The Turtle V – Update #3 – Bumpers – 2019

May 31, 2019

The Turtle V gets a Buckstop front Bumper

The Turtle V, a yurt on wheels, was quite comfortable among its fellows in the beautiful Tash Rabat, Kyrgyzstan, valley.

The Turtle V, a yurt on wheels, was quite comfortable among its fellows in the beautiful Tash Rabat Valley in Kyrgyzstan.

The front bumper is a custom design by Buckstop Truckware in Oregon, incorporating some of the features of our previous bumpers like lockable storage compartments, two trailer hitch receivers, headlight protection bars and rock deflector in front of the steering cooler. Mounts for a Go Pro camera and our front Total Vision camera were added. We upgraded our previous 12,000 lb. Warn winch to their new 16.5 TI which is discreetly mounted low, and locked inside the bumper. The Viking synthetic line is safer and lighter. PIAA LP570 LED white long-range driving lights and PIAA 510 Series Xtreme White SMR fog lights were strategically placed. Both can be controlled with manual JRV switches or by the dimmer switch. A Passport SR1 radar/laser sensor is neatly mounted out of harm’s way.

Bumpers are made to keep a cow or a deer out of our radiator. To stop rocks and gravel from chipping the paint on the hood, we applied a computerized layer of XPEL Paint Protection Film.  The same material protects our headlamps from rock chips and scratches. The film is non-yellowing. XPEL has custom-cut patterns for nearly every vehicle.

The Turtle V’s rear Bumper

The rear bumper was custom-designed by Unique Metal Products. Like the front bumper, it incorporates 2” X 2” HD trailer hitch receivers on both sides and the middle. The socket in the middle holds our Yakima bike rack, a Class 3 trailer hitch or a Mac’s Trail D-Vice. The end sockets on each side fit a specially designed drawbar that can be used for a Hi-Lift jack or an auxiliary table for our Weber Go-Anywhere BBQ, (see upcoming Camper Blog). The bumper itself serves as a compartment to store the main Hi-Lift jack bar, leaving the foot and lift mechanism stored clean and safely away.

For high clearance trucks, a rear bumper like this is a legal requirement in Europe to keep little cars from driving under you.

The Turtle V – Update #2 – Tires, Wheels, Steering, Bearings & Fender Flares – 2019

May 24, 2019

The Turtle V project was full of challenges. First, we had to get rid of the dual rear tires. Duals don’t work on rocky roads and they plow sand, mud and snow.

With a temperature of 140F, it was hard to sleep near the burning hole in Turkmenistan.

With a temperature of 140F, it was hard to sleep near the burning hole in Turkmenistan.

 

 Michelin XZL’s and Rickson steel wheels

After some experimentation, we chose Michelin XZL 335/80R20s and mounted them on custom 20X11 Rickson steel wheels. Michelin is the only tire company that makes anything like the XZL. Its ability to carry a full single axle load of 7,540 lbs. at 50 psi or even less without overheating is unique. It handles highway speeds of 70 miles an hour like any mud and snow tire and we can drop the pressure down to 25 psi or even 15 psi without bead locks. Despite the XZL’s aggressive tread, we still carry Pewag mud & snow chains for both front and rear axles. The Rickson wheels can be reversed to run on front or rear and still track in line. Valve stems on both sides facilitate airing up and down.

The perfect answer: Warn Drill Winch 

Getting the 197-pound wheel and tire down from our custom mount on the rear of the camper was easy. A 2’ draw bar slips into a receiver on the roof and a Warn Drill Winch lowers the tire to the ground using a 14-volt cordless drill for power. The Warn Drill Winch can lift over 500 pounds.

SmarTire system

SmarTire Pressure and Temperature monitors were installed on all rims before tires were mounted and balanced.

SmarTire Pressure and Temperature monitors were installed on all rims before tires were mounted and balanced.

Before we mounted and balanced the tires we installed a SmarTire sensor/transmitter on each rim. As we drive, the SmarTire receiver on the dash tells us the pressure and temperature of each tire and warns us if anything suddenly varies from preset perimeters.

 

MOOG tie rods and LEE Power Steering

Steering with the big 40.7” tires was not really a problem, but to take the load off the MOOG tie rods, drag link and the idler arm bushings, we had a custom LEE Power Steering pump engineered with a remote reservoir for better cooling and a full ram-assist system which eliminates the need for a steering shock absorber.

Dynatrac’s Free-Spin™ Heavy-Duty Hub

The first big mechanical challenge was the ongoing problems with Ford’s unit bearing on the front Dana 60 axle. Clearly designed to speed up assembly times, both Timken and TRW knew there would be problems. Fortunately, the easy fix was Dynatrac’s Free-Spin™ Heavy-Duty Hub Conversion Kit. It was designed to replace the factory unit bearings with fixed spindles for superior strength, and smooth performance. It uses Timken bearings that can be found all over the world and can be adjusted and serviced by any mechanic.

Custom Bushwacker Flares

With the bigger tires, fender flares were necessary. We basically ramped up the truck to see what hit and cut it away. Bushwacker digitized the cut out and made custom flares. The rear flares were easier. We just built the camper to fit the 40.7 inch diameter of the XZLs, allowing room for suspension travel and mud and snow chains.

The Turtle V – Update #1 – Engine – 2019

May 17, 2019

The latest in the 48-year dynasty of Turtle Expedition research trucks, The Turtle V and its European-style Tortuga Expedition Camper have gone through a continuous process of refinement since it was conceived in 1999. Back then it was an experiment. Now, with over 200,000 miles on the odometer including a two-year/40,000-mile expedition through 26 countries following the SILK ROAD, The Turtle V has proven itself beyond any doubt. It has met and surpassed our initial goals: Safety, Comfort, functional Performance, and above all, Reliability.

Following one of our favorite roads in Uzbekistan.

Following one of our favorite roads in Uzbekistan.

Ford’s Super Duty F-550 4X4, powered by the International One Millionth Power Stroke 7.3 liter Inter-cooled Turbo Diesel, puts this truck in a class by itself, while still maintaining the comfort and maneuverability of the American pick-up. The cab is the same as an F-350, but a closer look reveals a massive Dana 135s differential in the rear, with a frame and suspension designed to carry a GVWR of 17,500 pounds!! Kind of like an F-350 on steroids!

The Turtle V sports the One Millionth Power Stroke 7.3 Liter Inter-Cooled Turbo Diesel

The One Millionth Power Stroke 7.3 liter Intercooled Turbo Diesel, puts this truck in a class by itself.

The One Millionth Power Stroke 7.3 liter Intercooled Turbo Diesel, puts this truck in a class by itself.

The 7.3 Navistar diesel is universally known as one of the most reliable of the Power Stroke line, and with no catalytic converter or other smog filters, it will run on any type of diesel, with or without sulfur. The engine was retrofitted with an ATS 3000 turbo which has improved mid-range, better exhaust manifold gaskets and no waste gate. Our goal was not more power. More important, reliability.

With that same goal in mind, we installed a Dieselsite Adrenaline HPOP high pressure oil pump. The oil pump is the heart of the engine. Starting a 7.3 L Power Stroke engine requires turning the engine at a speed high enough and long enough to raise the oil pressure to 450 psi to open the fuel injectors. Especially in cold weather, the factory starter really had to work. The MPA (Motorcar Parts of America) Xtreme HD starter is a direct bolt-in replacement. With 4.0-KW of power compared to OE’s 2.5-3.0-KW, it spins the engine like a top.

Under the Hood of The Turtle V

We upgraded to a K&N Performance washable air filter and added more life and protection with an Outerwears pre-filter cover.

We upgraded to a K&N Performance washable air filter and added more life and protection with an Outerwears pre-filter cover.

The only other changes we made were to upgrade the starting batteries to larger Odyssey Extreme group 34s. We swapped the factory air filter for a K&N Performance washable air filter and added more life and protection with an Outerwears pre-filter cover. A Dieselsite coolant filter keeps contaminants out of our Gates water pump.

Installing the Amsoil Dual Remote Oil Filtration System dramatically extends drain Intervals. The Amsoil Ea Bypass Filter typically filters all the oil in the system several times an hour, so the engine continuously receives analytically clean oil. In addition to the factory fuel filter/water separator, we installed a Racor fuel filter/water separator/fuel pre-heater with a clear bowl to allow inspection for dirt or water in the fuel before it even reaches the Airtex fuel pump.

The exhaust system was engineered by Magnaflow Performance Exhaust with a flow-through muffler and custom pipes to minimize problems with deep water crossings and provide clearance on fuel tank and mud flap. 

Japan #6 – Snow Monkeys – December 2014

May 14, 2019

Let the truth be known, one of the main reasons Monika and I wanted to visit Japan was to see the amazing Snow Monkeys. In the frigid valley of Japan’s Shiga-Kogen (Shiga Highlands) near Nagano, the site of 1998 Winter Olympics, there is a thermal spring that has been discovered by a troop of Japanese Macaque monkeys. They are also known as the Snow Monkeys because they live in areas where snow covers the ground for months each year. No other non-human primate is more northern-living, nor lives in a colder climate, surviving winter temperatures of below -15 °C, (5°F). They have brown-gray fur, a red face, hands and bottom, a short tail and big ears, and often seem remarkably human-like.

Jigokudani Yaenkoen Park

When they are not in the hot springs or feeding, the Japanese Macaques huddle together to stay warm.

When they are not in the hot springs or feeding, the Japanese Macaques huddle together to stay warm.

In 1964 the Jigokudani Yaenkoen Park opened. It is located in the valley of the Yokoyu River that flows down from the Shiga-Kogen. At an elevation of 850 m, (2,788 ft), surrounded by steep cliffs and hot water steaming out from the earth’s surface, the area is called Jigokudani (“Hell’s Valley”). The monkeys discovered the pool of warm water and made it their winter home. Free food too…..

Japan Rail Pass

We loved watching the baby snow monkeys cuddling and nursing.

We loved watching the baby snow monkeys cuddling and nursing.

A great way to travel through Japan is with the Japan Rail Pass. You need to buy it before you arrive in Japan. From Kanazawa, it took three train rides, a bus and finally a taxicab, (because an avalanche had closed the train tracks), to get to our accommodation in the Hakuba area. Dragging our luggage behind us through the snow we arrived at the Pension Ratanrirun, mostly frequented by skiers and snow borders. It was a cozy place with a Japanese style hot tub, bathroom down the hall and comfortable beds.

Where is that little bugger? I know you are in there.

Where is that little bugger? I know you are in there.

In the morning, getting an early start to avoid the crowds, a bus brought us to the trailhead for the Snow Monkey Park. From there it was a steep 40-minute hike up a treacherously icy trail to the hot pool where this particular troop of Japanese Macaques has made its hangout. For the first time during our two-year adventure around the world, we wished we had our MSR trekking poles and our Yaktrax traction clip-ons for ice and hard-packed snow, but of course they were packed safely in The Turtle V, now in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on its way to California.

We could tell you all kinds of wonderful Snow Monkeys Japan 6 57things about these amazing monkeys but the pictures are worth a thousand words. Just for fun we have included a caption here and there. The animals are so used to tourists; thousands come every year to see them. In the wild they spend most of their time in forests and feed on seeds, buds, fruit, invertebrates, berries, leaves, and bark. In the park they are fed rice in the winter by Park Rangers who watch over the crowd to make sure no one steps out of line. A sign at the entrance says it all:

 “You may think these monkeys are your long-lost relatives. They don’t! Don’t touch them.”

That evening, delighted we had finally seen the famous snow monkeys, we walked through the neighborhood in search of dinner. Skiers were happy.  The snow was dumping hard. The air was crisp and the fresh powder was squeaking under our boots. It was a magical night, our last in Japan. A local bar served some excellent Sashimi, still a bit pricey. The restaurant that supposedly offered Kobe beef was already closed so we ended up eating the worst pizza we’ve ever had.

New Year’s Eve 2014 – The longest ever – 32 hours!

Trudging back to the train station in the morning in the dark, we caught a series of trains to the Narita airport in Tokyo for our flight to San Francisco. It was New Year’s Eve 2014, the longest we have ever experienced (32 hours).

More Adventures ahead

You may think that’s the end of our adventures. It’s not. As you read this, we are packing The Turtle V for an extended trip in South America. Our goal will be to see the many places we missed in 1988/1989, back when internet did not exist. Our bucket list will include Carnival in Oruro, Bolivia; thick juicy steaks from the famous grass-fed beef of Argentina; parking in the middle of 35,000 sheep waiting to be sheared in Patagonia; getting a close-up personal look at the Emperor Pinguins of Antarctica; exploring the vast wetlands of the Pantanal in Brasil……see you there!

Japan #5 – Hiroshima – December 2014

May 10, 2019

At 8:15 AM, August 6, 1945, an American B-29 bomber carried out the World’s first atomic bombing. The bomb was about 3 m, (9.8 ft.), long and weighed about 4 tons. It was called “Thin Man” at first because of its long thin design. When the actual bomb turned out to be shorter than expected, the name was changed to “Little Boy”.

Hiroshima Peace Museum's reflection in the Peace Pond

Hiroshima Peace Museum’s reflection in the Peace Pond

 

“Little Boy” that changed the World

The bomb exploded approximately 600 m, (2,000 ft), above and 160 m, (525 ft), southeast of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, ripping through and igniting the building, instantly killing everyone in it.

The impressive Hiroshima Peace Museum

The impressive Hiroshima Peace Museum

Because the blast struck from almost directly above, some of the center walls remained standing. Even the building’s iron frame could be recognized as a dome. After the war these dramatic remains came to be known as the A-Bomb Dome.

The bomb was delivered by a total of three B-29 bombers. One carried devices for scientific observation, another carried photographic equipment, and the third called Enola Gay, named after Col. Paul Tibbits’ (the pilot) mother, actually carried the bomb.

On the streets of Hiroshima it was just another Monday. It dawned clear and sunny. The yellow air raid alarm was cleared and the hot summer’s day began as usual.

A Fireball blazed like a small Sun

Strolling through Hiroshima's Memorial Park on this cold wintry day we came upon this Peace Bell which is rung by visitors as part of their wish for Peace.

Strolling through Hiroshima’s Memorial Park on this cold wintry day we came upon this Peace Bell which is rung by visitors as part of their wish for Peace.

The detonation of the “Little Boy” created a fireball that blazed like a small sun. More than 1,000,000°C, (1,800,032 F°), at its center, the fireball reached a maximum diameter of 280 m, (918 ft.), in two seconds. Surface temperatures near the hypocenter rose up to 4,000°C, (7,232F°). Fierce heat rays and radiation burst out in every direction, expanding the air around the fireball and creating a super high-pressure blast. These factors interacted in complex ways to inflict tremendous damage.

Although the casualties are not precisely known, approximately 140,000 people are believed to have died by the end of 1945. Among them were many school children and South Korean prisoners of war, mobilized to demolish buildings near the city center for fire lanes. Buildings within a 2 km, (1.5 mi), radius of the hypocenter crumbled and burnt to the ground. Death was often presumed from personal effects left behind. Many bodies were never found or identified.

The pull-string of the bell in the Children's Peace Monument reminds us of Sadako Sasaki’s story who folded 1,000 Origami crane in hopes to have her wish fulfilled.

The pull-string of the bell in the Children’s Peace Monument reminds us of Sadako Sasaki’s story who folded 1,000 Origami cranes in hopes to have her wish fulfilled.

People close to the hypocenter said the atomic explosion looked yellowish red. Those further away reported a bright bluish white light resembling burning magnesium. The intense thermal rays from the fireball caused burns within a radius of up to 3.5 km, (2mi). Those within 1.2 km, (1,312 yd.), of the hypocenter sustained severe injuries to their internal organs and most died within a few days.

As we walked past the shocking photos of the results of this horrific act of war, as an American, I could not help but feel sad, and I could only wonder how many American lives had been saved and the thousands of other soldiers and civilians who would have perished had the war not been stopped in its tracks. And then again, remembering what the Japanese did at Pearl Harbor, I could not repress the smugness of thinking, “Well, did we get your attention?”

“Fat Man” drops on Nagasaki

In fact, the devastation brought to Hiroshima had not been sufficient to convince the Japanese War Council to accept the Potsdam Conference’s demand for unconditional surrender. On August 9 at 1:56 a.m., a specially adapted B-29 bomber, called “Bock’s Car,” after its commander, Frederick Bock, took off from Tinian Island under the command of Major Charles W. Sweeney. Nagasaki was a shipbuilding center, the very industry intended for destruction. The bomb was dropped at 11:02 a.m., 503 m, (1,650 ft.), above the city. The explosion unleashed the equivalent force of 22,000 tons of TNT. The hills that surrounded the city did a better job of containing the destructive force, but the number killed is estimated at anywhere between 60,000 and 80,000 (exact figures are impossible, the blast having obliterated bodies and disintegrated records).

The Emperor of Japan gave his permission for unconditional surrender.

One of the monuments in the center of the Peace Memorial Park reminds us, among other things, to transcend hatred, pursue harmony and yearn for lasting World Peace.

One of the monuments in the center of the Peace Memorial Park reminds us, among other things, to transcend hatred, pursue harmony and yearn for lasting World Peace.

Even though the Japanese War Council still remained divided, Emperor Hirohito, by request of two War Council members eager to end the war, met with the Council and declared, “continuing the war can only result in the annihilation of the Japanese people…” The Emperor of Japan gave his permission for unconditional surrender.

Hiroshima, the City of Peace

The Children's Peace Monument is dedicated to Sadako Sadaki and thousands of other child victims of the A-bombing in Hiroshima.

The Children’s Peace Monument is dedicated to Sadako Sadaki and thousands of other child victims of the A-bombing in Hiroshima.

The beautiful Memorial Monument for Hiroshima, City of Peace, erected on August 6, 1952, embodies the hope that Hiroshima, will stand forever as a City of Peace. The stone chamber in the center contains the register of Deceased A-bomb Victims. The inscription on the front panel offers a prayer for the peaceful repose of the victims and a pledge on behalf of all humanity never to repeat the evil of war. It expresses the spirit of Hiroshima – enduring grief, transcending hatred, pursuing harmony and prosperity for all, and yearning to genuine, lasting world peace.

Japan #4 – Parks & Temples – December 2014

May 7, 2019

In case you never get to visit Japan, we wanted to give you a quick glimpse of some of the amazing parks and temples we saw. While every big city in the world has beautiful parks, those of Kyoto were spectacular. It seemed that almost every leaf and twig and branch had been exactly trimmed. Many of the parks have ponds and surround beautiful temples. The attention to detail of the buildings was exquisite.

Kyoto

Gary is feeding the deer in Narin's City Park.

Gary is feeding deer in Narin’s City Park.

In Kyoto, one of its main attractions was a huge courtyard of carefully manicured gravel and a few rocks but no trees. It’s the internationally famous Rock Garden that is said to have been created by a highly respected Zen monk named Tokuho Zenketsu around 1500.

Kanazawa

The Kanazawa castle's wood work was quite amazing.

The Kanazawa castle’s wood work was quite amazing.

In Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen Garden and Castle Park each tree had guidelines to maintain the exact shape of each limb and to help protect them from heavy snow loads. The historic castle is being restored and its woodworking was amazing. There appeared to be no nails or metal fasteners. Each beam and truss was joined using interlocking joints and pegs.

Shirakawago, a traditional village

On a little side trip to the historic village of Shirakawago winter had already come. Old traditional houses were heavily laden with snow. Many were open to the public. Exhibits showed how people lived a 100 years ago.

A quick look at these pictures will give you an idea of another element of Japan.

 

Japan #3 – Food -December 2014

May 3, 2019

Food is such an important part of traveling to new countries. While we do most of our own cooking in our self-contained camper, we never miss the opportunity to try the local specialties. Wandering through the market place in Kyoto, without a translator standing next to us, the question was, “What is it?” While there were a few things we could recognize, there were many others that looked more like bait to me. Shrimp and baby octopus were easy to identify. Fresh crab was a popular item but at prices like 25,000 Yen, ($202.00), or even 42,000 Yen ($339.00), apiece or per kilo, we settled for a little take-out sushi.

Fresh Crab? Take out your wallet!

Baby Octopus on skewers.

Baby Octopus on skewers.

Normal vegetables were plentiful, but they took on a different appearance when prepared Japanese style. Spices are a very interesting part of Japanese cooking and there were plenty to choose from. We were particularly intrigued with Sansho Japanese Peppers, actually seedpods of the Japanese prickly ash (Zanthoxylum piperitum). They have a sharp, citrusy taste, with an electrifying tingling numbness that can linger for more than ten minutes. Related to Szechuan peppercorns, but far stronger, they bring a sensation that is something like a mild electrical current. Sanshos appear to act on several different kinds of nerve endings at once, inducing a sensitivity to touch and cold in nerves that are ordinarily nonsensitive, causing a kind of general neurological confusion in your mouth. Yes, you can taste a few in the market.

A 1oz. piece of Sashimi can cost $17.00

Safe to say, if it swims in the ocean it’s edible, and sometimes pricy. The record for a bluefin tuna was $1.8 million. Yeah, $1,800,000.00 US dollars! The best slices of fatty bluefin – called “o-toro” can sell for 2,000 Yen ($17.00) per piece at upmarket Tokyo sushi bars. The fish’s tender pink and red meat is prized for sushi. With a single mouthful-sized piece of sashimi weighing around 1 oz, the record-breaking tuna is worth around $219.00 per bite. Japanese eat 80 per cent of the bluefin tuna caught worldwide.

Tea or Sake?

The tradition of making Saki is over 2,000 years old.

The tradition of making Saki is over 2,000 years old.

To wash it all down, there is always tea or sake. Tea is served with most meals and we found some interesting varieties in the market. We visited the Historic Gekkeikan Sake Okura Museum for an educational tour showing how this traditional wine was distilled.

Japan’s tradition of sake making began more than 2,000 years ago shortly after rice cultivation was introduced from China. Though the first few centuries yielded a beverage quite unlike that of today, years of experience perfected brewing techniques and increased sake’s overall appeal and popularity. The Gekkeikan sake brewery was founded in 1637 in the town of Fushimi, a location well known for its high quality of water.

If you want to take an experimental viewpoint, sometimes what makes a food fall into the “gourmet” class, is that you don’t know how it was made or what’s in it. When all else fails, there is always a hot dog on a stick and a cold beer. See how many of the photos here you can identify.

Japan #2 – Geisha – December 2014

April 30, 2019

Whatever images might come up when we think of Japan, Toyotas, Nikon cameras, Sony TVs and Sushi, the beautiful and mysterious Geishas should be included. When Monika said she wanted to go to Japan to see the Snow Monkeys, I immediately imagined going to spa and having a nice massage by a Geisha. Well, that idea was quickly blown out of the water.

Japan 2 035The misconception of the Geisha image comes from the period of the Allied Occupation of Japan when “Geisha girls” were Japanese women who worked as prostitutes (not entertainers). They almost exclusively serviced American GIs stationed in the country who referred to them as “Geesha girls”, a mispronunciation. These women dressed in kimonos and imitated the look of a real Geisha. Many Americans unfamiliar with the Japanese culture could not tell the difference between legitimate geishas and these costumed performers. Shortly after their arrival in 1945, some occupying American GIs are said to have congregated in Ginza, a district of Cjuo in central Tokyo and shouted, “We want geesha girls! “We want geesha girls! Eventually, the term “geisha girl” became a general word for any female Japanese prostitute. This is largely responsible for the continuing misconception in the West that all geishas are engaged in prostitution.

A Geika (Geisha) is a highly respected traditional Japanese female entertainer

Japan 2 034In fact, a Geisha (the correct name is actually “Geika”) is a highly respected traditional Japanese female entertainer who acts as a hostess and whose skills include performing various Japanese arts such as classical music, the traditional tea ceremony, dance, games and conversation, mainly to entertain male customers. She doesn’t do massages nor anything like it. A Geisha may gracefully flirt with her (often infatuated) guests but she will always remain in control of the hospitality. Over her years of apprenticeship as a Maiko she learns to adapt to different situations and personalities, mastering the art of the hostess. Modern Geishas still live in traditional okiya (Geisha houses) in areas called hanamachi or “flower towns”, particularly during their apprenticeship.

Years in training to master the art of a perfect Hostess

Presenting my personal Geisha. I thought about renting her out, but she couldn't sing nor play cards in Japanese.

Presenting my personal Geisha (Monika). I thought about renting her out, but she couldn’t sing nor play cards in Japanese.

The Geishas’ dress, makeup and hairstyle are very complicated and highly stylized, and change as a Geisha moves through the stages of training, starting at a very early age. Simply applying the classic Geisha makeup can take over an hour before the multilayered kimonos are put on.

During festivities wearing Kimonos is popular in Japan

On the street, especially during festivals times like New Year, many young women either buy or rent beautiful kimonos and parade with their friends around the popular social centers but we actually saw women of all ages wearing kimonos on the Emperor’s birthday and at the beautiful Minazmiza theater’s Kabuki performance we attended Christmas Eve.

Monika decides to become a Geisha

To take the image to a personal level, Monika decided to become a Geisha, well, sort of. Of course, I had to become a Samurai too, well, sort of. They forgot to give me the sword. The professional makeover and outfitting took over an hour and the results were quite surprising. In the end, I seriously thought of renting Monika out but she couldn’t sing nor play cards in Japanese. Oh well. I was still hoping for a massage. That never happened either. We ate Sushi instead.

Japan #1 – Kyoto – December 2014

April 26, 2019

With The Turtle V safely on its way back to California, we had a little time to burn. One of the countries we had always been interested in visiting was Japan. Being so close to South Korea it was easy to take the overnight ferry to Osaka and the “bullet train” to Kyoto.

The Bullet Train

We give Japan thumbs up!

We give Japan thumbs up!

According to Wikipedia, Japanese are the sixth largest Asian American group in the US at roughly 1,304,286, including those of mixed-race or mixed-ethnicity. Southern California has the largest Japanese-American population in North America. Hard working and industrious, they are an integral part of our American culture. In their own country they form an exciting and totally unique culture, much different than we might have imagined just because they make Toyotas and Hondas.

Reputation has it that Japan is extremely expensive to travel in. Our current Lonely Planet guide suggested that if you don’t mind eating noodles once in a while and keep away from five-star hotels, Japan is not cheap but quite affordable.

Guesthouses in Kyoto

The first guesthouse we stayed at was very traditional, with the bathroom downstairs requiring careful negotiation of something close to a chicken ladder. Our room was covered with grass mats. No chair, no table, and the beds were rather thin futons, an interesting experience. Soon we would move to a western-style apartment. OK, so we’re soft.

We loved this cute drinking fountain at a local open market place.

We loved this cute drinking fountain at a local open market place.

While the public transportation system was excellent, traffic congestion often made it slower than walking. The other option was the uncountable number of taxicabs, mostly black and polished as if they were going to a car show. The drivers wore snappy hats, white gloves, coat and tie, and looked more like private limousine drivers.

Minamiza Theater

We attended the beautiful Minamiza theater for the opening Kabuki performance of the season. Many of the actors were very famous throughout Japan.

We attended the beautiful Minamiza theater for the opening Kabuki performance of the season. Many of the actors were very famous throughout Japan.

On Christmas Eve we treated ourselves to the opening of the Kabuki season of the popular Minamiza Theater. While the costumes and actors were, ahhh—, interesting, everything was in Japanese so I think I may have missed parts of the four-hour performance. Quite surprisingly, during the lengthy intermission, most people popped out their little lunch boxes and chopsticks and enjoyed dinner right in their seats.

 

 

 Geisha District

Strolling through the dark streets of the Geisha District after the performance, (more about that later), we always felt totally safe. The nighttime colors of fountains and canals were beautiful.

 

South Korea #11 – December 2014

April 23, 2019

Coming to the End of a Great Adventure is always a little sad. We headed south toward the megapolis of Busan. With a growing population of 3.6 million, we had no reason to drive into the city center, and in any case, we probably would not have found a parking place for The Turtle V. Aside from being the only city in the World with an United Nations Cemetery (see South Korea Blog 2), perhaps the most interesting claim to fame in the records of Busan is that on October 2, 1274, Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan and the head of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, felt that Japan would be easy to subdue. With over 20,000 Mongol troops on board 900 ships sailing out of Busan Bay, the attempt to conquer Japan was a failure.

One last night in The Turtle V in South Korea

The tiny fishing harbor offered us a peaceful view on this final morning while drinking coffee.

The tiny fishing harbor offered us a peaceful view on this final morning while drinking coffee.

We continued west to the Port of Masan from where our expedition truck would be loaded for its journey home to the Port of Long Beach, California. We spent our last night in The Turtle V camped on a wharf in a small fishing village overlooking the glassy waters of the East Sea. In the morning, fishermen were busy hauling in their catch and tending the numerous abalone beds in the bay. By parking in front of a small café we had Internet connections. This morning we tackled the job of preparing the truck for its homeward voyage. It basically involves removing anything that can be easily stolen like our PIAA auxiliary driving lights and the front Total Vision camera. The cab was emptied of easily pilfered items and all doors were double locked except the driver’s side.

Propane Tanks

It's Christmas time in South Korea.

It’s Christmas time in South Korea.

Propane tanks were turned off and the propane compartment was double locked. We had learned from discussions with customs agents that many ports and shipping companies require propane bottles to be emptied and purged. However these pertain primarily to those big visible tanks mounted on the outside of motor homes and trailers. Our twin Manchester tanks are locked in a vented compartment so the question never even arises.

 

Busan, Chinese Quarter

Playful art in Busan.

Playful art in Busan.

Dropping the truck off and double-checking all the paperwork was a pretty quick process set up days before by Wendy Choi, Aero International Co., Ltd. (wendy@aerointl.kr). Suddenly we were tourists on foot. Fortunately Korea has excellent transportation systems so it was a quick ride back to Busan where we would spend a couple of nights in a cute hotel in the Chinese Quarter, waiting to make absolutely sure there were no problems with shipping. This gave us time to do some last minute shopping, wander around town like real tourists and sample some more of Korea’s interesting cuisine. We still resisted the overpriced snow crabs.

The End of a Great Adventure, almost!

A farewell photo just in case the ship sinks.

A farewell photo just in case the ship sinks.

With confirmation that the TARAGO freighter of the Wallenius Wilhemsen shipping line was headed east toward California, we hopped on the Panstar ferry for the overnight trip to Osaka, Japan, a country that had long been on Monika’s bucket list. If we didn’t do anything else, we had to see Kyoto and the Snow Monkeys.

A Snapshot of Modern Busan