Arriving at the haikyo hotel was relatively straightforward. A train ride to the nearest station and a long walk along a road skirting the edge of a mountain. I discovered the entrance, partially blocked with the telltale orange and black ‘Safety First’ signs. I scouted around for security systems at first, as there were a few notices about hidden cameras. But I couldn’t really see anything obvious on the outside of the building, and I knew for a fact another explorer had recently documented the place without trouble. I was pretty sceptical about them anyway. Of all the ruins I’d visited, not one had ever been secured, let alone alarmed. Who would want to secure this place, anyway?
Calling their bluff, I ventured forward, finding a way around the back of the hotel. I was excited. Finally I could see a few old vending machines and the rear boiler rooms and storage sheds, so I busied myself with some photography. It was great weather and so far fairly interesting, even with just the rubbish outside to shoot.
There weren’t any immediate entrances, but upon closer inspection, the broken windows revealed themselves to be merely covered up with boards loosely stacked against them. Swallowing my nervousness, I began to shift one, sliding it sideways to peer inside the back room. Out of nowhere a faint high-pitched wail began to sound. Heart in throat, I dashed down the steps towards the boiler room and leapt over the rusty black fence.
It was a few moments before I realised how stupid I was. There was a very steep slope leading straight down into a lake.
How could I forget I was on the side of a mountain??
I was already sliding dangerously as these thoughts flashed in my head. To make matters worse, half of the trees I attempted to grab onto were rotten and on several occasions the bark crumbled away cleanly in my hands. I began to pick up pace stumbling down the mountain, my shoes filling with debris and branches hitting me in the face. The momentum became so much that I was flailing my arms around blindly just to grab anything.
Smash. Whack. Crunch.
Somehow my left hand found a suitable narrow tree trunk to grasp. It was healthy and strong, and I gripped it fiercely. My feet slipped and left the ground badly, and before I knew it, I was swinging by one arm precariously over the top of a sizeable drop…
The fun begins…
Now that I had stopped, I had to get back up the 15 or so meters I had come down. It wasn’t over yet… Among the wet Autumn leaves and loose soil were rocks poking out of the slope’s edge.
With some good, sturdy footholds I can surely clamber back up, right?
Much to my dismay though, the rocks were loose and worse still, they literally disintegrated in my hands as I tried to grab onto them. At this point I was seriously worrying about my safety. One wrong move would see me at the bottom of the slope in a lake, most likely injured.
Still, I made slow progress, carefully choosing my handholds and gradually got back to a safer location where I could sit and rest. I wasn’t ready to go back to the hotel yet, through fear of police or a security guard coming.
After about an hour of waiting in trepidation, I decided to brave it and slowly work my way back up. After some time, I was back by the window I had fled from and listening to the birds and distant sounds of cars. The sun still beat heavily and there seemed to be no sign of disturbance at all.
A little trapdoor opened in my mind.
Perhaps I was just imaging things? I thought. I’m overly cautious and wary – no way there’d be an alarm in a place like this, right? I’ve come all this way to take photographs of this place and I can’t back out now…
I started to move a few boards from another window, successfully making an opening into the kitchen area. Sticking my arm in and waving it about saw no reaction. Not even knocking over a piece of wood triggered anything. I decided I had just been unlucky. Maybe I really did just imagine the noise? Gathering my bag, I plunged inside.
I sat down, looked around and sighed a little. It was dark and cluttered with kitchen objects and I got that tingling sensation of excitement at a new place to explore. I was almost about to turn on my torch when I heard it again… That faint, high-pitched wailing.
“Oh for fu… Shit, man!”
And it was back out the window in a panic and down the mountain side again, only this time with care and along a safe route.
Another hour passed.
It was mid-afternoon now and I was tired, a little shaken-up and very worried now that I had been caught on camera or something. I was very aware that I would have to go back by train and my mind entertained nasty thoughts of police waiting at the station. I really just wanted to go home.
I climbed back up and round to the gate at the side of the hotel when something puzzling caught my eye. The padlock that had prevented me from coming through the first time appeared to be open…
Perhaps I just didn’t notice this? I thought.
I didn’t check very carefully, after all, as it was obscured from view the first time. Shrugging it off, I slipped through the gate into the small alleyway and slid the bolt back into place. Clutching the padlock in my hand, I turned and froze stiff. All the weight of my body sunk down and settled in my feet. There, not more than 3 meters in front of me, was a padded, navy blue-uniformed security guard, staring rather blankly at what appeared to be an alarm box on the front of the hotel.
My heart was in my throat, sweat on my brow and my brain busy handling expletives. I had bolted the gate behind me – I couldn’t just slip back through now. If he so much as tilted his head in my direction he would see me, for it was nothing more pure luck that he happened to be looking at an angle perpendicular to where I was standing. My only option was to take a half step to the side, behind a large sign that had been propped up against the wall. I dared not move much at all through fear he would hear my footsteps, but it was just enough to hide me from his line of view, should he decide to look sideways in my direction.
There was nothing I could do except wait.
He lingered for a while. I could see his back through an opening in the sign, and I prayed that he didn’t return to lock the gate that I had just come through.
What to do? What to do? My brain whirred frantically, conjuring up all manner of bizarre escape scenarios.
But the gods, it seemed, were favouring me today. For some reason, he turned and walked back towards the car park.
I desperately began thinking of my next move. He might, after all, just be going to get a set of keys. Images of the computer game ‘Metal Gear Solid’ floated through my head in a very distracting fashion.
This is neither the time nor the place to be reminiscing about guiding the lead character ‘Solid Snake’ through military bases without being caught! This was real stealth! I’ll be up shit creek if I don’t choose my next move accordingly…
The un-locked gate was my biggest concern. I still clutched the padlock in my sweaty palm and my better logic told me that it was very likely that the padlock had not been unlocked when I arrived in the morning. Hence, there were two possible scenarios now: 1) Stay perfectly still and hope the guard leaves, forgetting to lock the gate properly. 2) Go back through the gate, hide on the side of the mountain and re-formulate an escape plan.
I decided to move. The area I was in was simply too exposed for comfort. The guard could have gone back for his keys or anything and it was too risky to assume that he was leaving. I figured I had a space of about a minute – less, now that I’d spent time thinking – to get my sorry behind back into the woods.
I hung the open padlock on the front of the metal gate and slipped my shaking hands through the gap. Fumbling with the bolt very gently, I managed to slide it open without so much as a clink. But now was the big test, I realised.
Doors and gates – especially gates – creek when you open them, right? No shit sherlock.
I had no choice though… I pushed and hoped.
The large gate door swung open on its hinges in a buttery manner. No sound – not even a slight groan. As old as this hotel was, this gate was perfectly well oiled, it seemed.
I wasted no time in carefully closing the gate and replacing the bolt. I don’t know why I didn’t just hurry back down the steps and onto the mountain – something told me to secure the gate. Ironically though, the padlock was still hanging on the front of the gate in blatant view of anyone who should approach it.
Perhaps the guard will just think he forgot to lock it..? I hoped.
This time, I snuck under a concrete ledge at the edge of the hotel, perfectly hidden from sight and not in the rustling discomfort of the mountainside undergrowth. There I waited for at least another hour. It’s difficult to say exactly. At one point I could have sworn I heard footsteps above me, but it was impossible to tell, as crisp Autumn leaves fell rustling to the ground with every gush of wind.
As safe as I was in my immediate spot, my mind was still running distances.
Should I just play it safe and stay here tonight? Should I go back around the side of the hotel? How about edging along the mountainside back to the road? What about when I’m on the road again – what then? I will stand out a lot to passing cars along the mountain road and it’ll be even worse if there are any police cars circling the lake looking for the culprit…
Mosquitoes frequently hovered near my head and bit my arms and neck before I noticed them. It wasn’t a great place to be sitting and the heat of the day was starting to wear off. Dusk was approaching…
I definitely can’t stay here, I thought. I’ve no choice but to go back out the way I came in – the only other exit being a vivid blue lake at the bottom of the slope. But I couldn’t walk back around through the gate… What if the guard realised someone had moved the padlock and was waiting?
My instinct took me around the edge of the hotel in the woods, taking footstep by footstep and trying to keep as quiet as possible on the crunchy, soft ground of leaves below me. After a good 20 minutes, I emerged near the entrance to the car park and peered through the trees at the front of the hotel. There was no-one in sight, it seemed. I scanned around carefully.
Definitely no-one there.
With much determination, I stepped out from the trees into the car park and gazed up at the towering mass of concrete, still slumbering happily against a backdrop of blue sky and warm Autumn sun.
I snapped a few final pictures of the outside of the hotel before making a hasty retreat. Back along the mountain road, I sweated, worried by the thoughts that people might be waiting to ‘pick me up’ at the train station. It wouldn’t be hard to find me on camera arriving at the train station that morning and match me up to any footage that was caught at the hotel, if there was any… I also pondered about the padlock. I hadn’t dared go back around the side of the hotel to check if it was where I left it. Part of me really wanted to know – if it had been moved, I would know the guard had returned to lock the gate… If not, perhaps the guard was still round the back or even inside the hotel looking for me?
I shuddered and walked on, dodging cars and trying to calm down. Calling into a convenience store, I took the time to wash my muddy hands and buy an ice cream. Gotta look normal going back through the station, right? I eventually arrived back at the station, empty but for an elderly man and the guard in the ticket office. I bought my return ticket and walked through the gate, avoiding eye contact…
On the train, I sighed and closed my eyes in disbelief. It might still not be over, I considered. Maybe this day will come back to haunt me sometime, but for now, it seemed, I was safe. I drifted off into a gentle slumber all the way back to my destination…