|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.
|Ladles at Temple 26|
|Incense container Temple 26|
|Early morning brew|
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.
|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.'