June 1 & 2, 2018 – Days 92 & 93

Onomichi to Imabari (77 km over two days)

To Setoda:
Our friend Helen B sent us an article the other day from the May/June copy of I Fly Magazine, describing the Top 5 Bike Holidays. Two of them we had done: La Route Verte in Quebec (the section from Montreal to Rivière-du-Loup ) and Land’s End to John O’Groats in Britain. We can now tick off a third on the list, the Shimanami Kaido. It certainly ranks up there with the other two – the cycling was excellent, the scenery stunning, and the weather perfect.

The Shimanami Kaido is a 78 km bike route that winds across six islands in the Seto Inland Sea, between Honshu and Shikokū. The islands are connected by the Setouchi Shimanami, a chain of 7 enormous bridges (3 suspension bridges are among the longest in the world) linking Onomichi with Imabari. The recommended cycle route (there are other routes on the islands) is generally flat, apart from the long, gentle climbs up to the bridges, and can easily be done in a day. We decided to break it up and spend a night on the islands to extend the experience. There are also a number of interesting sites to visit along the route.

Cyclists are advised to avoid the first bridge, so after espressos and croissants at the Cycle Hotel, we boarded the small ferry that makes the 7 minute crossing between Onomichi and Mukouijima. The cycle route took us through quiet villages and larger industrial towns, past vistas of sandy beaches, islands, forested hills and citrus groves. The roads were quiet and usually had bikeable sidewalks. On the bridges, we cycled on dedicated cycle paths, although one of them was shared with motor scooters, which meant for one unnerving moment!
We stopped for a late morning ice cream (the sea salt and milk was very good) at Dolce, an obligatory stop for travellers, and then udon with shrimp in Setoda. In the afternoon, we visited the Hirayama Ikuo Museum of Art. Ikuo was a local painter who travelled widely, exploring the influences brought to Japan via the Silk Road. The gallery had an attractive tea room where we had fresh lemonade from local lemons and Chrysanthemum tea, and bought some lemon cakes. We then climbed up to the Kousanji Temple, built in the 1940’s by an industrialist, in honour of his mother. He later also became a priest to further repay a debt of gratitude to his mother!
Our guest house, Setoda Private Hostel, was right on Sunset Beach. While somewhat rustic and with shared shower facilities, it had an onsen (indoor hot bath with water from geothermally heated springs), which we were able to use privately. The bath, beach and the sunset were all lovely. Over a dinner of fried fish we chatted with a couple from the Vaud region in Switzerland.
To Imabari:
Breakfast at the hostel  was traditional, with fish, rice, miso soup, egg and green tea. We did not find coffee until later, when Paul happened to notice a COFFEE sign along the seashore. Lois went in search of the proprietor of the guest house, who served us good brewed coffee on the patio, and, much to our surprise, cheese on toast! The 73-year old clearly enjoyed talking to her guests and sat with us, using Google Translate to ask us questions and tell us about  her family and her various guests. We also shared information about Canada, our offspring and families and showed her photos. She was fascinated when Paul found an old photo of her guesthouse on Google Maps. We tried various ways to forward the photo to her, but without success. While we were sitting there, a Black Kite had perched on a sign across the road. Paul was intrigued when the proprietor tossed out some food for the bird which swooped down and swiftly retrieved it. We were a bit reluctant to leave that patio on the ocean and that very nice lady, who gave Lois a hug when we said goodbye!
Later in the day, at the top of one hill
we chatted with a group of cyclists from Singapore and Taiwan. Apparently, Singapore is working to improve cycling infrastructure on the island.
Too soon, we were on the last bridge onto Shikoku, at Imabari. At the recommendation of our hotel, we ate at Yuki restaurant, where we had another memorable meal. With the help of another customer, we settled on “no meat” and a price for the meal (we were asked our budget!) We then received a stream of delicious and interesting dishes. The first was raw octopus which was actually OK! The broad bean tempura was the highlight for Paul. Then came tuna and amberjack sashimi, abalone with rice, white fish tempura, eggplant, miso soup, lotus root, a whole Rock Fish each and then green tea sorbet. The sea cucumber we mostly left untouched! We were both drinking draft beer and Paul was treated to local Soju (made from lotus root) by another other diner. It was strong! On leaving, the proprietor and her son, who was the chef, came outside to say goodbye. The restaurant is named after her 88 year old mother, Myuki, whom we were told still rides around on a bicycle.
Coffee note: very good Brazilian/Ethiopian blend espresso (8.5/ 10) at the Hotel Cycle in Imabari.


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