Noilly Prattle: Getting Reacquainted 20 – thar she blows

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Getting Reacquainted 20 – thar she blows

rising plume of smoke
and ash from Mount Aso
(not my photo)
     The last leg of our drive around southern Kyushu was to take us by Sakurajima, Japan's most active volcano. We had gotten a kind of foreshadowing soon after leaving the Takachiho area the previous day. Off in the distance over the Mount Aso volcano region we could see a huge plume of white and gray smoke rising high above the crest of the mountains. At first we thought it was a cloud, but on closer look it was a plume of smoke and ash spewing from the volcano, which has been more active than usual lately. Missed the chance to get a good shot at it unfortunately. By the time we realized what it was it was too late to get a good enough view to take a photo. Photo on the right is similar but not nearly as dramatic. Missed opportunities! 

        There were news reports of increased activity around the Sakurajima volcano. Mount Aso and Sakurajima seemed to be behaving in tandem. After leaving Kirishima Shrine we chose the road that goes around to the east of Sakurajima leading to a bridge right onto the island in the shadow of the volcano. Although we didn't know it, this was a fortuitous choice since the best view of the active vents are on the eastern slopes of the volcano.

roadside park with great view of the spewing volcano
gray smoke and ash
blowing out of a vent
        Sakurajima, not unlike Mount Fuji, dominates the landscape for miles around. It's massive profile became visible soon after descending from the heights of Kirishima and pretty much stayed in view for the rest of the day. As we got closer and closer we began to distinguish smoke that appeared to coming out of the mountain and blending into the surrounding clouds. At first it was hard to distinguish one from the other. But as we rounded a bend in the road at one point the mountain accommodatingly belched an obvious plume of gray smoke into the sky. We stopped to take a photo and soon after that stopped at a roadside park with a perfect view of the volcano. The vent that was spewing the smoke and ash was clearly visible leaving no doubt what was smoke and what were clouds. We learned that the volcano had belched a record 34 times the previous day and was well on the way to equaling or surpassing that record the day we were there. 

classic profile of Sakurajima from the ferry boat
gray most noticeable on roof
        Soon we crossed the bridge onto Sakurajima (which means The Island of Cherry Trees). In other words the entire circular island is an active volcano. The road led south of the vent and it was necessary to drive through the smoke and ash since the wind was blowing in a southerly direction. Once out of the smoke, we stopped to have a look at the car which had been black and shiny. It looked a little grayish after coming out of the smoky area. From there we drove to the ferry landing to board a ferry for the mainland and drove south to Ibusuki to our hot spring hotel on the sea coast. Sakurajima remained in view to the rear for quite some time.

pouring sake from a length of bamboo

early morning soak in the balcony hot tub

hot sand bath
        The thing to do in Ibusuki is to indulge in the hot sand bath, which was within walking distance from our ryokan. The hot black sand which is volcanic in origin is right on the beach so that it is both comfortably hot and moist—supposedly good for whatever ails you. You are essentially buried up to your neck in the sand. It is a curious feeling reminiscent of what it might feel like being buried alive. You can feel the weight and the heat of the sand so much that you can actually feel the blood pulsating throughout your entire body. I was able to withstand 10 minutes and started to get restless and wanting to get out. An attendant came over after the minimum (unless you panic) 10 minutes and told me I could stay longer if I wished, but I declined, so he told me to simply move my arms and legs and work my way out. At that point it became an itchy experience brushing the sand off...and heading for a shower. Next, the city of Kagoshima.


To be continued...

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