I’m a planner, a writer of lists, a researcher, I don’t like surprises. Our round the world trip was my biggest feat of planning to date. For three years, I read guide books, followed blogs, watched TV programmes, and together, as a family, we drew up a long list of things we’d like to do, places we’d like to go. As we moved slowly around the world, we tried to include as many of our wished for things in our itineraries.
From the earliest days of the can-we-do-this discussions, we wanted to see the snow monkeys in Japan. We looked at photos, watched a documentary and took regular peeks at the monkey web cam, watching the shaggy primates in their snowy wilderness. They captured our imagination.
In the whirl of elephants, jungles and volcanoes, we sort of forgot about the snow monkeys. It wasn’t until we arrived in Japan, and were planning where to go to provide the maximum Japaneseness in the minimum time that we remembered, and decided to visit Yudanaka. Yudanaka is a ski resort, with natural hot springs and is home to the famous snow monkeys. We were visiting in the steamy height of summer, so no skiing, but you can still bathe in the springs and see the monkeys.
Yudanaka is ugly. Without the softening, white blanket of snow it’s a concrete scar on the mosquito infested mountains. Our ryokan smelt overpoweringly of dog, and the loo seat was covered in shaggy fur that was no doubt meant to be cosy in winter, but just screamed germs. The monkeys, when we’d trekked up through the beautiful, buggy, forest to find them, were looking bored in a small, unattractive, concrete pool, surrounded by over excited tourists. We’d seen prettier monkeys in prettier settings in lots of places by the time we reached Yukanaka. After three years of planning, the whole thing was a bit of a disappointment.
Travel, and life, can be a bit like that. I find at these moments it’s a good idea to take the Japanese approach, and see the beauty in the details. The soaring straightness of a cedar trunk in the forest, the trickle of steaming hot water over smooth rocks in the outdoor bathing pool, the single blue hydrangea flower in a vase on the counter of a bar, the hand-drawn sumo posters in the booth of a cosy neighbourhood restaurant. Yudanaka wasn’t a bad place, it actually had a lot to offer if you like pet stag beetles and sumo wrestlers stew. I just needed to adjust my expectations.
I am taking part in Photo Friday at Delicious Baby. Head on over for lots of lovely travel pictures.