April 9, 2017
Today’s walk starts with great promise. After a fine Japanese breakfast, our obliging hostess at Minshuku Micchan loads us into her diminutive car and drives us up the steep winding road to its junction with Highway 47. We don our backpacks and say our goodbyes in a halting mishmash of English, Japanese and hand gestures.
The road is still shrouded in mist, the remnants of yesterday’s rain showers. But the fog soon lifts, revealing a deep blue sky and outstanding views over the Pacific Ocean. It’s not long before we strip down to T-shirts on this hot, humid and now sunny stretch of pavement. It’s a beautiful day for a 30-kilometre walk.
The highway gently rises and falls as we trek along the coastline. Clifftop vistas alternate with dips into dense, dark forests, occasionally illuminated with bright white cherry blossoms. Eventually the road heads inland, past small lakes and resort villages, before emerging at the coastal city of Susaki.
Farmers are busy planting a new crop of rice in small watery plots lining the highway. Tiny pickup trucks, loaded with green seedlings zip back and forth along the road. Rice planting machines ply through the paddies, pinning the tiny plants to the muddy soil. It’s a busy time, here on the outskirts of Susaki.
At the other end of town, we stop at Kuwaso no sato. It’s typical of the road-side markets, known locally as a Michi-no-eki, that dot the major highways of Shikoku. These are welcome pitstops for a seafood lunch, ice cream cone or piece of fruit. Today, it’s a lunch of bonito quickly seared over blazing hay and served with sides of green onion, daikon and sliced garlic. This is quickly becoming one of our favourite Shikoku dishes. How nice to have it as a roadside alternative to McDonalds!
Our walking day continues with yet another navigational challenge. Soon after lunch, the henro-michi detours off the highway and heads up through a mountain pass. It’s a rugged path, requiring the help of ropes to negotiate the near-vertical climb. At what we thought was the top of the pass, we find a trail marker, seemingly directing us along a pleasant gravel road and down the other side of the pass. Instead, the road takes us in a grand loop back down to where we started the climb. By this time, we should have been at our destination!
It’s a particularly frustrating miscue but, fortunately, there is a nearby train station. A local train whisks us on a seven minute ride to Naka-tosa. It’s then just a short walk out of town to our luxurious home for the night.
There were no temples to visit today and the next one is still a good 30 kilometres away. Yet here we are, at the end of the day, climbing to another mountaintop retreat – our substitute temple for the night, Kuroshio Honsen.
We settle in to our free-standing timber cabin, a substantial piece of resort style architecture that is all ours for the night. Perched on a rocky promontory, its open porch commands a spectacular view overlooking the town of Naka-Tosa and Kure Bay.
Shedding our hiking garb, we wrap ourselves in crisp, clean yukatas and make our way down to the onsen in the main lodge building. Gail and I head to our respective female and male bath facilities. As usual, the ritual starts with a cleansing shower. It’s then on to a series of hot pools, some inside but others outdoors with wonderful views overlooking the bay. An hour quickly passes, as I watch the sun set from my warm bath. This is the definition of relaxation.
I rejoin Gail in the lobby. Still dressed in our yukatas, hair still damp, we head to the dining room for our multi-course dinner. Each course is elegantly arranged on glazed stoneware plates and bowls carefully selected to match the hues and delicate flavours of the food. It is a culinary journey of subtle variation. Yet each plate offers a new experience. A little like our walk on the henro-michi.
Back in our cabin, Gail spreads out the futons and duvets on the tatami mat floor. Windows are opened to the cool night air. From our balcony, we take in the night lights of the city below. It has been a fine day.
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