Sunday, 29 September 2013

Shilkoku 88 pilgrimage - Temples 24 - 30

One of the more salubrious henro huts

From Temple 23 to 24 is a distance of 75 kilometres, down to the tip of Cape Muroto at the bottom of Shikoku. It is lovely to reach the sea, waves high after the recent typhoon which has passed by. But the road, which clings on between the mountains and the Pacific is busy with traffic.

The temperature is in the thirties by the afternoon and I am permanently drenched in sweat. By the time we reach Cape Maruto I am tired and not best pleased to discover that the temple is not on the coast but up a steep switchback hill. Once again we struggle up with our loaded bikes.

Fishermen at Cape Muruto
Pagoda at Temple 24

After the temple we cycled on to 25 which thankfully was on the level. Just farther on from the temple  was a small geopark centre. Behind the centre was a little patch of grass and a bench right next to the sea. We set up camp and watched the sun go down in the Pacific, it was beautiful.

The following morning we got up at five to tackle the climb up to 26 before the heat became too much, leaving the tent and all our bags to collect on the way back. Being at the temple early was a real pleasure, the air was fresh and the temple bathed in the soft light of early morning ratehr than the harsh glare of the middle of the day. Our pleasure was marred only by the thought of yet another day cycling in blistering, insufferable heat.

Temple 27 was a long, four kilometre climb. It took about three hours for us to push up, and by the time we were near the top I was seriously concerned. I knew I couldn't take much more of this, physically or mentally. The heat, the climbs, the relentlessness of it all. I was really suffering.

Temple 25
Ladles at Temple 26

Incense container Temple 26

Early morning brew

Welcome shade

Near the top we met a walking henro. He was travelling between temples by bus and then walking up. This sounded like quite a sensible way to do things. He had a lot of clothes on and like many other people we met, he complained about the heat. We all sat for a while by the side of the road, eating fruit and getting our breath back. A monk driving a very flash car drove down the hill from the temple and waved to us as he wooshed by. Mick stared after him. We walked up to the temple together with the bus/walking henro. Mick lit a candle as per usual. Unfortunately he didn't wait for me to produce a lighter but used another, already lit candle, to light his.
'No, no, no!' exclaimed our new friend, clapping his hand to his forehead. He fished in his pocket and gave Mick a lighter. I gathered we had committed another temple etiquette faux pas. After that he accompanied us around, showing us what to do where. When I produced ten yen to put in the offering box (or pay and pray box as we dubbed it) he exclaimed again, and then gave me a one yen coin to put in the box. 'This is enough,' he gestured. We recited the heart sutra and several others with him at the main temple and at the smaller daishi temple. Usually Mick and I only mutter a few lines at one of them but he was having none of it, and I enjoyed reciting the whole thing. Afterwards we thanked him and I asked if I could take his photograph. He refused, but insisted on taking one of us instead.

Our camp in the local park

We slept in a little park that night. Although I slept reasonably well, when the alarm went off at five I didn't want to move. How many more mountains could I take? And how many more temples? They were starting to merge in my memory already. We headed into the outskirts of Kochi city for the next few temples. I was so hot and tired I could barely cycle along the road and Mick was suffering badly with the weather too, he does heat even less well than I do. We twisted and turned among interminable lanes, stopping constantly to check the map. Fed up, I told Mick he could navigate from now on. Later he told me this was when he knew there was serious trouble brewing. I never relinquish control of the map. We were both tetchy now and snapping at each other. Just before Temple 30 it erupted into a full blown row. I screamed at Mick that I had had enough and he shouted back that he had too, and was going home. He ripped the guidebook from the front of the barbag and threw it across the road. It disappeared into a thick cluster of bamboo. We happened to be outside a rest hut and we sat for a while, not speaking.

Finally Mick said, 'Ellie I don't want to do this any more. I'm not enjoying it. I bloody hate it.'
'I hate it too,' I said. 'I hate the climbs and I hate the pressure I feel under.' In truth we had both known for some time that we had bitten off more than we could chew this time. We were simply not capable of doing this thing in these conditions, with the amount of gear that we had and in the time we had allowed. We couldn't do it, and I was seriously worried that one of us would keel over in the attempt.

Rice drying

Cycle path made a pleasant change

We fished the book out of the bamboo by Mick lowering me down while I grabbed the book and he then hailed me out. Now the pressure was off we were beginning to feel a little better. We brewed a coffee and then hung our henro jackets in the hut. It felt symbolically important that we leave them behind. Maybe someone else would make use of them. Then we cycled into Kochi, booked into a business hotel and went out. We found a fancy bar and sat there with a long glass of cold beer each, the first we had drunk since leaving Osaka.
'Cheers,' said Mick, raising his glass. 'To the end of our henro pilgrimage.'
'The end,' I said.'

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage - Temples 18-23

After being tested at Temple 12 the following day was a complete contrast. We left Tokushima and cycled south to Temple 18, around ten kilometres away, using the shared cycle/pedestrian path. It felt  safer than the road except for the school children who were whizzing along in the opposite direction at speed, especially the girls, hurtling towards us at terrifying speed. It was pan flat and although we left late, gone eight o'clock, it was not quite so hot today. Temple 18, at the end of a quiet road,was peaceful. We were the only people there and we sat for a good while enjoying the tranquility before heading off towards 19.

At 19 we met a French Canadian called Lawrence, he was sitting near the entrance fixing the blisters on his feet. He is walking the 88 Temple route, taking in the Bangai temples as well, the 20 or so additional temples around Shikoku. He tells us he is on day 5. 'What any are you on?' he asks.
'Er, day 5,' we say.
'Really? you'll have to get a move on then, he said laughing.
While we are sitting there a woman comes over and offers us a small can of iced coffe each. More settai! We thank her gratefully. Lawrence doesn't drink coffee so after she has gone he gives it to us. 'We may see you again,' I say as we set off.

We saw him sooner than we thought. On leaving the temple we headed up the road for two kilometres before realising we were heading in completely the wrong direction and had to turn around. We passed Lawrence farther on. 'Don't tell him we got lost,' hissed Mick. 'It's embarrassing. Tell him we stopped for lunch.'
'Ok,' I said. As we passed him I called out, 'Hello again! We went the wrong way!'
Mick glared at me.

We were not looking forward to Temple 20. It was at the top of another wretched mountain and the memories of Temple 12 were still fresh. Near the bottom of the mountain was a michi-no-eki, another one of those very useful rest stations. We asked in the shop if we could camp and they said it would be ok after five o'clock. They kindly agreed to store our luggage while we tackled the temple, to give us more chance of getting up there. As it was, fate intervened. We had stopped to munch on a banana when a man stopped. We couldn't understand what he was saying but he kept pointing up the hill and then at our bikes. Eventually he gestured for us to wait and disappeared. Two minutes later he reappeared with a Honda pickup.
'He's offering us a lift!' I exclaimed.
Mick demurred, saying we should go up under our own steam. 'Are you nuts?' I demanded? 'Anyway, this is osettai, it would be rude to refuse.'
Ten minutes later we were at the top of the mountain.
It would have been rude to refuse...

We were not so lucky the next morning with temple 21. No angel in the form of a man with a Honda pickup came our way. We had intended to go up in the cable car - yes there is one to this temple - but we had taken a wrong turning. Mick was cross until he realised we had saved nearly 5000 yen by cycling, sorry- pushing our bikes up. He then cheered up right away.

The heat was punishing by now though - reading 34 degrees and feeling hotter. We stayed for a while resting at the top - when who should come along but our French Canadian friend.
'Hello again!' I said. 'I said you would catch us up.'
'Yes, maybe as you are going by road you have a longer distance to travel,' he said gallantly. We said our goodbyes yet again and Lawrence set off down the path while we teetered off back down the switchback road.

Coming down from Temple 21
At least Temple 22, a few kilometres on, was down on the level not up another hill. By now we were no longer surpassed to see Lawence's brown hat come bobbing along while we were there. We excahanged pleasantries again before setting off. The next temple was 15 kilometres away. 'If we see him again there I shall start to think he's Kobo Daishi in disguise,' said Mick.

Aside from a short busy stretch on a main trunk road it was a lovely ride, winding through the forests which clung to the sides of the mountains, before disgorging us on the very shore of the Pacific. A typhoon had lately been brewing offshore, and although it had swung away from Shikoku, it had caused some huge surges to come in here. A few courageous surfers were taking advantage of the swell, specks on a roaring turquoise and white foaming sea.

We were both exausted now and it was with some relief that we finally rolled into the very pleasant town of Hiwasa, paid a quick visit to the temple and set up camp at the local michi-no-eki. I'm really hoping that tomorrow doesn't bring any more mountains.

How do you like them apples?

Leisure time - I am currently winning 3.2 

Ossettai - ginger cake. Delicious.

Not the most salubrious - but comfortable and well appointed at michi-no-eki

Essential travel companion

The rope car we should have caught -
but would have blown a day's budget

O henro walking down from Temple 21

A mini fan in Shikoku!

Temple 22
Incense holder

Washing utensils at temple

The Pacific!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage - Temples 1-17

It's Monday and the first time I've been able to get online since last week as we are treating ourselves to a night in a budget hotel in Tokushima. I'll post a few pictures and an update when I can, and write a fuller trip report when I get back.

Shoppers stocking up on henro gear
At Temple One we stocked up on our Henro essentials - jackets, candles, incense sticks and an English Guidebook. Temple One is the only place, as far as I know, where this book is available. It is essential for English speakers on the pilgrimage who do not speak Japanese. As all I can manage is: 'good morning, hello, goodbye, please, thank you,' and 'can we camp here please,' conversation is limited. Very few Japanese on Shikoku speak any English at all, so at least with this book we had some hope of  finding our way from temple to temple.

At Temple One

Jizo Bosatsu

Temples One to Eleven wind their way around the area just outside of Tokushima. We decided to leave our gear at the Michi-no-Eki for the first few and camped again there on the second night, before tackling a couple more. The temples were amazing. Each one is set in it's own grounds, a haven of tranquility, and each is slightly different to the others. At each one we carried out our own little ritual - Buddhism is pretty free and easy as far as I can tell, and people seem to more or less to do their own thing. We lit candles and incense, chanted a short prayer or two and paid our dues. We also filled in our name slips and dropped one in at each temple box.

Udon - this region is famous for it

Restaurant Itano- old railway car
Drinks machines are everywhere in Japan

Loaded to go
Typical rest hut
Washing hands at temple

name slips - colour depends on how many time one has done the pilgrimage
This lovely man invited us in for fruit and tea - and showed us his  name slip collection
Brocade indicates 100+ times

Third night - not a good spot - full of insects and mozzies
- we did not spot the stagnant pool until the next morning...

Temple Twelve is of a different order altogether, 30 kilometres away - a cycle over one mountain and a punishing climb up another which took us hours. The heat was still oppressive and we sweated an ocean as we struggled up the hill with our heavily laden bikes.
'This is agony,' said Mick at one point. 'This is hell. Lets go back to Osaka and catch a plane home.'
For one brief moment I was tempted. This ride was hard, much, much harder than I thought it would be. The heat, the mosquitoes, the hills, the strangeness, the difficulty with communicating. It was all so tiring. All I wanted was to be be back in Ilfracombe, with a fresh breeze coming off the Bristol Channel and a pint at the Ship and Pilot. The only thing that stopped me was the horrible shame of having to go home and admit we had failed.
'We can't go home at Temple Twelve,' I said. 'Lets keep going. But why don't we book a hostel when we get back to Fukoshima tomorrow. Give us a chance to do some laundry and some respite from the mosquitoes. We agreed that was what we would do.

It took us hours to get up to Temple 12. Cycling back down was rather quicker. Exhausted, we stopped at the Michi-no-Eki at Kamiyma but were dismayed to find there was no-one to camp. We asked a local chap if we could camp anywhere and he led us to a little sculpture park next to the river up in the village and told us we could camp there. Opposite was an onsen, a Japanese bath house, and as soon as the tent was up we left the mozzies to it and headed over for a long soak followed by a meal in the restaurant next door. Scrubbed up and replete we felt better and by the time we returned to our tent the breeze was fresh and the insects long gone. I had the best night's sleep since we arrived.

Cycling up to Temple 12
Temple 12

Sculpture Park, Kamiyama

The next morning we had a bit of a lie in, staying in bed until six thirty, rather than the usual five thirty rise. The road back to Tokushima was glorious, long sweeping downs through the mountains, and we were back on the outskirts of the city before we knew it. The next few temples were not taxing, set on the flat plain behind Tokushima as we wound our way past small rice fields and the houses of the suburbs. After Temple Seventeen we headed into Tokashima centre. The tourist information is well hidden on the sixth floor above the railway station but eventually we were directed to it and found someone who spoke excellent English. She booked us into a business hotel which charged us a very reasonable 5,200 yen for the two of us and we booked in.

Which is where I am now, enjoying the luxury of a shower, a bed, a laundry service and WIFI. None of this is likely to be available for some time to come.

Yes, I have a wet towel on my head.

Ps. I forgot to mention that the route to Temple 12 has an epithet: it's known as the Pilgrim Crusher.