Saturday, May 7, 2011

Next Gen Budget Travel

Inspired by our great Couchsurfing stay in Kumamoto, we signed up for another in Kagoshima with a lovely Japanese-Chilean couple, Yuji and Alejandra. They made us breakfast each morning and we tried a cobwebby bean dish that’s supposed to make you smarter but just left sticky strings on our chin as we ate (gross). On our last night they drove us to a nearby park for an authentic Japanese hanami, basically just a picnic under cherry blossom trees when they are in full bloom (the Japanese have very specific words for everything).

When we arrived, three of Yuji and Alejandra’s friends had already laid out a feast of everything from sushi platters to fried chicken. The 2-3 week hanami season is the only time in Japan when you can drink outside and as people switched between beer and tea, it was fun to watch how no one ever filled their own glasses. Instead, someone would subtly hint to the person next to them that they were ready for a refill by placing his hand around the glass, eyes askance. There was something beautifully ritualistic to it.

We’ve never felt more welcomed by a group of people, which is especially remarkable considering our limited Japanese and their limited English. They spent some of the night earnestly correcting Juan’s hiragana flash cards. I casually mentioned that I love mochi ice cream and the two girls disappeared, only to return with a package of it for me. An hour or so later, when they realized we’d never tried a specific type of local snack, they rushed off again and came back with BAGS of goodies, including salty wafers called Happy Time (Happy Town? Hippie Tight? Still not sure what they were saying…). So, basically, we are now Couchsurfing’s biggest fan. How much money have we been spending for less authentic Japanese experiences? And this is free? Best deal ever.

Also, we rode bikes on nearby Sakurajima, a still-active volcanic island that has spewed ash almost constantly since the 1970s. The trip was mostly uphill and I wanted to murder Juan more than a few times. Luckily for him, the seaside rotemburo (another word for hot springs) where we ended up made it all worthwhile.

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