought Germany had high mountains (The Netherlands is completely flat so we are not used to hills of any kind) and our hostess laughed at us and told us it were merely hills we cycled through and that there was more up ahead that was way worse than these measily hilss! In Augsburg the first snow flakes started to fall which led to another German family calling us ‘krank!’ (crazy) for cycling in such bad weather, but regardless we were on a schedule and decided to go ahead towards Munich.

After we had raced through the border with Italy, we were welcomed in Slovenia by men with apples, cheese and sausages. The people there are so kind and welcoming!

In Croatia we first experienced ‘Bora’. (Not to be confused with the character Borat) This is a special gale force wind that is caused when wind high above the Balkan plains is channelized through the mountain tops which leads to gale winds of 180km per hour. I can tell you, it is no fun trying to cycle while vicious winds are trying to push you off the mountains. We actually literally got blown off our bikes and into the bushes. That is how hard the wind blew. Like Mary Poppins minus the umbrella and the funny songs.

Through torrential rains we crossed Albania with little kids welcoming us with “f*ck your mother” through enormous puddles that hid even bigger holes in the road. Here we got our first kink in our wheels, through constant honking of cars, seeing dead carcasses along the roads until finally we arrived in Montenegro, where the coast line was gorgeous with white beaches along the mountains. It was such a relieve after all the filth and horror we experienced in Albania to finally see the beauty that Europe has to offer.

Greece was tough. Right after the border we immediately had to go up a mountain. The view was breath taking but we could not enjoy it as we were so tired trying to climb that retched mountain. On the other hand, as soon as we went down all our troubles went away and we let the air rush past our faces and dry up our sweat, it was heaven on earth. Finally we could appreciate our surroundings and thought it had all been worth wild.

In Turkey we thought we had seen the last of the snow, until we arrived in Georgia. We were told it should be wonderful there in summer, but when we were there all we did was try to stay upright in the patches of snow and black ice.

Nature in Armenia was breathtakingly pretty. Huge mountains packed with the whitest of virgin show, even though we were chilled to the bone, we did not feel a thing while cycling through this gorgeous landscape.

Iran was very exciting. We were warned by everyone before leaving, but received some positive encouragements in Armenia, so with that in mind we cycled through the snow across the border.

After an easy border crossing, we came to a little valley towards Tabriz, the temperature slowly climbed from 4°C in the mountains of Armena to a sweltering 31°C in the open plains.

Slowly but surely our coats disappeared in our luggage bags and our warm winter wear too. Iran turned out to be a country full of nice and interested people. Naturally they are not exactly accustomed to foreigners cycling through their country with heaps of luggage so we were stopped often to ask us whether we needed a ride, some food or a place to sleep. Meanwhile people would ask us about our journey and why we were in Iran. In the end we were even offered a watermelon by one guy that was at least 13 kg. So sweet but we already had so much weight to carry! Still we felt bad refusing as the guy did not appear too well off either so we thanked him profusely and continued on our way.

After cycling for 2.097 km through Iran alone, it became time to cross the border of Turkmenistan.

At the border we were lying in wait until it became dark to pitch our tent. It is not allowed to camp just anywhere. Unfortunately we got caught by the police and had to leave. He took us to a hotel, but it did not fit our plan. Our goal is to do this trip while spending the least amount of money. A hotel would be too big of a bite in our budget. Still the owner of the hotel felt sorry for us and offered us to stay in the hotel for free! As true Dutch people who love everything free, we could not resist the lure of a hot shower and a decent bad and gladly accepted.

Afteer a warm shower and a three course meal (a rarety for us since leaving our native village) we were woken up the next day with breakfast in bed no least! Words can not express how happy that made us!

It was a relief to be able to wear short clothes again in Turkmenistan. Although the weather had been warm in Iran, we decided to wear only long sleeved shirts and pants and for Sjakoera a scarf around her head in order to stay within local customs. Of course we realize we are a guest in the countries we visit and we do not wish to offend anyone and adapt ourselves wherever possible.

Still it was nice to be able to get rid of the hot jeans and long shirts we’d been wearing shortly before and to gape at the local population and their difference in clothing style.  It’s a country filled with camels and a lot hotter than Iran, so this really slowed us doen. We only were able to cycle 550 km in five days.

After Oezbekistan where we arranged all our visa for the other ~’stans’ we arrived in one of our most favourite countries; Tadzjikistan! Beautiful mountains, deep blue lakes, fresh air, gorgeous nature, and idyllic camping spots. It was all so breathtaking!

We even did not mind having to climb up all those mountains since the view made up for everything. Still we did feel a wave of relieve hit us when we arrived at a tunnel at 2200m  high up the mountains. We were not allowed to cycle through this tunnel as it had ditches and putholes everywhere and old fans and ladders were left right there in the road even! Finally an excuse not to cycle! We were loaded into a truck together with our bikes and got a ride through the tunnel. Along the way our ‘driver’ helped to pull out several small cars that got stuck in the road. Perhaps when living in such a rugged country which consist of 94% mountainous areas it would be more sensible to buy a friggin’ jeep we thought!

In Kyrgyzstan the nature was splendid as well with grean mountains, large saffire coloured lakes in stead of the rivers we saw before. There were lots of sheep, horses, horse milk yurts and faul smelling holes in the ground coverd by a little shit covered wooden boards that were meant as toilets. Kyrgyzstan gave us some impression of what Mongolia would be like.

Before we could enter Mongolia, we first had to go through the richest of all the ~’stans, namely Kazachstan. We had figured that Kazachstan would be as shabby as all the other border crossings we had been through in the previous countries, so we had falcified our visum hoping they would not notice. Unfortunately the truth was far from it! After hours of painstakingly looking at our passports with magnifying glasses, scans and interrogations and a lot of computer work, we were finally admitted on our other visa from Kyrgyzstan. After Kazachstan we headed for the country of the red dragon; China.

In the western part of China we first experienced the heavy traffic of China. In most other countries there are emergency lanes we could use to cycle on (highways are often times a lot faster than having to go through all the little villages) but in China these emergency lanes were absent. Heavy loaded lorries flew past us with only about 30 cm between us and the, and nearly pushed us off the roads! Drivers also continue to drive even when their tires are flat. This left the road full of shards of metal that left us with 16 flat tires on a road of 480km.

Our visa for Chia was only valid for 30 days, which is why we decided to go through Mongolia to Beijing.  After we reached the border between China and Mongolia, the border patrol thought it more important to cheer on their wrestling hero during the Olympic games than check us properly, so with their eyes glued to the television, the stamped our visa as quickly as possible so they could enjoy the rest of the match. Before we knew it we were back outside and had finally reached Mongolia.

We were very happy to be out of China, but at that point we did not know yet that we were about to reach the most boring and seemingly unending part of our journey so far. The first day we enjoyed the view, the sun was shining and warming our backs, the eagles flew overhead and other than that there was no living thing in sight. The gorgeous weather soon changed and the road turned into muddy sludge so we were forced to take a bus to the nations capital Ulaanbaatar.

Mongolia has no infrastructure, no roads of any kind, only dirt roads ,which are often times not mentioned on maps. Road signs are generally not used either, so you really need to know where you are going if you don’t want to get lost. Fortunately we both had a compass, otherwise it would have been tough to navigate through a country without any discernable land marks.

We faced a lot of hassle when we wanted to take our bikes along on a mini-bus ride. We originally had paid to take our bikes on one of those big touring cars, but we were not allowed to take our bikes along and were instead, refered to this little bus. Of course we had to pay extra while we boarded the little van, another 21 people were squished into a space only meant for 12 people at most. The ride lasted for two whole days so you can imagine our agony along those bumpy roads jam packed between all those extra people. The view along the day did not chance much, only the color of the grass changed from green to brown, occasionally.

After a hellish ride during which the van got stuck in the mud a few times or had to be pushed through an actual river and got a flat tire, we really had had enough. The next day we broke our personal best and cycled in one day 168km on our way to Beijing, China. It was so liberating to finally get out of that smelly bus and be able to feel the wind in our hair again.

From Beijing Cherwin decided to take a ‘little’  side trip to North Korea. For once a trip without the use of his bike! North Korea turned out to be a beautiful country, it’s nature still wild and beautiful. The 5 men strong escort made you feel like you were on a clandestine visit to a place you were actually not allowed to be, this was really thrilling and really gave an extra dimension to the trip. After a mere five days the trip was over, but our group was able to see and experience a lot in such a short time, among which the enormous ‘Arirang’-dance show (the largest dance show in the world for the sole benefit of celebrating the birthday Kim Il- Sung), it was finally time to return to Beijing.

In order to avoid the heavy traffic in Beijing we started cycling at night towards Tianjin, 150km further on, where we were going to take the ferry towards South Korea. We only forgot to bring food so the whole trip to the boat we had to live off dry noodles and tap water!

On the ferry on the way to Korea we got to talking with a Korean monk who invited us to come and join him at his home in the south of the country. We enjoyed talking to him, so we really did not mind to cycle quite a bit out of the way in order to see the monk before heading out to Japan.

While we were cycling through South Korea the beautiful warm sun decided to hide herself behind heavy rain clouds and since a tyfoon had been near we experienced some torrential rain. We cycled through inundated villages and felt the panic in the air. Eventually we too got trapped by the water and there was no way out. Even the police did not know what to do while the water kept on rising.

We needed to go on so we eventually decided to wde through the water so we could reach some dry land. The water came up to our chest and our bikes and luggage were completely drenched. Not to mention ourselves. Because of all the water we really got disoriented since there was not land in sight, but fortunately with the help of our compass we finally managed to wade towards the right direction and find some dry land.

When we reached the monks house, we were able to dry all our things. Our ‘water tight bags’ turned out to be not so water tight after all. Along the way miniature little holes and punctured the bags so all our things were drenched.  The monk was so kind to give us some dry clothes we could keep and after a good nights rest we continued our way to Busan so we could catch the ferry to Japan.

Within 10 months we had finally reached Japen. It felt kind of strange to finally reach your destination, but at the same time we were elated and surprised that time had moved so fast. It seemed like only yesterday, and at the same time an eternity, since we had left our little home village in The Netherlands.

September 24th 2012 we arrived in Fukuoka, Japan. From there we travelled south towards Nagasaki and cycled around in a circle to traverse the souther island of Kyūshū. After this we continued our way along the northern coast of the island Honshū to Tsuwano, and finally we took the southern coastline towards Osaka and Kyoto. Here we witness a special ‘Oiran’ oarade and a fire festival Kurama.

When we reached Mt. Fuji we could not resist and cycled the mountain until we reached the fifth station. At this point the road stops and you can continue to hike to the top. By the time we got there it was early November so officially you are not supposed to climb the mountain anymore. This did not deter us and Cherwin even took his bike with him as we was determined to go to the top and take a picture together with his bike. Unfortunately we were not able to reach the summit as it was really windy and other hikers told us it was too dangerous to proceed to the top, so we both climbed down, together with the bike and continued our trip to our final destination; Nicki and Mun Yoshihara, Sjakoera’s cousin and her husband in Tokyo.

The last time we had been able to stop to freshen up was more than a week ago so when we arrived in Tokyo we really loved the warm welcome we received. It made us feel right at home and after a warm shower and a hot meal we quickly felt better. Mun and Nicki allowed us to enjoy their wonderful cooking and they were so helpful to us. After a diet of solely spaghetti, rice, noodles and having to live in a tent every day, we cannot explain the luxuary of sleeping in a warm bed and having regular meals every day!

After cycling the last stretch of our journey; 1.172 km through the gorgeous landscape of Japan, we are now at 18.463 km through 24 countries and have enjoyed a bit of time relaxing and taking the time to plan for our trip back home. After Japan our ways have split. Cherwin has continued to travel by bike and is now traveling through South East Asia, India and the middle East and will continue his way through Africa and Europe before finally reaching his home village of Ridderkerk. Sjakoera has gone to Indonesia, Australia, Cambodia and Thailand and will go back home overland(route unknown) to her native country The Netherlands.

 

 

Categories: Must read, Must see, Stories about Japan, Things to do | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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