On Wikitravel, someone wrote, “The climb [between Temples 11 and 12] is notoriously tough!”
Il a raison.
Even getting to 11 by bicycle in the heat was taxing. On the 192 in Yoshinogawa we met a Japanese fellow on a scooter, who, as my mother’s father would say, “had more to say than a white man.” He was one of those unpleasantly aggressive ‘helper’ types – my only direct interaction with him was when I pseudo-translated something he was saying for F. (K. has functional Japanese, but she wasn’t paying attention to him at that particular moment), and he turned to face me and boomed, “I English no!!” Well, duh. He intoned it like, “How dare you speak English in front of me when you know I can’t understand it?”
He said that this walk was too hard and that we couldn’t do it, but hey, I guess we’re showing him! =)
We’re sleeping at a way hut along the way, near a tiny temple not part of the 88. I’m sunburned where my shorts were hiking up with each pedal of the bike (ow). [As I type this, I still have red spots there.]
Getting here involved steps, steps, and more steps. The climbing was spread out, but it’s spread out like: AUGH hothothot whew hothothot AUGH hothothot thirstythirsty hothot AUGGGGHH whew hothothot thirstythirstythirsty ARGGGGGGGGGHHH and so on. We had to carry our food and changes of clothes and water bottles and a tent with us, and the humidity was ridiculous. Sweat poured down us like raindrops.
On the bright side, this little hut is free, and there are four tatami mats and room to spare. I’m soaking wet with sweat; when I get up you can see a big damp spot on the mat.
Tomorrow we’ll get to Temple 12, have lunch there, then walk allll the way back to 11 for our bikes, then bike home. [Or so I thought.] At least the hike will be mostly shady, and the hike back somewhat downhill.
There’s been no water on the trail so far – thankfully, there is water at this temple. The springs along the way were dry. Quite frankly, this hike could be downright dangerous if you’re not adequately prepared. This section is known to be henro-korogashi (“where a pilgrim falls down”) for a reason!
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Written August 11th outside an onsen in Yoshinogawa.
Too hot! Tonight in Yoshinogawa, it’s a nice, cool 29°C with a gagillion percent humidity. Augh.
The rest of path lived up to its difficult billing. The most maddening part was where we made a long descent into a valley, and went through part of a little village – that had NO drink machines! Is that even legal in Japan?! It was a pretty place, but on the other side of it we had to climb straight back up again. I would say it was the toughest climb of the route, although picking the toughest climb is like trying to decide whether to “root” for the Soviets or the Nazis on the Eastern Front. (Boy, talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place.)
Anyway, to back off from that disturbing analogy that I will probably never attempt again, Temple 12 was very nice. Even the entrance path was remarkable; the stone works and balustrades were impressive. Inside the temple, they served us coffee. The path went on to 13… only 29km! Um… Our total walking over the past two days, to 12 and back, was only about 24km.
The path bears some resemblance to a linear graph of the Dow Jones industrial average. I’d never been so sweaty and exhausted in all my life – maybe once or twice haying, but this is completely out of the realm of normal Maritime experience.
After getting back to 11, we were pointed in the direction of an onsen that’s kind to pilgrims. They had little huts like the one we stayed in on the trail attached to their building in the parking lot out back. The onsen was desperately needed, but in my fatigue and uncertainty I found it incredibly frustrating. It seems like every onsen I visit has different rules and quid-pro-quos and I’m always left in a confused daze wondering what to do at any given point.
This was an onsen where you were expected to bring your towel into the bathing area with you, and then dry off completely before coming back to the lockers. Unfortunately, it was also an onsen where you had to rent a towel, so I was using my big old bath towel when everyone else was using much smaller, more convenient towels that they could just drape over their shoulders inside the baths.
Anyway, when I realized I needed my towel, it was after I’d showered, so I went back to my locker to get it, and since I was still dripping wet I got some water on the floor. And suddenly this older man (probably in his 60s) gets all pissed at me, and starts wildly pointing at the floor, exclaiming the Japanese equivalent of “WTF are you doing?” I grimaced apologetically, but he kept pointing, and he demanded that I wipe it up. I started to wipe the locker room floor with my own towel, muttering curses to myself. Why do older people here think they’re the boss just because they’re older?
I got back into the bath and was able to relax a little bit then, although my sunburns meant I couldn’t go in the water past my knees. Man. I also had to toss my towel up onto the roof outside, as there was nowhere to hang it. What a nutty setup. On the bright side, this onsen had free lockers, but that was about all it had going for it, aside from their invaluable kindness to pilgrims.
Going up that mountain was hard, but so was coming down – my feet and knees are aching like crazy. I feel like an old man, and I’m only 26! I wonder how actual old men feel, like the 74-year-old we met at the camp on our way back.
I’ll say this for the way back, though – it wasn’t nearly as taxing, water-wise.
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That night I went looking for curry, but instead I found a McDonald’s. Desperately hungry and needing protein, I ordered a McMega Meal. I guess it’s kind of like getting a Double BigMac, but this was tastier.
I went to a Book Off and got Street Fighter II Turbo and a PocketStation. Total cost: $13.
The next day we went on to do Temples 13 through 17, the temples in Tokushima City proper, by bicycle. The girls had wanted to go on to 13 directly from 12 by way of the trail – they may well have, but for the fact that their tent was still back at the camp (and some of our other stuff, too). There is a road to that spot, but it may not be much better than the trail; it’s one of those crazy 1.2 lane mountain roads, and you lose the near-constant shade that the forests provide on the trail.
When we woke up in the morning, it was like waking up inside a pizza oven. The other pilgrims were long gone, anxious to get underway before the sun got very high. We laboured to get ourselves ready.
On the long bike ride back to Tokushima City, I was determined not to get dehydrated again, so I basically bought a whole liter of Aquarius plus one of those freezer packets of same. This completely backfired, and by the time we got to 13 I was feeling a bit out of sorts.
Things got better over the rest of the morning and afternoon, but the sun was unrelenting, and after we’d finished 17 the wind was blowing against us all the way back towards our part of town. After getting F. on her way to 18 and beyond, K. and I struck out for home, whereupon I missed a landmark to point out the turn (I’d never approached it from this direction, or in such overwhelmingly bright sun) – K. had noticed, and she soon turned around, while I didn’t believe her and kept on going. And then I got to the cycle shop and the rail line, and I knew I’d gone way too far. This was a very painful, incredibly unwelcome detour.
A year or two later, I made it home, but not before I was hot enough to fry eggs off of. I was exhausted and dehydrated, and I couldn’t bring myself to go out for the first night of Awa Odori, not even after sunset.
But I did get out the second, third, and fourth nights. Awa Odori deserves its own entry, so we’ll get to it next time.