Waking up in the Ryōkan was strange for a few reasons. (1) I knew I’d be going to sleep in the same spot I woke up, (2) I was in no rush, and (3) I was going to see a familiar face. Cindy’s bus wouldn’t arrive until 11AM and it would only take me 40 minutes to walk back to the bus stop. I had plenty of time.
I took this opportunity to open a book again. With this being the second quality reading session I would have in a stretch of less than twelve hours, I was beginning to feel like I was living luxuriously. I recall reading one line in particular, “wherever a man goes, man will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions,” (Walden, Thoureau). I couldn’t help but wonder if Shikoku, in some small way, had transcended this idea. There were still, of course, cities throughout the island and chain stores were spread out covering any area where groups of people had decided to live. Business hotels popped up to profit from the busloads of tourists visiting the temples. Yet, I knew of no other place where complete strangers took such an intense interest in each other’s lives and went through genuine effort to help see things move along smoothly.
What one might actually consider “dirty” institutions is up to the individual, but Shikoku was definitely not without it’s own form of them. Be that as it may, Shikoku seemed to care. It was a place where, if you were struggling, it would find a way to help. Whether that was in the form of a candy chomping Buddhist helping you with a place to stay, a group of women giving you food for the day, someone driving you to find free lodging, or someone giving you a drink when you were thirsty. Shikoku had a sense for what you needed and a desire to give it to you.
I did feel, however, that I was somehow corrupting the code. That by turning around, getting Cindy, and staying in the same place for two nights, I was abandoning the journey I’d originally set out on. Then again, this seemed irrelevant since I’d already doubted the legitimacy of my reasons for coming to Shikoku. Whatever the reasons were, they got me here and I was now far more interested in the present; and, at present, it was time to go meet Cindy.
This walk, unlike any other I’d experienced since coming to Shikoku, was easy. Not in a sense of difficulty pertaining to length, altitude, and weather conditions, but it was easy on my mind. I was in no rush; I had no concerns of where I was going for the rest of the day, and no worries about where I would be sleeping at night. Everything was already planned out and required little thought. It was also helpful that I was able to leave my backpack at the Ryōkan and was walking without the extra weight on my back.
The street by the bus stop was lined with tall shrubs that had occasional openings revealing paths to the rocky beach. I stood down the street from the bus stop in one of these openings looking into each bus as it passed by. In the first, there was no sign of Cindy. The second, still no. The third, in the back of the bus I saw her jump out of her seat and smile, she saw me too.
“That’s cool,” she said to me referencing my sugegasa. I let her wear it so that she would have something of the henro attire while she was walking on the trail with me. Before making the small hike up to Hotsumisakiji (24), we walked around the coast and took in the scenery. She found more appreciation in the landscape than I originally had, which made me grateful to have her with me. Truman Capote once wrote, “it is the double vision of sharing with your beloved which gives experience texture, shape, significance. To travel alone is to journey through a wasteland. But if you love enough, sometimes you can see for yourself, and for another, too.” I wouldn’t classify traveling without her as ‘traveling through a wasteland,’ but her company certainly provided new depth to my experience.
It proved to be that way for the rest of the day as well. I explained to her some of the traditions of the pilgrimage, reliving their discovery myself, and told her about some of the challenges I’d experienced in the past two weeks. The added camera angle of her iPhone proved to be it’s own advantage. Hotsumisakiji provided a quality first experience for her. We watched as one of the stamps were being put into someone else’s stamp book and she promptly scolded me for not getting a stamp book.
The walk down the other side of the mountain provided a much better environment than walking beside the industrial docks I had seen on the previous day and, with her company, the walk to Shinshōji (25) – which was near where we would be staying – felt half as long as it did the day before. Shinshōji may have been the most surprising of the temples I visited due to it’s small size. There we many steps leading up to just one building and a fountain. I was worried about any disrespect I was showing, but I could not help but to say, and I’m sure I was not the first, “this is it?”
It wasn’t the longest day, but she’d had a long night before it and was in need of a nap before we went out for dinner. I’d heard from one of the locals about a good place to go to get a special local dish. We went and were not disappointed. Now, when I say this, I do not say it without emphasis or intended exaggeration. This was the best thing I’ve ever eaten. It was that good. If there is any hyperbole in the words, it isn’t by much. I expect the dish to remain in the top three favorites all time. If ever you have the chance, go to Muroto in Shikoku and get a bowl of Kinmei-don. The eyeball wasn’t so bad either.
After our meal we went for a walk around the coastal town before returning to the Ryōkan to retire for the night. The next day would be her first –and really her only- full day of walking. There would be no sense in having her play with running the risk being tired on top of it. Even without the ease of knowing where we would be sleeping the next day sleep came easy knowing I had my second pair of eyes with me.