We finally said goodbye to Manila and Bobbi & Dean last Sunday. Andy's time volunteering at World Vision International went well and he was almost used to his sweaty commute by the end. Imelda Marcos' Coconut Palace turned out to be very tasteful and ingenious, albeit very much a 'white elephant'. On our last weekend we saw a contemporary performance of the Manila ballet which was stunning and we got stuck in one of the many long traffic jams. In true Philippino style our last dinner was at a restaurant in a shopping mall, allegedly the largest shopping mall in Asia. It's curious that civil society here is so vibrant yet the country has one of the largest gaps between the richest and poorest in the world.
We are now in Japan and we love it! This is partly because of the timing as after almost 5 months in SE Asia it is refreshing to be somewhere so organised, clean, modern, culturally fascinating, but also somewhere with relatively low humidity. It is quite expensive compared to the other countries we've visited, but no more so that a holiday in the UK or Ireland.
We started in Kyoto, the former capital which is crammed full of temples and shrines and encircled by hills. The cycling on the pavements was a bit manic, both as a pedestrian and a cyclist (apparently it's illegal to cycle on the road although practicality sometimes has to prevail), but we spent a great day bowling around the city on our hire bikes. The food has been delicious, but we have avoided some of the odder menu items such as beef gristle. It's great seeing some women in their summer kimonos, and a handful of men in their traditional attire. We also spotted a few geisha on the streets with their distinctive whitened faces and necks, and mountainous hair-dos.
For the last couple of days we've been in Yokohama, just south of Tokyo spending time with Chiho, a Japanese friend we made while hiking in New Zealand. It's been wonderful having a guide and being able to get some explanations for some of the things we're seeing. Not being able to speak Japanese is one issue, but not being able to read most of the signs around us is really quite difficult. The larger road signs are translated into roman script, but for the most part it's Japanese/Chinese characters all the way. Fran's been having some problems with her achilles heels, but an expensive pair of Nike trainers and some physio in Manila seem to have helped matters and we managed a two-hour trek in Karakuma yesterday.
We are now heading to the Japanese alps, the mountains west of Tokyo for a few days before going further south west towards Hiroshima.