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Manaslu Trail Race, Nepal. November 2015.

12 Apr

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Photo credit Paul Harrison

Manaslu Trail Race November 2015
A 200+ km wild adventure in beautiful Nepal with a group of inspiring, energetic, awesome strangers. A quick beer with my mate Davey G a couple of months earlier was all the encouragement I needed…. and a quick flight change to get me there after running New York City marathon. So I flew into Sydney from NYC on Thursday and out to Kathmandu the next day. (Husband rolls his eyes… But would never tell me not to do something……)
With roughly 15 kms of elevation, it’s not for the faint hearted. Everyone was more than happy to skip across planks of wood above raging torrents, except me.

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Photo credit Bikash Basyal

Dave and I spent our first day exploring Kathmandu, including the Monkey Temple with copious Nepali monkey.

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Then down to Pashupatinath Temple, a famous Hindu temple where bodies are cremated on platforms by the Bagmati river. A very surreal sight. It seemed quite business-like with the sons of the dead sweeping the last ashes into the river. And on it went. Another body, some more discretely covered than others, quickly arranged on the platform and the process repeated. The end of the person’s life as we know it marking the start of something more wonderful. Even with all the deaths I’d been involved with at work, nothing prepared me for this.

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Shopping therapy at Thamel and a beer for Dave’s birthday was a good way to stop and ponder the meaning of life and wash down all the smoke from Pashupatinath Temple.

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Monday was spent in a bus getting to know some of the runners and watching the smog of Kathmandu disappear with lines of parked trucks waiting to refuel and queues of empty gas cylinders lining the streets. The fuel crisis was shutting restaurants, re routing airlines, medical equipment couldn’t get into the country, winter was coming and those badly affected by the earthquakes were still displaced.
The sad state of Nepal and “why” India is making it so much worse by withholding fuel post earthquakes is summed up here….
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/11/02/in-nepal-the-pols-play-their-game-of-thrones-but-winter-is-coming.html?via=desktop&source=facebook
We lunched in Arughat, the town where the race used to start. The ruins from the earthquake were evident and it looks like it will be a long recovery.

So the bus continued towards Soti Khola, until it was stopped by large boulders on the trail.

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Photo credit Paul Harrison

The porters and the tough Italians used their grunt to lift the massive rocks until the path was clear enough for the bus to pass. A few kilometres later a damaged road/ bridge stopped our bus for good before the river. The decision to abandon our wheels and walk the final few kilometres was a welcome relief for most. I wasn’t convinced. Just looking at the state of the first wooden bridge made me wonder what the hell I was in for. Thinking Superman and Kryptonite…..

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I can’t remember if it was Bikash (our Doctor for the trip) or Dhir (Guru of all things Nepali and organiser extraordinaire) that suggested I get in the vehicle that would take our bags across the river, but the last thing I wanted at this early stage was to be treated as “special”. It was too early for this sort of reputation.

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We were showered with marigold petals on our arrival in Soti Khola and ushered into our rooms once our bags arrived. Prince Dave (we had agreed to share a “twin room”) got a twin room all to himself whilst I was sandwiched between Natalia, a lovely Spaniard living in Switzerland and Tita from Italy. The squishiness was something we would get used to, as was working out what to wear via head torch in a sardine can and sleeping with all my kit on my bed. Not surprising that I lost my maps before we started running. Mustn’t whinge. How the hell are the locals cooking with no gas and no lights?

Stage 1 was a mere 22 kms from Soti Khola to Khorlabeshi.
Huge climbs, or so we thought. It was only going to wet our toes for what was to come….. It was a mere 2 kms of ascent and decent. The mist stayed in the valley as we ventured above the clouds to temperatures in the mid 20s.

I spent the day running with Celesta from Melbourne. Pleasant company at a maintainable conversation pace.  After reaching the top of the climb, we could see across to a huge landslide. I was premature in my relief that we would be going back down to the river. Yes, we were going back down to the river, AFTER running across the massive landslide. Shit. I’m going to die. Yeah, go on. Zoom in…..

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Photo Paul Harrison

That is NOT a trail. Massive panic attack had me panting like a dog in labour…. Not my finest moment, but not my last (panic attack, or moment…)

We ran through Lapisbot, then once on the decent, we couldn’t find any markers. Back up the hill we went looking for the correct trail. After a few hill repeats we came to the conclusion that we couldn’t be lost, there were just no markers. The trail had been well marked till now.
Around 4 kms later, we found a marker and thankfully a checkpoint at earthquake ravaged Machhakhola, as I’d almost exhausted my supply of water. Another few kms and we arrived in Khorlabeshi. So why the lack of markers? Lizzy (as in Hawker….. Needs no introduction to anyone ultra as she has won UTMB 5 times!) broke her finger in a fall. Crazy Italian dude Andrea (Orthopaedic Surgeon) manipulated it back sans anaesthetic…. Brave chicka! Beers followed.

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Photo Paul Harrison

Lost appetite and couldn’t eat dinner knowing there were wooden swing bridges, narrow trail and steep cliffs the next day… All the things I love.
Slept again with the Europeans, Natalia and Tita.

Stage 2: Khorlabeshi to Pewa 33 kms with roughly 3 kms of ascent and almost as much descent….maybe 2.5 kms.
The 2015 event covered around 200kms (including 2 non-racing days; one “rest day” walk to the Tibetan border at 5000m and one walk day over the Larkya La pass at 5135m). The GPS gets a bit confused but its around 15kms of elevation gain and loss over 9 days.

So how many river crossings, bloody wooden bridges and massive panic attacks must I endure today?  I spent the day with Celesta again, so grateful that she understood my kryptonite, a massive relief to have her with me. Stumbling upon a bridge being built by locals nearly did me in. While others skipped across, I was virtually on all fours praying to Allah.

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Photo Celesta Fong

If I had looked down, I would have seen the arse end of a dead mule that had fallen off the track. It could have been me….
Really, it could have….
The wet river crossing soon after the “build a bridge and get over it” moment was a welcome washing of the feet and comforting to know I couldn’t fall more than the height of a dwarf.
We finished a very scenic but scary day in Pewa. Very much a one man town at around 2,000 metres elevation.
Davey G was at the finish, beer in hand to greet me with his bloody permanent grin. First question… “Hey Janie, what about those bridges?” That was enough to bring me to tears and he disappeared out of my sight for a couple of hours…….
I numbed my brain and body with a beer. He may just be regretting talking me into this trip…..

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Photo credit to Trailrunningnepal.

So, my reward for being such a sissy was sharing a room with Lizzy Hawker… May her toughness and talent infuse into my pathetic body.
Poor mules didn’t arrive till 9 pm. I was exhausted (more emotionally than physically) and crashed.
Lizzy was up at 4 am to go mark the course for Day 3.

Stage 3
With my mate Celesta all day. Best day yet with nothing really scary to write home about. Getting used to river crossings and steep cliffs……
Steep narrow trail up to Hinang Gompa (monastery) trying to pass mules making their way down was not a pleasant experience. We had been told to stay mountainside and let the mules take the low side as they don’t like being sandwiched between.
We had just found out that the lead mule didn’t arrive in Pewa last night. Apparently it had fallen off the trail in the dark to certain death below taking two of the Italians bags…. Never to be seen again.
I had great respect for the way the guys, Marco and Andrea, handled the situation. What an adventure, they would have to do without their entire kit except what they had carried in their day pack yesterday. Hats off to them.

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…… Two bags missing……. and a mule.
Fab, fab, fab scenery. Getting seriously cold now. Elevation 3,200 metres with 2,100 metres of ascent today.

We were very fortunate to be staying in the monastery. Tourists are not usually accommodated here, but Richard and the team donate solar lights to the Monks and locals in some of the villages. Such a great cause.

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The sun disappeared around 4 pm and we experienced our first really cold night. Maybe it was good that I was crashing in a room with 10 runners. I was sandwiched between Dave and Columbian Juan, then Hank the token Yank, Mark and James from UK, Celesta, Sarah (UK) and Shona and Paul from the UK but almost Aussies as they live in Perth AUS. We left the other room for the Europeans to prance around naked. (no photo of that 😉)

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Runners have been getting sick since Day 1 in Kathmandu. First day was Shona, then the Germans, Stephan and Barbara. Rob spewing all night and walking today, totally spent.
James went to bed at 4pm and Davey G missed dinner looking pretty pale…..
Hygiene paramount. Hand washing not easy with hardly any running water, drop toilets, people washing their hands in tubs full of crockery and kitchen utensils….. Not ideal.

Stage 4: 25kms from Hinang Gompa to Sama around 2kms of ascent.
Started at Monastery with porridge and chapati and then a tour of the temple and handing over of the solar lights and donation for being allowed to stay.
James crook, Chris not great, David (the Welsh one) also sick.

Started with Celesta but soon moved on and pushed forward trying to nail the hills in the hope of some decent C2K training. (Coast to Kosciuszko 240 kms next month)

Out and back to Pung Gyen Gompa at 4,100 metres and the Checkpoint with a Monk and Lizzy waiting. Monk had been there meditating for 5 months. Beautiful spot where we could just hang out with others and not be penalised time wise.

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The finish was 6kms pretty much downhill to Sama, badly affected by the earthquake. The hotel located at the far end of the village had the most beautiful view of Manaslu (8,163m) the 8th highest mountain in the world and one with some sad history. My old school friend Graeme Fear’s sister, Sue, died on the decent after summitting in 2006.

I was determined to find a memorial to Sue that Graeme had told me about and get some photos for him.

No water to wash my clothes which was a bugger as we were there for 2 nights and would give them time to dry. First world problem, right?
Relaxing night playing Yannif (Cards) and beers with Rob, Mark and Bikash. Awesome guys, all three of them. Rob is Australian with the most infectious laugh. Mark, a wealth of info, fluent in the local language, was a Gurkha in British Army and the most fun guy to be around. He also takes awesome photos and still whips everyones arse in the running stakes. Bikash was the poor Doctor that had to make sure we all got up each day and could continue on…..
Shared a room with Lizzy again. She was up at 5 am to mark the course. Back 5 mins later to get the markers….
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Day 5 to Manaslu Base Camp 4,800 metres
Washed clothes in freezing water at 6:30 am. Hoping they will dry.
Totally breathless climbing from 3550 metres at Samagaon to Manaslu Base camp.
6.2 kms up. Serious climbing.

Slowed down by a bridge made of 3 frozen slippery logs. Yes, another moment. Over it I went, hyperventilating and being a cry baby. How the eff am I going to cross it again on the way down? Had a cry for a minute until I heard two people yelling out “don’t worry, you’re nearly there!” I yelled back that I wasn’t upset about the climbing, it was the effing bridge. Fortunately they were strangers just sitting on a rock watching some pathetic wimp.
Timed in at checkpoint to give us time to absorb the enormity of where we were. Got too comfortable up there but knew the trip down would be easier than going up.
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2.5hours to get up 1:12 to get down. Definitely the toughest climbing I’ve done. 1,100 metres higher than Mt Fuji and the same elevation as Mt Blanc.

Back for lunch of Dahl and bread. Little kid sitting next to me smelling like a massive germ or to be really honest, a bad toilet. Hand sanitisered the table once he left……
Talking about cleanliness, I managed to wash more than any other day, thanks to my Nalgene bottle full of hot water and sharing a room with Lizzy Hawker who was still stuck on the mountain sweeping the course.
Played Yannif again with Mark and Rob.
Haven’t had internet since leaving Kathmandu and not missing it at all, but wish my family could experience what I’m seeing.
Not surprisingly, Bishnu, from Nepal is leading the girls, then Natalia from Spain, Tita from Italy, me, Celeste, Barbara from Germany, Sarah and Shona from UK.
Day 6
10kms
Started the day with the Kids race through the town in Samagoen.
Walked to start of our run to Samdo via the temple. Unfortunately the key to the door was in Tibet, so couldn’t look inside.
Walked on to the start of our race beside the lake. Brilliant spot to take photos and play with rocks.
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It was time to try to find Sue Fear’s memorial. Unfortunately, all I found was one to a few French and a Canadian from 2012. Bit gutted to get so close and not get at least a photo for Graham. Rich, Lizzie, Bikush, Shona and Paul were also looking for me, but no luck.
After giving up on ever finding it, I ran as much as the thin air would let me passing yaks and mules pretty frequently.
Such a short stage and easy considering the elevation we climbed yesterday, just bummed to miss Sue’s Memorial.
Samdo is a small village where only about 3 households stay over winter to guard it, the rest move on to Kathmandu or Tibet where it is warmer. The sun goes behind the mountains by 3 pm and it’s then bloody freezing.
Dhir took us for a walk through the village.
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Little kids asleep on desks outside, looked into a temple and then a typical house owned by town mayor. Smoke coming out of kitchen fire was stifling. Even I had to duck to get in the front entrance.
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Went for walk with Mark to show him what we’d seen. Peaceful out in fields away from Juan and his bongos.
Back to hostel in Samdo, Yaniff. Triple room up a ladder with Sarah, Celeste and myself. Sardine can.. Toilet outside, down ladder. Slept with my bag on my bed. Next morning Dhir told me that there was a spare room on the other side with inside toilet…… Grrrrrrr.
Dinner looking like Groundhog Day. Ate spring roll but left the rest. Can’t believe how much some people are eating!
Celeste and I swapped rooms next day. Bliss. Room for a swinging cat.:)

Day 7
Trek to Tibet. A tough uphill climb of 11 kms and back down. Up to 5,000 metres. Beautiful scenery, tough boggy trail near top. Border open for 10 days, so lots of Yak caravans, mules crossing over to get goods to bring back to sell. Freezing cold and windy up top, we were illegal immigrants for 30 mins while we ate lunch at the top.
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Back for dinner. Ate a piece of potato. Food is looking like a half eaten dog…. Just can’t stomach any more Dahl, rice, soup….. I think I’m getting sick.
Bed early for a 3:30 wake up. 4 am start in freezing conditions to get our bags over the Pass. Porters carrying our bags as we left the mules in Samdo, unable to use them over the pass.
Trail dangerously frozen in sections and difficult to follow. Hands painful, freezing and then numb. Took a wrong turn with Rob and Dave and followed wrong trail up….. and up. Others followed. Dave went back down to ask one guy if he had seen another trail, he wasn’t going to budge until somebody else told him which way to go. I voted him off the island.
Trail traversed for a while, slowly climbing until we found a tea house that had made porridge for us for breakfast. Felt like shit. Took ages for my hands to warm up. Painful and of no use to me. Lost appetite. Had half a cup of tea and got concerned I’d have no energy to get up to 5,200 metres and back down to Bimtang below 4,000 metres.
Slow slog to reach the summit. Severe downhill in ice and snow had me slipping and sliding. Couldn’t be bothered to put my micro spikes on and continued the downhill with one pole. Ita, one of the porters carrying our bags and moving faster than me saw me vomit and then I couldn’t shake him. He offered me his spikes. I just had nothing in the tank. I’d told Dave and Rob to not wait a few kms back thank God. I pulled out a V Fuel gel that I’d been given a few hours after the Boston bombing. If I survived that, a gel a couple of years old wouldn’t kill me.
Ita would not go past me. Another km of slipping, sliding and feeling like shit, Mark “shining light” Brightwell and Manish appeared. I asked Mark to tell Ita that I’d be ok without him. Not long after that, I was heaving and giving my abs a workout like none other. Mark suggested a sleep at the bottom of the steep decent. We found a warm spot in the sun and out of the wind.
Ahhhh, lying horizontal in the sun. Nobody move.
We didn’t, until Rich arrived. We all left together for the final pleasant trail down to Bimtang with a stop at a tent for a drink. mmmmmm… Sprite. Others had noodles and tea. I wasn’t going to push my chances. Felt. Like. Shit.
imagePhoto credit: Mark Brightwell. Definitely my better side.
I had nothing in the tank. Once finished for the day, sleep was all I wanted but Mark was right in ordering pizza of which I had about two bites. Beer was passed on. I must be sick.
Next morning all I needed to do was 22kms to get to the finish in Dharapani. That and numerous stops along the way… Toilet humour is not that amusing when it’s about me…..
Fortunately everyone knew each other pretty well by now, otherwise Marco may have been affected for life, spotting an Australian “bare” in the woods.
The finish was almost a Shangri la moment, or would have been if I didn’t think I was going to die. Beautiful sunny spot to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the company of some pretty awesome people. (I’ll leave the bit out about falling over in the toilet….)
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Photo credit? Mark? Paul?

The transport back to Kathmandu took us on some very steep, winding road with drop offs that looked much better with my eyes closed. Landslides from the earthquake had destroyed some of the trail, and looking back on the trip made me pretty chuffed that we’d all come over to support a country so desperate for tourists.
I was totally out of my comfort zone at times but was humbled by how the locals just take every day in their stride. I appreciate the smell of fresh clean sheets…  flushing toilets, stoves, service stations. I don’t sweat the small stuff and have very little time for first world problems. It was an honour to be surrounded by likeminded people led by Rich and his wicked sense of humour, Lizzy and her awesomeness, (even though she is the most humble human on the planet) the sherpas that carried too much of my gear, Bikash for being the lucky charm, (Lizzy’s broken finger was the only injury that didn’t involve a toilet) Dhir and his knowledge of Nepal’s culture and history, and Mark for his photos, lack of card playing skills, company and patience in answering too many questions about too many subjects.
One final note to Dave. If you ever have the urge to suggest something that gets me out of my comfort zone and towards a bunch of such inspiring, energetic strangers, I’m in.

 

 

You Yangs 100 miler

27 Oct

I was asked by Liz at AURA to write a race report for You Yangs 100 miler held in June and located about 55km south-west of Melbourne near a place called Little River.

With Brett Saxon as RD and Andy Hewatt as Medic, I was compelled to enter this run in “Mexico”. I’d run Andy’s GOW 100 miler back in 2009 and Brett had pretty much saved me from a DNF. Both great guys that give so much to the running community.

Thanks to Jetstar, Sydney wannabes, Adam, Blue Dog, Dave and yours truly were forced to discuss race tactics for 3 hours in the bar at the airport. Now here’s a photo that doesn’t belong in Aura as pre race nutrition advice…….

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I had perused the splits from the 2014 race of runners around the 24 hour mark. I had a plan. I’d never thought an old “has been” could run a sub 24 hour trail 100 miler, but the 8 x 20 km loops meant there would be no surprises for someone who had never seen the course. A “few beers” later, I had talked Adam into coming along for the ride. 🍻

Next morning as we all lined up, I managed to hang with George and realised we’d be stupid not to tag along with him for a few laps. Local knowledge would ensure we didn’t get lost. He knew my plan was to run around 2 hour 30 minute laps until it got dark and then not to slow down too much. It was going to be cold.

After a couple of laps I realised we were pretty much at the tail end of the field. Not to worry. Tortoise/hare mentality got me wondering when we’d catch the ones that may have gone out too fast. I felt fantastic.

George was super keen for a good result to qualify for C2K. As he complained about having a bad back and wanting to take drugs, I told him this wasn’t a dress rehearsal…. and off he went. Never caught him again.

Adam and I stuck to our plan and by night fall we were well on target with Adam playing the game “ooh, let’s do a sub 14 hr 100 km”.

Some of the field in front were slowing, with temps dropping below zero, I was sure this was going to cause a bit of carnage. Keep moving at a steady pace to stay warm and we’ll be ok.

Sarah, Adam’s much nicer half was crewing and couldn’t have done any more for us. Legend. She even managed to dress Adam like Little Red Riding Hood….. don’t know what that made me, but we were happy to stay teamed up.

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The checkpoints were manned by the most energetic supporters and the one at the back end of the course was treated like a party every time we got there. The open fire was a deterrent and I refused to go near it and get too comfortable. Keep moving. As daybreak appeared, I could see some of the puddles were frozen. So it had been rather cold.

We’d managed to catch quite a few runners overnight, but couldn’t see all the field which was surprising. I thought we’d know where people were with the climb up and down Flinders Peak at the start of each loop.

As I got to the finish line after my last lap, there was Brett, up a ladder yelling at me “Just one more lap, Princess!” “No mate. I’m done!” and we argued…. Just a little bit 😉 My time  23:45:08

One pair of Hoka ATR Challengers kept my feet blister free the whole race. Not even a sock change.

Best massage at the end from Ross at Freedom Sports Medicine after I’d thawed out in Sarah and Adams’s car, heater cranked to the max and hidden under Dave’s sleeping bag. He’d been up for hours after smashing out the miler in 18:27:09!

Wondering how everyone else had gone, I was told that all the girls ahead of me had DNF’d! 44% of the field had pulled out and the old chick came first. Hilarious.

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Photo credit to Brett Saxon and his team of volunteers and Sarah Connor.

1200 kms around Shikoku

22 Sep Shikoku 2450

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Day 17. Thursday
Slept ok in another disabled toilet, apart from the sensor light going off every time I moved.
Our phones and GPS units were being charged by the fancy flush toilet in my suite😉 so I ventured next door to the women’s toilet. A squatty one that I had mastered by this stage, even with 1,000kms in the legs. Just as I’d dropped my daks and got in perfect squat position, a vision appeared in the bowl. Maybe a stone in the water….. I was hoping. Take a closer look……..

780If I’d had my pants on I would have pee’d… just a little bit. I was so excited to interrupt Andy’s breakfast to show him. Someone tell me this is not normal behaviour for someone my age.

I didn’t pee on him, (the rat that is…) or flush him. I left the place as clean as I found it.

Temple 61 was a bit modern for my liking. Met Tim Cornish from Calgary on a bike. A previous sub 2:30 marathoner before a bike accident, he knew more about the Henro thing than we did. We had our books stamped at 7 am and were told that Temple 62, only a kilometre down the road would not open till 8am. Quick stop for coffee after chatting with Tim and on to 62 where Andy and I played on the elephants while we waited.
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Nothing special there either.
Temple 63 had lovely gardens and a few old people weeding. A further 3.4 kms to Temple 64, then 45 kms temple free for the rest of the day.
Moving faster through Saijo City than the cars, we were offered osettai of lollies from a lady stuck in traffic. Not satisfying Andy’s hunger, we stopped for a Scottish feast for lunch.
Later in the day, a can of Fanta, ossetai from a Japanese guy that felt somewhat Henro-stalkeresque. He had books of photos and comments from Henros from around the world. We were keen to keep moving through the heat and it took a while to shake him, but amazed at how friendly they all are.
Another couple of kms down the road and some guy had pulled over to give us a couple of bottles of cold water. Best osettai ever in the hot conditions.
Finished the day spending an hour searching for the Henro hut in a park which we eventually found.
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54 kms today with some mountain climbing early tomorrow.

Friday. Day 18
Packed packs at 6am and ready to welcome around 8 people sweeping the surrounds. (that’s sweeping rubbish and leaves off the paths but NOT picking up the rubbish)
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Left our dwelling (aka park bench) with a good climb to temple 65 which wasn’t as bad as expected. The monk stamping was there early and we were stamped outta there by 6:55 am! As Sal would say “Time Extension!”
The 20 kms to Temple 66 looked like a mega climb. Before we started going up on the trail, a man stopped his truck to give us a can of black coffee. First osettai of the day!
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Up we went from sea level to 1000 feet. It was blowing a gale, pouring with rain and freezing. Apart from Wednesday and today it had been stinking hot. It was heavy going with our packs and slippery trail.

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The temples in the hills are so calm and quiet. Osettai from the monk stamping of rice crackers.
Lots of statues on the way back down.

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The next 10 kms to temple 68 was mainly on trail. Wet and really cold all we wanted to do was keep moving, so on to 68 and 69 where they were stamped together and we met a Shingon Priest from the UK. Interesting guy. Should have stayed there the night and chatted. But no, we wanted to get to Temple 70 only 5 kms down the road. We were cold, wet and miserable.
At temple 70, the lady stamping Andy’s book asked where we were staying. We told her we had no idea in the hope they’d offer us a dry spot for the night. No such luck. We had seen a Maccas sign in our map book about 1.5 kms out of our way and thought at least we could dry out our gear….. As we came to cross the last road to the Golden Archway, we came to the distressing conclusion that Maccas was closed and being refurbished.  The Lawsons next door just didn’t cut it. I hijacked the hand dryer to try to dry some gear (and warm my hands) while Andy was counselling himself over the lack of Mc Henro burgers and had no idea what to do.
After 30 mins of useless talk, we ventured across the road to Hallows. Open 24 hours. We dropped our packs in the corner and wandered the aisles while somebody made a deposit on Andy’s Henro hat! We did look kinda desperate.
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After 3.5 hours there, we’d been to the 100 yen shop next door, bought rain pants and ponchos, pranced around looking like hobos, bought some food and a bottle of red, been to the bathroom to wash out some wet socks and dryed my top in the automatic hand dryer. Haven’t exhausted the potential of this place yet…
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Or so we thought. The security dude thought we had…… Kicked out onto the streets at 10:30pm.
We trudged on through the town looking for potential accommodation. A shrine 5 kms further on towards Temple 71 was spotted by yours truly and we bunkered down on the concrete for 4 hours.
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Saturday. Day 19
Up before daybreak incase we were given some strange Shrine-like ritual to perform. Fortunately the only voyeur was an old guy walking a dog.
Temple 71 was tucked into the side of a hill with over 500 stairs to get up to it. The best temple we had of all 10 we saw today. All the others were pretty much in town and lacking in character. The other highlight of the day was getting to the 1,000km mark of our trip, somewhere around Temple 77.
Celebration!
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Osettai today from an old guy giving us a miniature figurine, a guy in a sports car gave us cold bottled water, temple lady gave us Yakult and cake, monk doing stamping at Temple 80 gave us ice cream and origami toothpicks. Winning.
Not wanting to lug a bento up the next mountain, we feasted on Maccas before a 500 metre climb towards temple 81.
Accommodation sorted near the top with fab view. Shame about the lack of walls, but it was in our budget. 😉 Washed socks and feet in tiny stream.
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Going to be a cold night up here.

Sunday. Day 20
Slept on a cold bench not quite wide enough to sleep on without falling off.
First night I’ve put my thermal top on and waterproof pants to stop the draft. At least there weren’t any randoms…. or rats.
Woke early, keen to get moving and warm up. By the time we got to Temple 81 it was 6:50am. Waited 10 mins for the gates to open. Lots of levels to explore, but too many commercial signs wrecking the stonework, buildings and garden. Monk stamping our books looked miserable but still gave us osettai of lollies.
Bought a can of hot coffee from vending machine before the 7 kms to Temple 82.
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On the way there we had lovely trail and a couple of Henro huts. First one was manned by three old men who gave us cans of coffee, a bag of chips and rice crackers. Nobody could understand a word spoken, but plenty of laughs between us.
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Another few kms down the road, we left our packs near the junction used to go to temple 83 and found the trail to a new Henro hut with a loft, nibbles and lemongrass tea. A brand new shoe free hut…. always found at 10am, not 5pm.
Temple 82 had lots of stairs, beautiful garden and a dark alcove around the temple to walk around. More candy from monk. We must be looking desperate…
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A fair bit of walking in an urban area along the river watching rubbish flow by. A man tending his garden with three teeth yelled out to me to “chotto matte kudasai”. A few minutes later he emerged from his house with 2 bits of paper.
They had Y1000 and Marunuki on them. I thought maybe they were like gift vouchers and thanked him in my fine Japanese when I realised there was a Marunuki 200 metres down the road. We ventured inside to ask if the paper was indeed worth anything and yes…. Our lunch paid for!
Temple 84 was up a climb of 400 metres and by the time we got to the top we were slathered in sweat. Great view down from where we came from and again on the way out of where we were going.
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Shitty horrid trail back down saw me take a spill. A combination of no tread on my heels, too much downhill scrunching of toes making me lean back and stupid pack laid down with too much food and water…. And shitty trail…. and trying to go too fast. Man up Trumper, it’s just a flesh wound.
We had one more temple to get to before 5pm. A big downhill and then another big uphill climb. It was only 6 Kms away but it all depended on the condition of the trail. We had 80 mins. Should be ok as long as there are no more slips.
A man up a ladder tending his fruit tree offered osettai (I think it was fruit) but I was too busy keeping up with Andy to be polite and accept.
Through the town and up the next hill, Andy again (or still) in front when a lovely lady again wants to give me “osettai”.
Andy kept climbing the hill while I had tea and lychee (I think) jelly, biscuit and rice pudding!
I had to decline second helping as it was 4:40pm and the temple 1.2 kms up the mountain was closing at 5pm. Andy would be a little agitated if I hadn’t got my stamp book signed before 5 pm! The plan was to then get off the mountain and down to town near Temple 86 for the night.
Searching for somewhere to stay was proving a problem. Andy’s Scottish friend raised it’s Golden Archway and we ventured on in to find a table next to a power point.
2 hours later I’m stressed as to where to sleep for the night. It’s dark and we have no spot. I suggested going back to the very exposed Henro shelter a km back down the road with no toilet in sight. We spent an hour walking around for something better before we ended up back there.
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Considering it’s position, it was a pretty peaceful night. Up at 5 to get to Maccas for a coffee (and Andy for a burger or two, hash brown or two…..) before the 7 am stamping at Temple 86.
87 was bugger all 7 Kms later. It was all about getting to the last temple. 88.
We wandered into the Henro roadhouse and received our certificate of completion before the climb to 88. What a climb.

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Seriously. Hands and feet scramble. It was so bad I reckon I had swear words coming out my mouth I’d never heard of…
To make things worse, I tried to get some stupid awesome shot up the top for Roger and lost my sunnies down the cliff. The Japanese guy we’d passed earlier had appeared and offered to get them for me but I told him that was what Andy was for…. I also made sure Andy left his pack behind in case there was something in it that I wanted incase he didn’t come back 😉
Thanks buddy. I don’t know if I would have ventured down there and I can’t read the map without them!
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Monkeys! We had monkey’s today!!! They were playing Donkey Kong and at one stage bowled a rock straight down the cliff next to us. Duck and weave. They acted like naughty kids.
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The trail down to 88 was tough. It was raining and windy. Andy was ahead and I took my time in the hope of not breaking an ankle. I got down to the temple with no sight of Andy. A few minutes later he arrived after waiting up the mountain for me at a lookout. After 1200 Kms I think we’ve been pretty lucky to not lose each other.
As expected reaching this point was not that exciting.
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Our plan was to fist pump and move on to Shirotori Onsen and a “henro shelter” 9 kms down the trail. We were in rain jackets and ponchos. By 3 pm we’d found the glorified bus shelter…
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and walked across the road to our choice of two Onsens. One had been closed for 2 years. We chose the other one.
400 yen later I was walking through the red door and Andy venturing through the blue. His first experience at an Onsen.
I washed my hair! With two cups of Onsen shampoo I WASHED MY HAIR! After 3 weeks of baby wipes, my body was smothered in soap and water and my hair was CLEAN!!!!!

Had great chats with naked Japanese women, weighed myself in at 5 kgs lighter. Got stinking hot in one tub and then relaxed in the bubbles while some old geezer with a hip replacement and more body fat than most Nihon jins watched over me.
We’d decided to meet back after an hour. I had used the hair dryer to fast track my washing while Andy found the beer vending machine. Knowing me well, he was smart enough to wait for me before a beverage at 4:55pm.
Next to the beer machine was the plastic food!
By 6 pm we were ordering Ebi tempura udon for me, Donburi, soba noodles and heaps more for Andy.
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Sitting on the floor, charging phones and Suunto and drinking beer.

Life is good. And Andy doesn’t smell…..anymore.
Back in bus shelter. Windy and raining but so happy to be clean.

Last Day! Tuesday day 22
Up in the rain to finish what we started 3 weeks ago. It should be just over 30 Kms to get back to Temple 1.
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The going was slow. Andy wanted to get on the busy road to find a coffee and food.  After 13 kms  we’d witnessed a guy on a push bike almost made minced meat as he turned right in front of a huge truck. He wasn’t at all fazed.
Stopped at 7/11.
Coffee drunk.
Up some wet, slippery trail and down the other side before deciding to take a bit of road after even Andy had slipped.

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Monkeys played in the hills before the road to Temple 1.
We received our stamp from the same office we’d bought the books from 3 weeks ago and were given two hat pins when they heard we’d done all 88 temples in three weeks on foot..
Spent a couple of hours drying feet, changing socks, taking photos, getting osettai of tea and biscuit in the shop with new friend Minako. She had set up her tent next to us two nights ago. Osettai at the temple gate from an old persons bus trip. Could have sworn they’d never seen a gaijin.
After offering our shoes to numerous people, we ventured to Lawsons to place said footwear in bin. Shikoku 2352

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Gyoza and wine for lunch. Andy was into beer.
Found a table too close to the road, but spotting a powerpoint to charge phones and watches could not be passed up. Sat and ate. A young couple came over to talk (well sort of….) lots of laughing before conversing became too difficult. Sayonara!
30 mins later same couple arrive with sake and beer osettai!
The generosity of Shikoku to Henro has to be seen to be believed.
Spent the night in the German Park where it all started 3 weeks ago with another Japanese Henro and a fleet of monster mozzies. Quick trip to 7/11 for some granola to nibble on for dinner and a mosquito coil lit back in the shed with little effect on the killer mozzies. The noise was unbearable.

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Wednesday.
Awoke early in the slaughter house with a decent corpse collection. Proof of a crap nights sleep. Coffee from Lawsons and decision made to get to train station bound for Tokushima as we’d pretty much exhausted things to do in Bando.
Next train was an hour after we arrived at the station 9:45. 5 stops later and we found ourselves in the big smoke. Ventured out in the direction of a Henro hut to investigate potential accommodation for the night. Hut was useless but just up the hill was a Shrine. Quiet undercover area sorted for later that day as rain was forecast at night.
Trusting the locals, we left our packs (no, we carried our passports… we’re not that stupid.) I’d spotted Loft, Uni Glo and Muji for some retail therapy.
Andy in his Welsh/Scottish desperation decided he needed a stop at yet another Scottish establishment for a Mac Henro meal. I’d already cased a Yakitori bar that was packed at lunchtime and was on the agenda for an early dinner. A walk along the river in search of the joint and in we ventured to the last two seats in the joint… Right in front of the chef and the raw fish head.

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In perfect Nihongo, I ordered namai beeru and Yakitori.
The haze of cigarette smoke and the loud laughter made for a colourful sight. The chef would get his phone out to translate what he was preparing. Sea urchin, Chinese yam, tuna etc. His phone was filthy!
Two beers appeared in front of us…. ossetai from a couple sitting near us. Arigato gosaimasu!
We left a very rowdy Isakaya a couple of beers later to find our abandoned packs exactly where we’d left them.
Up the stairs to the Shrine to organise our benches for the night.

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Awoke to rain at daybreak 4:53am. Keen to be half clean for the evening flight to Cairns, I found the loo and got into clean clothes. Back to my bench to pack my bag when we became surrounded by little old women. I packed up and moved the benches back to where I found them. Andy had crap all over the place and benches not in the right spot for the little ladies to do their exercises.

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He was in the middle of their exercise class. Hilarious.
We watched and waited till they had finished. (wouldn’t dare be rude and not stay till the end!)

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By 6:30 we were back on the streets looking for coffee.
Crossing a road I had excruciating pain in my shoe. Breathless and with Andy in front, I couldn’t even yell to get him to turn around. Within a second I had managed to rip my shoe and sock off to see a 12 cm giant Japanese centipede fly out of my shoe. The pain was unbearable.

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No idea what to do next. All I wanted to do was sit down and amputate my toe.
Spotted a bench 40 metres away and hobbled over. Andy had tried to kill the little bastard.
I needed to get my pack off but couldn’t let go of my foot.
What the hell was going to get rid of this pain?
Nice that Andy was speechless…. Doesn’t happen very often. Worried about toxins and how dangerous a bite could be, Andy consulted Dr Google.
“Rarely deadly” and “pain can last 48 hours” was the best and worst news.
I don’t know what would have happened if this event took place on some remote mountain we’d climbed in the past few weeks.
My shoes had been on for over an hour without any feeling of an alien invading. What the?
Google suggested hot water. Our very last day in Japan and this happens.

Andy took a photo of the beast and crossed the road to the 7/11 for hot water.

Nothing was going to help this pain. Not even the boiling water. If someone had said amputation would work, I would have gladly donated my toe.

After around 90 mins, we had given up the idea of exploring the city and Andy suggested we move a couple of hundred metres down the road to the train station and a Starbucks for a comfy dry seat. It was a painful, slow hobble. The “rarely deadly” bit sounded like anaphylaxis to the toxin to me. Not having any allergies, I was more worried about the pain than dying…..

I wanted to just get on a bus and get to the airport, but being a few hours travel on a bus, it was a smart move to stay put. If I had any issue, it was best to be in a big city. Google suggested getting to a hospital, but the thought of being stuck in Tokushima and not allowed to fly was not an option.

Shikoku. Day 12-16. 875kms of hills and filth.

11 Aug

Day 12. Saturday, May 30th.
The answer to the question everyone is asking me is “no”. We haven’t showered since we left Sydney 14 days ago……

Two smelly soldiers had 33 kms to reach Temple 41. It was “stinking” hot. Drinking Pepsi by 10 am. Thank Buddha for cold vending machines.

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Temple 42 (only 2.6 Kms over the hill) is where you pray for your animals. A quick “hello” to my old Bernese Mountain Dog, Darcy and chat to the Monk doing our stamp. He had a toothache I asked him if it was tooth hurty, and he said “no it’s 1 o’clock….”

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The rain started.
A man in a car offered to drive us to Temple 43, 11 kms away… I had to decline even though you should always accept “osettai”. Beautiful temple.

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We walked along a main road to find lunch in the rain at 3:30.

We stayed on the road in the hope of finding a toilet floor to dry out and possibly call it a day. We found two. Both were locked. Someone must be on to us….. On we plodded in the pouring rain. Maybe our tents were going to have to come out finally. The thought of having to carry a wet tent in our packs tomorrow kept us moving. Trucks splashing any road puddle seemed to venture much higher on my body than Andy’s…

We were hoping to eat the soba noodles we’d bought for dinner in some fancy accommodation. They were eaten in a bus shelter while we were intermittently splashed by the trucks.

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There was no choice but to continue on. We found a nice verandah of a closed shop, but a barking dog next door made us move on. After a few kilometers of very wet road, we spotted a henro hut with no walls. It was more like a picnic table. The rain was coming down and it was windy. Trucks hooning down the road meant a noisy night, but we managed to dry out some of our gear.

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Day 13. Sunday, May 31st.

No shower appeared. 2 weeks, no wash.

The next morning was misty but dry. Beside the hut was an antique portaloo…. more like a drop toilet. I would rather squat in the bushes than die of the vapour that infused into my brain when I opened the door.
The mist lifted and we had another stinking hot temple free day to run. The distance between Temple 43 and 44 was 68.3kms.
First break after 15kms was Maccas. One Maccas meal a week is pretty welcome. They have dry tables and chairs and sometimes power points! (yeah, ok, they have real people’s toilets as well…)
Another offer of “osettai” in the form of a Japanese couple wanting to drive us to a temple. A polite ” ii e keko des” and they drove off.
It was a two ice cream day and the lunchtime stop involved me taking off my top at a tap in a small village to wash it. I really think I’m beginning to smell…
Big climb at the end of the day after following the river for most of the day.
Bought dinner as we just knew from experience that we’d find an appropriate spot to rest our weary legs. We’ve really scraped the bottom of the barrel so expectations are pretty low…..
Henro hut spotted, but the toilet block 50 metres away near the Sports Centre was even better with power points!

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Ate dinner then went to attempt to splash myself in the ladies loos.
Vending machine with flashing lights was a welcome disturbance for the night. Better than highway noise.

Day 14. Monday 58.5 kms
Temples 44-50
Left our pack hidden in the henro hut garden and went to Temple 45 before going back to 44 and picking up pack. Nice to get 20 Kms in without the load.
Temple 45 was so remote. Cave to an alter. Huge rock face.
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Beautiful trail to get there. Pretty special being out as the sun was rising through the trees.
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Back to temple 44 before cranking up the heat and doing the 17 Kms to temple 46.
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Hoping to get through Temple 50 before stamp office shuts at 5pm. Got there at 4:30 pm with the usual mind games starting of where we’d be sleeping. With 10 kms between 50 and 51, we made our way past Dogo Onsen a hot spring believed to be Japan’s oldest at 3,000 years.
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God I need a wash! There were beautiful people walking around in kimono looking clean. I don’t think we’d have been welcome.
After going an extra 5 Kms, we stopped at a supermarket to buy dinner and breakfast. Out the door to find sleeping quarters for the night. A Golden archway just down the road was a missed opportunity to have sat at a table to eat dinner…
Spotted a green metal fence that spells school, or park. In to investigate potential sleeping quarters. Kids were playing.
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Oooh, toilet block. This could be digs for the night……
The worst effing choice. Ever.
By 9:30 pm we’d decided the disabled quarters was prime real estate. By 10pm we were seriously regretting our smugness as some Japanese dude lit up a ciggie a metre from the door which we had left a shoe in to ventilate the stench that was in there before (yes, BEFORE) we arrived. Then the cavalry arrived. 4 or 5 dudes now shining their torches in to see who we were. I had my sleeping bag over my face in the corner while Andy was lying across the door with no shirt on looking like something from a concentration camp (oh, that’s not a good thing to write… Stuff that. This is MY blog.) One guy was asking in broken English some questions. I would have just answered with “Henro” but didn’t want to give it away that one of us was female. I’ll let Andy deal with it.
Finally left alone. For an hour. By midnight we had another visitor. These nights in cities (Matsuyama) bring a totally different problem to finding a home for the night and getting 60 Kms done.

Mozzies were atrocious, the smell shocking and seriously stifling conditions.
Up at 4:30am (I did not sleep) put all my gear outside the toilet and breathed.

No complaints from Andy. We were outta there. “Ohayo gozaimasu” to the old lady gardening at 5 am getting weeds off a path but leaving rubbish everywhere. There is so much rubbish lying around and not a bin in sight.
We carried out our rubbish for over 10 kms before we found somewhere to dispose of it.
Off for another full day with no sleep. Stuffed… my hair is the dirtiest it has ever been, lucky I don’t possess a mirror.

Tuesday Day 15. Yes, we officially smell.
Nothing exciting about the two temples this morning.
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What was exciting was being offered “osettai” of 500 yen and then later in the morning meeting a lovely old couple who just didn’t want to leave us alone….
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So much so, the old lady who had been walking with her husband appeared on a motor bike 20 mins later with “osettai” Nibbles and postcards.
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She was so happy, spoke no english, and when I gave her one of my opal koala bear pins, she nearly cried.
We were skirting the inland sea on the north shore and could see Honshu. It made us feel like we were getting somewhere.

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We arrived at Temple 57 at 4:30pm. After that, our plan was to find the henro hut up in the mountains with dinner from Circle K. It was raining. Any henro hut would do. Found it right on the road. No toilets, water or power, but that also means no jerks to invade our serenity.
Just wish I could wash my socks…
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Weds. Day 16
Up at 2 am to stick plastic food container in the rain to soak my socks in. Voila, washed by 6am 😊
Still pouring when we got up.
Got Temples 58, with osettai of mekan (mandarin) and then 59 out of the way and started the 27 kms to Temple 60.

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Yet another offer of osettai from a guy in his car giving us cans of green tea.
The 7 km hike up to 60 was beautiful.

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Streams, trees and mountains hidden in cloud.

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Total highlight of the day was the monk at Temple 60 stamping our books. He did UTMB (Ultra Tour Mt Blanc 100 miler) last year in 41 hours and had a Patagonia t-shirt under his robe!
His backyard is trail heaven.

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I had to pay the 600 yen for both our stamps with a 10,000 yen note. When he came to giving me change he placed the money on the bench like a high rolling gambler! Great sense of humour.

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Found Henro hut and toilet about one km from the next temple and wandered into town to the supermarket to buy dinner.

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Ate at the Henro shelter then washed up in the toilets and charged electronics off the toilet fancy flush power point.
Thinking the toilet block may be warmer and more sheltered than the Henro bench……yeah, wait for it. This may get ugly…..

Dirty. Day 11. No smart arse title to this one….

25 Jul

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Day 11, Friday. 56 kms.
Pleasant morning starting around the reservoir towards Temple 39. Birds had built a nest over a toilet at the temple, turtles were sitting on rocks. Serenity ruled.

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Temple 40 was 26 kms away with a huge climb over a mountain.

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When we arrived, a Japanese henro with limited english gave me a sutra to read. He also helped me do the candle and incense thingy. Andy made some stupid excuse, like he had to go to the toilet, or he was too busy, so I managed to feel like an idiot all by myself.

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I bumbled my way through the pages trying to sound authentic. I don’t think I looked or sounded that convincing, but I’m sure I was “blessed” for at least trying.
Left temple 40 hoping to get 15 kms up the coast. It was hot.

Passed a tortoise, possibly trying to bury her eggs on the trail.

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We met Eduardo from the Philippines working with disadvantaged kids. He bought us a soft drink from a vending machine (osettai) and we went back to his work to meet some of the kids. Andy unsuccessfully tried a unicycle that was built for a five-year old.

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Finished the day with 56 kms and a henro room, sadly no shower… It’s been 12 days… socks do get washed out if they stand up on their own…. guessing we still smell better than these guys…

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Beautiful sunset and fishing town.

Shikoku 1011Shikoku 1020A little cramped, but free with a view. No complaints tonight.

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Conbene (convenience store) finally found a few kilometres further down the road after being refused by a lady not wanting us to eat at her restaurant.(closed apparently, or maybe our socks are standing up?)

Andy, with all his Japanese language skills, was convinced that the sign below said it was open “til 7”😉

… likewise, all the “self” serve petrol stations seemed to be open “til 7” also…. (you need to be able to read katakana to get the joke…)

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“Hey Andy, do my feet smell?”

16 Jul

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Day 10, 76kms, no shower for 10 days….

Up early… (no shit Sherlock, did you read my last post?)
Today we could leave our packs for the out and back to Temple 38. Felt pretty good dumping them behind a hedge. Off we went in search of food.

7 kms later, with bellies full of coffee and onigiri, we ventured off to find Kongofukuji (# 38) supposedly 24 kms away. (yeah, right…)

Passed a couple of well dressed henros suffering in the heat.478

Temple 38 finally appeared on Cape Ashizuri-misaki after travelling 30 kms.

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The same henros were suffering even more so when we passed them on our way back from visiting the temple. We had done an extra 20 kms while they rested. My caring side emerged for just a second…..

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The locals played….

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Smoked sardines…..

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499and generally carried about their daily activities. (OK, that’s my attempt of an artistic shot of smelly fish.)

There was so much rubbish on the coast. The millions of bottles and cans in vending machines seemed to end up in waterways and on their way to the ocean. There were no public rubbish bins anywhere. Littering appeared to be accepted, making Shikoku look third world. The only disappointing part of the whole trip was the rubbish.

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Spotted a terribly fancy henro hut with beds, stove, table and chairs, even a washing machine! I was pretty close to curling up in foetal position and crying. They are never where we need one.

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Strolled past some dude dancing to Bob Marley. Two tents and a hut selling drinks that was advertising some Reggae night.

489After 55 kms, we were back to where we had breakfast for a late lunch. As we were not expecting any towns before tomorrow, we loaded up buying dinner and breakfast.
After all the trivial food was discussed, I asked Andy if he was buying any beer, as I was going to get a half bottle of red (seeing nothing was going to be kept cold) He said he couldn’t be bothered carrying anything for another 20 kms. He sure as hell wasn’t going to drink my rations!
We carried our purchases for the 7 kms back to our packs to continue north for a while.
After close to 70 Kms, what should emerge but a vending machine selling beer…. Andy smug. Me not so.

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Not finding the advertised henro huts and being totally disappointed, we kept moving until we passed a park with a somewhat dodgy picnic table. Maybe it would do for the night.
After eating our banquet, it became obvious that Andy’s frame would not fit on one of the benches and could pose a problem if it rained. Andy went off in search of a toilet block that maybe we could call home for the night. Mission accomplished. 76km day.

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Woken during the night by rain. Oh how lucky was I to be tucked up in a disabled toilet. I had the room all to myself with a locked door. Andy was next door sleeping with the urinals. Happy days.

The “When will we shower?” game isn’t funny anymore.

13 Jul

Shikoku 837Day 9, Wednesday. 58kms.
Managed to sneek away at 6 am before anyone found us on the back deck of the restaurant. Yeah, I know. What losers.
Made sure fridge remained full of wine and beer and turned back on after charging our phones and GPS watches. Ventured next door to Lawsons to buy coffee. 9 days of bad coffee is better than no coffee. The little things you look forward to. Oh, and how exciting is it to find a real toilet instead of a squatty one!
Sat around in the sun before making our way to Temple 37.

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The ritual of having our heavy (well, you carry it for 1200kms…..) book stamped at each temple was a bit like a road block/checkpoint on The Amazing Race. We only had between 7am and 5pm to have them stamped and every one cost 300yen. Multiply that by 88 (temples) and there goes  Y26,400. That’s $300 Aussie dollars. Most expensive book I’ve got. Cheaper than a few marathon entries though.

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Long day, temps in mid/high 30s. We were pretty smashed by lunchtime, but continued along until we pulled up stumps in a small egg/ octopus restaurant around 2pm. Ordered okonomiaki and Andy also had ramen. We left the beer alone today. It was too hot and we had a fair way to go. Drank the restaurant out of water… consumed at least 2 litres each. Was going to leave this photo out but it tells a million words….totally stuffed by the heat.

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After filling up our water bottles, we ventured out for more hill and heat training. Found an old lady with an umbrella on the side of the road selling ice cream cones. Pretty sure she’d made the ice cream herself. Didn’t care if it was her breast milk. Anything to cool down.
Hot. Hot. Hot.

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With a void of 82 kms between temple 37 and 38, we planned to make it to the other side of Shin-izuta tunnel, to a spot where we can leave our packs for the out and back tomorrow to Temple 38. Would be a luxury to ditch them for a few Kms and give our backs a rest.
After 58 Kms and going through the 1.6km tunnel we arrived at our destination.  There was supposed to be a Drive in Suisya restaurant but it looks like it’s been closed for years. There goes any chance of having dinner. There was however, a long row of vending machines and a toilet block!

Beside the disabled toilet was an area with benches. Score! No sleeping on the floor!

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Will feast on rice crackers as we are too stuffed to venture 3 Kms down the road to find dinner. That’s 3kms if you believe the guide book.

Pretty sure the sign next to our accommodation says “No sleeping here” or something along those lines, but gaijins can’t read Japanese.😉

No beer, but had a good a choice of soft drink/coffee in a can……….

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Awake most of the night with cars idling, people talking, smoking and buying cans of drink.
4am… Old dude decides to use disabled toilet that has our washing strewn all over the place and my Suunto charging at the power point where the automatic hand wash water comes from. He hits the emergency button so sirens are going off. I go over to ask if he’s “Daijabu desuka?”  No answer. 5 mins later, alarms still ringing he emerges. The kind caring nurse that hasn’t been around for a while takes over, finds the cancel buttons to TWO alarms he’d set off and also manages to flush the toilet…. 😫

Let’s stop playing the game, “Where will we sleep tonight?”

11 Jul

424Day 8, 57 kms.

Pretty well expected to be woken up early by the toilet’s sensor light going off, which was getting a little monotonous. Happy to pack up, get outta there and make the climb to Temple 36. Disabled toilets are better used for their original purpose more than sleep.
Met a lovely 61 year old henro from Nara before stamp office opened. He looked no older than 35, this Buddha stuff seemed to work wonders with youth….
A monk going up to the temple with a statue in a baby sling asked us to touch it for happiness. Some rather strange sights were beginning to be every day occurrences….

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We had decided to take the harder trail and coastal cliffs instead of inland route and were rewarded with fantastic ocean and coastline views.

Plenty of wildlife. Passed a dead badger(? Got a photo but pretty sure you don’t want to see it……) turtle in river, stingray in bay. Stinking hot again. Should have gone for a dip. We stopped at a wood shop for a coffee…. weird place with a special chair for Andy….

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Met a Japanese and Chinese henro in a hut wearing every bit of pilgrim garb and offering us bean paste biscuits. I finally perfected my “Ki o tsukete” thanks to the Korean girl. It was a saying I had heard so many times and means “take care” (on your trip.) It can only be said to people as they leave on a trip, not to people that are staying in their normal surrounds. You can imagine how many times I said it to henros…. now that I knew I could.

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Saw some great Henro huts including one with a bed in it! If only one of these could pop up around 5pm. Even 3pm. Just not to tease us when we still have 30kms to do. One really does wonder why there isn’t a beer vending machine next to the hut……

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Our day got a whole lot longer when the route we were taking was closed because of logging. We were sent up a road and through 5 tunnels on one climb. It was still stinking hot. We continued up, and up.

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With 59 kms between Temple 36 and 37, we knew we couldn’t get to Iwamotoji (Temple 37) before the stamp office closed at 5pm.

We were given osettai of 100 yen from this lady with three teeth, then, another 100 metres along the same street, we were also given two small cakes from a bakery.

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Around Shimanto town we thought we’d have shelter at the roadhouse, but it was too open and busy. Lawsons across the road was an obvious choice to buy dinner and then a walk to stalk a home for the night. After stuffing around and finding nothing, we manned up, got gutsy and found ourselves outside a closed restaurant called Loggers. To cut a long story short and leaving my dignity intact, I would have been happy on a toilet floor tonight…… anyhoo…. no toilet.

The back verandah of Loggers Restaurant became home for the night.

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Bonus fridge on the verandah, full of beer and wine was left alone, its power point though, was most appreciated….

Hey, you know that photo of a badger… maybe you do want to see it?421

Wooo hooo!!! Week no wash!!!

2 Jul 404

404Day 7….

How excited can one get about clean socks?🙂

We collected all our stuff, including our rubbish, that we seem to have to carry every morning till the next 7-11 or Lawson, as there are no rubbish bins in the streets. None. Sadly, we do notice an abundance of litter in the streets, on the beaches, trails, forests…. everywhere.

We arrived at Temple 30, ZenrakujiI before 7am and waited for the stamp office to open. Andy was starting a ritual of enjoying the temple toilets. I waited for the stamp…then I waited for Andy… no photos, thankfully.

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It was only 7kms to Temple 31, which was the best so far. Walked behind a bell ringing pilgrim up a steep trail to Temple Chikurinji, located in the beautiful Makino Botanical Garden. We had been taught how to wear our Sugegasa (hat) the correct way and got a kick out of spotting a Japanese Henro with his hat on backwards. I said “Mae” to him, telling him he had the front of his hat at the back… 😉 Smart arse alien. He thanked me.

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Smart little henros read the guide book each evening to prepare themselves for the surprises thrown at them every day. Sometimes the book helps, sometimes it doesn’t…  like when shops have disappeared….

Today was a good day to be prepared. Between Temple 32 and 33 was a stretch of water. What could have been quite stressful, became a moment to sit, move and eat icecream. Taking us from Tanezaki Port to Nagahama Port with locals that had ventured over to do their shopping, we knew the ferry left 10 minutes after each hour during work hours. A few moments in shade with our packs off.

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We left our packs at the bottom of hill to make our way up to Temple 35, Kiyotakiji. A relief to get the weight of out backs and cool down a bit. Weird guy in car offering us sweets with ventriloquist looking doll in passenger seat… mmm?
Flea markets/commercial stalls outside and inside temple gate just didn’t seem right. Surely there is a more honorable way of respecting this way of worship?

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Temps in the 30s was beginning to take its toll. It was hot.

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Pushing on to a couple of Kms before Temple 36, we had read about a bus shelter that sounded better than the last few night’s accommodation… we found nothing.
No sign of a decent shed/bench/hotel(Ha!) to sleep, but found a park under Usa-ohashi bridge. Enjoyed watching the burning sun finally go down while eating dinner (yup, from 7-11) in the park with lots of feral cats hanging around. We had washed out some clothes in the disabled toilet and hung them under a pagoda. That’s where we thought we’d be sleeping, on the benches where we’d had dinner, but it just didn’t feel safe.

This was the only other option……..

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Disabled toilet that had a sensor light that turned on every time there was movement (;)). That bus stop from last night looks good now, doesn’t it?

Stench on a bench. Day 6.

1 Jul

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Day 6. Sunday. 63kms
Bus shelter etiquette #101. The thought of some clean, well dressed Shikokan having to sit next to someone who hasn’t showered for 6 days (moi?) would not help Japan/Australia relations. We were getting savvy. We knew that the last bus left at 8:30pm. Time to roll out the mats and god forbid….. take off our shoes. Plenty of banter between the smelly Pom and the Potpourri Princess.😉

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We would be sure to leave the door open to rid evil aromas when we left.

As expected, Temple 27 was up a huge hill. We left our packs near the bottom and felt as free as a bird for the 4 km uphill!

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Skirting the coast for the rest of the day, we got harassed / adopted by some woman who would not let us out of her sight. She was worried that we would be in danger on the road… I had to pretend I understood everything she said or she’d just raise her voice and almost hug us. She just would not go away, driving off, then stopping her car further up the road.  Andy found it so funny he filmed the conversation from the toilet. When we finally thought we’d brushed her off, she offered us osettai…. lemons.

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We spent some time on a cycle path where we were passed by a couple of henros on bikes. We had been playing leap-frog with them for the last couple of days. They would laugh as they passed each time wondering when they would finally shrug us off. I was now quite envious of their panniers.

After heading inland and being 38kms past  Temple 27, we found Temple 28. Now it was a do we, or don’t we rush to Temple 29 before the stamp office closed at 5pm. Of course we do.

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Dinner bought at Family Mart included a couple of Asahi for when we finally stopped for the night. It was becoming some ugly game to see what we could find. Dreaming of sleeping on something soft, a BBQ, spa, masseur and a power point… there was supposed to be a numbered henro hut called Kamohara around the corner, we were hopeful for something special.
Walked a further 4 kms before we found a bench. (OK, so the numbered henro huts aren’t so special anymore.)

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Made of bamboo slats with trickling water and a POWER POINT, it was the perfect opportunity to do some washing and charge up the phones and GPS. No privacy from the road, no toilet, but at least we found a couple of brooms to sweep out the cigarette butts. The ashtray was full and a permanent fixture that we couldn’t move. It was immediately covered with a plastic bag to stop the smell.
Mozzies everywhere…..

Total distance for 6 days, 342kms.

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