I woke up on and off throughout the night, so when it was time to get up, it was a bit of a struggle. I wanted nothing more than to lie down and sleep until the afternoon. However, breakfast was at 6:30 and I had a long day to look forward to.
Breakfast was another feast and I could only eat about half of it. My appetite is never the greatest in the early morning. Hideki was there, too, and we exchanged osamefuda with our mailing addresses on them. He had asked for mine so he could send me pictures he took after. After breakfast, the owner took us to the meeting hall connected to the inn, where he had pictures posted of some sort of summer festival (in May, I think?) where participants go down the river on connected rafts. After a little while, though, his wife must have told him to let us go, because then we settled our bills and were out around 7:20am – a little late, but we had more than enough time to make it to Temple 44 before it closed at 5m.
I quickly outpaced Hideki and he waved me off. The going was mostly fine, and I reached my first rest hut about 9-ish. I bought a sports drink from the nearby vending machine, as my water bottle was only 3/4 full. Hideki caught up to me by the time I left the rest hut, but again, I ended up outpacing him.
The terrain steadily became more mountainous and the road followed the Tado River. I wasn’t even tempted to put on some music because I enjoyed listening to the river and there were few cars to distract from it. It was quite peaceful and very beautiful. It’s hard to believe I only have a little less than a month at this point to complete my pilgrimage and every day, I debate about where I should walk and where I should take public transportation to speed things up a bit, but I was glad I hadn’t skipped out on walking this section.
However, I knew it would only get more difficult. The road had more and more inclines, though gradual, and I made myself slow down a bit to conserve my strength. I couldn’t see Hideki, although there were many bends in the road, limiting visibility.
When the road ended and became a hiking trail, I prepared myself for a steep climb. Fortunately, it was a short one, but it was still exerting. Then the road went back donwn into a little village, and a bit past the village, I gratefully sat down at a small rest hut opposite a small cemetery. Sitting there and staring back at a small cemetery was a bit strange,but I was just grateful to be sitting. I signed the rest hut’s guestbook, ate a snack, and took a moment to press my thumbs into my sore feet. I kept looking down the road to see if Hideki would show up, but after about ten minutes, he didn’t, so I picked up my things and kept going.
The road became an incline again. At one point, I passed another bus stop/rest hut that had.a chalk board on it. I laughed when I saw that Jack, the Italian henro I had met on day 1, had written an encouraging message on it and drawn a picture of himself (the beard gives him away). I was glad to see that he had made it at least this far and wondered where he was at that moment.
The path, again, became a dirt hiking trail. Or rather, it was more of a mud hiking trail, although thankfully, it had dried up just enough to make it walkable. My feet enjoyed the soft earth, though, compared to walking on hard asphalt. The trail was in good shape and only the odd twig would try to trip me up. Part of the way up, I gratefully sat on a bench to catch my breath a little and drink some water, then continued on. I was exhausted but the incline just kept going and going I longed for anotherrest. The trail got steeper and my legs felt like jelly due to fatigue, but then I saw a bench further up. Another break! I scrambled up to the bench, then saw the sign that indicated I had made it to the top of the Hiwata-to Pass at an elevation of 790m! I celebrated by taking a rest on the bench and finishing my sports drink. I was pretty damn happy I had made it, as I had thought I still had a little while left to go.
It was also encouraging because I knew that Temple 60, Yokomineji, was at an elevation of roughly 800m. Granted, it was straight up rather than having a break in the middle like today’s trail, but it gave me hope that I would be able to manage it. I might feel like dying while climbing up, but I could do it. It is sometimes regarded as the most difficult temple to get to because of its elevation. It used to be Unpenji, Temple 66, but now that it can be accessed by ropeway, the honour went to Yokomineji, which has to be walked to.
It was actually very peaceful sitting up there and I probably could have stayed there for a long time it’s it wasn’t for the fact that I had to find a toilet! So, I made my way down the mountain and used the outhouse near the next rest hut. It wasn’t a great place to pee, but it was something.
Going down the mountain wasn’t too bad except for the sections of the trail that were mostly rocks, still a bit damp and slippery. I was grateful to having my walking staff, although I wished for a second.
When I got to Kuma Kogen, I was surprised to find they were still celebrating Hina Matsuri, or the doll festival. Many stores and businesses had big doll displays, which were interesting to look at. I had thought that Hina Matsuri was over by now,but perhaps not. As I made my way up to Temple 44, the dark clouds thickened and it began to rain. I took cover under an overhang next to a vending machine and got out my poncho. I took the opportunity to snack on an onigiri the Ikadaya inn had given to me as osettai, hopping that the heavy downpour would at least lighten up by the time I finished eating. Unfortunately, it was not to be, so I pulled on the poncho and made my way up the hill to Daihoji, Temple 44.
I did my usual rounds around the temple, and of course, by the time I got there, the rain had lightened up some. I took off my poncho and made my prayers, though a bit quickly because it was cold. Then I sat at a bench and ate the other onigiri as a late lunch.
While there, I bumped into a couple of familiar faces- two foreign henro that I had passed twice but never managed to talk to. I found out the man was from the Netherlands while the woman from Americaand they had met on the pilgrimage and have been walking together. Another pair of foreign henro also came by from Austria. I commented that this was probably the largest group of foreign henro I had seen in one gathering so far!
Hideki also made it to Daihoji, and I was very happy he had made it through the mountain passes ok, especially with the rain. We chatted bit before he left to do his prayers.
I then returned to town and bumped into yet another pair of foreign henro, two sisters from Holland. I found out they were also staying at Omogo Ryokan like I was. They asked me if I knew where it was, but I hadn’t found it yet, either, although I knew it was somewhere on the street we were on. Sure enough, I looked up, and the sign (in Japanese) was there! I pointed it out to them and they thanked me, as they could not read any Japanese, even hiragana (the sign was in hiragana, which was the only reason why I could read it in the first place!).
I went on to find the convenience store to pick up some drinks and snacks for tomorrow, then brought it back to the ryokan, where I checked in, brought my things to my room, and washed up. Dinner was another feast but unfortunately was stone cold, save for my rice and tea. I ate what I could.
One of the sisters from Holland came to talk to me at dinner, especially since the proprietress was trying to ask her something and wanted my help translating. She asked if I could help with making them reservations for the next few days. I was flattered but warned them that my Japanese was barely passable, but I would try.
So, after dinner, I went to their room and chatted with them for a while. We traded stories and experiences, and it was nice to be able to have full conversations with people in English. Then I did my best to make reservations for them – difficult but I somehow managed…I think. We talked a little more, and when it started to get a bit late, I bid them goodnight and they thanked me with their personal card and an origami crane :)