Sayonara From The Journey To The East
smiling don’t you cry
no more we…
stop to see.”
Sayonara – the movie
It’s done. After years of planning and delays, we began to think it was never meant to be. Three years ago, when the WHO announced the COVID pandemic many of us were already packing our bags in preparation what was to be the inaugural Journey to the East cycling tour of South Korea and Japan. When we first announced our plans for this tour in November of 2017, so many people were interested in the tour that we eventually had two fully booked groups for the 2020 launch. It was not meant to be. With the WHO announcement and countries closing borders one by one, we decided to delay the tours by a year…and then another and another…
We persisted and put it up on the 2023 calendar. Most of the original ‘signees’ persisted as well and finally two groups, one following the other three days later, started in Seoul, Korea almost two months ago. I had the opportunity to start with the first group and then wait three days in Tokyo to join the second one.
Persistence, as often in life, eventually paid off. It was a tour that will stick in our minds for the rest of our lives. After the delays, it finally seemed as if everything was working in our favour. We managed to put together two experienced crews to run the tours, the chosen routes, already well scouted, were updated and improved as we went along. The food was exceptional and the lodging, particularly the traditional inns, were well chosen and very enjoyable. The weather cooperated and, except for a couple of rainy days, it was a joy to be on a bicycle each and every day. The scenery ranged from great to fabulous, the traffic on most roads was sparse and often almost non-existent. The riding was hard and challenging but we just put the ‘pedal to the metal’ and kept climbing, knowing well that, ‘what goes up must come down’. And when it did – oh how sweet it was.
We learned a few words in Korean and Japanese, we tried many new foods, some challenging our palates and perhaps even forcing us to question our old eating habits. We made new friends and, in some cases, made plans for future tours and adventures. We celebrated birthdays, visited magnificent temples, shrines and museums, learned about volcanoes, discussed earthquakes and many other ideas close to our hearts. But mainly we really, really enjoyed ourselves. Just ask any of the participants on either of the tours.
And now we are saying Sayonara to Japan (and Korea) – meaning farewell, adieu, goodbye. We will miss your dedicated bike paths and routes, the politeness and cleanliness all around, the vistas and the small plots of rice and orchards, the endless forest and hills, the lakes, the seas and the rivers. We will miss the yukata (the lighter version of kimono) awaiting us in our rooms as we undressed from our bike shorts and walked into the ‘Onsen’ for a traditional Japanese scrubbing, followed by a relaxing sojourn in natural hot spring pools – followed naturally by a beer.
We will miss the variety and the unique preparation of your sea food. We will miss the tiny corner Izakayas – essentially small pubs specializing in some dishes to be prepared just for you. We will miss all of that and much, much more. But most of all we will miss the camaraderie that comes from sharing and spending time with a group of like-minded individuals from around the world. Sayonara to all of you, the participants and the staff. It has been a real pleasure to share this time with you.
Journey to the East
While Korea and Japan are close neighbors, their lands and cultures are completely their own, and cycling across these countries one after the other...