I woke up before my alarm around 5:30am or so, and simply laid in my warm, comfortable futon until my alarm actually went off. I heard the gentle patter of rain and when I got up to look out the window…yup, rain. I really wasn’t looking forward to walking through rain. I quickly got ready and packed up most of my things, then headed downstairs for breakfast.
Only one other person was having breakfast as early as I was and, of course, it was another henro. The other guests were probably sleeping in a little. He only spoke Japanese, though, so we couldn’t converse much.
After breakfast and finishing packing, I headed out by about 7:20. My ryokan was right on the main henro route, so I simply had to make a left after stepping out their gate and follow the arrows again. The route markers were a bit sparse, though, so I had to check my map occasionally. Only perhaps a half hour into my walk, I realized the rain was quite steady and a bit heavy, so I stopped under a covered area (possibly an old bus stop) to take off my sweater and put on my rain poncho. I had debated for weeks about getting rid of it or not, but today, I was intensely glad to have it.
I walked for about two hours until I reached a rest hut. I gratefully took cover under its roof, took off my poncho and hat, and relaxed on a bench.
Past this point, I knew the road would split. The main henro route took one up a mountain trail in order to bypass the ~1100m Tosaka Tunnel. The tunnel, I knew, could be walked but it did not have a dedicated pedestrian lane, so it was a bit dangerous. My big decision for the day was whether to take the mountain trail or the tunnel. My usual answer would be to avoid the long tunnel and take the beautiful mountain trail, but in the heavy rain, I was less certain. Both options did not sound appealing. The mountain trail would be wet, muddy, and perhaps a bit dangerous. The tunnel was dark, filled with exhaust fumes, and was also dangerous due to traffic.
As I mulled this over, a familiar figure came up the hill – Naoko! She also stopped at the rest hut to have a snack and get out of the rain for a bit. We talked a little and discussed which route we planned to take. We came to the decision that the tunnel woul probably be better. If the weather was nicer, we would have taken the mountain trail, but in these conditions, the tunnel sounded ever so slightly more appealing. Barely. Just barely.
As I had already been resting for 15 minutes, I went ahead while Naoko finished her snack. Shortly after the rest hut, the route did fork and I stuck by my decision to walk through the tunnel. I was praying to God that I would make it out safely. Fortunately, there were neon green and yellow belts with reflective strips on them for walking henro to help make us more visible in the dark tunnel. I wrapped one around the top of my walking staff, one around my backpack, and draped a third around my shoulders.
I went in and walked as quickly as I could, hugging the wall of the tunnel as much as humanly possible. There wasn’t a whole lot of room for me to walk, and passing cars and trucks felt quite close at times. I made sure to hold the top of my staff nice and high, hoping drivers would notice it. Thankfully, I made it out alive and breathed a sigh of relief as soon as I stepped out of the tunnel. I deposited the belts in the storage box and left a thank you note in the little notebook they had.
The rain had become heavier and, up in the mountain, everything was covered with thick fog (or low-hanging clouds). Trucks would occasionally splash puddle water over my lower legs and feet, and soon, even my Goretex shoes were soaked and I could feel water leaking into them. I realized that the charm the lady in Kochi had given me had fallen off my staff, probably when I was putting on or taking off the reflective belt. I was a bit sad, but wasn’t about to backtrack through the dark tunnel to find it.
I kept going, wanting only to reach Ozu, where I could find a restaurant to hide out in. I became a bit hopeful when I passed a couple of rest huts, but one was occupied by a tent (looked like a cyclist henro who had decided to stay put for the day) and the other was occupied by a small group of elderly walking henro. I moved on.
Eventually, I reached Ozu, and when I stopped under a covered parking spot, I checked my map to see how far I had to go until I reached my inn. As I stood there, the three elderly walking henro caught up, as did Naoko a minute after. Naoko and I walked together through Ozu, and I told her how I wanted to stop at a McDonald’s in the northern part of town. She became excited and said, "There’s a McDonald’s here? I want McDonald’s too!” So we walked there together.
By the time we got to McDonald’s around 1pm, we were both soaked. The rain had gotten a bit heavier as we walked through town. More water had leaked into my shoes and my feet were squelching around in my shoes. Thankfully, my poncho kept most of my body dry, but my forearms and lower legs were wet, too. We did our best to dry off a little in the tiny entranceway of the restaurant, but it was impossible to get completely dry in the state we were in.
Naoko had an app on her phone,where she could could get discounts at McDonald’s. I picked what I wanted and Naoko ordered and paid. I tried to pay her back but she adamantly refused and said, “Osettai!” I still tried to pay her back, but she still refused. I thanked her. We sat down and ate, enjoying being able to sit in a dry, warm place. We chatted more about traveling and I showed her pictures of Banff, since she told me she enjoys the outdoors and hiking. She made a resolution to visit Banff one day.
After we finished eating, Naoko left to take the train to her hotel in Uchiko. It was only about 2pm, so I had lots of time to kill. I bought a coffee and sipped at it, but when that was done, I decided to check out the onsen next door. It was only 400 yen, so I paid and went in. I would receive a bath at my inn, but it was still a nice way to pass the time. And I was warm and not wearing wet socks.
After having enough of a soak, I dried off and put on a pair of dry socks, then wasted a bit more time in the sitting area in the lobby, sipping on a mixed fruits flavoured milk. I prefer chocolate milk but they didn’t have any that I could see.
Around 4pm, I decided to make my way to my inn nearby. The owner had said it was difficult to find because there was a restaurant on the main road with the same name (same owner, I think?). I stopped at a Lawson’s on my way to pickup a bit of food to eat for dinner, as I had asked for no meals with my reservation. As much as I enjoy traditional Japanese food, there is only so much of it I can take over so many days.
I found the Umetako restaurant no problem, and thankfully, the owner met me there and showed me the way. The inn is large and very nice. The beds are western style and my room had two beds, but since I was only one person, he had taken the mattress from one bed and doubled up on the other for extra comfort. I even had my own toilet and sink, a rarity. Laundry was free (no dryer, but there were hangers available to dry clothes on), so I took the opportunity and threw some clothes in. Around dinner time, I went to wash and take a long soak in the inn’s large bath. I enjoyed the second hot soak after a cold, wet day.
Post-Pilgrimage Thoughts: This was easily one of the more difficult days, as it was probably the wettest of all my pilgrimage days. Still, having Naoko with me definitely helped keep my spirits up, and again, she is fantastic company. Also, the owner of Umetako was exceedingly nice and hospitable, and he even had a notebook with phrases translated into English to use if he was having difficulty communicating with me. It was probably one of my favourite places I stayed in and, looking back, I kind of wished I had paid for the meals.
My name is Marianne and this is my journal about that time I decided to complete the 88 Temple Shikoku Pilgrimage. It was both the most difficult thing I've ever done and the most amazing thing I've ever done. It was truly an experience of a lifetime.