Mar & Mark as Volunteers

musings on our lives as volunteers….

Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Travel Tips for Japan

leave a comment »

Konnichiwa! 

We loved the month we recently spent in Japan.  It is a fascinating culture, with some customs that are very different to our own. We are passing these tips on, in the hopes that they may help you, if you are planning a trip to this magnificent country any time soon. Please feel free to share, and ask any questions you might have in the comments!

Trains
• Use http://www.hyperdia.com/en/ to research train travel. Gives times, fares, platforms etc.   The bullet trains are called “Shinkansen” trains.
• You must first book/purchase a ticket to travel on the train. If it is a busy season you should then book a reserved seat, which costs about 50% more. You will then have 2 tickets. If you are changing trains, which is often the case, you may have more than 2 tickets, which are all fed through the turnstile together. The ticket for that particular journey is removed. Trains generally have about 1/3 of the carriages for unreserved travel, with seats occupied on a first come basis.
Japan Rail passes cover various parts of the country – depending on where you are travelling it may not be worth getting one. These must be purchased outside the country. In Perth they can be purchased at Travel Japan, in Irwin St, next to the Mercure Hotel. If you purchase a Japan East Rail Pass, you can reserve your seats online no more than 30 days ahead of your date of travel. For most other travel passes, you cannot book online in advance.

• For travel on public transport in Tokyo and a number of other cities, get a Suica or Pasco card. These can be easily topped up at the station and save the significant hassle of trying to work out what priced ticket you need to purchase. The Suica card can also be used to make purchases at 7/11 and some vending machines. If you don’t have a Suica or Pasco card, you can purchase the cheapest ticket and when you get to your destination, use the top-up facility to pay the correct amount before you pass through the turnstile.

Navigation
• We found Google maps invaluable, as addresses are not necessarily logical. Prior to going to a new place I saved the destination. As the last map area is saved in the cache, you don’t have to be online to find your way around.

Mobile Phones
• You can only buy a local sim card for data – not for making and receiving calls or texts. As all the places we stayed at, whether hotels or Airbnb, had free wifi, we didn’t find it necessary to purchase a sim card.

Google translate
• The Google translate app was handy, particularly to translate instructions on electrical appliances in hotel rooms. Voice recognition and using the camera on the app only works if you have wifi. Otherwise, the text feature is the only one that works.
Money
• Surprisingly, Japan is largely a cash economy. Only big hotels and department stores accept credit cards.
• Bank atm’s don’t accept foreign cards. Use the ubiquitous convenience stores like 7/11, which have a a Y100,000 limit. Note that you may have to insert the card before getting the option of choosing the menu in English.
• We used a pre-loaded cash card which worked without fail at 7/11’s and wasn’t subject to the Y100,000 limit.

Lonely Planet
• We borrowed an electronic copy from the library

Hotels / Airbnb
• We had no problems with Airbnb bookings. Some of the apartments were very small and the mattress was on the floor, but still comfortable. We also stayed in a few traditional ryokans, which was fun. In these you need to unravel your mattress on the tatami matting. Seating is on the floor.
• Most places had sandals just inside the door where you removed your footwear, leaving it facing outwards and slipped on the sandals. Note that you remove the sandals before stepping on tatami matting (ie: socks or bare feet only on tatami).
• Some hotels had onsen (communal hot baths) where you could relax if you so choose. Make sure you read up on the etiquette (see link below) and scrub yourself thoroughly before entering the bath. I saw people spending over 10 minutes washing before getting in the bath! Onsens are single sex only, as you are not clothed. There are a few exceptions, but expect to be starkers, and bathing / soaking with your gender only.
• Most hotels had umbrellas in the foyer to borrow.
• Most hotels had a room with a microwave and vending machine on each floor.
• Make sure you book a no smoking room!

Tokyo
• If you want to visit the Imperial Palace (apparently it’s worth it), you need to book online a month before, as numbers are very limited.

Links on etiquette:

http://www.onsenjapan.net/onsenbasics.php

https://www.jref.com/articles/japanese-manners-and-etiquette.89/

http://www.wikihow.com/Blow-Your-Nose-in-Japan

Written by Mar(k)

June 21, 2017 at 9:19 pm

Prepackaged Japan

leave a comment »

Sometimes we buy our dinner meal at a supermarket, as a way of keeping costs down, getting fresh fruit and veg, and trying local foods. There are many pre-packaged meals that are ready to eat, healthy and delicious. However, enjoying these meals certainly comes at an environmental cost. The Japanese love their packaging.  
Everything is wrapped. Bento boxes, rice balls, salads. All in plastic. Soy sauce, wasabi? Available. In tiny little plastic sachets. Chopsticks? Yup. Wrapped (think also massive deforestation, as the takeaway business is big business here. Thats a lot of wooden chopsticks that get chopped down from trees). Plastic spoons and forks. Plastic wrapped in plastic.  

The Japanese also love their beautifully wrapped presents, often food stuff from specific regions, highlighting the specialty of the area. They make great looking gifts, but inside is _______ (insert whatever the food stuff is here), often again individually packaged. Think a dozen sakura (cherry blossom) shaped biscuits. All in a gift box, wrapped in plastic, then put in a plastic bag, and EACH INDIVIDUAL biscuit is also wrapped, once you get inside the box! It seems crazy to us.

Even when we go to checkout at the supermarket, and bring our little reusable shopping bag, it is often met with some disbelief. But hey. We are kind of getting used to that look. Because it is very similar to the look we get when we tell people here that we are vegetarian. On, on! 

Even the bananas are individually wrapped! WTF?!?

A note on Japanese Food Culture

with 5 comments

We are currently enjoying a month in Japan, taking in the amazing shrines, soaking in onsens, admiring Mount Fuji, and chasing the cherry blossoms. But one of the most enjoyable parts of our holiday in Japan has been enjoying the amazing diversity of food here. Virtually every region has its specialty, and we haven’t had a bad meal yet.

IMG_1470

Although we have had a few large meals (pictured), even here you can see that the individual portion sizes are quite modest. Each meal has a lovely blend of the various tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and that most ubiquitous of Japanese flavours: umami. Each small dish is savoured, and with the enjoyment of these diverse tastes, you don’t need a lot to fully appreciate the dishes themselves.

This strikes me to be in marked contrast to many Western cultures, (and I am thinking North America here in particular), where I am always horrified at the portion sizes. Its not rocket science to see the correlation between portion size and obesity. And I do wonder about the lack of varied tastes in so much Western cuisine (the major tastes leaping to mind are sugar, salt and fat).

Other things that perhaps contribute to the overall healthier diet in Japan include the following:

  • Soft drinks are not widely available. Vending machines are everywhere, but fizzy drinks do not feature largely. Common cold drinks are iced teas, most served without any sugar.
  • Meals are largely based around vegetables (again, refer to the picture). When animal protein is served, the focus is on fish and seafood, rather than meats. But even when meat is served, portions stay in control. Tofu and soy are widely consumed. Fermented products are commonly eaten. Breads and pasta are not widely consumed. Rice and noodles feature regularly.
  • Presentation of each dish is as important as the taste of the dish itself. Some of the dishes are truly like works of art. Balance, harmony and simplicity is demonstrated in both the tastes and the presentation of the meal.

It has been a joy thus far sampling the wide variety of foods and tastes in this most magnificent country. Highly recommended destination for the foodie.

Written by Mar(k)

April 23, 2017 at 8:26 pm

Off on a 1000 km hiking adventure

leave a comment »

I am passionate about two things:  high altitude trekking, and long distance backpacking.   In the latter, there is something hugely satisfying for me about being completely self reliant.  Everything I need,  I carry with me.   Tent, food, stove, fuel, sleeping bag, water.   Not only do I look like a snail (with my home on my back), but I also feel like one, crawling up those hills!   I have recently started my second “end to end” on the 1000 km, long distance walking trail in Western Australia called the Bibbulmun Track.   You can find out more about the trail here.

One foot in front of the other!

One foot in front of the other!

I am going to be doing this trek solo, and I anticipate it will take me 51 hiking days (60 days total, including my rest days) to complete.   My average daily distance covered will be 20 km, and my packed weighed in at 22.22 kg when I started.   A light weight hiker I am not!

It occurs to me that to succeed in any sport, there is a degree of physical fitness required, and overall, that fitness is relatively easy to come by.   But it seems to me that the thing that can make or break lots of epic adventures is the mental toughness that is required.   I would say that succeeding on this kind of adventure is probably 20% fitness, and 80% mental.  It’s harder than it looks!  But the body can keep going long after you think it is finished, if you have the mental toughness.   I am fortunate to know a few athletes and adventurers who have done some truly amazing things – far more adventurous than my wee walk.   And the one common denominator that they all seem to have is that mental toughness.

For now, it is one foot in front of the other!   The thing that guides me are these trail markers – called “waugals”.  They represent the Rainbow Serpent from the Aboriginal Dreamtime (they are NOT snake warning signs!), and trust me – they are my friend out there.   They keep me going in the right direction, and I am always on the lookout for them.   When you hike for hours and hours by yourself, you can get lost in thought, and miss a turnoff on the trail.   So I try to stay vigilant and keep an eye out for these markers.   (mind you, having a good map, compass and the ability to use them also helps if you do come off the trail)

Written by Mar(k)

September 19, 2016 at 3:57 pm

Journeying across America – on bicycle

leave a comment »

Many of our readers know that Mark is a keen cyclist.  In the cold, dark, rain and snow.   Hang on – there’s never any snow in Perth!   OK – cold, dark and rain.   He and his scaly mates are out there, pedalling their butts off 3 or more mornings a week.   They are dedicated.  And a particular bunch of them are crazy.   Seriously crazy.   They decided that it would be FUN to cycle across America!   that’s right – all 6500 kms of it.   Craziness.   Cyclist tired

I know Mark wanted to go, too, but unfortunately our possible house swap in Canada that would have made that possible, fell through.  So he has been living vicariously through reading their blog (which you can also read here).   It is an inspiring story.   Particularly because we are getting our fill of cycling at the moment, as we dedicatedly watch the Tour du France highlights every night.   Both of us are Tour Tragics!   (true story – what can we say?)

The idea of the TransAmerica Cycle Challenge was borne out of Mal’s long service leave.  So after much research and planning, they were off for the ride itself – and celebrated Rodney’s 60th birthday while on the road.   What a great way to spend your 60th birthday!   Cycling 6500+ kilometres!   Wow.

The reason we are giving these crazy folks a bit of a plug here, is because they are not only doing this for their own (health) good, but they are also raising money in the process for a great cause – Wheelchairs for Kids.   It is a great cause, and they are now in their final stages of the ride.   Only about five more days of cycling to go.  If you are interested in learning more, and maybe even donating to this great cause, you can click here.

Well done to all!  We have been watching your progress with amazement, wonder, and RESPECT.

Aboriginal Artists from the East Kimberley

leave a comment »

A lot of my friends and readers were so interested in the work that I was involved with up in the East Kimberley.   However, out of respect to the Traditional Owners that I was working with, I have not written about their stories.  I do, however, have some really fantastic memories from my time up there.  Because the country is so striking, it is no surprise that the art is also incredibly striking.  So many of the TO’s that I worked with are also celebrated artists.  Indeed, Warmun is one of the most well known communities where celebrated artists find inspiration in their stories, the dreamtime, and the landscape that surrounds the small township itself.

So I was thrilled when I saw a website that has some short video clips highlighting some of the artists I have known, and have had some good laughs with.  I welcome you to check out the art and video clips of Ben Ward, a Mirriwoong man, and Gija woman Shirley Purdie.  In fact, I feel very fortunate that Shirley painted me the picture below that tells the story of Kilkayi, which is about the Barramundi dreaming in the country where I was working for her, and the other Traditional Owners.

Shirley proudly displaying her gorgeous depiction of the Barramundi dreaming (Kilkayi) story

Shirley proudly displaying her gorgeous depiction of the Barramundi dreaming (Kilkayi) story

This talk that features Churchill Cann also shows some of the magnificent country in the area.  Please do check it out!

The Tour du Mont Blanc – by foot or by bike!

leave a comment »

Greetings readers!   We received this fabulous 17 minute video yesterday from our friends Sander and Jan, a pair of Belgian men who we met in mid 2013 whilst we were hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc in Europe.   At the time, we were completing this classic hike, whilst they were just about to embark on the same trail, on mountain bikes!  We do get quite a few requests from some of our armchair traveler readers to post more about some of our travels, so this one is for all of you.   We hope you enjoy it, and hope you can pick us out on the last frames.   Our enduring memory of these guys is the witty repartee we had with them over a shared meal in a “hobbit styled” hostel that we were at.   We hope you enjoy their awesome video!

The Tour du Mont Blanc.  One of the classic hiking trails in Europe.

The Tour du Mont Blanc. One of the classic hiking trails in Europe.

Written by Mar(k)

April 15, 2014 at 6:12 pm