Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Kumano Kōdō V


...today was like yesterday, a day spent getting somewhere, rather than being somewhere. We had full packs again, Miki's new and riding well on her shoulders. Our comfort was important, as we needed to cross a 400 meter pass, supposedly the most difficult on the Kōdō. We didn't talk much for the first hour, except to curse Yuasa for having the most useless trail markers so far. Through the town center, there had been plenty of markers, but once away from businesses and shops, they disappeared. I'm beginning to see a certain pattern at work here. Signs erected by the municipalities are usually found in areas where money is likely to flow. Signs deeper in the hills or in the countryside are put up by citizen's preservation groups. The latter have eveb rebuilt some Ōji, which mark the length of the Kōdō itself.

We had met a fellow walker in front of the train station. He'd attempted and failed this same stretch a week ago, and had set out yet again from his home four hours away in Hyogo. We'd had a much shorter journey, having finally checked out of our Wakayama hotel base camp. Being Sunday, everyone at breakfast had dressed casually for a change.

We walked along a river with our new companion, hopping on and off Rte 42, which would be shadowing us all the way to Ise. No one spoke much, as if thinking about the mountain looming ahead of us. The guy from Hyogo stopped at an Ōji to eat lunch, but Miki and I continued on, stopping a short time later, right where the true climb began. As we set off again, a loud bang sounded just above us, its echo roaring down the valley below. A hunt had shot over our heads. We yelled that we were coming through, then passed beyond a gate written with the triple threat warning about boars and bees and vipers. (Oh my!)

There were quite a few dead snakes on the road, plus a couple of lizards, prompting me to dub it the 'Reptile Trail of Tears.' Lots of cold blooded bodies with the life gone out. Miki and I have a different approach to steep trails: she slow and steady as a turtle; me powering up to a long rest at the top. This road was covered by the debris of frequent slides, so much so that it was easy to forget you were walking a sealed road. Near the top, I scared something away, something that crashed largely and noisily through the tress. Probably a deer, as this was Shishigase Pass. There was a clearing where inns had once stood, and when Miki eventually arrived, we had a nice long lunch. The trail down was quite steep, over cobblestones that mark older sections of the Kōdō. The descent brought new trouble for Miki in the form of an open sore on her lower back, where the lumbar support pads of her new pack made contact. She'd be slow and quiet the rest of the day.

It was incredibly hot. We passed through more orchards, then entered a long valley which we'd walk throughout the afternoon. The trail was mainly on a wide, mercifully untrafficked road, though it would often lead us down small lanes between houses. In front of one house, a man was stringing together lengths of beautiful black bamboo, unfazed be the dozens of bees swarming at his house's opposite end. Once in a while there'd be a farmer harvesting his rice with a tractor, but much of this area's harvest looked to have already been completed, the fields dry and stubbly. Up north, they hadn't yet begun. Due to the heat, we stopped quite a few times, once in front of an old wooden post office whose vending machine dispensed disappointingly warm drinks. Another time, we simply plopped down in the middle of the road in the shade of tall trees. As a couple of kids played in front of their house, we quietly took water from a hose at the side. Later, while leaning against a tall wall, enjoying the shade, a farm woman came up to chat. The further down the valley we went, the further forward in time we traveled, until we finally hit a train line and some vending machines. We sat nursing our drinks beside an old shrine with earthen walls, which seemed to protest the tick of the clock.

I don't remember many details of the day due to fatigue and heat. There was a gateball court and a large fishing hole. A narrow path led through a dense dark bamboo grove to a small Ōji sitting with dignity in the silence. An ancient woman leaned against a wall where we'd left our packs, matching our weary smiles.

At five, we finally reached the park where we'd camp. It was on a hillside, out of sight of the road and houses below. I love Japan for these places, with toilets and tables and shaded patches of grass. We dropped our stuff and walked ten minutes over to Dōjōji Temple. The origination of the Anju story (later made into a famous Nō play), it was well visited, and had the obligatory row of shops and restaurants, most now closed. One place was still open, the owner happy to share tales of local history. I was thrilled with my beer and curry, despite the latter consisting of a mere three potatoes and a forlorn piece of beef. (My beer glass had a picture of a samurai supping lustily on a high class woman's nipple. I raised an eyebrow and gave Miki a particular look, but she pretended not to notice, head pointed down toward her domburi. Sigh...)

We paid a quick visit to the temple itself, the rice plants below taking on a gorgeous gold in the setting sun. On the grounds were a mixture of old and new structures, including a massive gate leading through the Edo-period white walls to the house of the main priest.

Near dark now, we set up camp back on our own hill, the row of windmills flickering on the adjacent range we'd climbed hours earlier, as if beckoning the late summer moon to rise red and full...

On the turntable: Mighty Mighty Bosstones, "Where'd you Go?"
On the nighttable: Jiryu Mark Rutchsman-Byler, "Two Shores of Zen"


wes said...

Great description of the trek so far. You mention the heat. I can't remember exactly when you were hiking: September, October?

The route looks sandwiched between the sea and the Hanwa expressway, yet sounds so rural and remote. Looking forward to future installments.

ted said...

Hey Wes,

We walked in the heat of early Sept. Dates are at the top of the posts...

We were squeezed between the sea and the hills, until Tanabe. From there, we spent waaaaay too much time on asphalt, which made us rethink things...