MAURI-TRAIN-IA: The Ultimate Train Journey | The Mauritania Railway (“Backbone of the Sahara”, The “Iron Ore Train”, or “The World’s Most Extreme Railway”) | All Aboard the Choo-“Choum” Express!

MAURI-TRAIN-IA: The Ultimate Train Journey | The Mauritania Railway (“Backbone of the Sahara”, The “Iron Ore Train”, or “The World’s Most Extreme Railway”) | All Aboard the Choo-“Choum” Express!

  

The Mauritania Railway just got served

 

Today we did a thing:

 

 

We began in Nouadhibou where we picked up some supplies for the epic train journey ahead.

If you’re serious about this experience, you should definitely pack goggles, warm blankets, scarves, some sort of breathing mask, plenty of water, food, and warm clothes (I recommend thermal undershirt and underwear, light down, windbreaker, a beanie, and a scarf) for the journey.

 

 

At 2pm we headed out to the train station outside the city limits of Nouadibou to board the famous Mauritania mineral iron ore train!

 

 

No tickets, no bookings, no cash, no reservations – you’re supposed to just hitchhike and hop on top when it arrives!

The only “thing” we had “to do” was to show our passports to the security guard at the train station as they want to make sure you’ll get off in Choum and not continue onwards into Western Sahara territory (or Morocco, depending whom you ask) without a formal exit and entry stamp.

 

 

Some statistics: The train is 3km in length (way over a mile!) with 200 carriages, 3-4 locomotives, weighing up to 84 tons, capable of carrying 17,000 tons of iron ore, and operating all 365 days of the year since 1963.

There are at least 4 of these trains running on 2 tracks covering 437 miles (704 kilometers) on its journey across the Sahara Desert from Nouadhibou, on the coast, to Zouérat, an iron mine in the center of Mauritania.

 

 

It is one of the longest and heaviest trains in the world and with its 3km length, the train took at least 10 minutes to whiz by us before stopping.

 

 

And keep in mind there is NO HORN so you have no idea when the train will immediately start again after stopping, whether it’s a minute or twenty.

So once it completely stops, GO GO GO!!!

 

 

At the moment the train was still, we quickly inspected a few wagons to make sure they had good wheels, picked one to call home, climbed its ladders, half hanging on while being passed all our bags.

And if there’s ore, you can simply chuck your bags on top before jumping on yourself.

 

 

Passenger carriages also can be attached to the train, but people are uncomfortably packed in like sardines and you’ll miss the true experience as a passenger sitting inside the wagons meant to carry the ore, or on top of the ore itself.

And while the train can carry your car as well, you have to make arrangements way ahead of time with the government for your vehicle. But once your car is on the train, you can decide to stay inside your car, sit on top of the ore, or both.

 

 

No car? No worries: let it be known that our group has proven that pitching a tent inside a wagon is totally possible and may be a great idea:

 

 

With a few minutes to spare after settling in, a huge SONIC BOOM jolted us back before the train began moving.

 

 

There was no ore in our car when we boarded, which allowed us to get the best views when climbing up the ladder while still having room to move and use the walls of the car to protect us from the wind.

 

 

The train is all yours as nobody cares that you’re here, but if you must explore, be mindful there are no barriers, brakes, or safety measures of any kind. You fall, you die, and the train keeps going.

 

 

And those of you who are lighter sleepers, good luck as carriages slam into one another constantly and unexpectedly throughout the journey in a way where we called it the “sonic boom.” (And yet through all of it I was still able to sneak in 2 hours of sleep).

A video example of the sonic boom (this was one of the lighter ones):

  

 

Hitchhiking this train will be anyone’s ride of his or her lifetime: Running through one of the harshest environments on earth from the scorching desert heat of daytime and the bitter cold at night, the train offers no shelter, no bathrooms, and no food.

So either pack ahead or buy some disposable secondhand clothing beforehand!

 

 

Since we sat in open top cars, we brought tons of blankets and were all wrapped up warm with good scarves to protect our faces from the sand and dust blowing in our direction by the train.

 

 

Sometimes the train slows down enough for some breakdancing:

 

 

Another upside? The sunset.

 

 

Even after the sun had long disappeared, the sky above us just got more purple, especially in the haze of the desert sands blowing past the train:

 

 

And while it gets really really cold here (subzero temperatures; I recommend putting on all your layers while it’s still warm around sunset), the true show comes out once it gets completely dark — if the moon isn’t full you can usually see the Milky Way stretching across the night sky.

 

 

I had a moment here. This is almost exactly what I saw (with more stars) through my naked eye whenever I looked up and took off my goggles:

 

 

While we had expected the train would make its usual delays and arrive to Choum about either 13 or 18 hours after our departure at 3:30pm from Nouadhibou, we lucked out with very efficient train conductors who got us into Choum only 9 hours later at 12:30am!

So after a 2 hour nap by midnight and 15km away from our destination, we packed up everything in our wagon and tried to leave no trace behind.

 

 

This is the time where we’d recommend that you plan out an exit strategy and order of who leaves first (using your trash bags as a booster) and who can leave last simply by using upper body strength to swing their legs over.

 

 

And by 12:35am we quickly disembarked, leaving with an experience we’ll have a hard time forgetting for the rest of our lives.

 

 

We then turned away the taxi drivers by the tracks and instead waited for our pre-arranged jeeps to take us to our campsites 5 minutes away.

 

 

And if you love stars, you’re going to love them here.

 

 

For those of you wondering “where do I sleep? how do I clean up?” Read onwards!

 

-Addendum: Maktoub-

Not even until 12 hours later the next day and kismet: The main group were all arranging sim cards in the town of Atar where at that very moment I debated whether to stick around, or split off from the group with the non-sim contigent and walk with them around the town for an hour. I then consciously convinced myself to go even a step further, walk off alone, and give myself some much needed me-time.

However, I got uncomfortable splitting off alone, after which I actually thought out loud to myself: “C’mon man, do what makes you uncomfortable. Good things always happen when you do. You always tell others to do the same so you might as well own up to your words and practice what you preach!” (yes I really thought this to myself as I tore myself away from the group who was walking the other direction)

As I turned around from the group and walked away I immediately saw a small café that looked inviting and where I could grab my usual afternoon espresso. And just so happened to have 2 Western-looking backpacker types and a local guide sitting in front outside. I sat down in a table across from them when the guide called out about how he liked my camera. He was a local guide — Yaya of Sidi Tours — and was leading the couple (of Rutas Salvajes) around Mauritania. It just so happens that the 3 were discussing whether to take the train, so when I mentioned that I had just gotten off the train earlier this morning and that it was one of the most life affirming experiences I ever had on my travels, that sealed the deal for them: They were going to get on the train. For once *I* was the happenstance and serendipity with impeccable timing.

Then to further add to this tale of maktoub, I mentioned how my 2 friends who had rode the train in the other direction a few weeks prior had given me advice about it and how it was meant to be that I could quickly pay it forward. Yaya asked who those friends were, and before I could answer, Yaya also mentioned that I reminded him of someone that he had met 2 weeks prior in Dakar, Senegal named David Yang.

HOLY SHIT. I KNOW THIS GUY. AND THAT IS THE FRIEND WHO GAVE ME ADVICE ABOUT IT. This same David Yang (whom I first met in the Marshall Islands last year!) also had just messaged me on Facebook yesterday morning with that last minute advice about the train!

How do I even reply to David now? A photo of me and Yaya? “Oh hey David. Thanks for the message and advice! The train worked out great. BTW Yaya says hi!”

 

 

10 minutes ago I was debating whether to go off on my own, even forcibly convincing myself to get over my fears to explore the town alone instead of the group. And 10 minutes later I’m sitting with 3 strangers both finding and becoming serendipity. This is why we travel and another lesson learned that courage cannot exist without fear. So here’s to fear, and the courage that follows.

 

 

Anyways if you plan on taking the train in the other direction sitting on TOP of the iron ore . . .

 

 

. . .  here is David’s formal message about his experience, written by his fellow travelers from the Facebook group Every Passport Stamp, namely Ania Budzinski of Travel Bred (who traveled with David as well as Jenna, whom I met in Iraq 2 Mays ago), of their experience heading from Choum to Nouadhibou:

 

MAURITANIA – JANUARY 2020 – SOMETHING TO NOTE ABOUT RIDING THE IRON ORE TRAIN

Four other EPSers and I used Hademine from Time For Mauritania (http://timeformauritania.com) for a quick 3-day tour in Mauritania, which included riding the iron ore train from Choum to Nouadhibou. Hademine was excellent—highly recommend.

Itinerary –

Day 1: Nouakchott to Terjit (approximately 5 hours) with a night in Terjit— a lovely desert oasis (much better than spending the night in Atar). [Note: There are two camps. Both basic. One is located at the oasis, and the other (Chez Jamal) is just a quick walk away.

Hademine suggested that we stay at Chez Jamal, since the tents at the oasis are situated next to the water, attracting hordes of mosquitoes.]

Day 2: Terjit to Choum with a stop in Atar (approximately 2 hours). Overnight: iron ore train (approximately 13 to 15 hours).

Day 3: Arrive in Nouadhibou.

If you leave early enough, you could technically just drive directly from Nouakchott to Choum. Easy drive. The road is paved. But, do plan to arrive in Choum early. The train does not operate on a fixed schedule. We were told that it does not usually arrive before 19:00, but that it can really come whenever. And when it does, you only have minutes to pick out a “good” wagon and hop on—we were advised to inspect the wheels and levels of iron ore. Also, we were advised to pick a wagon towards the very back of the train (to avoid having to walk 1+ km after arriving in Nouadhibou).

We arrived in Choum just before noon and spent the day hanging out by the tracks. Initially, our tour with Hademine was supposed to end there. However, he offered to join us on the journey to Nouadhibou last minute. Little did we know, this would change everything. After spending the day waiting, we were gutted when the iron ore train just passed us by and did not stop. Shortly after, we learned that no trains were expected to stop in Choum that evening. Hademine mentioned this has been happening a lot in recent weeks/months—something to keep in mind!

We were not prepared for this; we ignorantly just figured the train always stops in Choum. Nope. Apparently, if no passenger car is attached in Zouerat, the train will not stop. [Note: There is an actual train station in Choum. I suggest walking over and asking if the trains are expected to stop (just in case you need to make alternative plans). But, unless you speak French or Arabic, you will need to find someone to translate.]

With Hademine’s help, we hunted down the chief of the train station, and paid him a visit at his home. We basically begged (and incentivized) him to call the conductor of the next train (that was expected to arrive after 04:00) to have it stop—a first for him! Although he could not make any guarantees, he agreed to make some calls. Fortunately for us, he pulled through.

Boarding the train, we were hit with another curveball. The wagons were filled with water—something none of us were expecting. Per Hademine, for whatever reason, they have been adding water to the wagons in recent weeks—something else to keep in mind! Initially, we tried kicking the mounds of iron piled in the center of the wagon into the surrounding water, but quickly realized the iron was obviously not absorbing any of it (just turned to slush). We cut open three water bottles and used them to scoop out as much water as possible before we leveled off the mounds. I suggest bringing empty water bottles in case you need to do the same.

Normally, the journey from Choum to Nouadhibou is overnight (but, since we did not leave Choum until 04:45, we spent almost the entire ride under the sun). Depending on the time of year, it can get quite cold at night (today’s low was 6C or 43F, plus windchill from the moving train). Come prepared! You can buy blankets in some of the towns along the way (and in Choum for twice the price). On the way to Choum, we each bought one in Atar. There are two types of blankets for sale (they are identical from town to town)—one cheaper in quality, and the other better in quality. The blankets are relatively expensive. We shopped around, and the lowest we were able to negotiate anywhere was €30 for the “better quality” one (and €15 for the “cheaper quality”). If you are traveling with someone else, and do not mind sharing, one “better quality” blanket for two people is enough (the blankets are huge).

Make sure you have enough water and food to last you a day. Do not wait until Choum to go shopping—not much there. We bought cases of water and snacks in Nouakchott (also widely available in Atar). Other than that, bring the obvious: some type of goggles, a face mask or two, and something to cover your hair with (you can buy turbans in Atar for cheap). I also suggest bringing “contractor-type” trash bags (one for your bag(s), and one for you to fit into or sit on top of), as well as smaller bags for your phone/camera. And, have a back-up plan! I can assure you that public transportation is limited in Choum ; )

Edit here: Ania’s account of their experience all are big reasons why our group chose to go in the other direction from Nouadhibou: With no iron ore we could use the empty wagons as a cover from the sun and wind if needed, we don’t have to scoop out floods of water off the iron ore when boarding, and that the train would be guaranteed to stop for our group at the terminal station in Nouadhibou.

 

- At time of posting in Choum, it was 15 °C - Humidity: 47% | Wind Speed: 13km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear

 

“Nouadhibou”-d Idea to Cross Over From Western Sahara to Mauritania!

“Nouadhibou”-d Idea to Cross Over From Western Sahara to Mauritania!

 

After relaxing in Dakhla for 2 night, we drove to the border of Morocco and Mauritania early this morning.

 

 

About an hour into the journey we suffered a flat tire, which luckily took about 30 minutes to sort out thanks to a friend of the driver’s brother that was nearby!

And yet that was my opportunity to get in about 200 push ups while waiting, so ’twas meant to be.

 

 

We enjoy one final rest stop on our epic road trip beginning a week ago in Casablanca.

 

 

Once we hit the Morocco/Mauritania border at 1pm we said our goodbyes to our guide and drivers and exited the country.

 

 

They stamp you out in this little office here:

 

 

Once they inspected our bags at “customs” we were picked up by our Mauritanian guides across the border.

 

 

From there we hopped into 3 pick up trucks and began a 5km drive into no man’s land, more officially (or arguably?) controlled by the SADR (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic).

 

 

While the rest of Western Sahara is claimed by Morocco, this sliver of land is indisputably Sahrawi.

 

 

While you may see stolen cars sellers, guns smugglers, and refugees from the conflict here, we saw simply an eerie road lined with endless rows of desolate trucks, and a barren wasteland of abandoned cars as if the apocalypse had occurred years ago. Or Mad Max.

 

 

It makes for a surreal 5 minute drive.

 

 

Right from the Mauritanian border we entered a whole new world, especially after 2 weeks in Algeria and Morocco. Keep all obvious camera equipment on you and hidden away unless you want to spend forever here.

 

 

Our visa on arrival here took nearly an hour and a half to arrange; bring small denominations of Euros to pay for the visa in exact cash (55 euros at the time of posting) because they’ll conveniently “not have change.”

Another trick is to pay in a big group: Not only did we make sure we wouldn’t be swindled the 5 euros per person, but also it ensured our place in the queue.

 

 

We were led into the small office about four folks at a time where one by one they took our fingerprints and photos before issuing us our one page visa on arrival.

 

 

After getting our visas, we quickly continued onwards to Nouadhibou, the Mauritania’s second largest city and economic capital.

 

 

Along the way we sailed through a series of checkpoints; it helps to have a stack of printouts that list your group’s names, nationalities, passport numbers, and visa numbers so you can hand them to every guard that stops your vehicle. That way they can let you drive on without having to get out and be inspected every time.

 

 

We quickly drove through Nouadhibou for a southern detour to Cape Blanc: a peninsula shared between Mauritania and Western Sahara.

 

 

Like literally shared. Look at Google Maps. What country am I in anyway?

 

 

It was here that the Spanish expanded their fishing presence from the Canary islands onto the African coast.

 

 

If you’re lucky, you might spot the endangered Mediterranean monk seal colony there; there’s only 150 left out of 500 total in the world. We settled for the small museum in the area.

 

 

Making use of a rope nearby, we then rappelled down to the beach, where the world’s biggest ship graveyard used to be located until it was broken down into steel parts and sold by Chinese companies.

 

 

We then visited the newer ship graveyard of Nouadhibou.

 

 

Looks like they’re phasing this one out as well: Last year there were 15 ships being taken apart, now there’s only 2 left.

 

 

Afterwards we grabbed a late dinner at Ice NBC where they served humongous portions for a great value and with decent WiFi. If you fancy a cold one you can grab a beer at the next door Chinese restaurant, the only place that openly serves alcohol.

Then by 11pm we turned in at Hotel Al Jezira.

 

 

And yet during all the driving, we managed to get a sneak peek of the train we’re hopping on tomorrow:

 

 

The next morning we quickly the Port of Nouadhibou and its fish market . . .

 

 

. . . before getting our supplies ready and hopping on this:

 

 

 

- At time of posting in Nouadhibou, it was 26 °C - Humidity: 33% | Wind Speed: 23km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear

 

…But but but, “Vanuatu”-leave Port-Vila!

…But but but, “Vanuatu”-leave Port-Vila!

 

Oh Vanuatu, how I “Vanuatu-leave” this place.

 

 

I know it’s quite a stretch of a pun, but my blogpost title is meant to be read out loud!

 

The world's only underwater post office

 

Let’s begin. After 2 days in The Solomon Islands, we headed boarded a 3:05pm flight out for Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu. 

 

That little island is where we're staying!

 

From the airport we hailed buses to take us to Mele Road. If you’re curious on how public transportation works here, you’ll need to flag down a bus marked by a red letter “B” on its license plate (it works like glorified hitchhiking) and direct it to where you want to go for a base fare of 150vt.

From Mele Road we took the 5 minute ferry that runs 24/7 to Hideaway Island Resort on Imere Island, the ancestral home of the Mele people.

 

 

 

True paradise — we finally checked into our first beach bungalows of the trip!

 

 

Just in time for sunset:

 

 

Hnnnnnggggg….

 

 

And this is what it looks like when I step outside my bungalow:

 

 

After freshening up for an hour and meeting up with my college friend Ana who had arrived here a few hours earlier, my longtime monsooner Melissa Weinmann took over as our local guide in Port Vila. I had promised her 2 years ago I would visit in Vanuatu when she joined the Peace Corps here — Promise has been fulfilled!

At 7pm we headed back to the mainland for our first taste at kava: a local plant in the Pacific ground up into an herbal remedy/drink long used to relieve anxiety and promote sleep. Most would compare it to a depressant drug, so some may not like its effects.

You can find kava at nakamals (or “meeting place”) in Vanuatu, which have sprouted up everywhere in Port Vila and its outskirts. They’re indicated by a single lightbulb in the middle of a dirt road, and these lights turn off when they run out of kava. We accomplished such a feat at a nakamal called “Island Roots” when the 12 of us rocked up all at once for the drink.

 

 

FYI, is its recommended that you consume kava in a single shot as it’s not known for the taste and the intended effects are negligible if imbibed slowly. And unlike alcohol, kava causes intense nausea and vomiting if you drink it after eating. So go before dinner, and DON’T mix it with alcohol unless you really want to lose your shit.

You’ll know it works when your tongue goes numb and you feel a little sedated afterwards.

 

 

Afterwards Melissa led us to L’Houstalet for dinner, a popular French-Vanuatan restaurant.

 

 

The place is famous being one of the only places in the world for serving 2 local fares: the flying fox (aka a giant fruit bat):

 

 

…and the coconut crab:

 

 

As all the bars in Vanuatu close early on a Tuesday night, not to our surprise, we turned in early.

This is what I woke up to the next morning:

 

 

And this was my view for breakfast at the resort:

 

 

At around 9:30am we reconvened on the docks where we then returned to the mainland to meet up with Melissa:

 

 

We first bought some snacks at a local market before we hiking (1000vt entry fee) up the path for Mele Cascades:

 

 

It’s worth the 20 minute hike up for the dip in the waters underneath the cascades:

 

 

Afterwards we had hand-pulled, knife-cut noodles for lunch at Kung Fu Noodles in the center of Port-Vila. 

 

 

Then it was free time as the group explored the center of Port-Vila (also referred to as “town”) and its newly developed boardwalk, home to numerous seaside cafés and handicraft markets:

 

 

If you’re in need of fresh produce, stop by arguably the local commercial center of Vanuatu: Mama’s Market at the end of the boardwalk:

 

 

Of note while most of us were exploring town, others in our group paid a $500 USD supplement to be picked up earlier in the morning for a day trip to Tanna Volcano. This included a Cessna flight over the volcano, as well as a 4×4 jeep ride through the jungle for a hike up to the mouth itself.

 

PC: Mikhael Chai

 

At around 6:30pm we all reconvened back at Hideaway, freshening up once more before heading back out into the suburbs of Port Vila. There were had the rare opportunity to dine with Melissa’s local friend/colleague Madame Caroline and her family at their home outside.

 

 

We said hello to their chickens and pigs, admired their gardens, and played with their adorable kids!

 

 

Of course before eating anything we first enjoyed some kava at a nakamal down the road:

 

 

And then we chowed down on fresh fried fish, curry fish, sausages, and boiled rice back at Madame Caroline’s home:

 

 

As their kids approached their bedtimes, we gave our thanks to Madame Caroline and called for a bus to pick us up. We then finished off our night with a few drinks at Club Lit where I finally got to meet (and dance with) some of Melissa’s Peace Corps co-volunteers.

 

 

The group was beginning to tire out at this point after a long day so we turned in for more drinks back at Hideaway at midnight.

The next morning we made an obligatory visit to the world’s only underwater post office, located right off the shore of Hideaway Resort

 

 

You don’t need much more than a pair of goggles (or some snorkel gear) to deliver a special $3 AUD waterproof postcard to anyone in the world!

  

 

And now we head off for our afternoon flights to Fiji!

 

- At time of posting in Port Vila, Vanuatu, it was 22 °C - Humidity: 82% | Wind Speed: 21km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear

 

I Ain’t Nara Scurred!

I Ain’t Nara Scurred!

 

Although Nara was not part of our original itinerary, I decided to add this beautiful little city at the last minute after seeing a possible route through there from Osaka to Kyoto. 

Nara has the largest number of buildings designated National Treasures in Japan as well as being famous for its mercenary deer who wander the streets with abandon in and around Nara Park.

 

 

Beginning with an early morning, we headed out from our hostel in Osaka and took the Hanshin-Namba Line from Sakuragawa Station on Hanshin-Namba Line to Kintetsu-Nara Station. It’s been raining heavily throughout from Osaka to Nara so we’ve been donning our umbrellas and braving the elements the entire day.

We arrived in Nara at around 8:30am where we stored our larger backpacks at the station coin lockers. From there, we walked over to Kofukuji, a temple complex that used to compete for world’s tallest pagoda.

 

 

If it’s worth it to you, for 700¥ you can enter the small National Treasure Museum here to get a glimpse of the legendary 3-faced statue of Ashura:

 

 

We then walked about 15 minutes over to the entrances to both Isuien Garden and Yoshiki-en Garden, which are right next to each other.

 

 

Isuien costs about 900¥ to enter whereas Yoshiki-en is free. Do both or just one; it depends on your love for well manicured Japanese gardens.

 

 

After about 20 minutes exploring, we sauntered over to Todaiji, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Don’t miss its immense front gate, Nandai-mon, that’s guarded by an army of hungry deer.

 

 

Todaji is home to Daibutsu-den, the world’s largest wooden building.

 

 

And inside Daibutsu-den is Daibutsu itself, Japan’s second largest Buddha statue (and one of the largest in the world) at 15m tall. It costs 600¥ to enter.

 

 

Find a particular column to the back of Daibutsu-den before you reach the gift stalls: there’s a hole at the bottom of this column where they say enlightenment is promised to you if you can crawl through it completely.

 

 

 

To the right of the entrance to Daibutsu-den is a statue of the Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of medicine and healing. They say touching a part of this Buddha and then a part of your body should heal any ailment in that area.

 

 

After about 4 hours walking around Nara, we were having enough of getting soaked by the rain so we returned to Kintetsu-Nara Station and took the Kyoto-bound train 3 stops (about 41 minutes) to Takeda Station. We then transferred to a Kyoto subway train that was waiting across the platform where we rode for 6 stops (about 10 minutes) before reaching Shinjo Station.

Our accommodations at GRIDS Hotel & Hostel was about an 8 minute walk away where we were able to score an early check-in at 2pm.

Time to enjoy the next 3 days in Kyoto!

 

 

- At time of posting in Nara, Japan, it was 30 °C - Humidity: 76% | Wind Speed: 6km/hr | Cloud Cover: heavy rain

 

Osaka-n You See?

Osaka-n You See?

 

After our insanely good Kobe beef dinner at Tor Road Steak Aoyama and having headed onwards from Kobe, we arrived into Osaka at around 10pm and checked into our accommodations at hostel PICNIC.

After taking an hour to freshen up, Donna, Shayra, myself, and Luke decided to rally on a second wind and head back out to the Dōtonbori area — the center of Osaka’s nightlife —  to reunite with Natasha and Amy, who like Luke had just partied with us last night back at our hostel in Hiroshima.

 

 

Hard to believe we could pull off two of these in a row: From flaming shots to glass hookahs to shots of vodka 96% (192 proof!) alcohol by volume to feeding snakes to absinthe to bad karaoke at a maid bar before heading home at 5am once again . . . yeah we had a good night.

 

 

Once again I woke up broken and sad, with only 6 hours of sleep in my system. So cheering myself up, Donna, Shayra and I headed up north to the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, a curiously interesting building entirely dedicated to instant ramen and its creator, Momofuku Ando. Trish had to sit out due to her foot hurting more than usual again, deciding instead to wait it out until she returned home to Vancouver to get it checked.

 

 

It’s free to enter, but you have the option of paying 500¥ for adults and 300¥ for children to have your own personalized Cup Noodles (but the wait in line can take as long as 2 hours!). 

 

 

The rest of the museum is pretty small; Donna and I only spent 15 minutes here before deciding to leave while Shayra stayed behind to brave the lines and get her personalized Instant Ramen.

 

 

From the nearby Ikeda Station, we took the train south to Umeda Station and walked over to the Umeda Sky Building. The observation decks were closed because of the recent typhoon so we had lunch at the food court in the basement, with Shayra and Angela rejoining us just in time.

 

 

From the Sky Building, we then took a quick 15 minute cab ride over to Osaka Castle, a complete concrete reconstruction of the original which had been completely demolished by war. Therefore it’s more of a museum built to look like the original castle, rather than an actual historical site.

While the castle grounds are free (and when we went there was a free dance show), you can enter for the exhibits inside the castle for 700¥.

 

The surrounding trees on the castle grounds still showed signs of the recent Typhoon Jebi.

 

 

After about 30 minutes at the castle grounds, we took a 15 minute JR Loop Train to Tennojiekimae Station for a 10 minute walk over to Shintennoji Templeanother post WWII reconstruction.

 

 

Then from the temple we walked about 10 minutes west to Tsutenkaku, Osaka’s symbol of its post World War 2 reconstruction.

 

 

For 700¥ you can go upstairs to the observation deck, but it’s really a giant glorified gift shop.

 

 

There’s also a small museum on Pocky there:

 

 

Finally, we returned to Dōtonbori for an early dinner.

 

 

I’m now back at the hostel about to hit the sack — gotta recover from the past 2 nights!

 

 

What To Eat In Okinawa

Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き): Fried cabbage cakes that cross a pancake, pizza, and omelette, topped by beef, pork, squid, roe, and egg. Unlike the one in Hiroshima where they cook it entirely in front of you before serving, here they put the basic parts together and you then cook it yourself to your liking. 

 

Kushikatsu (串かつ): Skewers deep-fried in panko and dipped in tonkatsu sauce.

 

Takoyaki (たこ焼き): Fried dumplings with slices of octopus inside:

 

And while you’re walking around the Dontonbori area, you can grab other random bites at various stalls. Our favorite was the slightly overpriced and yet still delicious pieces of crab legs for 900¥:

 

Tomorrow morning we head to Nara and Kyoto!

 

 

- At time of posting in Osaka, Japan, it was 29 °C - Humidity: 75% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: overcast with rain

 

Ko-Bae Beef

Ko-Bae Beef

 

From last night: Hiroshima can now claim one of the weirdest, most discombobulated nights out I’ve had in a while. We started with a quick bite at a random Mexican/Japanese fusion spot that we had all to ourselves, got turned away from an all-you-can-drink beer place because they were closing down early, shrugged our shoulders at cocktail shot bar, walked over to Nagarekawa (Hiroshima’s nightlife street), got paralyzed with too many choices, finally decided on a few drinks at Tropical Bar Revolucion on the 8th floor, took everyone not in our group from that bar out for dancing around the corner, lost a few of those people on the way, had more join us on the street, tried to haggle down cover prices at the door until we finally got free cover at Club G Hiroshima, raged to hip hop until 3:30am, took the last few standing over 2 blocks to a place without an English name (バー眠り猫) for shisha before finally crashing back at our hostel at 4:30am.

But it worked out — from left to right in the photo we have Camilla who’s from Brazil living in Melbourne, me, Donna, Luke who’s from Perth, Amy and Natasha who’s from Portland, Billy who’s from Austin living in San Diego, 2 Germans we met at Tropical Bar Revolucion who also joined us, Alexandria who’s from both Lima and here in Hiroshima, and a random Japanese woman who was collateral damage from being at the right place at the right time for the photo.

 

 

We woke up this morning a little hungover at around 9am, getting in only 4-5 hours of sleep. The same folks we took out from last night — Luke, Camilla, Natasha, and Amy — decided to all join us in the direction of Osaka together. Guess we all still really like one another.

As Natasha and Amy continued onwards on the 11am Shinkansen Nozomi Train to Osaka, and Camilla for Kyoto, Luke joined us as we got off at Shin-Kobe Station at 12pm. From there we transferred over to the Seishin-Yamate train and took it 1 stop to the more south Sannomiya Station for 210¥. 

Dropping off our bags at the large 500¥ coin lockers at the station, we walked first to Kobe City Hall for the free views of the city on its 24th floor.

 

 

As it rained outside, we relaxed at the Comfort Café there nearby for about 2 hours until the skies cleared. We then took our time leisurely walking 20 minutes south to the port and passed by some old preserved European colonial houses for which Kobe is famous.

 

 

By the port we walked through the Earthquake Memorial Park, which recalls the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 where 6,400 people died.

 

 

Kobe Port Tower is right nearby, which serves as the unofficial symbol of the city and was built in 1964 as the world’s first pipe-shaped observation tower. 

If you haven’t gotten enough of skyline views at Kobe City Hall and actually want to pay for it, the port tower’s observation deck has similar but unobstructed 360º views for 700¥.

 

 

After 10 minutes here, we looped around and walked back north, this time through the Chinatown there.

 

 

We then curved up through the Ikuta Shrine park. . . 

 

 

. . . and walked 3 minutes west to Tor Road Steak Aoyama for arguably the best and also most affordable Kobe steak in town. At this point Angela, our next monsooner, would join us for the rest of the trip.

 

 

Reservations at Tor Road Aoyama can be made by sending them a facebook message on their Facebook Page!

 

Photo Credit: Trish Ho

 

And how is Kobe beef when you have it in Kobe?

 

 

Oh my word, I think I just heard a symphony play in my mouth.

 

 

As if I lost my virginity a second time over, I even considered going full vegan after this as I don’t think I’ll have meat like this ever again.

 

 

As I almost was nearly moved to tears before finishing my last piece, it began to pour heavily, complicating our plans to head to Osaka afterwards. However after we paid the bill, the restaurant manager miraculously went outside and materialized a large limousine taxi to fit all 5 of us as we made the quick and dry trip back to Sanniyomiya Station for 610¥ total.

 

 

At the station we reclaimed our bags from the coin lockers and took the 410¥ Hashin Line Train 11 stops to Sakuragawa Station in Osaka.

 

 

Thankfully, our hostel, hostel PICNIC, is a mere 2 minute walk away from the station. And there we joined the next monsooner to hop on our trip, Shayra, as she had just checked in a few hours before. And then there were 6 of us!

Although I don’t feel like I can do a repeat of last night, Osaka is known for their nightlife so…fine. Let’s do it again.

 

What To Eat In Kobe

 

Are you kidding me?

 

- At time of posting in Kobe, Japan, it was 27 °C - Humidity: 88% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: heavy rain