[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 30: A Relaxing Day

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Again, I woke up before my alarm after waking up once in the night. I found it difficult to get good sleep while on the pilgrimage. I am always afraid of accidentally sleeping in, especially since I’m not a morning person. Henro wake up early and go to bed early in order to maximize travel time, which is the opposite of my natural tendencies.

I got out o bed a little after 6am, tidied myself up a little, then got my laundry hanging outside. A tank top and my pants were still damp. Oh well, not much I could do about that. It was probably too humid for them to dry properly just overnight. I packed them loosely outside my packing cubes that I normally put my clothes in, hoping they’d dry a little more and they would get more aired out than inside the packing cube. =

As I retrieved my clothes from outside, the inn owner leaned out from the kitchen door and handed me a plate of two rice balls. “For breakfast!” He said. I was totally taken by surprise. When I made the reservation, I asked for no meals, and although the onigiri weren’t as fancy as the breakfasts the other guests who paid for meals would get, it was still fresh food. The onigiri were still steaming when I brought them to my room and ate them. I had been planning on stopping by a convenience store to buy food for breakfast, but with the onigiri, I did not have to.

After eating, I finished getting ready and checked out. After I paid, the owner came back with a packed lunch for me and a small bottle of cold green tea. “Osettai!” He said. Again, I was stunned. Even the food he packed looked incredible, including more onigiri, a small piece of salmon, a rolled up omelette called tamagoyaki, fish balls, a slice of an orange, and some sort of vegetable croquette. First, he gave me a free breakfast, and now he was giving me an amazing lunch. Now I really did not have to stop at a convenience store! I gave him an osamefuda as thanks, although I felt like it wasn’t enough.

As I retrieved my rain poncho, which the inn owner had hung up for me in the foyer to let it dry, I noticed a familiar pilgrim, – the 76-year-old! We greeted each other and talked about our plans for the day, as well as lamented about the difficulties of walking through yesterday’s rain. He asked where Naoko was and I told him she took the train to find a hotel in Uchiko. He went on ahead as he had plans to go a few more kilometres further than me today and his pace was generally slow (but steady). We wished each other well.

When I had all my things together, I was on my way. Unfortunately, at one point, I missed a turn and had to backtrack some. The highway I was on would take me to Uchiko regardless, but the sidewalk seemed to end and the cars were going by quite fast, so I decided to go back and take the main henro route, which veered away from the highway.

I was a bit frustrated and somewhat regretted my choice when the path became a dirt trail, which had turned to mud and puddles due to yesterday”s rain.My shoes soon looked like a mess. Luckily, the dirt trail wasn’t too long and I returned to asphalt road.

I soon found myself in the town of Uchiko. I had kind of wanted to check things out in this town, but It was only about 10am and most places seemed closed (it was also a Saturday, so that probably did not help, either). As a result, I kept going and stopped at the Karari michi-no-eki, bought some snacks, and sat down to have a coffee. I enjoyed the warm drink (although it was tiny for what I paid) and snacked on the little cookies it came with, as well as the orange chips I had bought as a snack.

When that was done, another henro came in to also have a rest. His backpack was massive and was probably about 45L.I was in awe of his strength in walking with all that.

I moved on. The path mostly followed a two-lane road that followed the winding river through the mountains. I put on my iPod for a bit, though, because generally, today’s walk was a bit boring. I didn’t see any other henro and the scenery didn’t change a whole lot and the only sounds I had to listen to were the sounds of cars passing by. At one point, a ruck pulled over and the driver handed me two oranges as osettai, which I thanked him for.

Around 12pm, I stopped at a large rest hut for lunch. Two other older male henro were there, and when one asked me a question and struck up a conversation, I went over and handed them each an orange, the ones I had gotten as osettai. I still had the one I had received near Temple 36 and I had a fantastic lunch to look forward to, as well. One henro, the one who initially talked to me, came back and handed me a small cell phone charm as thanks. If I understood him correctly, he had made the little clay frog himself. I thanked him and tide it to my staff to replace the charm I had lost yesterday. We also traded osamefuda and his was red, which henro use when they’ve completed the pilgrimage 8-24 times! The other henro also came over and exchanged osamefuda, but we both only had white ones, which we laughed a little about.  White osamefuda are for beginner henro, ones who have done the pilgrimage 1-4times.

The henro with the massive backpack came by to rest quickly but he was one of the first to leave. Slowly, the other henro left, as well. They all seemed to be staying at one ryokan, but it was not on the main route (it was on an alternative, but longer, route to Temple 44) so I hadn’t even considered it. One henro said it was a nice ryokan, though.

I looked up the ryokan I had booked on Google and it had only two but awful reviews. I was worried and anxious. I had so far been fortunate to have stayed at  reputable minshuku, but reviews are very hard to come by for businesses in rural Shikoku. I have heard at least two stories of henro arriving at their minshuku, only to find the minshuku filthy and the hosts rude or, worse, drunk. I started making alternative plans in my head if this inn turned out to be similar.

On my way, a man in a truck stopped me and asked where I was stopping tonight. I was always a bit wary of telling random strangers where I was stopping. I told other henro so we could compare notes, but that was it.I hesitantly told him Ikadaya, and he pulled out a business card from Ikadaya, so I assumed he was the owner. He told me that the inn wouldn’t open until 3pm and it was only 1:30, implying I would be early. I thanked him and he drove off.

I took my time, walking slowly. I came across a large rest hut and sat down on its bench, tempted to doze off a bit. After a little while, the inn owner came back and told me the inn was now open. He asked if I wanted a lift, but I assured him I was ok walking. I was almost there, anyway.

When I arrived at the inn, I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the building looked very nice (and big). I checked in and the owner and his wife greeted me warmly. I had to laugh inwardly a bit when they asked if it was ok if a male henro stayed in the room next to mine. I had to reassure them multiple times that it was fine (because really, at this point in the pilgrimage, I am used to being around men! And it wasn’t like we would be sharing a room), but they still proceeded to show me how to lock my door.

They drew up a hot bath for me and I washed up, then enjoyed a nice long soak. I hadn’t had a difficult day, though. My walking, even with the backtracking, was only about 21-22km today, at most. While my feet were a bit tired, my muscles and joints felt fine. I knew tomorrow would be harder, with multiple incline, although I would be reaching the next temple, which was a perk.

Dinner was an absolute feast and the food was amazingly delicious. The “table” was the ledge of a small fire pit, where a small pile of wood was smouldering away, providing ample warmth. To my surprise, the other guest at the inn was the same henro I had seen at Matsuyama Ryokan near Temple 43 a couple of days ago. To my surprise, he knew a bit of English and we were able to converse a little. He said he was 73 and I have to applaud anyone 65+ who takes on this pilgrimage. He said that he had two single sons and would welcome me if I married one of them. I laughed. They are a bit too old for me, though.

After dinner, I relaxed in my room and got ready for the night. I was intensely relieved that my inn was not bad. In fact, it was one of the best ones I had stayed in! And the other guest was a familiar (and friendly) face. Overall, a great day. Tomorrow, temple 44, Daihoji!

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