sabato 31 marzo 2018

Day 14: Obaasan from the mountains

Today the morning begins in a different way than we have been used so far. We are giving our bikes a rest day, and we will be reaching temple 44 and 45 by bus.

Therefore, after getting up early as usual, we take care that our bikes are properly stored and then walk until Teppocho, the nearest tram stop. From there a clattering tram takes us to the bus terminal at Matsuyama station, where we get information on the bus schedule. 
Since we have to wait for about one hour, we first take a stroll around the station, and then we sit in the waiting room. Standing still is a good way of observing the various samples of humanity crossing their trajectory with hours: students taking the train for some sport event, couple greeting before departure, old people walking slowly to their train or taking a nap on the benches before waking up and eating some food from their bento box.

Among this crowd we easily spot the henroes: apart from their attire when they wear it, they also move with a different pace, like somebody who knows what does it cost to move each step.

When we sit into the bus our guesses prove right, but from that moment on we simply enjoy the changing view from the bus windows while the bus climbs on the mountains toward Kuma-Kogen.
As soon as we get down from the bus we first check the time table for the next bus heading to temple 45, then search our way to temple 44. Of the other henroes who were on the bus with us, two take a taxi waiting for them, the other instead starts walking with us.

First we ask direction to a group of young students, then when we start walking we exchange some chat with the Australian henro named Ursula. Soon our different pace make us walk apart, and we start walking the short climb leading to the temple, where we also find a cyclist coming from our opposite direction. When we reach the parking place, we find a bus full with pilgrims of all ages: from elderly people to a boy who is maybe just 8.
Among them there is a man wearing the attire of a priest, and listening to him leading the choir of prayers chanting the Heart sutra is a touching experience.

We then walk back to the bus stop just in time to see the crowd getting back on their bus. Our bus is instead way less crowded, and driving in the small road among the mountains let us enjoy the magnificent view.
The bus drops us next to a small shop, from where we start climbing to temple 45. The road is steep, and I can only imagine how though it has to be after having walked (or cycled) until there.
The first hundred meters of the path are packed with small shops selling souvenirs, sweets or pilgrim stuff, then it is only nature and statues. When we finally reach the temple, we first stop to the main hall, and from there we walk around.
We enter in the small cave carved just below the hall: the dark space, filled the smoke of the burning incense sticks and the feeble light of the few candles burning on the walls, where the sound of the pilgrims chanting the sutras few meters away gives a strange echo, looks really like the door to another realm. There is no need for signs asking for silence, it's the place itself to claim such respect.

When we get out again I decide to try the climb on the ladder bringing to the caves carved in the rocky wall above the temple. The ladder is sturdy but the feeling of being so high above ground gives shivers to my back.
The view from above is magnificent, and I wonder how could so many people manage to place small coins balanced on the rock too far from the wooden balcony to be easily accessed.

Since it's getting late for our bus, I have to climb down and then we have to rush our descent to the bus stop. Once we reach the small shop we decide to shorten the waiting, and ask the lady at the shop if she can call a taxi for us. She must be used to it, since she easily understand us and the taxi is quickly there to take us to Kuma-Kogen.

While we are waiting for the taxi we are reached by Ursula, to whom we offer to share the ride with us. Once at the other bus stop we also meet the couple of the morning, and we sit together in the small hut at the bus stop, waiting for the bus.
While we talk of our experience (we find out the couple is Canadian and is doing part of the pilgrimage as part of an organized trip), and old woman gets close to the bus stop and, after peeking in the hut, stops in the outside.

I walk out of the hut and invite her to get a seat in; initially she politely refuses, but then on a second invitation she accepts and join the company. Thanks to an app on our mobile, which takes care of translating from Japanese to English and vice versa, we are able to talk with her and answer some of her questions.

She is amazed by such a feature, and probably also glad to spend some time with so many henroes. She gets on the bus with us, and when she gets down few stops before us, she apologizes with us for not being able to speak English and have a better conversation.
While the bus moves away from the bus stop she keeps waving her hand at us until she is just a small spot near the horizon; we are touched by such kindness, and promise ourselves that next time we will come to Shikoku we will try our best to speak some Japanese, as being able to talk with the locals is really the most rewarding exchange for both parties.

With this thought in our mind we enter a small restaurant crowded with students, where we get our dinner. Then we get back to the lodging, where we seek help from the tenant with the reservation for the next day. The task proves challenging, as most of the accommodations are full. We then accept to search in slightly more expensive places, and the first we call is also full. But the lady on the other side of the phone tell us that she has a small guest house with two available beds, if we don't mind going there.

We accept the offer, and having completed our duties for the day we get to bed. In my mind it is starting to grow the question on how we will get back to Zentsuji in time, and if we might even need to take the train to not miss our flight back home.
 Where we slept:
Matsuyama, henro house Heiwadorii, via

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