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onsen is an open air and mixed hot spring.
There are 4 small open air baths and one large inside bath at Renge onsen. The open air baths are all mixed, while the inside bath is segregated. The water temperature ranges from cool to nice and warm. Two of the out side baths has milky white water, while the water of the other two is clear. The size of the baths ranges from 2 persons who knows each other well to 8 guys who doesn't mind being a little cramped together, as long as it's in a nice hot spring in the middle of nature.
There are no shelters to undress in by the open air baths, but only
a few planks of wood on the ground next to the baths, where one can stand
without having to stand on the bare ground. As a result, ladies usually
only get in when it is dark.
There are a few ways to get to Renge onsen. One way is to take the narrow winding road deep into the mountains from Hiraiwa next to the Himekawa river.
Another way to get to Renge onsen is to hike from Shiroumadake over
the ridge and then down to Renge onsen. The hike is about 6 hours total
and the trail is quite nice. From Renge onsen take the bus back out on
the narrow winding mountain road to Hiraiwa.
I had been making very good progress on my way back up to Shiroumadake from Babtani onsen, until I reached the top of Shozu-san. My left knee started hurting, so I took a 45 mins. break to let it rest. When I got back up, my knee really started hurting, so I got a little nervous I wouldn't make it to Shiroumadake that night. I started humping along as a crippled, and on the way I found a piece of a dead tree, which I could use as a stick. Having being humping for 5 hours, I finally reached Shiroumadake as it was getting dark.
The next morning my friend and I got up and left for the last hike down to Renge onsen. My knee had not heeled completely, but it felt better than the day before. Again I was humping along like a crippled along a ridge over several minor mountain tops supporting my self on my stick. People probably thought I was crazy and that a weak person like that shouldn't be climbing mountains. I finally made it down to Shirouma Oike even though my stick broke on the way, and here I took a long break to rest my knee before the final hike down to Renge onsen.
After having had a bowl of sansai udon (the udon with those terrible "vegetables" found in the mountains, which no one would eat if they could find something else), and a can of beer, I went outside in the sun to get a nap. Here I met a japanese guy who had also just come down from Shiroumadake. He was of course interested in where I was from and what I was doing in Japan, so we talked a little about that, and then he told me that he had just come back from two years in Papua New Guinea, where he had done some volunteer work. He explained that there are still new tribes being discovered every year, and that foreigners down there are very prestigious. Since the communities are very small, everyone is marrying some one from the village, or maybe even cousins. To get some new blood in the family, this japanese guy was offered to have some children with some of the girls in the village, and was told that he didn't have to care about taking care of them. If he could just do them a favor and make the girls pregnant! Unfortunately for the village, the guy declined. Interesting what one can learn on a mountain........
After having rested for 1.5 hour I finally set out on the last hike down to Renge onsen. This hike was supposed to take 2 hours, so I estimated it would take me 3. The trail was pretty good, and I felt quite good, in the beginning. I was jumping from one rock to the other on my way down, until I reached Tengu Niwa (The garden of the Tengu), which was half way. It had only taken me 1 hour, which was according to the map, so everything looked like I was keeping a good speed, and I estimated I would be down a Renge onsen at 16:00. It got 15:30, and I was still humping along, and at 16:00 I still couldn't see Renge onsen. At 16:30 I could finally see the ryokan at Renge onsen, but it looked like there was still quite some way down there.
I finally got all the way down the trail at 17:00 after having being passed by several people, among other a slow hiking married couple. This really hurt my pride. Had I really turned into a weak old man? I was now humping along on the final stretch and could then suddenly hear voices coming from the bushes a little over my head. That was strange I thought, I couldn't see any trails. I turned a corner, and now I could see a little trail leading up to one of the baths. I immediately headed for the bath, got out of my clothes and into the nice hot water. It was so nice being in the hot spring after the long hike. Now I didn't have to worry any longer about getting back down from the mountain with my bad knee. Now I could just relax and enjoy the warm water and the surrounding nature after 3 long days in the mountains.
A little after I got in the hot spring, about 5 guys wearing only boots and underwear appeared and got in the hot spring with me. They were "touring" the 4 open air baths of Renge onsen, and had finally come to the last, where I happened to be. A little later, my friend finally showed up also. I was quite surprised he hadn't caught up with me on the trail, but it turned out he had mistaken the trail and gone down a little dried out creek and almost killed himself.
My friend and I got out of our tents the following morning at 5:00 and headed directly for the hot springs. There were already two couples in one of the baths, so they must have gotten up very early to enjoy the baths before anyone else would show up. We got in after they left and enjoyed the 2nd of the 4 baths. The remaining 2 were pretty cool so we decided to save them for some time with more volcanic activity. I headed back down to the ryokan and started cooking myself a little breakfast. Just as I was finishing my breakfast it started raining a little, so I packed my stuff and went to the bus stop to wait for the bus. The rain gradually got worse and the weather ended up being really bad by the time I got back to Tokyo, but I didn't care the least because I was no longer on the mountain, but was on my way home in the train.
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