[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 35: The Road to Imabari

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I was thankful that my other roommates were also starting early. That way, I didn’t feel guilty when I had to get ready for the day at 6am. I left an osamefuda and some candy for the hostel staff.

I was out by 6:45 but had to take the streetcar back to Matsuyama Station, then catch a train heading in the direction of Imabari. I had a long debate with myself about where to get off. My original plan had been to take the train almost all the way to Imabari, but I had realized that this was probably the only section of the trail that went by the Seto Inland Sea coast and I wanted to walk a bit of it at least.

I eventually settled on Iyo-Hojo Station. I technically stopped at Iyo-Wake Station yesterday, but I knew I would not have time to make it to Imabari if I started today from there. Starting from Iyo-Hojo would eliminate about 10 km of walking through mostly boring residential streets and bring me right to the coastal part of the walk. It would still mean about 28 km of walking, though.

I picked up some snacks from the train station 7-11 and then took the train to Iyo-Hoji Station. The train was full of commuters and students.

Once I got there, I was actually pretty disappointed. I was close to the coast, sure, but the road didn’t really run next to it so I couldn’t see it properly. Even when I went further on and got to walk along the coast, the sky was cloudy and hazy, blocking out most of the islands dotting the sea from view. And I was walking along a busy road. It was underwhelming and I felt a bit frustrated with my choice. Still, I had made a choice and decided to stick by it. I continued walking.

My left knee acted up again, though, and one of the problems I faced along this section of the trail was a lack of rest huts. In my guidebook, there is nearly 38 km between temples 53 and 54, but only 2 rest huts. I missed the first one because I took an alternative route, so a bit further on, I came across some benches next to a little store and vending machines.

I gratefully sat down on one, as I had been walking for a little more than 2 hours at that point. I ate an onigiri, as I hadn’t had anything for breakfast, and took some ibuprofen for my knee. Knowing I still had a while to go, I only stayed for about 10 minutes or so.

The scenery changed very little. It was warm and humid, but I was afraid to take off my coat because the forecast called for rain (and it was overcast). My knee was still sore. Aunt Flow was making me crampy. I was not in the best of moods and every time I passed by a train station, I was tempted to go in and take the train.

I somehow failed to notice the second rest hut and, around 12:30, found an elevated curb/low wall and took a seat. I just wanted to rest my feet and my knee, which was still giving me problems. It wasn’t intense pain but I knew from experience that it would likely get worse if I didn’t take care of it.

As I rested, the elderly pilgrim I took the bus with two days ago walked by. He laughed and said that we kept bumping into each other. We talked about the rain for a bit and our plan for the day, then he moved on, seemingly eager to keep moving. I remained seated for about 5 more minutes, then decided to get going, as well.

As I approached Temple 54, it started to rain. I stopped under an underpass to pull out my pack’s rain cover. As I continued to walk, I spotted the elderly henro in a cafe, probably to rest and get out of the wet. I was actually grateful for the rain, as it was nic and cool.

I reached Enmeiji, Temple 54, a little a little after 2pm. I did my usual rounds and got my book stamped. A henro who was driving asked me the usual questions – where am I from? How long am I in Shikoku for? Am I walking the whole thing? – before he left to do his own prayers. Later, as I sat on a bench under a canopy to rest, he came back to hand me a sort of energy jelly drink as osettai. I thanked him, grateful for it. I was feeling tired at that point and would need the extra energy to make the final push to Temple 55, about 4km away. I drank it right away.

As for my knee, the pain medication had worn off but I wasn’t quite due for the next dose yet. I put on some topical pain patches and dug out my knee compression bandage from my bag and put it on. When I got up and moved on, my knee felt a bit better with the extra support.

The route to the next temple took me through not one but two cemeteries. The second was actually quite a large one with a beautiful garden and cherry blossom trees. It was still raining, so I didn’t linger and I felt uncomfortable taking pictures in a cemetery, anyway.

Temple 55, Nankobo, ¨had a bit of an interesting design in that the parking lot was right inbetween the main hall and Daishi hall. I had a bit of a time trzing to orient mzself within the temple grounds. Also, the henro route didn’t bring me through the Niomon gate. Heck, even if you drove, you still wouldn’t enter through the Niomon gate. It was very confusing.

Still, I made my rounds and got my book stamped. The man who stamped my book was very friendly and tried practicing his English a little with me. After, I rested on a bench under a covered area. It was a little past 4pm and I had entertained thoughts of making it as far as Temple 56, but between my knee and the rain and the time, I thought it better to simply make it to the hostel, which was only about a kilometer away.

I found the hostel no problem. It is geared more towards cyclists who have come to or from the very scenic Shimanami Kaido, which I did about three years ago, but all types of travelers are welcome, including henro. I had only booked one night there, but asked if I could stay three instead. That way, I would have one rest day, and then one more day to make it as far as temple 59, the last temple in and around Imabari, while leaving my backpack. Then I could probably take a convenient train close to Temple 60, the next big challenge of the pilgrimage.

The staff who checked me in confirmed that I could stay for three nights, although I would have to change rooms on the last night. I was fine with that. The price was the same, so it didn’t matter much to me. I then received a great map of the area, which even pointed out some restaurants that had Imabari’s specialty foods.

After settling into my room a bit and resting, I headed out to find something to eat. I couldn’t remember the last time I sat down in an actual restaurant to eat (actually, it was back in Uwajima), so I chose a Chinese restaurant that served yakibuta-tamagomeshi, which was sunny-side up fried eggs over strips of pork over rice with a savory sauce. The combo meal I ordered also came with fried chicken, salad, and soup. I was so hungry (since I had only really eaten the onigiri, a Calorie Mate bar, the energy jelly, and a small piece of candy all day) that I nearly finished my meal. Still, I felt very satisfied and happy by the end of it.

It was still drizzing rain when I left the restaurant and made my way back to the hostel. I sat in the common area to eat some dessert I picked up at a convenience store (pudding and a matcha tea latte) and ended up chatting with a couple from Germany who had cycled half the Shimanami Kaido (they took the bus for the last half, assuming it would rain all day today, although it only rained in the evening). They were really nice and showed me many pictures. They had Imabari’s other specialty, a type of yakitori chicken, for dinner, and I said I would try the same restaurant tomorrow, as they said it was great.

Around 9:30pm, I was starting to get quite tired and bid the others goodnight and wished them well for the remainder of their trip  (they are heading to Kyushu to try some hot springs next!).

I showered, grateful to scrub off the dried sweat from my skin, and got ready for bed. For the first time in a long time, I did not set my alarm. Tomorrow would be a rest day.

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