Saturday, June 26, 2010

Kumano Kōdō XV


...we awoke in time to watch the sunrise from our tent. I took a short stroll toward the water and discovered a large pool filled with a half-dozen enormous sea turtles swimming about, their noses breaking the surface of the water in a great gasp of air.

After meditation and yoga, we broke down the tent, which in the full light of morning we discovered lay beneath an array of posters revealing the poisonous creatures that live in these waters. The only purpose of these posters that I could see was giving people the opportunity to develop about twenty new fears. We'd chosen a good spot, beneath the shelter of an awning, and atop that soft spongy material they make all-weather running tracks out of these days.

Last night, we'd taken care to find shelter in case of rain, which had seemed likely with the clouds rolling in with the setting of the sun. Ironically, it began to precipitate just as we left 'camp.' Dive shops were just beginning to open, and during the next 30 minutes, we passed perhaps a half-dozen, each containing a gaggle of stream-lined females in wet-suits, clustered around their male boss. We had a long breakfast in a town unremarkable but for its ugliness, in front of yet another small store with a quirky proprietress. Across the street, a group of elementary kids were practicing for their sports day. As they numbered fewer than 20, I wondered about how long their school would stay open.

Ten minutes further down the road, the rain grew heavier, so out came the rain gear. As I huddled in a doorway going through my contortions, I caught the unmistakable whiff of ganja from the other side of the door. We pushed out into the rain, beginning a long wet slog along the busy Rte 42. Not the best of days.

There were highlights. The sound of rain in a drain pipe sounded like shimedaiko. A pair of gardens were piled up with what looked like porous volcanic rock, but prodded with a shoe, proved to be as soft as sponges. The Hershey Kiss-shaped hills surrounding Koza. A group of seabirds stood on a sand spit, their wings spread is if to dry them. Kites and crows battled for choice sentinel spots on the lights over Koza's main bridge. The town's narrow lanes were lined with old homes, including a three-story beauty of faded gray wood. In this weather, it all looked like a town in the American Pacific Northwest or, if you'll stretch along with me, something from Melville's imagination. It was easy to be captivated by this town's charm. It was the first time on this entire walk that Miki actually seemed happy, singing along to the rhythm of her steps.

We made a brief rest stop at the tiny Hime Station, and found that someone had forgotten their wallet. As we inquired at a nearby shop, a woman popped in, and recognized the wallet's owner by his driver's license photo, saying that he was in town on business, and would find him to return it. Incredible, these small town networks.

We had a nice, one-hour diversion walking along a beach with more of those dried volcanic rocks. A few times, I came across the carcass of a lobster, its tastier bits eaten away. At one point, I set down my pack in order to jump around and peer into some tide pools. One of these was littered with the bodies of dead crabs, poisoned by the water feeding it extending directly toward the chimney of a 'recycle center' up in the hills above. There was also a great deal of Korean garbage here...oh sorry, wrong side of the archipelago.

In the next town, we navigated the maze of streets toward the station in order to get a short reprieve from the rain. A few minutes after plonking ourselves down on the narrow wooden bench, a man hobbled in on a cane, his feet and one hand heavily bandaged. Speaking seemed to take a great deal of effort, and at first I thought that he'd had a stroke. After a few minutes of hearing his story, we found that he'd been a pro racing driver who'd had one horrific crash. I asked him when, but he merely grimaced, which I took to mean that the crash had taken away some of his memory as well. We sat listening to his tale, his hands unconsciously arcing in the air as if turning a steering wheel.

We moved off Rte 42 for the first time in hours. A row of doghouses were lined up before a hill face, the residents alert and noisy. Up river, two ducks peacefully floated by, then quickly turned and flew off in the opposite direction, spooked by something we hadn't seen. We found a new trail running parallel to the busy Rte 42, but rejoined it inevitably later. Making our slow way uphill, we were passed by a bicyclist, its rider close to 90. He eventually got off to push his machine and we in turn passed him, but I applaud his efforts. We three made for a strange sight for passing drivers, the way we trudged in line up that hill. One of these passing vehicles was an earthquake simulation truck.

Atop the hill we entered NachiKatsuura-cho and immediately, the trails signs resumed. (Kushimoto had been pathetic, lacking even a single one. To compound things, the Kushimoto sections were the only places where I saw trash spilling down hillsides.) Just over this border, we found the trail we'd been looking for, at whose entrance a handful of ants were tucking into a dead centipede. We'd expected a 10 minute hike, but it stretched out to 40, along a trail well marked but overgrown. At one point, I grabbed a ground-whacking stick to scare off any vipers resting in the tall grass below those bamboo groves that these snakes find so heavenly.

Dropping into Uragami, we chatted awhile with two farmers, who laughingly tried to hoist my pack. They were the first friendly people we'd seen in days. (Kushimoto folk tend to answer direct greetings with a curt bob of the head. I encountered this so often that I'm beginning to doubt that the residents have tongues.) In fact, everyone was so friendly that we were well set up for the night, with bread purchased from a smiley shopkeeper, and the exuberant inn owner who made us dinner despite our late arrival. All was welcome, this day being our longest yet, a 10 hour tramp through a steady rain. It was punctuated by train stations that we'd visited without actually boarding any trains. We'd returned a wallet, met a race driver, and prior to turning in, realized that we'd left our maps in the station just up the road. We lay in our futons, figuring that they'd still be there come morning, as the rain started up once again outside...

On the turntable: Al Green, "Greatest Hits"
On the nighttable: Michael Chabon, "The Yiddish Policeman's Union"
On the reel table: The Human Condition" (Kobayashi, 1959)

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