Saturday, June 12, 2010

Kumano Kōdō XI


As I dragged the razor across my face, I had little idea that it would be a day of close shaves.

We faced a big climb at the end of the day, so decided to leave our bags at Buddha Guest House and take the train back later. We passes a monotonous morning walking out of town, following the busy Route 42 between massive box stores dwarfed by even more massive parking lots. Occasionally we were rewarded by being led down quieter roads parallel to the highway, or into farmland. One house bore a mark with the kanji for water, indicating that this had once been the old water company for this village. A watermark of a different type was cut into a stone slab, showing the reaches of a post-quake tsunami that had devastated this town in 1946. And the devastation continues. We'd missed some famous statues on a hillside, due to the recently built mega-stores and their maze of access roads. This area no longer resembled our maps. Despite using a new guide book to the Kōdō that proved to be generally clear and accurate, it still got us lost a few times. Our confusion, the concrete, and the uninspired landscape didn't do much for our spirits. The usual sacrifice of the old and traditional for the new and fleeting was beginning to wear us down, initiating a conversation that would play out in eventual changes in our approach to this walk.

After a long shopping stop at A-coop, we moved along a large river. Hills rose above it to the east, their porous, tree covered walls camouflaging statues of Kannon and The Great Sun Buddha. We'd seen very few symbols of the spiritual character of the pilgrimage during the Kiiji portions. This Ōhechi section was proving to be much richer.

Zig-zagging along a wide farm road, I stepped right over a foot-long viper that was sunning itself in the road. While in the mountains, I normal keep a wary eye out, but here I'd missed one in plain sight. I had a similar close escape in the next town when a large blob of birdshit landed just to my left.

Beyond the bigger towns, the Kōdō was well marked and well-mapped. It led us past a series of Jizo shrines, (and a house that had its own telescope) to a large temple where we had lunch. The sign out front stated that it had been left desolate until 1774, but here in 2009 it still had a forlorn look. A group of diggers were hard at work beside the main hall, and it was hard to tell if they were building or excavating.

The trail led toward Tondazaka, worn deep below the forest floor. A few minutes along, we heard some angry growling and snorting from just above us on a shelf of forest floor, but we never actually saw the boar that had made it. We eventually calmed enough to enjoy the trail, which started out as a steep climb crowded with ferns, before widening and leveling out as it hugged the ridge. It was a lovely hike with a few ruined tea houses along the way, as well as plenty of good views of mountain and sea. Beyond the pass, we had a steep drop down a fire road dotted with jizo, then a gentle walk along a river that cut across the valley floor. As usual, these level reaches always feel extremely long, and once we hit pavement again, it was near dark.

We hitched a lift from an Osaka couple who had had a decent day fishing for Ayu. From their truck, I watched a deer walking daintily in the river's shallows. The couple dropped us off at the station, where I began to talk to a bus driver about how to return to the trailhead the next day. During this conversation, the Osaka couple surprised me in pulling up again, handing me my camera through the open window of their truck, then quickly driving off. Another near miss.

The train was filled with a bizarre group of heavily made up girls doing their best 'Droog" imitation. In Tanabe, we grabbed our bags and ate our bento at the beach. We'd hoped to camp in the park, but an event of some kind had drawn around 150 high schoolers to the same area. I didn't feel secure here, and after an especially long day, wanted a good night's sleep. I felt more tired than I had in the previous 9 days since we'd started. Miki and I had a huge fight, and near rare tears, she reluctantly followed me back to Buddha Guest House. But her fury turned to a hug fifteen minutes later when the skies opened. Someone had really been looking out for me today...

On the turntable: Marcus Miller, "Live and More"
On the nighttable: Andy Couturier, "A Different Kind of Luxury"

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