Thursday, March 29, 2012

To the Bat Cave, Robin!

After a couple of weeks of city life, my body was aching for fresh country air and space to stretch out and soak up the sun. My destination was obvious: Mount Fuji.

I challenge you to find anyone in the world who isn't familiar with this giant dormant volcano... its peak is the highest in Japan but what really brings the flocks is its perfect symmetrical cone shape and its isolation from other mountains. It looks the way a mountain should look, the way that you would draw a picture of one in preschool.

Unfortunately at this time of the year it can't be climbed - the snow is too thick and the temperature too low for it to be safe even for seasoned climbers - so I instead booked into a youth hostel on Kawaguchi Lake, one of the five main lakes around the foot of the iconic structure.

Climbing something

Not to entirely shirk mountain climbing, I headed on arrival to Mount Tenjo, a tree-covered peak directly in front of the lake and only a short walk from my hostel. The tourist board only had it listed as 'a cable car' so that's what I went for... it was when I approached the counter to pay for my ticket that I realised there was a 'one way' option. And that must mean it's possible to climb.

I bought the one-way ticket. I'd love to tell you that I bought it for the return journey but I'm afraid I'm just a big fat cheat. I rode the car almost all the way to the top and then made a casual walk back down again, admiring the views of the lake and mountain with every step. It turned out actually to be a very well-marked route, well maintained and easy to negotiate... but there's no time for regrets.

Mt Fuji as seen (or not) from the crest of Mt Tenjo

A Sore Bum

The next day I hired a clunky old mountain bike with a mission in mind: I would score a perfect photograph of Mount Fuji and I would reach The Bat Cave. After all, who wouldn't want to take the opportunity to meet the infamous Mr Wayne and witness his technological marvels?

I selected an 18-mile route that would allow me to circle the lake entirely and to visit the next lake along (Saiko). Whilst 18 miles doesn't seem far, it had me worried halfway round the first leg when I found myself climbing a steep road on an unsuitable vehicle and almost, almost considered turning back.

"Holy Buttock Sores, Batman! We're almost there!"
Finally, the Bat Cave appeared round a corner. I locked up my bike, bustled into the kiosk and bought my ticket from an automated machine. A staff member handed me a hard hat with a brief demonstration on how to wear it and sent me on my way.

So... I've been to caves before. I've had tour guides or I've had information stations where you press a button to hear / read about the cave's formation. One thing has always been consistent in these cave visits: a comfortable, safe and secure walkway from which to view stuff.

This was different. I could see from the outset that it was different and it just got differenter and differenter, as Alice might say. There were a number of different routes marked out through the cave. The first was 'Basic Course'. Hah! I scoff at 'basic course'. 'Basic course' suggests that there are much more interesting routes available - those are the ones I want.

If only I'd known what the alternative was...

It didn't take long to get scary. I started to get concerned when I hit my hard hat on a sign saying 'mind your head' and then frowned when I looked at another 'mind your head' sign at roughly chest-height. Hanging from the ceiling. Bending double to scrape under it, things only became more claustrophobic... there was no turning back, it was time to get down on your hands and knees in the wet, dirty lava floor and start crawling, sometimes with a clearance of no more than three feet and only the scarcest lighting.

Photos were a bit of a problem, I'm afraid, so please just try to invoke images of Bilbo Baggins crawling through dark and uncharted tunnels on his quest to return his precious ring.

Anyway, I made it out in the end and suddenly realised I'd seen no bats. Zero bats. Not of the Bruce Wayne variety and not of the flying rodent variety. Most disappointing.

Update on the VW

I know some of you are itching to know what's going on here... well my saviour arrived yesterday in the form of a fellow traveller from France, who's very hands-on with his own VW T25 and professes to have rather good technical knowledge of the T2s to boot. I purchased some Skype credit, we Googled the garage and he spoke to them at quite some length, getting all the details that seem to be missed when I call the RAC.

So it turns out that the electrical fault that caused my breakdown in fact had a massive impact on the wiring of the whole bus. We suspected that the wiring was old anyway, so the garage have I'm sure done the right thing by completely rewiring it. Their tests now show that everything's in perfect working order except the fuel gauge, which was fried in the incident so, with the help of my forum friends from The Late Bay, I have found a replacement and will be sending it straight over to them. They're confident that they can fit it almost immediately once it arrives, and I'll be back on the road in time for Groezrock.

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