Estimated distance walked this day: 16 kms
Cumulative distance walked: 218 kms
This was one of my favorite days on the henro trail.
We got up in the morning, left our lovely wi-fi’d Kochi hotel for the final time, and caught a bus to Usa. After the previous day’s hell of looking for and still not gettting quite the right bus, I made a firm effort to know which bus, what color it was (orange), which platform — the whole thing.
We boarded the bus, which took over an hour to get out of town, our last spoke out of central Kochi. The bus ran along the coast, showing us little fishing villages outside the window, then ducking into a tunnel, then showing us more fishing villages. We finally got out at Usa. Usa sits at the mouth of this long inlet, called Uranouchi Bay, but it is less a bay, and more a fjord — a long, skinny arm of the sea, reaching into the mountains. Right at Usa there’s a big bridge going over the inlet, which we used to cross over to the other side. We walked along the shore, and then made it to Shoryuji. Its name is the same as the Zen temple where I used live in Kobe. The temple is set in the hill just overlooking the water. There were lots of steps — what temple set against a hill doesn’t have a lot of steps? — and we climbed up to see the temple complex’s various buildings.
The woman working at the temple stamp office didn’t know of the Shoryuji in Kobe, but she was still happy to sell me a little sticker that has the temple name written on it, as well as stamp my book.
At the bottom of the steps, after we were done, we met our first (and really, our only, so far) other foreigner henro. He was an Englishman, and he was doing the pilgrimage on the rough, sleeping in train stations, under overpasses, and at rest huts. I realize that there are plenty who do the pilgrimage this way, but it would really make the whole thing so much less feasible for me. I am so grateful that I have the money to pay for inns and hotels, that have heat, fluffy futons and beds, and hot baths!
After our conversation with this fellow, we returned back up and over the bridge to Usa. I had read that you could take a ferry through to the end of the fjord, rather than have to walk along the mountain ridges, which sounded great to both of us.
Finding the dock for this ferry proved to be quite a challenge. We walked back and forth, and asked a number of locals. It was during one of the backing and forthing that I peered into a corrigated metal building. A young man was seated there with huge cases of shellfish. He was sorting through clams. I managed to get his attention — I hated to disturb him while he was working so diligently — and asked him if he knew where this ferry was. Well, he said, it’s right around here. Really? He led me out of the building where he was working, and pointed to a spray-painted red arrow. If you followed this spray-painted red arrow around the corrigated metal building, there was a little wooden shed with a bench and a vending machine (no public toilet, though). This was it. At this point, we had spent so much time wandering around looking for this dock — far from the mighty terminals of the Washington State or BC Ferry System — that we really didn’t have time to walk back into Usa and eat lunch. I offered to race back into town, as fast as I could, while Ann watched the packs, to find food.
I got maybe just to just where the town might be said to start, and there was a tiny store. In it were three elderly Japanese ladies. I bought from them some fruit and some packages of chips. I held up the package of surimi extruded into tubes and stuffed with yam paste, and asked them if these things tasted good. Oh, they assured me, they were delicious, so I bought that too. Then I trotted back to the dock.
We sat there at the dock, leaning up against the concrete wall, and eating lunch. Then we just sat there, and watched the water ripple, the sea birds fly by, and the trees on the opposite shore gently wave in the breeze. We sat there, and then a motorboat pulled up. The captain helped us leap from the concrete dock on to the boat. We gave him six hundred yen — about six dollars — and he took off.
He motored up and down the bay, peering at the other docks to see if he had any one else waiting, but he had no other passengers. The bay had many platforms moored, with fishing boats tied up to them. I think these may be used for fish or shellfish processing, because the mountains rise up so steeply from the water. Only on these platforms would there be enough horizontal space to organize a catch.
Finally, we got to our destination of Yokonami, at the end of the bay, after about an hour of being on the boat. We got off where a bunch of teenage boys were hanging out on the dock. They got the thrill of practicing their schoolbook English on real live foreigners.
From Yokonami, we started then to hike out, into the mountains. We climbed up along a river, and then left the river to go even higher. I got a little nervous that perhaps we were not on the henro trail, and perhaps were lost, but after a while we picked up the tell-tale henro trail markers, and I was reassured that we were going the right way.
We dropped down, down, down off the mountain side, and back into the familiar landscape of rice paddies, plastic greenhouses, and vegetable fields. We crossed the Sakura River, and we could see the town of Susaki. We walked straight to the Prince Susaki Hotel, where we had our reservations, and checked in.
After shedding our things, we walked around the corner from the hotel to a ramen shop, where they served the local speciality of Nabeyaki Ramen. The noodles floated in chicken broth, with vegetables, fish cakes, and an egg on top. The hot soup, combined with a couple of draft beers, ended this scenic and spectacular day.