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Looking west from the observatory, a view of the Kujukushima

Looking west from the observatory, a view of the Kujukushima

My third and final visitor was my brother, Ian. He told me that of all the places in the world he wanted to visit, Japan topped the list. I was stymied by this statement of his, having never suspected such a love for Asia in my brother. I remained curious about his declaration only until he actually showed up and I discovered what it was all about. Cars! Ian loves vehicles with a passion, and has consistently loved them since he was old enough to say “car.” In Japan, two-thirds of his photos were of cars that he can’t see in the states.

I had to work during the weekdays, so our exploration was in the evening. Norm told us about a free shuttle bus that left from the train station and went to a hotel on the top of the hill looking out over Sasebo. The shuttle ran into the evening hours.

Yumihari no Oka Hotel, on Mt. Shokan-dake above Sasebo. You can also see the sharp point of the roof over the observatory, rising above the trees farther up the hill.

Yumihari no Oka Hotel, on Mt. Shokan-dake above Sasebo. You can also see the sharp point of the roof over the observatory, rising above the trees farther up the hill.

Sasebo ginza from the bus on our way to the hotel.

Ian and I walked from base to the train station, and were pleased to see Norm and his wife, Kiyomi, waiting for the same shuttle. They were having a business meeting over dinner at the Yumihari no Oka hotel restaurant. The shuttle stop is out on the street and marked only with a small metal sign, so their presence was reassuring to us that we had found the right place.

The bus took us on this fabulous narrow and winding road up the side of the mountain. I haven’t mentioned yet that in Japan, there are often two-way streets that are only wide enough to accommodate one vehicle. Motorists must always be ready for oncoming traffic, and be prepared to avoid a head on collision by pulling off to the side into a wide spot. The road up to the hotel was one such narrow road. The driver was obviously comfortable with his route, and powered up the steep slopes, zoomed around curves, turned the wheel to the left, the right, the left, braked, stepped on the gas and wound deftly between houses built right up to the edge of the paved road. The ride itself was part of the adventure!

The hotel pool from their balcony

The hotel pool from their balcony

At the hotel, Kiyomi explained to the extremely gracious attendants that we were there to take photos, and though we were not customers, they led us to a lovely balcony off the dining room. From there we had a stunning sunset view of the Sasebo Navy Base directly below us to the south, and of the 99 Islands (Kujukushima)  to the west.

When we were done taking advantage of our hosts’ incredible balcony, they told us there was an observatory at the top of the mountain. Observatory turns out to mean, in Japan, a viewpoint.

We walked a short distance up to Saikai National Park where we were treated to a stunning 270 degree view of the city and ocean below. There is a nicely developed area with paths, information signs, and a roof. Over the western ledge, a wooden walking bridge out to another observation platform, led us to a wide vista. From there we could see the Kujukushima Islands that stretch out into the sea into a postcard-perfect scene. My camera was kind enough to lighten up the shot for me, pulling most available light into its lens and making the islands easier to see in the photos than was possible with our eyes.

The entrance to the wooden walkway to the west-facing observation deck

Sasebo Navy Base below the Yumihari Observatory

Sasebo streets at night

Stunning Mt. Hood - seriously lacking snow for the end of December

I’m late, but I still need to tell you about my awesome Christmas! When Mom died it just screwed up everything about the holidays. It doesn’t even feel like Christmas really happened, because it went all wrong without her being a part of it. However! I had a great vacation and it was packed full of stuff, so I’ll describe it in two parts. Part II will be available soon.

Tara spent the winter holidays in Cali with her dad, and Arno’s boys went to Wisconsin to see their mom, so we realized we were going to be granted the opportunity for a grown-up Christmas. We reserved three nights at the Lara House Lodge, in Bend, Oregon.

Passersby honked their horns while we were getting this shot!

Neither of us had been to Bend since we were kids, so it was an excellent place to get away from all the thoughts of my mom plaguing me. Didn’t have my home to remind me of her, and didn’t have any familiar sights reminding me of her.

We left from Hood River, south on highway 35, which eventually connected to highway 97, and we spent some time reminiscing about, and comparing, highway 97 memories. When you spend any time in central Oregon, you get familiar with 97, its long boring straight stretches through lodgepole pine, the caravans of RVs traveling at approximately 8 miles per hour below the speed limit, and inevitably the deliverance to one of your favourite childhood recreational sites.

We went through Madras, and I turned temporarily into a blathering idiot because I’m infatuated with Jacoby Ellsbury, who is from Madras. Ellsbury is a center fielder for the Boston Red Rox, of American Indian descent, and damn fine. Arno teased me by saying, “Maybe you’ll see him!”

Highway 97 bridge over Crooked River Gorge

Beware!

After Madras we stopped at Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint. I am always impressed with fabulous views, particularly those with intriguing geologic formations, so this captured my imagination. It was frightfully cold and windy out… but our entire trip was very cold and often windy. Just set that idea in the back of your mind and keep it handy for every single scene I describe. In fact, to assist you, I’ll suggest you simply add the words, “…and it was damn cold” to the end of each sentence from here on out.

Anyway, at the viewpoint we gawked and pointed, and I pursed my lips against the biting wind. Finally we returned to the truck and I spotted a sign warning people to keep their dogs in vehicles. Not just leash, but keep your dog in the car. Wow. I confess I thought dogs had more finely tuned senses than humans. I guess some dogs are smarter than others. Note to Bulldog owners and Ally at Hyperbole and a Half: don’t take your dogs to this viewpoint.

Anime Tshirts

We arrived at the Lara House Lodge with no difficulties at all. It is a brilliantly maintained home from 1910 and excellently hosted by Peter and Lynda who were gracious and genuine people. I even had the honor of meeting their granddaughter on one occasion, when she was helping in the kitchen. Had a lovely discussion with Peter, a retired minister who has a very interesting history of service, including years volunteering with Hospice (which is how we got on the topic of his work), and was able to wish Lynda a happy birthday on the 26th. They prepared us the most incredible gourmet breakfasts, and interviewed us each evening to ensure that any dislikes or allergies were taken care of.

living room

We arrived midday Christmas Eve and spent the remainder of the day walking the decorated streets of Bend. The Bed & Breakfast is smack in the center of town, and so convenient for vacationers. We were only a couple blocks from a lovely walking district. I found a shop entirely of Japanese gifts that I knew my daughter would have wanted to experience. More commonly, I spotted dozens of things I wanted to tell Mom about. I reached into my pocket for my phone a couple of times, with the intent of texting her… Eventually we met back at Lara House for wine and cheese, then wandered back into town for an elegant dinner.

tree

shadows

Christmas Day we opened gifts in front of a darling little tree that Arno brought as a surprise, with a silver star on top that he had made as a kid. The little tree was sent to him in college by his parents. So sweet. After a scrumptious Lara House breakfast, we went up to Mt. Bachelor to cross-country ski. However, there wasn’t good snow, so we opted to snowshoe instead. Still, the mostly ice-encrusted snow did not lend itself to snowshoeing. After clack-clacking a short way on the ice, we pulled off the snow shoes and hiked in our boots. The trail wound a few lovely miles through the forest, and we were satisfied.

Deschutes River in slanting rays of sun

icicles hanging from ice

After that, we went to hike a trail along the Deschutes River to Benham Falls. I snapped dozens of photos of the ice in the river, as it formed irresistible bubbles and icicles around the edges of the tumbling water. On the way back from the trail, we stopped at a vista across a wide valley where the region’s volcanic history was starkly evident. We saw a long and wide lava flow area (still black and crumbly!) with mounds raised over long-absent hotspots. Signs advertised cave exploration and museums available in the summer months, so we agreed to come back again when it’s warmer.

Lara House is across the street from Drake Park, and we went there every day for a short walk (are you remembering to add “…and it was damn cold”?). We ate entirely too much at our Christmas feast (with roast beast), and walked for an hour at the park before bed. The Deschutes River is wide and slow there, and holiday lights from the houses across the water glittered across the surface, Mallards peacefully floated about, and the stars made the sky magical.

the tumbling beginnings of Benham Falls along the Deschutes River

Arno and me at Benham Falls

 

Benham Falls

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