Estimated distance walked this day: 18 kms
Cumulative distance walked: 202 kms
After the baking heat of the day before, well, it started to rain. And I don’t mean some gentle sprinkling. It pounded rain all night.
We woke up, and it was not slacking one iota. Damn. We walked out to the bus station, and there was about a half dozen possible places to catch a bus, everyone was cramming on buses because of the rain, and the pages of my guide book were sticking together and wrinkling. My ability to ask people for help in these trying circumstances were limited. For some reason, I couldn’t retain either the name of where the bus was supposed to be bound for — Takaoka Eigyosho-mae — nor the name of our actual destination — Sakai-machi. I had to keep on opening up the stupid guide book, try to find the page, try to find the tiny writing on the page, and ask the bus driver, while people were desperately trying to get on and off the bus, the pages were sticking together, and it was coming down in buckets.
Finally, we got to the right place to catch the bus, but I don’t remember what exactly went wrong — it might have just been that we were too late, and were now in the infamous DEAD ZONE of no public transportation after rush hour. So, rather than catching the bus that went within 30 minutes walk of the temple, it was more like a bus that went within 45 minutes walk of the temple. Still, close enough.
We were one of the few people on the bus, and the young driver was very concerned that we would find our way, considering that we were not exactly on the right bus. We finally got off at more or less the right place, and set out in the driving rain. We soon passed by Haruno hot springs, and the desire to simply bob around in hot water all morning, rather than walk to some temple in a downpour, was pretty strong.
Still, we soldiered on past the hot springs resort, and found our way to Tanemaji, which was pretty much in the countryside. This is a temple to pray for safe childbirth, and you are to purchase a wooden rice ladle and write your petition to Kannon, the boddhisatva of mercy. If you deliver your baby without difficulty, you are to return the paddle with a hole punched out of it, as proof of the success of divine intervention.
After Tanemaji, we headed out to Kiyotakiji, Temple 35. The rain started to slack a bit as we left, and I had some hope that maybe it was going to clear. My quick-dry pants were starting to quick-dry. But as we walked along the rice paddies, it soon became clear that this hope was for naught. It soon returned to raining, and raining hard.
My guidebook indicated that there was a restaurant called Raku along the way, and though I kept my eyes peeled for it, it never appeared. We joined the very busy Route 56 highway to cross the Niyodo River. At this point, I felt it was ridiculous to make any effort to keep my feet dry. Every foot step made a splorching noise, as rainwater seeped out of the eyelets of my boots. I just walked straight through the puddles streaming water off the highway.
The bridge was a good half km just to do the crossing. When we came off the bridge, we stepped briefly into a shrine just to get a little shelter. Two stray cats were sprawled on dirty cushions at the shrine, enjoying their little patch of dry. We couldn’t quite find our way on to the official henro trail, so we resumed walking on Route 56 instead. I was ravenously hungry, and needed lunch, right then. Fortunately, there was a noodle shop not far. We stepped in the steamy roadhouse. It was filled with truck drivers and other working men — we were the only women. It was self-serve – they handed you a bowl with broth and noodles, and you chose the toppings off of a rack, then paid the cashier. This worked really well for us, as it took very little language skills. I got mixed vegetables, dominated by squash, and a piece of chicken in mine. We parked ourselves at one of the counters, rainwater streaming off of us, and slurped down the hot soup and noodles.
It took a heroic effort of will to leave the noodle shop, and return to the slop outside. But we did. We left the busy highway to walk through the little town of Tosa, and then were on the proper henro trail to get up to Kiyotakuji. As we left town, something close to miraculous happened. It stopped raining. A patch of blue appeared. As we climbed up the hill, the blue patch became bigger. The sun came out. I took off my jacket. We wound our way, up, up, and then finally, made it to the temple.
It was now sparkling clear, and we had a magnificient view of the entire valley. After doing our temple rituals, and getting our book stamped, we parked ourselves at some benches outside the temple office. Ann took off her socks and wrung them out. Streams of dirty water issued forth.
We then descended the hill. On the way down we met a woman that we had met at Shosanji, Temple 12. This would happen from time to time – we would get left behind by faster walking pilgrims, but catch up to them later because we were using the bus or train. It was nice to see her again.
It took some navigational skills to make it to Takaoka Eigyosho on the way down, and I had some brief concerns that we had gone astray, but we made it there after all. It had all the hallmarks of Japanese civilization: a bench, a vending machine offering cold and hot beverages, and a public toilet. What more could weary travellers ask for, while waiting for the bus?
We sat there comfortably until our bus rolled up, and we got on board. It was a solid hour or so bus ride back to Kochi, but that was OK. It was no longer raining. We ate some seared tuna sushi with a couple of draft beers at a grill near the hotel. Then, once back, stuffed newspapers into our boots to help finish the drying process, had hot baths, and went to bed.