I am calling today "the day of the frog". I will explain later. Breakfast was at 6 am, so I could get an early start. It was a Japanese style breakfast, where on the main plate was two fish about 4 inches long that were smoked with their heads still on. I wasn't sure about eating it since it also had not been cleaned. So I thought what the heck and used my chopsticks to remove the head and bit in. To my surprise it was very tasty. I needed the energy to make it through the day so ate them both. Rest of breakfast was miso soup, rice, cabbage salad, small dried fish, pickled green vegetable, dicon, and some other dishes which are hard to explain. It was all tasty, except couldn't eat the fish heads. I noticed the owner watching me, I guess to see what I was eating. I could see a little smile on her face, when the foreigner plate was bare at the end of breakfast. I learned asking for more rice was definitely ok. It was nice to have breakfast with fellow ohenos. We sat with the man and wife couple, who we met at the udon restaurant the first day. Michio gave me his business card with his website, where he collects earpicks, which have a nice carved handles (http://www.geocities.jp/santafujp/).
So I said my farewell to Kaz and I left around 6:30 am. Kaz was heading back to Tokyo and I was on my own to see if I could do the pilgrimage with my limited Japanese speaking skills. I had to take a short walk back to temple 11 to start the trail to temple 12. I used the voltaren cream for relief of muscle pain on my hip flexors and quads last night. Thanks to a recommendation from my friend Bob (in Toronto), they felt fine this morning. At the start of the climb there were a lot of steps with these small houses with a statue of Buddha and Kobo Daishi. One of the fellow ohenro's mentioned each one represented one of the 88 temples. I took some pictures with my camera but not for the blog. It was an immediate hard climb. It reminded me of the Gatineau hills outside Ottawa but much steeper. There were beautiful views along the way. Loved all the ferns and moss. The first picture is of one of the many statues and markers, that marked the way,
I stopped at a small spring and when I went to take a drink, I could hear this funny noise along with the birds singing (picture #2). It took me awhile to figure it was frogs croaking. I stayed and listened. One of the ohenro that passed by while I rested mentioned that it was salamanders. I tried to record the sound with no success. It made my day, hence "the day of the frog". By this time, I figured I had finished the hard climb. Boy, was I wrong.
The second climb was brutal. Each step was an effort. Just as you thought you were near the top, around the corner was an never ending steep climb. Then around the last corner there were steps, and you looked up at a large statue of Kobo Daishi (picture 3). I thought, I have been saved and was there at the temple, only to find out it was only a shrine and overnight shelter.
Then there was a steep downhill, which was hard on the shins. At the bottom, I could see some roof tops through the trees and thought I am there, at the temple. Well, fooled again. It was a shrine. Then another hard climb and when I started downhill, I could see roof tops. Fooled again. Had to cross the road and through more mountain paths.
Then there was a third killer of a mountain to climb. My legs were painful. Thankfully, my hiking boots were working well and no blisters. However, I thought for sure I missed the temple, haven't taken a wrong turn, since I didn't see any fellow ohenros. My mind was starting to make me a "doubling Thomas" and the climb got steeper and steeper.
At this point, I thought I hadn't seen another ohenro for awhile. Had I indeed made a wrong turn. However, every once in awhile, there was a statue of Kobo Daishi. Sometimes, I would find this nice red flower that had just fallen off the tree and would pick one up and carry it for awhile, then place it at the base of the statue. It looks like some one takes care of them along the way, as many have a nice new red bib.
Finally, I made it to the home stretch, and found some ohenros resting. Then I was determined to find the gate to temple 12. It was 11:30 am, 5 hours, like Kaz mentioned it would take. When I arrived at the temple, I had to find a place to sit and take off my pack at the temple. I quickly got a bottle of poco sweat to drink as the two bottles of juice I took with me to drink was long gone.
After a rest, I did my temple routine. When I went to get my book stamped the young monk said, in perfect English, only one. I said after that climb I should get 10. He laughed and thanked me for the Canada pin. Most times they ask where you are from.
After resting and talking to some fellow ohenro's, I have seen the last 2 days, they asked if I was up to another hour climb to the shrine where there was a nice view. I said no, maybe next time. I better be on my way. I would have loved to stay at the temple for the night and enjoy the temple surroundings and views.
Then on the way down I ran into an American, who was doing the pilgrimage in the opposite direction. I said he was a brave soul. We chatted for a bit and he is now living in Japan and has done it a number of times.
Then as I was coming down the mountain, I came across a wet hillside with my frogs croaking again. I stopped for a minute to listen to them, but decided I needed to be on my way. It was like they were saying goodbye, enjoy your day and ohenro walk.
When I made it to the bottom of the mountain to the first rest stop with washrooms, I started to realize I was never going to make it to my minshuku in time. When, I started up the next mountain path, I checked my guide book and had about 15 to 20 km to go. I would never make it before darkness fell as I was so tired. I didn't want to be trying to walk the mountain path in the dark. I walked back to the washroom area (the last place of civilization). I went into a place, I thought was a restaurant, and asked a lady if she could call a taxi. She said no and directed me towards the car park by the washrooms, where there were tour buses stopped, so the bus pilgrims could use the washroom and there were small stands selling fruits and vegetables. I thought I am too embarrassed to admit I am too tired to continue walking to ask for a ride, with my limited Japanese speaking skills and felt like a wounded dog walking with my tail between my legs as I walked back to the washroom car park area. Then the woman came chasing after me yelling. She went up to one of the bus drivers and asked if they would call for a taxi. I showed them where I was booked to stay and they called and said to sit and wait on the bench outside the washroom. The taxi would be here in 10 minutes (is the message I think they were saying). Well, it was the longest 10 minutes in my life, as I watched other ohenros walk by, so embarrassed. Then I thought they probably just think I am resting. When the taxi arrived and the bus driver explained where I wanted to go to, I was never so happy in all my life. It is amazing what small things can bring you joy when you are feeling lost, down and out.
The taxi ride was a quiet one, as I tried to speak some Japanese, but did poorly at my attempt. It was a good time to try and wash away these helpless feelings I had, while sitting waiting for the taxi. I arrived at the guest house safe and sound. It was like a Business Hotel with my own bathroom. I was never so glad to take off my sweaty clothes, wash them and have a nice warm shower. I inspected my feet and no blisters. All the recommendations for foot care were sound advice. The socks and boots are working well. When I find my feet getting hot I remove my boots and try to cool off my feet.
The last picture is of the stairs to temple 12. A piece of cake, compared to what I just climbed.
Early start planned for tomorrow. Hopefully, it will be an easier day.