Tuesday, August 27, 2013

JAPAN - Suttsu, Hokkaido

Suttsu was incredible, by far our favourite WWOOF experience so far!  We had no idea what to expect when we suddenly bought a plane ticket to Sapporo, we went only with a hope for cooler weather after getting up to 30+ degrees C in Nagano Prefecture.  Pretty grueling when you're working outside in the sun all day.

We arrived in Sapporo on July 24th and spent a lot of meals at restaurants trying what residents outside of Hokkaido always seem to associate with the area - delicious food.  We quickly booked our first host on the coastal town of Suttsu, a town known for strong winds, beautiful sunsets, and beach-side windmills.  On the way discovered the existence of 'Michi no Eki' (literally 'road station').  These places are awesome.  They are buildings along popular travel routes that offer a free place to sleep in your car or tent, free wifi, and a shop with snacks/food/coffee.  There is a terminal inside with maps and information about other Michi no Eki in the area.  We ended up staying there overnight in our new tent, staying up late drinking and chatting with a Japanese bike tourist who had been on the road for three months and an old lady sleeping in her van who had come up from the southernmost main island Kyushu.  We looked like hobos, circling around a box of sake and some snacks in the building parking lot.  We even had a view of the ocean with the place not being more than ten meters from the water at the town harbor.

The next day we met our hosts, and found out we had been staying a two-minute walk from their house.  We were also surprised to find out we were their first WWOOFers.  They were a lovely couple, not much older than ourselves, with an adorable ten-month-old baby girl.  Here we worked mostly with Italian style tomatoes, harvesting them from their greenhouse and vegetable garden and washing, cutting, drying, and jarring them with olive oil.  Some of them were crazy, beautiful colors like rosey pink and dark purple that we would mix and package prettily for the market.  We also got to make red currant jam from the bush in the back garden and design labels for it.  At the vegetable garden we discovered the horror that is 'abu' (huge Japanese horseflies) that are attracted to dark colors, of course the only color work clothes I brought.  We spent the first day with me letting one land on my back so Charlie could whack it with the bundle of twine we were using to tie up tomato plants and stomping them once they hit the ground.  At one point a group of kids walked by and surely had a good laugh at the spectacle we were making of ourselves.

The schedule was awesome, usually 5am to 11am with long breaks along the way.  We would then have lunch and usually our hosts would kindly take us to local hotspots like the beach where we could swim and look at starfish and sea urchins.  One day we went to visit a friend in the next town who let us borrow his canoe and dove into the sea and brought back a sea urchin that we cracked open with a rock and ate raw as it was still crawling away.  One evening we attended the Japanese day of the dead where people sent lanterns off to sea as a way to see off the spirits of loved ones who had passed on.  On our first weekend we went with them to the Sapporo farmers market and tried to use our foreign looks to our advantage in marketing their goods.

For Charlie's birthday we took a few days off to take the ferry to Okushiri island and camp on the northernmost tip surrounded by the Atlantic.  At night you could see the bright glow of squid-fishing boats on the horizon and a crystal clear sky of stars.  The last day with our hosts, we summited Mnt Mekkunai together, baby and all.  We didn't predict the time it would take very well and were all tired and starving by the time we reached the bottom and hit a few closed restaurants in a desperate search for sustenance before finally finding a restaurant.

We ended up staying for the full month and it hardly felt like work at all with the interesting tasks and good company.  We fully intend to keep in touch with our Suttsu friends and hopefully have them stay with us in the US in future!

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