After two days of loafing around at Sammy’s house, Cindy, Bill, and I headed over to Nikko to hang out with our POP Circus friends, Maria (dancer from Cuba) and Dulcito (clown from Peru), and their Cocker-mix, Hoshi, in a place other than a parking lot. This vacation could easily have been the beginning of a joke (“A clown, a dancer, and two trapeze artists walk into a bar…”).
More Amazing Japanese Hospitality
By some stroke of luck, I found a hotel that welcomed people traveling with pets. The name of the hotel is Pension Animare, and it wasn’t until I received an email directly from “Pension Animale” that I realized “animare” was the Japanese spelling of “animal,” the perfect place for circus folk (human and canine) to stay. The hotel owners, Masaki Toshioka (a former engineering consultant) and his wife, turned out to be another shining example of Japanese hospitality. Masaki picked us up at the train station promptly at 4:30 pm. He and his wife cooked us up a delicious four-course dinner of soup, beef, swordfish, and dessert while their four-year-old and one-year-old sons entertained us. Then, after Cindy and I took a trip to the backyard onsen, and we all had a comfortable night of sleep, Masaki served us breakfast with his younger son on his back and then offered to be our taxi for the day.
Getting in Touch with Our Inner Ninjas
First, he dropped us off at Kirifuri Highlands, where we did a short hike to see Kirifuri Waterfall and then a longer hike to see other waterfalls. It was Maria, Dulcito, and Hoshi’s first time hiking, and they loved it! Poor Maria didn’t quite understand what I meant by “hiking” when we first talked about it, and she wore high-heeled sneakers, but, bless her heart, she didn’t ever slip and fall, she never complained, and in fact, she encouraged us to keep going every time we asked if they were ready to turn around. Now THAT is a true Latina…a beautiful woman who can do a two-hour hike in heels! (Of course, the first thing I did after our trip was run to the shoe store and buy myself a pair!). The countryside was beautiful, a mix of cedar forest and bamboo-ish underbrush. I could easily imagine ninjas running through there back in the day, though I hoped we wouldn’t encounter any on this day. Bill was in heaven, as hiking was one of his favorite things to do back in Boulder. We went every day for at least an hour or two, and we had both been missing it. As usual, Bill blazed his own trail, seeking out the highest points where he could be king of the mountain. A few days earlier, Cindy had said she liked the name Alejandro. After mulling it over, I decided I liked the name, too, and that Bill could easily be an “Alejandro.” I told my friends that since Bill doesn’t always listen to me anyway, I was going to start calling him Alejandro. That became the big joke on the hike–both Bill and Hoshi are now known as “Alejandro” during their less-obedient moments.
Parks and Shrines
Following our hike, Masaki and his family picked us up and took us to a giant park for lunch. The park was filled with friendly people and dogs. We were surprised to encounter a golden retriever and a rottweiler there, as Japanese people usually have smaller dogs. After a soba (buckwheat noodle soup) lunch, we hopped back in the car with Masaki and his clan and headed into town to explore Futarasan Shrine and Tosho-gu Shrine. Masaki dropped us off and promised to pick us up at our leisure, whenever we called him. What a guy! The shrines were beautiful, of course. The photos below will do better to describe them than my words:
After a long day sightseeing, we called Masaki and had him pick us up at the train station again. It was only about 4 pm, but we were spent! Maria, Dulcito, and Hoshi headed to the backyard onsen (yes, Hoshi, too) while Cindy and I drank too much sake in our room (when am I going to learn?). At six, we all met up in the dining room for dinner, but this time we weren’t alone… The hotel had filled up with three other couples and their dogs! The next morning, it was time to leave. The vacation had been so relaxing because of our great hosts, who enabled us to enjoy our pets and their hospitality without the usual stresses we experience when having to sneak our dogs in and out of hotels.
Returning to Reality
After breakfast, Masaki drove us back down to the train station, and we said our farewells. The train ride to our new home in Ota, Gunma, took about three hours. We arrived to find Luis Carlos’ smiling face awaiting our return (thanks, Jefecito!). Unpacking the house was uneventful after the usual confusion of actually locating it (our containers are configured differently every time we move). In this city, Bill really lucked out, as we’re living right next to Maria, Dulcito, and Hoshi! I’m sure he’ll wander over there everyday so he can play with his best bud and enjoy the treats Maria slips him (I’m on to you, girl!).
You never know what to expect when you go on a vacation with people you don’t know particularly well, but this one worked out awesome. Traveling with my circus friends was a blast! We had no trouble or conflict, and we definitely made the most out of our days off. I really hope that sometime soon we’ll get the chance to do a little trip like this again. In the meantime, it’s back to work. Wish us luck, as we’re jumping right into a holiday week with a very heavy load of shows. (Our upcoming show schedule is 3-3-2-2-break-3-3-3-3-2-2…crazy, huh?).
**The better-looking pictures are courtesy of Cindy Sweeney!