September the fifth, the long awaited day for the camp finally came. The sun was shining brightly. The cicadas were singing in joy.
I hurried myself to Tokushima International Association (TIA) office. Almost all the participants had arrived when I got there. There were 48 of us including the organizers and foreigners from seven different countries viz. China, India, USA, Kenya, Australia, Mongolia and Bhutan.
We departed at 9.00 AM as scheduled. We passed through Kamiyama. As our driver deftly maneuvered the bus along the winding mountain roads through the lush green forests, I felt like I was in Bhutan.
At around noon we reached the camp site, Fagus no Mori Yamashiro. There is a lone wooden house with a wide space for camping in front. It has a dinning hall, kitchen and place for accommodation. Around it were many fagus trees. We enjoyed our lunch of tenpura, rice, miso-soup and other Japanese side dishes which had been kept ready for us.
After taking a rest for a while, we divided ourselves into eight groups and started making boxes for the birds'nest. We then went into the forest to put up the boxes on the tree trunks for the birds to come and make their nests inside them.
As the evening approached with cool mountain breeze, we started preparing for the barbeque.
The meat sizzled over burning charcoals. Beer flowed aplenty. Soft drinks too were abundant. Meat was in good supply. Funny jokes were inexhaustible. Alcohol opened up even the most reserved persons. And thus, new friends were made, and old friendships were reinforced.
As if we were not already blessed enough to have such a merry time, the heavens sent us another gift. As the day gave way to the night and the birds of Mt. Takashiro began to retire to their nests, a full moon began to rise from behind the mountains far away. Silhouetted against the twilight sky and the shadowy mountains and trees, the tranquil sight of the gentle moon was breathtaking. I felt as if it was saying to us, “Take it easy, Humans! Take it easy!”
As the night progressed, the portable Karaoke system really came in handy. First on the stage were some Chinese students who crooned some modern-sounding Chinese songs. But it was the TIA Director, Mr. Morino and Ms. Zhang Juan, a Chinese exchange student from Tongji University in China, who really broke the ice with a melodious Chinese number.
The duo’s powerful vocal sent the throats of others itching. Up rose Mr. Bayar from Mongolia and took the microphone in his hands. He belted out a melancholic, loud but heartfelt Mongolian melody that echoed across the deathly silence of the forests of Kisawa. “This is probably how the lonely Mongolian herders’ songs also echo across their endless grasslands”, I thought to myself.
Next rose Mr. Sanmoy from India. As he began to sing a song composed by India’s Nobel-laureate Rabindranath Tagore, his wife could not resist but join her husband on the stage. “What a lovely couple!” someone whispered to my ears.
Others followed with English songs, oldies, Elvis, Beatles, Japanese Enkas, Japanese Pop songs, Chinese pop songs etc. While some sang, others danced. And so the merrymaking continued. The beer kept flowing. The gentle moon continued to look on from above too.
I retired to bed around midnight with Mr. Bayar and Mr. Sanmoy. Others continued chatting around the bonfire and I was told that some of them went to bed at around 4 am only. We all slept on the floor in the same hall, but it was quite comfortable.
The next day, we woke up to greet a very clear and sunny Sunday. I washed up and took a short walk with a few friends along the rough road going higher up the mountain. Then at 8.00 am, we had our breakfast of rice, miso soup and beef stir fry.
We cleaned up, loaded our stuff on to our vehicles and said good bye to Fagus no Mori at 9.00 AM. On the way back, we stopped to see two waterfalls, Ogama no Taki and Otodoro no Taki in Naka town. At Ogama no Taki waterfall, to everybody’s surprise, Mr. Mark from USA took off his shirts and plunged right into the stream to take a cool natural shower under the waterfall.
We then headed back towards Tokushima city. If anybody was hungry, there was Onigiri (Japanese rice ball) inside the bus. We arrived back at TIA office at around 1 pm, safe and sound.
It was one hell of a friendship camp, thanks to TIA!