I’m out the door shortly after 8 and Lodge Ozaki, nearly full last night, is already deserted. I wasn’t in a real hurry to get moving this morning, the blisters on my left foot nearly did me in yesterday and I seriously considered taking today off, but if I’m going to take a day off I’d rather do it in an upcoming city like Kochi rather than out in the middle of nowhere. The closest place to even get a can of beer is, as far as I can tell, a good three kilometre walk from here.
Even though my foot still hurts my knee seems to be totally fine, not even feeling any stiffness in it anymore.
It’s a really beautiful sunny day along the coast. I’m still just walking alongside the highway but there isn’t a lot of traffic and the inland side is all forest, birds everywhere. I’m feeling awesome. I am quite hungry though – dinner yesterday was a handful of peanuts, a leftover corner of a chocolate bar and two small oranges. The guesthouse didn’t have breakfast, there were no convenience stores nearby (a three km backtrack + return would’ve been necessary), and the vending machines to this point have only had coffee, water and pop. Part of this is my own fault, the guesthouse did have dinner last night but I’m so paranoid about my seafood allergies that I’m being absurdly picky. They brought each room a tray with green tea and biscuits around 7:30 pm and tasting one of the biscuits I could swear I tasted shrimp and didn’t eat any more. This paranoia was seeping into my subconscious; I woke up at 3 am after dreaming I’d eaten a huge bowl of plain white rice only to find a cache of greasy fish at the bottom, the oil of which had presumably permeated the entire bowl, shocking me out of my sleep.
I’m nearing the southern tip of the island, a place called Cape Muroto, an area designated as a “geopark”. I walk into the visitor centre hoping to find some food but it’s mostly weird stuff like dried octopus jerky. They had a little sandwich counter but only one type of sandwich, tuna. I bought a bag of what looked like Hickory Sticks but were made out of sweet potato and flavoured with garlic and tasted kind of gross. I ate about a handful and put them away, saving them until I get hungry enough that they’ll taste good.
Stopping in one of the many little rest huts along the pilgrim route I rip off my boots and put my socks out into the sun to let them dry out a bit. My feet are gross. I poke at my blisters with my fingers and pop one. Blister sauce oozes out. I pop another. Hmmm. I keep doing this for a while, wipe up the mess and sock/boot back up. It actually feels a lot better.
My map shows one restaurant along this stretch and after a few more clicks I reach it. It looks thoroughly Japanese, no English words on the front, just some beer ads. I decide to give it a try and walking up to the door a woman waves me in. She doesn’t really speak English but a guy who seems a little drunk for 11:30 am waves at me and says “Hello!” The hostess asks me “Lunch-ee?” I flip open my transliterated phrase notebook and tell her I’ve got allergies to a whole bunch of stuff. She looks concerned and says “Udon?” I say okay, “Simple?” The drunk guy says “Simple!” then follows it with Japanese, presumably and hopefully translating that for me.
I sit down and the hostess tops up the dude’s large mug of beer. He’s far from fluent but he speaks alright and seems keen on chatting me up, after finding out where I’m from he asks my name, I tell him and he points at me and says “Oh! James Bond! Double-Oh Seven!” I get this reaction a lot in Asia and it honestly doesn’t get old. He asks me about my tattoos, he really likes the snake on my arm, asks me what I think about Japanese women, tells me a bit about himself; he’s a fisherman, and leads me outside to his truck to show me a huge fish in an icy styrofoam box that he says he caught that morning. His name’s Yoshida Hayao, and as soon as he says it he repeats it letter by letter using what I think is the NATO alphabet, “Hotel Alpha Yankee Alpha…” That was weird. I ask him if he was a soldier (I say ‘was’ because he’s older) and he seems to dodge the question. I repeat it and he dodges it again. That was weird too.
My udon comes out and it’s got some stuff floating in it that I’m not quite sure about, Yoshida tells me it’s eggs and I trust him, it’s really damn good. I’ve got some rice and potato salad on the side as well, it’s all really good.
I pay up, thank the hostess and Yoshida and roll out. I pass by a few saunas and spas and the geopark promenade opens up, a set of paths with interpretive signs explaining the geological and biological history of the area.
Crossing the road I reach a little shrine, the path up the hill here to the 24th temple is behind this shrine. I’m not really sure whether I should do this right now or just take a bus into the city of Muroto… I’ve already clocked about 15 clicks, my foot feels shitty, it’s a bit of a steep climb… There’s also a bunch of stuff to see in the geopark but if I’m going to do this I need to do it now and skip all that other stuff… Fuck it, let’s do it. I start the climb
I get to the top much quicker than expected, it really isn’t as bad as I’d anticipated. At the top is temple number twenty-four, Hotsumisakji. This is the first temple I’ve walked into in almost eighty kilometres, it’s a good feeling to pull out the old nokyocho again.
The backside of the temple leads down some switchbacks. The sun comes out strong and as I head down the road I can see Muroto City ahead. When I get to the bottom I kick off my boots and socks to let everything dry out again.
Walking in takes a lot longer than I expected, but rather than find a place to stay on the edge of the city I decide to keep trucking right into the centre where temple number twenty-five, Shinshoji, can be found.
At the top of the stairs is a tour group of about fifty elderly Japanese pilgrims. They’re all overjoyed to see me slogging over the top with my huge pack (why did I not leave it at the bottom?) and a good dozen of them say hello, shake my hand, ask where I’m from, seem genuinely excited to see me there. I thank them and throw down my bag and chill for a bit – for all the stairs to get to it, it might be the least impressive temple I’ve seen yet.
After getting my nokyocho marked up at the bottom I stroll around to find a place to stay. Guidebook shows a shit ton of places right handy but I can’t seem to find any. I loop around town for a good half hour and still no luck, this is getting silly. I seriously need to learn what the Japanese characters are for “ryokan”. Eventually I do find a little place that has the word “HOTEL” in small letters above. Spending a lot more nights in hotels than I’d like but in the middle of a city camping isn’t really an option, or at least it isn’t a good one…