Disclaimer from the future: I might have been overly bitter when I wrote this blog post – please take it with a grain of salt! I really wasn’t that bad, and in fact we did have a great time in the end.
Lake Toya is a volcanic caldera lake that was discovered by the West when it hosted the 2008 G8 Summit. It also has two other claim-to-fame for us tourists: it’s in the 1000 Places To See Before You Die bible and is known for pretty devastating eruptions in 2000 and 2001. I wanted to see Lake Toya for two reasons: the book mentioned above said that it was stunning and I really wanted to see a fuming volcano up close. Unfortunately, Lake Toya turned out to be very different than I had imagined it to be: what was supposed to be a relaxing getaway in the mountains with smoking volcanic craters in a National Park turned out to be a disappointing stay in a Youth Hostel by the highway.
Lake Toya turned out to be a town without much charm that just happened to be by a lake. So when we arrived at our hostel (which by the way, was very far from any trail), I was less than impressed. I wanted to leave. The front desk clerk was rude. The kitchen was locked. There was no tourist info (or help) in English. To be frugal, we had opted for dorm rooms – but it turned out that there were no women’s dorms, only tatami rooms (traditional rooms with futons on the floor). I was placed in a tiny tatami room with what must have been a crazy 75 year old Japanese woman who 1) refused to air out the room, 2) kept talking to herself and me in Japanese, 3) took over the entire room 4) ate in the room while watching sumo and 5) went to bed at 8 PM. The room stank, was boiling hot and when I dared to turn on the fan during the night, she woke up, growling and turned off the fan and unplugged it so I couldn’t turn it back on again. And to outdo herself, she decided to wake up at 4 AM to get ready, and took 1.5h doing so. This included walking around the room, crumbling plastic bags constantly, walking on my futon, turning on the lights and breathing really heavily. We really should have paid the extra Yen to get the private room.
The upside of the hostel was the onsite onsen (hot spring bath). It was really hot, but still tolerably so. The water was a weird shade of army green, but it did aid in relaxing my sore muscles and calming my nerves a little bit. It was free, so we both took advantage of it.
We had originally intended to stay two nights but with the accommodation situation, we decided to only stay one night. The hostel was deserted by 8:30 AM, and we soon found out why: the bus into town was at that exact time, and the next one wasn’t for another two hours. This didn’t help reduce our dislike of the place. Not wanting to wait (we were at the “get me out of here” stage), we decided to walk the 6 KM into town. In the heat. With our bags. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fun, but it got done.
The crazy thing though is that after having just walked 6 KM, we still wanted to do some hiking around town. That’s why we were here, right? We decided to try our luck with some of the “hiking” trails just outside of the information centre. The first trail was true hiking and brought us through the old part of town that was destroyed by the eruption in 2000 and around two craters, one of them filled with incredibly blue water. The 2nd trail was a boardwalk through still smoking craters (finally, what we were after!) and more of the destruction. The view from up there was also incredible, overlooking the ocean, the lake, and two perfectly shaped volcanoes.
The highlights of the hike though was finding our enjoyment again and locating a great little food spot in the country. Just before the second trailhead, we saw smoke and decided to check it out. It turned out to be a little eclectic restaurant, serving eggs, corn, potatoes and squash cooked over the fire. We got sat at the best spot in the place, a leather couch in the shade, and were given ice-cold water. Our eggs had taken 3 hours to cook over the fire, we learned. They were pretty cooked, but tasty and smoky. We ordered corn, which was incredibly sweet and the owners gave us a potato, which came with Hokkaido butter. It was rustic and delicious. And the best baked potato I’ve ever had.
After hiking it was time to get back into town and head to Sapporo by train. We took the bus instead of hiking back down, looking forward to what was ahead while giving our tired legs a break.