Adventures On a Bicycle in Kyoto
As I lay here, stunned and unsure of how I came to be sprawled on the pavement, warm water droplets snaking their way down my cheek and into my wide eyes, all I can think of is Hamo. A rare seasonal finless fish belonging to the pike family that centuries ago was caught in the fresh waters of the gentle Kamu river of Kyoto that kisses the geisha district of Gion, for none other than the the empress herself; a delicacy still served today in the Noryo Yuka, lantern lit summertime terraces that line the river's imperial shores. The Hamo is a dagger-toothed, wicked-looking creature whose narrow cylinder of white pebbled meat is lobster soft and just as decadent, whether it's served pan fried, boiled, or coated in savoury tempura batter.
HamoHamoHamo. The thought, likely inspired by last night's alien ten-course Hamo meal, eels its way up from my winded gut. I'm like a Hamo out of water, open-mouthed and gasping while staring up at the expansive grey sky so far above. I'm a beached white-bellied eel, and the world is an infinitely large and confusing screen. And all because I said, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
Yes! to my husband's offhand suggestion that we rent bicycles to cycle across a city of 1.5 million people and up the side of a mountain to recharge our depleted travel-worn spirits at a thriving Buddhist shrine;
...and Yes! to the man who said that if we wanted, for a just few extra yen, we could keep our bikes overnight to cruise through the bumping bar district brought to life by summer's golden promise of crafts brews; and then Yes! to carrying my suitcase on the handlebars of my rental bicycle back to the shop, our best option to get where we needed in time to catch our flight that evening home, more than ten thousand kilometres away.
Forty minutes before we had to be at the Kyoto train station where we would catch the Tokaido Shinkansen –a train that devours land at the shocking pace of 300km/h- to Shinagawa Station, my husband and I obtained scissors and a roll of thin white nylon rope from the local convenience store to complete our final harebrained mission of our trip. With backpacks and rain gear donned, we used our rudimentary supplies to secure our suitcases to our bicycle handlebars. It didn't take long to do, and all-in-all it was a foolproof solution modelled after a people who have a long history of using bicycles to carry large heavy burdens across vast distances.
But in reality our jury-rigging was second rate; and we didn't count on heavy clouds rolling in just minutes into our ride, or the rain's sloppy kisses teasing a thin layer of oil slick to the surface of the road. So when the skies opened and our idyllic (albeit precarious) ride turned into a braking and handling nightmare, I was unprepared.
And now as my brain reboots from the shock of my spill, a jerky right of my top-heavy twitchy steed to avoid colliding with an ill-placed post, it's with resigned acceptance that I find myself –plastic poncho shredded, legs bruised and coated in grime, two spoked wheels spinning with the zeal of newly coined pachinko machines, suitcase flung afar– flat on my back, winded and speechless.
With shaky knees I climb to my feet. A quick check reveals that my bones are intact and my epidermis hasn't sprung a messy red leak. I motion to the modest crowd of shocked, respectfully-distant-yet-obviously-concerned bystanders, that I'm fine. I can see my husband braking to a stop in the distance so I know that in a few moments I'll get all the kisses and fawning a woman in love could possibly desire from her beloved. So yes, I feel more than fine. In fact, I feel fantastic.
Breathlessly to the quiet few, "Yes, thank you! Arigato! Yes!" It's all that my whirring mind can spin up. That and Hamo. Choose to wash belly up, mouth agape in ignominious shock and confusion, on the shores of a distant foreign beach? Yes! Yes! Yes! Each and every time.