Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Kumano Kōdō XIV


...the seaside breeze kept the mozzies away, and the ants scampered off after the lights went out. I didn't sleep well but I slept enough, and around six I once again perched myself on my high concrete wall to meditate. Out to sea, a fisherman was similarly seated on a tall tower of stone, and I still can't figure out how he got there. The first train rolled in at 6:22, and rolled out again with a few high school students aboard. When the platform was clear, I went up there to do some yoga. We were again walking by seven.

We hadn't eaten anything substantial in 24 hours, so the going was slow. A few women were watering their flowers, a few were sitting in the doorway reading the newspaper, all of them enjoying the quiet of a day barely begun. A hour into our own day, we passed beneath a cafe sitting on a bluff high above the sea, with a look like a southern plantation. Just down the hill was a village store. The proprietress was a joyless woman who'd stocked her shop with second rate foodstuffs, overshadowed by a unproportionally large amount of foreign kitsch, including a photo of one of the employees standing with Beckham. We grabbed a few items in order to scrape up a meal that had a passing resemblance to breakfast. Then we walked into morning.

The route took on a predictable pattern, weaving on and off Rte 42, and onto the smaller roads paralleling it, which would drop up down into fishing villages, or lead into the farm settlements of the hills. Once an hour or so, we'd follow an narrow trail up and over a pass, then back to asphalt after a nice 10 minute diversion. There were also quite a few coves, and in arriving at these, we'd sit awhile, staring out at the waves. From the main Rte 42, it was easy to see portions of the real Kōdō, hidden in the overgrowth of forest. I wondered if they'd eventually be restored and made part of the mapped system. Moreover, how did they decide on the places they HAD marked, especially those running behind homes or across a beach made of overlapping slabs of porous volcanic stone. During one of our rests, a man came over and pointed at our guide book, telling us that he was one of its authors. In the fog of thirst and fatigue, we forgot to ask these very questions. He did give us the typical advice given to nearly every hiker in Japan: Take care about the wasps and the vipers.

We had a nice long rest on a narrow stretch of beach, laying in the sand and watching a large black butterfly flit above the waves, which eventually swamped it. Just when I gave it up as a goner, it righted itself and flew off. After lunch, we sat against a palm tree, watching the boats come in. It was a very tropical scene, with the butterflies and the flowers, the stone walls and the tile roofs. The mild climate seemed to draw a fair share of tourists. One bait shop was piping out Japanese classical music. Across the roof of an inn, sheets and futons had been strewn like the aftermath of a pillow fight gone wrong. Yet the consistent tsunami warning signs gave a hint to the heavier side of life down here.

During the afternoon, the theme turned to "The Battle with the Spiders." This is the season when their webs are everywhere, and after breaking through dozens with the prow of my face, I'd had enough. It was impossible to simultaneously look down at my footing and up at their yellow and black bodies stretched across the trail at (my) eye level. So at those sections where we entered mountains, I'd grab a stick, swinging and twirling it blindly before me like Zatoichi. And like him, I'd usually take out about 30 baddies before shuffling off down the road.

As evening approached, we passed through a long tunnel, scaring off a bat hanging from the ceiling. On the outskirts of Kushimoto, we found a wide expanse of lawn beside an aquarium. The restaurant had already closed, so we hastily bought some oily smoked fish and lukewarm beer to eat beside the seawall, yet another in a series of bad meals. Once all the employees headed off into the night, we took a shower from the hose hanging out back, chilling in the wind coming up as the sun went down...

On the turntable: Belly, "Star"
On the nighttable: Stanley Crawford, "A Garlic Testament"

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