It’s kind of ironic that Day 13 of my pilgrimage was also the worst day of my life.
Now, that may be a little bit of an exaggeration, but the day as a whole was miserable and just fucking horrible. I’d been watching the weather and some pretty serious low pressure systems were forecast to pass over Kochi. Being an Australian, I don’t really believe weather forecasts until it’s literally raining on my head and it wasn’t raining when I woke up and began my walk, so when it did start to rain horizontally and the wind nearly blew me off a fucking bridge, I began to believe.
I had breakfast in my hotel at 6:30am – which was a surprisingly good Japanese buffet. Then I checked out and said goodbye to my bag for 10 days. When I said that I’d be back on the 27th and it was only the 17th, the staff gave me a slightly funny look, but the pilgrim outfit gets you a get-out-of-jail-free-card every time.
I hopped on a bus for the 30 minute ride back to where I left off yesterday and headed straight for temple 33, Sekkeiji.
It started sprinkling while I was at the temple, so I pulled out my umbrella, hoping it would stop and headed for the next temple, which was about 90 minutes away.
I was actually quite happy to be heading into ‘unchartered’ territory, in the sense that I was travelling into areas I hadn’t been to before as opposed to the last five days which had essentially been back-tracking over what I had already travelled over by train and bus to get to the starting area.
Temple 34, Tanemaji has an awesome post in the ground that looks like a ginormous pilgrimage staff.
It was 10kms to the next temple but I was planning on stopping for lunch on the way at Moss Burger! Honestly speaking, I was super excited about the prospect of a chicken teriyaki burger and fries and I think it helped me cope with the rain. As I walked, the rain became heavier and heavier and I had to take refuge under a shop front to change into my first layer of wet weather gear and pull the water proof cover up over my back pack. While I was doing that, I noticed the delightful house across the road which looked like it should be in Disneyland:
Of course, as soon as I put on the proper wet weather gear, it fined up a little and I was soon sweaty, but then it started raining in earnest again and the river I was walking along was flowing well.
Further along, the path took me over the Niyodo river which is one of Japan’s cleanest and most beautiful rivers and when the weather is good, it looks like this:
Of course, when I passed over it, it looked like this:
I later discovered on the news that it had basically been a typhoon-like spring storm with 240mm of rain falling and wind speeds over 100kms. I’d totally believe that.
I rolled (slushed?) into Moss Burger at about 11:30am which was before their lunchtime rush and there wasn’t anyone else in the restaurant so I had a good chance to strip off my wet gear, change socks and just get my shit together.
Lunch was also yummy.
On the way to the next temple, I was planning on stopping by a taxi company’s office that apparently lets you leave your backpack there while you hike up the mountain to Temple 35, Kiyotakiji. It was only about 2.5km up to the temple, but I was very glad that I had left my backpack behind. The road was steep and slippery and the rain was just gushing down, soaking my socks and feet. It would have been a nice view from the temple, had it have been fine.
I discovered the difficulties of lighting candles and incense in the rain.
There were a lot of people at the temple and I spoke to one of the elderly ladies and she said they were locals celebrating a holy day. The monk was there leading chanting and I wondered how the people had actually made it up the mountain and then I saw them all pile into mini-vans and it all became clear.
After completing my temple rituals, I headed into the stamp room. It was actually one the weirdest stamp rooms I had been in – looking more like a library – and it was filled with signs saying , “No photos!” and “Wait quietly!”. I actually tried to sneak a photo as the stamp gentleman sat writing in another pilgrim’s book, but he stood up just as I took it so I quickly shoved my camera away.
The path back down was slippery and I knew I`d need to take it slow.
I returned to my backpack and bought a can of hot coffee from the vending machine to try and warm up. I also changed into my last remaining dry pair of socks and prepared myself for another 3hrs of trudging along in the pouring rain. The wind was picking up and I was hoping it wouldn’t get worse.
But it did. And just for reference, this is what the weather radar looked like at the time I was trying to get to my hotel:
I also managed to get lost trying to get to the next temple and wandered around until I found a man who kindly told me the way. Being lost in the rain is not the most fun experience.
After leaving the town there was a mountain pass that I was supposed to go over, but I decided to take the tunnel instead because of the horrendous weather. I took a stop here at this pilgrim hut and had another drink and put on my reflective gear for the tunnel.
Fortunately the tunnel had a footpath and a barrier so even though there was a lot of traffic, I felt quite ok for the almost 2km length.
The rain on the other side of the tunnel was heavier and standing between me and my hot spring bath and bed for the night was this exceptionally exposed bridge:
Attempting to walk over this bridge was the scariest experience of my life. I was literally holding onto the railing along the side of the bridge with one hand and holding my staff in a deathgrip with my other hand. The bridge was high and the wind was blowing me onto the road and I was scared that something like a part of a roof or a sign was going to wipe me out. I inched over that bridge trying very, very hard not to look down and I got about half way and desperately wanted to turn back, but there was no other way to get to my hotel so I had no choice. I was very fortunate that there was another pilgrim a few hundred metres in front of me that I just focused on and finally made it over. I wanted to take a photo or a video while I was on the bridge, but I was just too scared of letting go of the railing to even get my phone out.
It was almost dark when I reached the hotel, Sanyousou. It was a traditional ryokan-style hotel and they handed me towels from their free foot spa next to the entrance to dry off before I went in to check in.
They also informed me that they had a shoe-drying service for pilgrims if I wanted to hand them over. (I actually had plans that involved towels and a hairdryer so I declined.)
The room was nice and actually had a large bathtub, but nothing could keep me out of the hot spring which I had all to myself and was restorative. (Except the outdoor bath was so full of leaves and twigs from the surrounding trees that were nearly being blown down in the gale that it was a bit icky.)
I saw a few other pilgrims arriving much later than me while I was pottering around washing my clothes. The wind and rain sounded even worse and I was glad I made it over the bridge when I did.
Dinner was quite nice and I had a plum wine to steady my nerves.
Walking in wet socks and shoes had given me lovely blisters on both of my feet that would cause me grief for the next week.
And the page of the map that I needed for tomorrow was so torn and wet that I wondered if I`d be able to salvage it.
I spent most of the evening trying to dry all my gear. Everything was wet from all three pairs of socks to my gloves and the spongey handgrip of my staff. I started getting creative and draped my hat and gloves over the hot water thermos pot and found that it was a great way to dry them (that I would use later!)
I was exhausted mentally and physically that day and fell into bed as soon as I could.