Oshogatsu! New Years

Holiday Cheer!

So Happy New Year everyone! Ever wonder what the Japanese do for Christmas? Well, not much actually. They usually order a Strawberry Christmas Cake and eat Fried chicken. Christmas is more for couples and lovers than it is for families and friends.

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This is an ad for “Christmas is for lovers”

 

But New Years or Oshogatsu is for family, and they go big.

Oshogatsu tree, Oshogatsu tree,

Oshogatsu tree, Oshogatsu tree,

 

Tetsuya had to work everyday till December 30, so we took the night bus down to Tokyo. The night bus is an 8 hour drive in a partially reclined seat. We left at 9 am and got to Tokyo at 6am. Took a dip in the onsen then got on a bus to Nagano. Too much travel.

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When we got there it was time to feast. Oshogatsu is all about the feasting. We had Yakiniku, which is basically bbq, on a griddle.

So yummy!

So yummy!

We heated up an electric griddle, slapped on the beef and veggies and had a side of wine.

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Though traditionally the Japanese visit a shrine at midnight and then take a dip in an onsen. We traveled to the shrine to get some non alcoholic fermented rice tea but we were so tired and over fed that is all we did.

bright and early

bright and early

January 1, we woke up bright and early! No really, I think the sun is brighter in Nagano then it is in Kamishi, than it was time to feast again! Tetsuya’s mom likes to cook….. a lot…. In fact it might be an understatement.

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Though everything is always tasty.

Dinner we had a change of pace. It’s a family tradition to have pizza on New Years, why? Because the downstairs of their house is rented to a pizza place. Isn’t that cool!??? They have a pizzaria as a rentor!

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We got a mixed one, 3 pieces of 4 different kinds of pizza!

We got a mixed one, 3 pieces of 4 different kinds of pizza!

The next day we went to see Tetsuya’s oldest sister dance. She is a world class ballroom dancer and she teaches when she isn’t competing.

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Then we went back to Tokyo- we travel too much. But then we never leave Kamaishi. We stayed at a business hotel- which means you pay person- instead of per room. But it has an amazing ONSEN! We went everytime we could….. maybe too much. Nope, you can never go too much!

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You can never have too much Mochi either! Yum! Love giant rice patties.

 

 

In Tokyo we enjoyed our favorite hedonistic adventures!

 

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Walks in the park-

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it was a warm 50 F there!

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and Food!

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Though I have to say the Thai food we had was disappointing.

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But the Korean was amazing!!! I also picked up some reading material.

New reading goods

New reading goods

 

Now we are back in Kamishi, ready to start the New Year right!

Still Nagano, but pretty right

Still Nagano, but pretty right

Ohh yea!  We made our own wedding rings too. =)

 

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They are wax, we carve them and make the mold.

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Then the jeweler will make the ring, we should get them in the next few months.

 

Christmas Parties!

Actual Christmas party!

So last week I talked about how Tetsuya’s organization had a Christmas program, and we did a run through. Well this week we actually did the Christmas parties!

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They were fun!
The first one we made Graham cracker gingerbread houses! The age range was from 9-12 years old.

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But we had a couple of High school students and a a lot of babies.

What happens is that kids get flyers with the event on them and bug their parents to sign them up for it. Then on the day of, one lucky parent( usually the mother) goes with the kid or kids and they do the event. I don’t know if they have to pay for it. It’s probably subsidized because the people here are still suffering form the effects of the Tsunami.

So basically, everyone gets there, and is assigned a table. Each table has all the supplies needed for house making funness!

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I gave a demonstration on how to make the house with the royal icing. My lovely assistant translates then we let them lose!

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Problem- Royal icing was too hard!!!! So we followed the directions to a T. But it was too sticky and was dry by the time it got out of the bag. I don’t know if the air was too dry or if it was too cold in the room but it was just not working. So I spent an hour going from table to table trying to fix individual bags of icing. OMG, I was tired.

Anyway, finally we got the icing to work, on over 40 people and the fun began!

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I went from table to table and gave mini English quizes.

Ie:

Me: I asked what is this?

Child: Candy!

It was super cute but I’m not sure how educational it was.

While there I befriended a Grandma and her grandkid. She drew an amazing picture of me on the board.

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She drew that pic of me, on a white board in like 1 minute. It was awesome!

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The next Saturday, we made Sweet potato Casserole. There were maybe only 30 people there but we had more help.

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Tetsuya was also forced to come. lol

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Again I demonstrated how to make sweet potato casserole, and then we got started.

Step one- prep the sweet potatoes

Step two- while they boil we have an international quiz!

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I think Tetsuya’s questions were the best- the kids seemed to like them.

I asked if America has Futons- lol trick question! we do have futons but they are essential sleeping mats.

Not exactly what I remember having in College.

Step three- pass the potatoes through a strainer- they wanted them to be extra smooth. This part was the hardest.
Add butter, milk, and sugar.

Picture perfect!

Picture perfect!

Then add marshmellows. Heat it up

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Then play with Children!

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My drawing friends were here again and left me this super cute note!

That’s the end of Christmas time!

Lazy Friday

Lazy Friday

So sometimes the organization Tetsuya works for does special events for kids. This December I’m doing an American Christmas program!

I’m super excited. I love Christmas, I even came prepared with a Christmas Story book. Now if only I could get them to light candles and sign Christmas Hynms. (More to come, but none of these daydreams came true. lol)

So the Japanese are always prepared. I’m sure they are all boy scouts. As such we had a rehearsal for the Christmas event.

So we could make sure
we have everything we need and can do everything correctly.
Speaking of being prepared…. Tetsuya put the snow tires on the car! By himself. Like seriously.

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He bought a car jack and changed the tires!!!

Someone was camera shy- how unusual.

Someone was camera shy- how unusual.

I’ve never seen this been done, is it because I’ve never owned a car before? Anyway by the time November rolls around around switches to snow tires.

The sun was strong in November so no jacket!

The sun was strong in November so no jacket!

For the Christmas event we are making Sweet potato casserole and gingerbread houses!

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Sweet potatoes are a little bit different from back home, they had harder yellow insides purple outsides and a little bit more dry when cooked.

Picture perfect!

Picture perfect!

So we had to change the recipe a little bit. I also made it less sweet. I know I’m a traitor to my southern roots. We might also have a problem come the actual event because we are currently in the middle of a butter shortage. The horror!

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We tested out various marshmallow melting procedures. I’ve only seen one oven in Japan. At Tetsuya’s mom’s house…. she’s a professional baker.

Anyway we were able to make the casserole smooth after straining out the lumps. A bit time consuming but utlra perfect!

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Then we go to test out the gignerbread houses! The coordinators have never made them before so we had to practice in advance so we would know what supplies we needed.

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We spurlged and bought real graham crackers. Let me tell you those things are cheap. Not here anyway. Also beans cost just as much as meat which breaks my heart just a little bit.

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I was really amazed that the ladies didn’t get their hands covered in Royal icing. Maybe I’m a little too hands on.

My dream house!

My dream house!

Of course we tried the sweet potato casserole, how else could we see it wasn’t poisoned?

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Kamadango!!!

Kamdango

Not many people know this but one of my favorite Japanese foods is a dessert item called Dango.

It is a little sweetened ball of rice dough
usually covered in a sticky sweet sauce.

Example”
The brownish one is the most common made from….
The purple is made from mashed red beans
It is very sticky and can be a chocking hazard if you aren’t careful. My favorite one is the grilled kind. Yummy!
This week I was invited to a JOCA event to make Kamadango. A local treat, to be prepared by elementary school students.

I hope you are ready for the cuteness!

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Home made hackisacks!

I had to wake up early- like 8am. Ohh the horror! and then a coworker of Tetusya’s picked me up and we went to a small town called: hacimento???? We used their expertise and their community center.

We set up everything and in came the bus. Big bus!

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Then we divided up into groups based on families. I was the partner of a little girl Maria. It was really adorable trying to talk in Japanese with her. Apparently some Western names have been adopted by the Japanese. Erica  is the one I have heard about, Maria is apparently catching on.

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I am convinced that all children are just born adorable.
First we had to create a carrying case for our finished hot kamadango. I guess the traditional carrying case is made from bamboo.

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Because we cut a bamboo stick in half. I could see this going horribly wrong. You take a knife and you hit it with a mallet.

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The kids loved it!
Then we went inside.

Boys can cook too! Everyone  wears an apron and a handkerchief for food hygiene.

Boys can cook too! Everyone wears an apron and a handkerchief for food hygiene.

To make kamadango you pour rice flour into your bowl and slowly add hot water. Then you knead it till the bowl is almost clean.

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Let me tell you this makes a thick dough. Its almost gummy. I wish we could add some butter. =)

Shape the dough into a ball then make it a flat round with a small indentation for the filling. Which I believe is made out of
Walnut pieces, Deep brown sugar(perhaps Okinawan Black sugar) and miso or shoyu. It creates a wonderful filling.

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Then you boil them!!! We put the dango in the cut bamboo and gave it to the nice ladies to drop into the boiling water.

Boiling the Dango

Boiling the Dango

Wrapped the finished dango in plastic in the bamboo
and sat down to have some tea!
Yum!

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One of the coordinators I believe is a farmer and he gave everyone a free Daikon. We had some leftover, and some nappa cabbage,

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so I got to bring mulple ones home! Check out my cache of winter veggies!

Big City

So I live in the countryside.  Kamaishi is about 30,000 and it has a brand new mall! However, it is still lacking in some necessities. English Book store, Thai and Indian food, Department stores with more variety.  I can go shopping here but I’m giant.   Since we live in the countryside we have to come up with our own entertainment.

Sometimes we find an adult playground.

Sometimes we find an adult playground.

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Or take pictures of random pumpkins.

Or take pictures of random pumpkins.

 

 

However, there are several towns with a 5 hours distance that may hold more promise. Morioka is only 2 ish hours away I hear and I’ll be going there next month for an event.  Sendai is about 4 hours away by bus and it is a big city!!!!

 

So I had to go to the immigration office to drop off some papers, the closest one is  in Morioka but we have already
worked with the officers in Sendai, so we bring our papers there. For now….

Sendai is a rather large city,of about 1 million people. Which is my favorite type of city usually. Its big enough to have good public transportation, shopping, great restaurants, but still small enough that it has its own identity and usually incorporates much of the rolling countryside in its city sprawl.

Sendai is almost 4 hours away by bus. There is one bus that leaves at 7am and it returns at around 8:30. Which means we get to chill there from 11-:30 to 4:20

So we got on the bus with our load of snacks and some freshly brewed coffee form the Lawson convenience store( They are everywhere!!! I love them)
7-11 has some of the best fresh coffee though. The grocery store by Tetsuya’s work has the best 100 yen coffee every. But it was not open at 6:30 am.

The bus itself is a standard giant bus, with hourly bathroom breaks off the highway. I have to remember to take pics of the highway stops- here is an exceptional example of one on the way to Nagano.

4 hours long bus ride- you start do go a little insane.

 

Witch Fingers!

Witch Fingers!

So we get to the bus stop hop on a local bus to the immigration off, drop of our paperwork. Takes less then 45 mins total so we have the rest of the day! So its time for lunch!

Sendai is known for its Beef Tongue. According to my tour guide- Mr. Miyahara, Beef was imported during the American occupation, however, the soldiers only wanted to eat the good stuff,
so the Japanese created cuisine to utilize the offal. After trying beef tongue I wonder whey we haven’t been eating it more often. I’m sure in its raw giant Tongue slab form it would be off putting.
But here in the grocery store you buy your meat already presliced.  Its super convenient  for making chicken nuggets. ….. and beef tongue

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Tetsuya found a famous tongue restaurant close to the main shopping center, it’s very popular. When we got there an impromptu to line had started. There were 6 people a ahead of us. This is how it worked.

We had to Queue up to get inside. Very popular.

We had to Queue up to get inside. Very popular.

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Can you tell how excited I am?

The person who was supposed to go in next stood next to the doorway. Everyone else was across the street in a perfectly formed line. Everyone is so civil here it amazes me.

Very tiny place. Its like fast food. We were in and out in 20 mins.

Very tiny place. Its like fast food. We were in and out in 20 mins.

So we take a seat order tongue! We both got the same meal as there were only 3 selections.

You get tongue, pickles, tail soup and of course rice.

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I have to admit I LOVED the soup. The meat was so tender.

Surprisingly delicious!

Surprisingly delicious!

Then we went shopping!!!

So our goal was to find me some winter boots. Since I was living on a tropical island I am sort of lacking in winter things. I have some, but other were unfortunately destroyed by cats whilst in my storage at my parents house.
Not the nice cat, those who have met my parents cat, know the evil creature that destroyed my boots.

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As you can see I made out nicely! There was a “flaw” in the boot so we got it for cheap. Flaw aka if you bring the boot right up to your eyeball you can see a hairline scratch.

We found the boots at the first store we went to, a “plus size” shop catering to women whose feet go beyond the normal 24.5 CM shoe size. I can barely fit into 24.5, 25 cm or Size 8 as I believe its called in USA is much more comfortable.

Friends with small feet, Japan is your shoe paradise.
Size 8 is considered GIANT here!
Don’t get me started on clothes.

Since we were so successful in our boot shopping adventure we wandered around the many department stores. THEY have a LUSH!

We also found some super comfy reclining chairs that fit under Tetsuya’s Kotastu. It took us 5 minutes to decide we needed those chairs. So We bought them.

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Poor Tetsuya, Shop shop shop all day.

Right there, giant chairs, that we have to bring on the bus. Which of ourse Tetsuya being the gentleman that he is carried.

Luckily the store people wrapped it up nice and tight. so we could fit it in the underground chamber of the bus.

 

Then end.

 

 

A Shortcut to Mushrooms

So I just realized I never posted this blog. So normally, since internet has been rough, I type up a blog post on Notepad then when I get internet I post it. But I had put this file under already published. My bad.

Shortcut to Mushrooms

Seriously Awesome view.

Seriously Awesome view.

So Tetsuya and I have been lamenting the fact that first of all its too cold to go swimming, and second we can’t really go hiking.

You see this mountain? Its all forest. It belongs to Mother Nature. Humans keep out.

You see this mountain? Its all forest. It belongs to Mother Nature. Humans keep out.

Hiking here is a group venture, you go in a large group maybe a couple times a year. Why? Because its all wilderness out there!!

One side you have nature,  the other humans.

One side you have nature, the other humans.

Japanese towns are compact and efficient and they leave everything else to nature. So hiking here is not like traipsing about the blue ridge parkway where you are more likely to see a car then a deer.

Efficient Countryside living, House, rice field, House, Rice field.

Efficient Countryside living, House, rice field, House, Rice field.

In Japan you are more likely to see a bear then another human being on a trail! So I have yet to be on one of these group hikes sadly, but I hope to one day. I hear they sing songs along the pathway to scare off bears and wear bells. It sounds delightful.

Adventure is out there! But we will stick to bikes.

Adventure is out there! But we will stick to bikes.

But Tetsuya and I aren’t that adventurous, but we did see on our frequent bike rides there was a small well maintained 100% safe 1km long trail to a series of waterfalls. How unqiue! We can hike and see waterfalls! So off we went.

"Here there be waterfalls" it says in Japanese. Its a a terrible English translation I know. =)

“Here there be waterfalls” it says in Japanese. Its a a terrible English translation I know. =)

To get to the trail we took our usual bike route, see all the lovely ripening golden rice patties waiting to be harvested?

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Japan is safe, but we don’t want to leave our bikes on the road; that just doesn’t make any sense.We left our bikes a little further up form the start of the trail.

We found it! Not really just water run off.

We found it! Not really just water run off.

So up we go! It was only a 1km one way but its all up hill so we were a little out of breath once we reached the top.

Soo many mushrooms. More Mushrooms then grass.

Soo many mushrooms. More Mushrooms then grass.

I was reminded of Hobbits but the amount of various mushrooms on the trail floor.

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Ok we really made it. NO it’s not a Dominican Waterfall but it is pretty cute. Check out the shrines!!!

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Second waterfall! So really, these are more like streams to us now, but it was still fun.

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The water was actually not cold. I think there must be some underground hot spring feeding into the cold waters, because it was  not warm water, it certainly wasn’t the fresh crisp mountain water I was expecting.

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Home again home again. So ends another adventure.

Rokando!

Rokando Cave

What an eventful week! First hiking and now spelunking! Ok not really but we did crawl almost half a mile into a mountain and we wore helmets.

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Pre helmet. Did I mention Japan is super hygienic? They even give you a cap for sharing a helmet!

So Japan being the mountainous wonder that it is; is home to some underground waterfalls and walk-able caves. We have one of the highest underground waterfalls right in our backyard.

Every week we go to Tono to enjoy a hot spring. On the way there, we see a tiny little strip of buildings that the highway sign says must be Rokanado. A tiny town built in the valley. So research unearthed that there is a rather lovely cave in this town. So away we went!

So it’s not exactly tourist season so when we showed up we couldn’t find anyone. Luckily they sell tickets by a vending machine. Its something I’ve come to love about Japan. Sometimes instead of a waitress taking your order, you look at a menu then go to a vending machine to place your order then give your ticket to the waitress.

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Cap- Check Helmet- Check Rain Jacket- yea alright!

So we got our ticket and behold the man in charge notices us! We get a rain jacket and a helmet.

Then off we go!

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Into the Deep.

First impressions, this cave was made by Hobbits. We were crouched liked this for 25% of the time. Ouch. Thank God for those helmets. I needed it after like 5 steps.

It's  a bit cramped. Just a bit

It’s a bit cramped. Just a bit

The path is 700 meters long. Which is only like 1/4 miles but a 1/4 mile underground crawling and watching out for slippery walks is actually quite tiring.

Some places weren't too crowded.

Some places weren’t too crowded.

We thought of our dear friends Eric and Tam during this bit. Eric is a giant so we want him to visit here.

We thought of our dear friends Eric and Tam during this bit. Eric is a giant so we want him to visit here.

About 300 meters in we ran into a couple on their way back. I heard them ahead of time and gave them warning- aka, spoke really loudly in English so we didn’t spoke them. We couldn’t see eachother but we rounded a corner at a same time. It was still spooky.

In case of emergency press here. Hope the lights don't go out though!

In case of emergency press here. Hope the lights don’t go out though!

I’m really glad I never saw the descent.

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Yes the hole really is about the size of my body.

Tetsuya's helmet was not secure. His head is giant. But we righted it soon enough!

Tetsuya’s helmet was not secure. His head is giant. But we righted it soon enough!

It also got cold!

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I loved how we got to go at our own pace. In NC one year I remember we took a tour of a cave it was cool but we were in a big group. I like going in a small group.

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There were many obstacles in our path.

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Sometimes we had to physically strain ourselves to remove these obstacles.

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Almost there!!!

Almost there!!!

Along the way was some natural occurring religious art.

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I can’t imagine how they transported that here!

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Finally we made it to the waterfall, only to find out that if we had climbing gear( and guide, and liscence, etc) we could go up to a second pool and waterfall!!!

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We were the only ones in the cave till we exited. On the way out we met one solo gentleman who asked if it was far. I could not go in that cave by myself!!! I kept thinking what if they light went out?????

Safe and sound.

Safe and sound.

Side note- their bathroom is awesome! I judge places by their bathrooms and this one was in a log cabin smelled of freshly shaved wood and had scented liquid soap. Awesome.

Bath time!

Bath time!

Afterwards we went to the Bath house.

Life if good

Life if good

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Don’t you wish airports had lounges like this?

After bath meal!

After bath meal!

So Tono is known for is Ghengis khan. A BBQ lamb dish. You get your own BBQ plate- in the table. Order your meats and your veg and you grill it. We go to Tono almost once a week, but we don’t eat lamb every week. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Sometimes we eat beef bowl.