Greetings from the Russian Far East!
I’m set to begin the second stage of my journey, albeit later than I had intended, because I’ve struggled to meet my own deadline with the complicated preparations for this leg pushing my start date deeper into winter and presenting a greater challenge to plan for.
I intended to cycle the length of Japan once I was ready to continue. It would be an easy ride through an extraordinary country—one of the few that I could travel with an understanding of the culture and language, and not come off like an ignorant fool in my dispatches. It was to be my reward for doing the time, over three years as it turns out.
I had also thought about the alternate route to the north through the Russian Far East. Especially since living in Hokkaido, where the outlying Kuril Islands (formerly Japanese territory) are close enough to be seen from the coast on a clear day. I became intrigued with this unfamiliar part of the world, and aware that this is my only opportunity to include it in this journey. It was a hard decision to make, and not all the decisions I’ve made have been good, but I did make the right call about going Japan. The next few month will tell if I’ve made the right choice about leaving.
On January 4th, I arrived in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (formerly Toyohara), a small city in the south of Sakhalin Island which is only 40 km north from Hokkaido. My plan is to travel up to the north of the island, cross over to the mainland, and head south-west to Vladivostok and onto China (about 3000 km / 3 month).
The route I’ve planned is only passable in deep winter, which is why I’ve arrived in early January—the coldest month being February. Few parts of the world dish out a winter like the Russian Far East. No doubt it would be beautiful here in the summer, but it’s the winter that makes the region unique, and I want to know what that’s like. I’ve always been adamant that if I’m going to include Sakhalin in my route, there’s only one season for it.
I leave Japan now with a heavy heart. In 2008 I arrived with a few hundred dollars to my name and the sole purpose of refinancing the expedition. I never expected to spend so long there—a year, maybe two at the most—but the experience turned out to be so much more. I fell in love with the country, the culture, and the beautiful people. It was more of a home than home, and ironically for the first time in my life I didn’t have itchy feet. If it wasn’t for this journey I would have spent years there.
Sayonara Nihon. Samishii desu. Tanoshikatta. arigato!
I said this before when I rounded Cape York, thinking at the time that I was moving towards Europe, but it is here where I finally begin heading west and officially start circumnavigating the world.