Tsuyu (梅雨), the rain season, begins to hit Okinawa in May and gradually makes its way north to the rest of Japan until the end of June. During the wet season, rainy and cloudy weather affects the entire country except Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest island north of the main Honshu Island. The seismic active island is 3.6% smaller than Ireland, with a climate significantly cooler than the rest of Japan. Seeking for a pleasant getaway from Hong Kong’s humid and hot summer, we picked Hokkaido as the destination for our 11-day vacation from 15th to 25th of June. Traveling in the remote national parks and rural countryside of Hokkaido, hiring a car was a necessity. The Hokkaido journey was our first road trip in Japan.
Known as Japan’s last true wilderness, Shiretoko National Park (知床国立公園) is the natural haven where Brown Bears and Blakiston Fish Owls ruled the primeval forests and Orcas, Minke and Sperm Whales roamed the waters of Nemuro Strait. With fantastic natural scenery, wildlife and seafood to offer, this easternmost part of Hokkaido topped our priority list in the travel itinerary. Next in the journey took us to the spectacular volcanoes of Akan Mashu National Park (阿寒摩周国立公園), where we came close to Japan’s clearest water at caldera Lake Mashu (摩周湖) and the fantastic onsen and fly fishing hot spot of Lake Akan (阿寒湖). While the lavender fields of Furano (富良野) and Biei (美瑛) had yet reached the peak bloom moment, the ultra fertile soil below the Tokachi Volcanic Group (十勝火山群) treated us with some of the best bread, corn, potatoes, asparagus, melons and milk that we ever had in our lives. Despite far away from Tokyo and Osaka, the architectural magic of Tadao Ando (安藤忠雄) in Hokkaido satisfied our thirst of contemporary design and aesthetics. Back in Obihiro (帯広), Otaru (小樽) and Sapporo (札幌), historic traces of early pioneers and contemporary dessert shops and local eateries brought us back to delightful charm of urban Japan. What’s more? Day after day of mouthwatering seafood, fresh produces, good coffee, and lovely patisseries reminded us how wonderful our world could be, when the water is clean, soil is rich, forests are healthy and people are friendly. Thank you Hokkaido. You have truly touched our hearts.
Located north of Honshu Island, Hokkaido is the second largest island in Japan.
Flying in from Tokyo Haneda, our Hokkaido journey began from Memanbetsu (女満別空港) near the Shiretoko Peninsula. After more than 1,181km of driving, we arrived at Otaru and Sapporo at the western side of the island.
This black hatchback hybrid Toyota Prius c (Toyota Aqua in Japan) provided us the means of transport from east to west across Hokkaido.
After 2 days of rain and wind, we finally had a glimpse of the active volcano of Mount Rausu (羅臼岳), the tallest peak in Shiretoko Peninsula.
The greatest experience we took away from Shiretoko was the close encounter with a pod of orcas in the Nemuro Strait.
The Mashu Lake (摩周湖) offered us a peaceful sunrise at 3:30am.
Under the shadow of Mount Oakan (雄阿寒岳), dozens of fly fishermen stepped into the crystal water of Lake Akan (阿寒湖) to test their luck.
Farms and greenhouses were washed with heavy rain as we entered into Furano (富良野).
Still at least half a month to go before the peak season of lavender blossom, visitors were enjoying themselves at a relatively less crowded Farm Tomita in Nakafurano.
Compared with rainbow flower fields, we loved the wheat fields at Biei the most.
Tadao Ando’s Chapel on the Water has been famous in the designer’s world since the 1980s.
The Hill of Buddha is the latest addition in Hokkaido by Tadao Ando.
At Yoichi Distillery (余市蒸溜所), whiskey has been produced since 1934.
Saturdays Chocolate in Sapporo is one of the many excellent local eateries and cafes that we visited in the journey.
Last but not least, Hokkaido offered us the best seafood and dessert that we ever had as far as we could remember. Let’s begin to tell the story of our journey!
On the northern slope of Tai Mo Shan (大帽山) at a place called Pak Ngau Shek (白牛石) in the area of Lam Tsuen (林村), 148 hectare of organic farms, botanical gardens and mature forests terracing up to the summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) reveal over half a century of efforts by the Kadoorie Farm (嘉道理農場). Established in 1956, Kadoorie Farm has always stood at the forefront of Hong Kong’s agriculture, experimenting on new techniques and providing agricultural aid to farmers in need of support. In 1951, the Kadoorie brothers (Horace and Lawrence) established the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association (KAAA) in an attempt to help the sudden influx of Mainland farmers into Hong Kong during the Chinese Civil War in the late 1940’s. They picked Pak Ngau Shek (白牛石) near Lam Tsuen (林村) to establish an agricultural facility engaging in experiments on profitable and effecting farming and animal breeding, and training the new farmers with their developed techniques. Today, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (嘉道理農場暨植物園) diversifies their effort to promote organic farming, sustainable living, nature conservation and education. They also run extensive rehabilitation program for wild animals in Hong Kong.
Linked by 9 km of roads and 8 km of trails, various highlights of the Kadoorie Farm spread over the slope of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山).
One of the big highlights at the lower section of Kadoorie Farm is the “Eco Garden” (生機園), exhibiting different types of self sufficient and compact farming in a community scale.
The garden presents natural and organic ways to maintain soil’s nutrients and insect control, and the best combination of vegetables for each season.
Other than its freshness and taste, the organic vegetables such as the purple cabbages are also beautiful.
Spherical bird scarers are hung over a cluster of rainbow chards in the Eco Garden.
A wavy fence separates the Eco Garden with the other terraced farms and botanic gardens.
Other than organic farming, more innovative planting techniques are also examined at the Eco Garden. Some farming techniques that requires less space or soil may suit urban living well.
At the Piers Jacobs Wildlife Sanctuary, native mammals such as a Barking Deer or Muntjac (麂) have been rescued as an orphan and raised in the sanctuary.
The wild boar is also another rescued orphan at the sanctuary. Both wild boars and barking deer can be found in the forests in and around Kadoorie Farm.
In the old days, pig breeding was an important work at the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association (KAAA). Today a few Da Hua Bai Pigs (大花白豬) are kept at the farm for educational purposes.
Amphibians and reptiles are both vulnerable groups of wildlife in Hong Kong due to habitat loss. Kadoorie Farm has a few of the native species at the Amphibian and Reptile House and Reptile Garden.
Interesting pavilions and artworks are all over the farm, including a dragon boat pigeon house.
And also the fish mosaic at the Cascade Garden near the Chicken House.
As the farm terraces up the hillside of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山), the view to the surrounding landscape becomes more spectacular.
The Butterfly Path winds up the hill through dense forests and open terraces, following part of an old trail which led the locals up the hill of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) for a religious blessing.
In order to preserve the natural feel, there is minimal modern safety infrastructure provided at the Butterfly Path.
9 km of roads circulate up and down the Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山), going through some densely forested areas, the habitat for some native species in Hong Kong, such as the barking deer.
… and the wild boar.
At 550m above sea level, the summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) is the highest point in Kadoorie Farm. For centuries, farmers came up to the summit to seek blessings from the goddess of Kwun Yum.
The summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) allows visitors to have fine view of the New Territories and even Shenzhen on a fine and clear day.
The summit of Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) is at 1812 ft, or 550 m.
Kwun Yum Shan (觀音山) is sandwiched between Tai To Yan (大刀屻) to the north and Tai Mo Shan (大帽山) to the south.
Heading downhill, visitors can either take a shuttle bus or walk down a winding road.
Along the downhill road, sounds of monkeys can often be heard. Occasionally visitors may spot monkeys jumping from one tree to another.
We should have spent more time in the Colca Canyon. Our 2-day local tour allowed us very little time to enjoy the natural scenery of the magnificent valley, except stopping at lookouts along the way to and from the Cruz del Condor. If time allowed, we could have done one of the hiking tours that reach the very bottom of the canyon. At twice the depth of Arizona’s Grand Canyon, the bottom of Colca Canyon is much warmer and more humid than the top. The Colca Canyon is largely covered by pre-Inca farming terraces. For over a thousand years, Andean farmers constructed agricultural terraces to cultivate potatoes, maizes, and other crops in the shallow soil on mountain slopes.
After Cruz del Condor, our tour bus stopped a couple of times along the road for us to appreciate the Colca Canyon. Farming terraces carved into mountain slope, but not all were planted with crops. In fact, many terraces, especially the higher ones furthest away from the valley, looked like as if they had been abandoned for centuries. The stepping profile of the abandoned terraces revealed a fading trace of human manipulations to the rough and mountainous terrain along the Colca River in precolonial times.
It was already noontime by the time we arrived at Chivay. After lunch, we bid farewell with the rest of the tour group who would return to Arequipa. We, on the other hand, would switch bus and continue our journey over the Andean highlands to the city of Puno, where we would begin our next phase of our Peruvian journey, the Lake Titicaca.
Locals at a mountain village at the Colca Canyon.
Agricultural fields on a plateau in the Colca Valley.
[scanned positive slide] Agricultural fields and farming terraces beyond.
[scanned positive slide] Agricultural fields on a plateau overlooking the depth of Colca Canyon.
Cactus is common in Colca Canyon.
Farming terraces were everywhere.
[scanned positive slide] Farming terraces all the way down to Colca River.
Farming terraces of Colca Canyon.
[scanned positive slide] Farming terraces of Colca Canyon.
* * *
Read other posts on Peru Trip 2010
1. Peru Trip 2010
2. Bumpy Arrival, Lima & Arequipa, Peru
AREQUIPA & COLCA CANYON
3. Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Arequipa, Peru
4. Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru
5. Volcanoes and Vicuna, Pampa Canahuas Natural Reserve, Patahuasi, and Patapampa, Peru
6. Yanque, Colca Canyon, Peru
7. Cruz del Condor, Colca Canyon, Peru
8. Farming Terraces, Colca Canyon, Peru
PUNO & TITICACA
9. Road to Titicaca, Colca Canyon to Puno, Peru
10. Afternoon on Taquile Island, Titicaca, Peru
11. Morning on Taquile, Titicaca, Peru
12. Inka Express, Puno to Cusco, Peru
CUSCO & SACRED VALLEY
13. Pisac & Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru
14. Salinas de Maras, & Moray, Sacred Valley, Peru
15. Lucuma Milkshake & Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru
16. Saksaywaman, Cusco, Peru
17. KM 82 to Wayllabamba, Inca Trail, Peru
18. Wayllabamba to Pacamayo, Inca Trail, Peru
19. Pacasmayo to Winay Wayna, Inca Trail, Peru
20. Winay Wayna to Machu Picchu, Inca Trail, Peru
21. Machu Piccu, Inca Trail, Peru
22. Machu Picchu in Black and White, Inca Trail, Peru
23. Afterthought, Inca Trail, Peru
LAST DAY IN CUSCO & LIMA
24. Farewell to the Incas, Cusco, Peru
25. Last Day in Peru, Lima, Peru
We almost forgot Hong Kong still has a considerable amount of arable land suitable for farming until we visited Ma Po Po (馬寶寶), the community farm at Ma Shi Po Village (馬屎埔) in Fanling (粉嶺). In recent months, the government’s proposal to develop rural areas and farming villages into high dense residential communities in Northeast North Territories has became a controversial topic in the city.
Hanging on the metal gate of Ma Po Po Community Farmer’s Market is a handmade signage. Ma Po Po literally means “Baby Horse”. The founders of the farmer’s market hope that everyone would treat the gradually disappearing farmland with care and love as if their baby.
Developing the north region of New Territories is a controversial topic in recent months. Many farmers, including the villagers at Ma Po Po, are facing a real risk of eviction. The Hong Kong government favors urban development over agriculture, and doesn’t seem to bother finding a balanced solution that encourages the coexistence of farming and urban development.
Wall mural depicting the snacks that once sold at this village’s grocery store. The elderly shop owner is still living in this house, but his tiny shop couldn’t stand the contest with the chain supermarkets outside the village.
Simple wall murals are common in Ma Shi Po depicting original farming scenes. Since the residential towers were built across the street from the village, sunlight exposure to certain farmlands is greatly affected. Some owners switch to growing fruit trees instead.
Raising poultry was once part of the village life. However, we were told that in recent years the government has imposed heavy restrictions on raising poultry. Today, free range chickens and ducks can only be seen on wall murals captured by the young artists.
The guide presented a bucket of soy pulp collected from a tofu shops nearby. Many types of organic waste are being collected from restaurants and markets in nearby neighborhoods to support organic farming. Ma Po Po aims to demonstrate a perfect cycle of co-existence among organic farmers, restaurants and the local communities. Not only does their collection/compost/farming cycle create some of the best produce in the city, it also indicates a strategy that partially alleviates the burden of organic waste.
The last part of the tour was to demonstrate about how the collected organic waste is turned into organic fertilizer. Removing the plastic wrap, our guide showed us a compost mount, in which dry leaves and branches were mixed with small amount of organic waste such as fish bones.
Many original farmlands and houses have been vacant or sold to large developers. Large developers then come and fence off the properties under their control. After months of neglect these lands would soon turn into overgrown wastelands. Some people have proposed to rent the abandoned farmlands from the developers while the land was left idling. Their proposals were rejected by the developers.
While exiting Ma Shi Po, we could clearly see the overwhelming residential development just across the street. Without character, memories, and living traditions, these highrise developments are efficient machines to house a population made up mainly with people from elsewhere in the city.
We brought back lots of fresh vegetables from Ma Po Po. They were definitely the sweetest vegetables we’ve ever had in recent months. Now, a visit to Ma Po Po Farmer’s Market has become our weekly ritual. People who live in the Fanling area are lucky to live so close to this terrific organic farm. We believe in balanced development. The coexistence of Ma Po Po and the surrounding neighborhoods shows us a good example of what a sustainable future may look like for generations to come.