Thursday, 2nd November 2017

Today started with getting up early (7am) to make sure we could get to the Kumano Travel shop to drop off our bags and catch a bus at 9:10am. The bus would take us to Takejiri-Oji, one of the starting points for the Kumano Kodo pilgramage.

Alyssa and Ben at Takejiri-Oji bus stop

We made a brief stop at the visitor centre where we bought bamboo sticks, a hat clip and some bug spray. We got our Kumano Kodo stamp passports at the shop across the road because we forgot to pick them up at the visitor centre.

We stamped our passports with the first red shrine stamp for Takejiri-Oji and then our hike began.

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It's basically a mountain, the first 500m felt like a marathon as you have to balance on old stone steps and pseudo-steps made of tree roots and dirt. There's not much to say other than it was exhausting and beautiful so here are some photos:

It climbed very quickly:

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At one point, the trail crests the summit of the mountain, and the view is spectacular.

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Sometimes the trail passes through tiny collections of houses and the locals have put out stands selling local produce or snacks for the hikers:

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But mostly, it was a forest trail:

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Then it got dark.

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Really dark.

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This was billed as a 6 hour hike but by 8 hours we hadn't reached our destination. The sun had set over the mountains and it was now pitch black.

For the last half an hour of hiking we had to use our head torch to navigate some very steep, rocky slopes down through the forest and across several slippery wooden bridges over the river.

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Eventually we reached the end of this particular bit of forest when the trail intersected with a road and there was a rest stop. We crossed over the road to get a drink from a vending machine before we headed back up the slope and onwards to our intended destination. As we reached the entrance, the lady in the shop came out with a sign saying 'Do you have a hotel reservation?'. We nodded and she flipped the sign over to reveal the other side; 'Which hotel?'. We told her and she immediately pulled out her phone and rang Minshuku Nakano to have them pick us up. We said we were just going to continue the hike but she shook her head at us and expressed without words that was a crazy thing to do, we were crazy for thinking we'd have to, and that we should just wait for the lift; so we took her advice and waited for our ride.

The landlord for Minshuku Nakano arrived very quickly and took us to his guest house. The other guests were already eating dinner when we arrived, including two lads that had passed us early on the trail. They apparently arrived at 3pm (it was now closer to 7pm) and they were getting up early to do the next part to Kumano Hongo Taisha the next day. We said that our original plan was to do the same but we will probably rethink that now we know how slow we are.

Dinner was very impressive, a lot of fish. Ayu Sweetfish is the local delicacy as it can be fished from the river. The landlord is a former professional chef, and you could definitely tell. We were served an entire skewered and grilled fish, more fish in a tangy sour sauce, sashimi, soup, rice and various other small pots of vegetables and pickles. I did enjoy the skewered fish, once you'd got it off the stick and picked off the meat, it was very tasty.

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The landlord then showed me where the facilities were in the guesthouse. Meanwhile Ben was having an in depth and entertaining conversation with the landlady, figuring out what we would do tomorrow considering the hike was out. The main problem was that since the trail went up and over mountains, it didn't really intersect with the roads in many places, so there weren't many places you could join/leave the trail. The stretch we'd intended to do tomorrow included the longest unbroken section of the whole trail, so we'd have to skip that part somehow.

After a lot of Google Translate, poring over a map and cross referencing bus timetables they came up with the following plan for a managable hike:

  1. Bus to Hosshinmon-oji (which means the bus to Hongu, and then go past Hongu to Hosshinmon-oji)
  2. Hike back to Hongu (2-3hrs)

This plan was way better than the 9hr hike (longer at our pace) and so we were all set for the morning. Still early morning though, there were only 2 buses a day on these mountain roads.

We stayed up a bit later talking to our hosts while they drank beer and ate dried fish. They challenged us to eat some of the fish, which we did and it wasn't too bad, just chewy and salty.

I then checked out the shower, which was in Japanese style. You basically sit on a small stool and shower in the wet room, once you are clean you get in the bath and relax for a while. It was very enjoyable and great for tired achey muscles, the Japanese are definitely winning me over to the joy of baths.