Thursday, September 24, 2009
Before I begin my recounting of a 2 week farm stay, where I would be volunteering my labor at a dairy farm, let me answer your obvious question, "What the hell were you thinking?!?" The safe answer, the one that feels right a couple months after the fact is... life experience.
WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Its a non profit that hooks up people who want to experience living and working on a farm with farms looking for said people. The brochure states a simple formula; half a days work for a place to stay and food to eat, with some old fashioned character building thrown in for free. If you want to know more, google it, this shit is international and pretty popular with the hipsters these days.
I'd wanted to do WWOOFing in Japan for a while now, but lacked the time. A lot of people will spend a month at a farm, then move to the next farm for a month, repeating this for 6 months or even years. It's a novel way to travel and see the world. But with limited time to spare, I could only do a 2 week stint. Hokkaido is famous for milk, so I picked a dairy farm. I could have chosen a nice field of corn, or some kind of organic cafe, but I wanted to live with the humblest of beasts, the cow.
A little about the farm. Mr. Kataoka is 60 years old and has been in the dairy farm business going on 40 years. He works from 6:30am until 6:30pm everyday, 7 days a week. He has 4 children, a few grandchildren, and about 70 cows. This is in the town of Monbetsu, way in the sticks of northeast Hokkaido. This is the polar opposite of anything I could imagine myself doing... ever.
I've heard all sorts of different WWOOF stories. In some, the WWOOFer basically lives at a ski resort hotel, spending a few hour peeling carrots or something before clocking out and hitting the slopes. I've heard stories of spreading fertilizer in the hot sun for hours on end. I've heard mostly good stories though, thats for sure. Mine? In retrospect, it was good. But it was hard work. I won't lie, I really expected a sort of home stay type situation, where the farmer has plenty of normal help, and I'm just sort of there to lend a hand. I felt like I was necessary here. Which is good and bad at the same time. My energy was obliterated at the end of each day.
I should also mention that, being a dairy farm, there is poo everywhere. You wear a suit which I dubbed the "poo suit". You wear giant "poo boots". You get a lot of poo on you no matter how careful you are. At any given time, 15% of the cows are pooping. I did the math.
Here's the daily schedule:
6:30am to 9:00am - Milk the cows, feed the baby cows, clean the milking room of poop. Eat breakfast.
10:00am - 11:30am - Take the cows to the pasture, clean the cow shed of one days worth of poo. This requires heavy machinery. Eat lunch.
2:00pm - 3:00pm - Bring the cows back from pasture.
4:00pm - 6:30pm - Milk the cows, feed the baby cows, clean the milking room of poop. Eat dinner.
Have you ever heard the story of the traveling salesman who asked the farmer if he could stay the night?
During the free time, I was on the internet a lot. The farm had a high speed connection to the world, but no cell phone reception. I also drank like 8 glasses of milk a day, made some ice cream, and hiked around the area. Monbetsu, the closest thing resembling a city, was actually about 30 minutes drive away. Yeah, this was the middle of it.
After 10 days of working with the farmer, another WWOOFer came along to help out, so that was cool.
One day I thought I had hay under my clothes for about an hour, because of the itchiness. I dealt with it for a bit, then threw off the clothes. Found a palm sized spider crawling around against the skin of my lower back.
I thought the cows would be friendly. Yes, I imagined sitting in the pasture, napping against a particularly friendly bovine. Like in the movies! But, the cows were pretty much just robots. Their one command function is typing "bay bay!" into the input terminal. This causes them to proceed towards their next task, whether it be walking into the milking cage, or returning to the shed after grazing. Only the "bay bay" wasn't a simple command line input. It was like you were typing with nothing but your forehead. "Ba1y baay" would yeild nothing but an unmoving animal. "Bey ba74y!"... nothing. "Bay bay!"... 5 steps in the right direction, hooray. Repeat until finished. It was mind numbing at times.
They also respond to being poked in the tookass with shrubbery.
That was it for the dairy farm, and that was it for Hokkaido!
Next time: A wrap up of Hokkaido
There were horses.
I raced an R6 to this point on the coast. The R6 won.
Found where they throw away the used scallop shells. It smelled bad.
So I ate a scallop burger. It was delicious.
Here is a man taking a picture of a fox. I also took a picture.
I camped here.
I laughed at their funny bug suits. Then I got eaten by a thousand tiny gnats. It sucked.
That's it! Tour over.
Next time: 2 weeks working (WWOOFing) on a dairy farm in Monbetsu.
Roads: 243 -> 885 -> 150 -> 975 -> 950 -> 335 -> 87 -> 334
Shiretoko is one of the last true natural places in Japan. But first, my hella awesome dinner!
Chan Chan Yaki is a Hokkaido style fish barbecue. Salmon, trout, squid, scallops... good eats for sure. This was my first night staying at a rider's house, which is pretty much just a cheap place for riders to crash. They are all over Japan, especially in Hokkaido. The room you sleep in is something like this:
Just a massive room with tons of futons to sleep on. Good enough for me, is it good enough for you? They are usually run by old guys who are giving back to the motorcycle touring community. I met all kinds of cool people here.
A group of college students taking a 10 day bicycle trip. Random people taking a couple days away from Sapporo. Tokyo peeps. Old guys on Harleys whose eyes lit up when I told them about the sheer straightness of Highway 5 in California. "500km of totally straight road! My dream come true!"
More onsens, of course, in the area.
But take a closer look.
Anyways... if you are an onsen fan there is an onsen waterfall here. Let me paint the picture. A torrent of hot water, cascading down the mountain. As you climb higher and higher, the water gets hotter and hotter. Behind you, the ocean. Each of the many falls has a pool at the base for soaking. This is no trickle either, but proper river sized.
Now the reality. $15 for a bus ticket (private vehicles not allowed). 45 minutes along a dirt road each way. One you get to the tepid waterfall, you climb higher. Then you see the signs indicating danger and prohibition of entry. The fabled boiling hot waterfalls are inaccessible. Just the one at the base. Back to the 45 minute bus ride. If you are lucky you might see a deer.
I'd like to come back here and do some hiking someday. The peninsula is road free for the most part. If you do have a car though, head along the southern side to this onsen on the water.
Then pop across the street for some ramen.
Wait a sec... BEAR ramen?!?
Also, I went down to the Notsuke peninsula for no reason in particular. Fairly standard, but what's this?
An ultra right-wing uyoko propaganda bus... on a sightseeing trip. "On your left, the lovely bay of Notsuke, known for beautiful driftwood. And on your right, the commie Russian bastard's Kuril Islands... the Emperor's rightful property!"
My bike fully loaded. The tank bag has my SLR camera with 2 lenses, which takes up most of the room. Also my wallet, phone, iPod, and toilet/onsen kit. On the back is a massive waterproof bag. I searched and searched and searched for a hard case system like this. I was totally down to spend like $600 on an awesome detachable case setup. I seriously spent about 20 hours over the last 6 months searching for this for my CB1000. Bike shops, internet auctions, the local dealerships. But it turns out the CB1000 isn't that common of a bike, and the only company that made something for my bike was Krauser, and it would cost about $1200 for a set of hard cases. I could have had something custom made, but that would be expensive too. So, in the end, just bought a massive bag and strapped it on with bungee cords. Good enough to hold my camping gear, a couple changes of clothes, and a set of waterproof gear for the rain that never came.
Next time: In search of the fabled square sunset. Yeah, it's as exciting as it sounds. Also biting gnats.