To the Shore

I’m an unpleasant person this morning. After staying up until almost midnight as new people arrived at the guesthouse, three drunk assholes stormed in at 2:30 in the morning and made no effort to be stealthy about it, horsing around with each other and giggling incessantly. I take a train back to Awa-Fukui with my full pack and I’m looking forward to sleeping alone in my tent tonight, even though there may be a storm coming in and I may end up soaked, freezing and hypothermic.

The primary route that runs southwest from Awa-Fukui runs next to a major road for a good 20 kilometres. Although it was longer and looked tougher elevation-wise, I turned to the south to follow a scenic route within a stone’s throw of the ocean. Six kilometres took me over a pass and into the little fishing town of Yuki where I picked up half a loaf of bread, a block of cheese, some nuts and a bit of chicken. I made a sandwich on the front steps of the grocery store then got back to it. A second steep climb took me through another pass and then dropped me onto Tainohama Beach.

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I walk through another little fishing village named Kiki a km or two later.

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After Kiki the route leaves the roads and turns to dirt. Loose surface and decent incline, with the full pack I’m sweating but it’s a beautiful walk and I’ve got the trail to myself.

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It drops me down into a third little fishing village, a smaller one than the previous two, then opens up into another beach. I walk past a group of about a dozen kids and adults playing baseball on a large lawn, throw down my pack next to the beach and flip open my book. An older lady walks over to me and tries to engage with me even though she speaks no English and she quickly finds out I speak no Japanese. Undeterred she grabs my book and stares at the page I’m looking at and thumbs different features, asking (I think) what I’m looking for. I’ve still got some miles left on my boots and some time before the sun sets but I’m pretty wiped from getting woken up last night so I point to a campsite. She looks up and yells over to the family playing baseball. One of the woman yells back and after a lot of Japanese she says “Okay!” The woman takes me by the arm and leads me onto the lawn. Oh, this *is* the campsite. The woman playing ball speaks a bit of English, basically just enough to tell me throw down my shit on the lawn and wait for her grandfather, the owner. He comes by a few minutes later, shows me how to work the hot shower and takes my five bucks.

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I set up my tent and plop my arse down. I could go to sleep right now but that’d be stupid because it’s only 5 pm. I reckon a few beers will keep me up but there’s none to be found in this little village. My maps shows it’s about 3 kilometres into the town of Hiwasa so I head that way and half an hour later I’ve got a six-pack in my bag. I walk down to the now-dark beach which I have completely to myself, throw my hood up as the temperature drops and sip the beers. It looks like maybe I’ve lucked out – no rain yet.

Around beer four my luck changes and drizzle comes. Back to the campground I sit under an awning near the showers and finish the last few beers. By the last one the rain has come on a bit more but it’s still not too bad. Once the beers are gone I crawl into my sleeping bag and pass out pretty quick.

I wake up around 1 am and it’s raining hard. The wind is whipping my tent around to the point that water’s getting in – the foot of my sleeping bag is wet, as are some of my clothes. I try to tighten down my cover and clean up as best as possible but I’m not getting back to sleep and I’m up until 3 am, when the rain starts to back off.

Around 6:30 am I wake up and I’m in full-blown fetal position, balled up inside my bag and shaking. I somehow go back to sleep after an hour or so.

A couple hours later I’m packing up all my wet shit in the rain that’s still coming down. On the narrow coastal road I see something (I can’t tell what) move across the road and seconds later a massive brown/gold eagle dives down a mere fifteen feet in front of me, grabs it, gives me a dismissive glance and takes off. Even with fatigue and heavy pack I’m pretty sure I jumped into the air as I yelled “HOLY FUCK!”

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m tired or because all my shit is waterlogged but my bag feels way heavier than it did yesterday as I walk down the road and back in Hiwasa to get to temple 23, Yakuoji.

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Hiwasa is a turtle-themed town – I guess sea turtles lay their eggs here. The brickwork of the sidewalks is in turtle-shaped patterns, there’s turtle-related art everywhere, and a turtle museum.

There’s an onsen a short walk from Yakuoji and I briefly debate just taking a day off and relaxing in a hot spring, but decide to suck it up and keep going. Today’s walk does what I tried to avoid yesterday, following a major road either on a sidewalk or just on the shoulder. It’s cold – I can see my breath. The rain keeps coming. Traffic roars past. This kind of sucks.

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A little past noon I stop into a lonely cafe by itself in the hills to warm up and jump on the Wi-Fi. I build up the gumption to get out into the rain just as the sun comes out. “Overjoyed” would understate how I felt when the clouds broke. I was going up to pay as I noticed it and I actually did a little jump and a shouted a woo and high-fived one of the waitresses in my excitement, I was surprised she put her hand up to get fived and she was embarrassed once she did, hahah.

The next few hours were fantastic. My pants dried out, my underwear soon after that. Rain pants might not be a bad idea…

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By late afternoon I’d clocked a good twenty clicks and I was coming up on the town of Mugi. The map showed an abandoned elementary school just north of town so I spent twenty minutes on a side road looking for it as a place to camp but without any luck. Inside of town the guidebook had a star for a “recommended lodging” called Azuma. I hadn’t stayed in any of these “recommended” places yet so I figured to give it a shot.

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Azuma looks a bit rundown from the outside. I slide the door open and walk into what looks like a restaurant. An elderly couple greet me but don’t really speak much English. A lot of hand-waving confirms the upstairs is a guesthouse but they aren’t serving food today. I’m okay with that. The lady of the place is a real talker, even though I make it very clear I have no idea what she’s saying she keeps going and going. She leads me upstairs and shows me the room – it’s pretty nice, tons of room, a TV, and most importantly I have it to myself. Beauty. I throw down my gear and she walks out, but comes back in a minute later to show me how the heater works. A few minutes later she comes back in as she remembers she didn’t show me the bathroom. I pull out my laptop and she comes back in, this time I’m not sure for what – but she’s inches away from my face and staring at my laptop screen. She comes back again as I’m opening my bag to let some wet things air out and she starts opening the windows and insisting I hang things out, which I do. There’s something very un-Japanese about all this – besides talking constantly she’s getting very close to me each time, poking me in the chest with her finger seemingly to emphasize certain points. It’s all very strange but it seems like the couple have gone to bed and turned off all the lights downstairs by 7:30, so I’m left to watch sumo wrestling on my futon in peace.

The next morning is beautiful and I feel great after sleeping in a private room for the first time in nearly two weeks.  I try to pack up my gear silently and slip out but the older woman running the place slides open my door and starts pointing at everything and talking.  She comes over and pokes me in the chest again.  That’s getting really old.  I slide out, hit up a 7/11 for a breakfast of a yogurt cup and peanuts and start heading out of town.  I’m no more than five minutes down the road when I hear honk honk honk honk…  A car pulls over directly behind me, it’s the couple who run Azuma and the lady’s holding out my rain jacket, which I seem to have forgotten on a hanger.  I thank both of them profusely.  She pokes me in the chest again.

I’m out of town and the scenery is awesome.

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I get to a tunnel but there seems to be an alternate route to the side.  It’s so nice out it seems like a shame to be stuck in a tunnel with noise and exhaust so I veer off the left and after cutting through some yards head up some stairs.  It leads to a shrine but there doesn’t seem to be a continuation of the path and I have to turn back.

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I walk for several hours, passing through one cove after the next along with a handful of little villages.

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I’m loving the weather but for the first time on this walk I’m feeling blisters coming up.  I’m trying to ignore them but my left foot especially is really screaming.  Will probably have to put a needle to them later.  I take a break on a block of concrete sticking out into one of the rivers I’m crossing over, take my shitkickers off and let my socks dry out in the sunshine.  While doing this I notice another two blisters coming up on my right foot.  Hrm.

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Walking along the river I can hear frogs everywhere, haven’t heard them like that since I was a kid.  When I reach the town of Shishikui I’ve covered over twenty clicks and it’s not even 1 pm, this day is going great.  There are a bunch of places to stay here but instead I decide to head through a tunnel which takes me over a bit of a milestone, the border into Kochi Prefecture.

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I reach the beach town of Kannoura and cut down a side road looking for a campground that my guidebook shows.  I can’t seem to find it so I chill on the beach for a bit and scarf down some peanuts.  It’s still early but this seems like a good little place to chill, maybe get a few beers and a snack and kick up my feet before hitting the tent.  I eventually figure out the “campground” is just a patch of lawn next to the beach but it’s an exorbitant $12 to stay a night.  I cough it up anyways, but wish I hadn’t as I find out a few minutes later there isn’t even a shower to use, most refreshing thing I’ve got access to is a heated seat on the campground shitter.

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The town’s really small so I do a loop and pick up a six-pack at a little grocery store.

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I’m sitting on a picnic table as the store and campground office close for the night.  The girl who rented me the site comes over with another guy and they give me a bag of oranges and wish me luck and tell me if I want dinner there’s a place up the road called “Aunt Dinah’s” that I should check out.

After I kill the six-pack I head up and I’m blown away.  There’s a big American flag on the wall next to a banjo and a guitar and George Jones is playing.  It’s all classic country, mostly sounds like it’s from the 60s and 70s but some sounds really old and lo-fi, probably from the 40s.  This is not at all what I expected but I’m loving it.  The owner speaks English and she brings me an English menu – the place advertises “ethnic food” but the ethnicity is my own, it’s a lot of classic western food.  I decide to go with a Japanese-style curry instead and it’s amazing.  I also suck down two more beers and I’ve got a pretty good buzz on when I head back to my tent.

The next morning I’m back to feeling miserable.  Once again I froze in the tent and barely slept.  I’m packed up and on my way out, coughing up a big wad of goobers when I hear “Hi, henro?”  It’s a white guy with a backpack, his name’s Ian and he’s from the last place where I had a fixed address, Brisbane.  He’s a photographer and unlike myself a legit hiker, having done the PCT and the Appalachian Trail in the US and on his second go of the Shikoku trail.  I shoot the shit with him for a good half hour, he’s got lots of good tips, but it’s getting on in the day so I shake his hand and get a move on.

It’s a little bit cold and grey so not overly shitty but good luck telling me that.  Besides being tired my blisters are going mad now, I pull off my boots to find blisters forming under existing blisters.  Hurts like a bitch and I’m hobbling after just an hour.  I pass by about half a dozen other walkers in the morning, at one point I’m sitting on a piece of cement next to the road and popping blisters with a needle and a grimace when a guy walks up to me and with a look of disgust on his face asks, “Are you alright??”  His name’s Matt and he’s from upstate New York, just finished a teaching gig in Thailand and having a go at doing this.  He waits for me to finish bandaging myself up and we walk together for about a mile when we reach a shaded resting point, I wish him luck and keep going while he takes a seat.

I’m so pissed off at my feet and sleeping like shit that I only take one pic the whole day.  It was really pretty decent scenery, hugging the rocky coast.

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I’m not feeling any happier when I completely rip the crotch out of my only pair of pants.  It’s already been mended once but there’s no fixing this, I can almost fit both my fists in the hole.  I keep walking in them but I’m down to one pair of shorts and swim trunks and I’m 100+ km from the nearest city.

In a tiny little settlement I’m hesitant to even call a village I stop into a guesthouse labelled as “recommended” by the guidebook.  Again it’s an older couple who don’t speak English but neither of them poke me in the chest so that’s cool.  I throw my stuff down and chill out for the evening.

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