Shikoku Day Fourteen: Cindy’s Day

I expected that waking up with Cindy would be an improvement on the mornings prior, and I was accurate. I knew that I both enjoyed waking up with her and that I wanted to do it more often, but that wasn’t happening. While we were in Japan together I was working near Nagoya and she was studying just west of Tokyo. It was a 6-hour bus ride between the two. Sometimes she would come visit me and sometimes I’d visit her. The round-trip wasn’t cheap and we seldom had more than a weekend to spend with each other while often having a month or two in between. So, when I said we were living in Japan together, I lied. We were living apart from each other.

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The streets looked lonely. The businesses looked closed, the houses empty. My initial thought was that people were away for the holidays, but it seemed strange that an entire town would leave for what was a short holiday of three days. It was not an upsetting absence, just quiet; an unassuming absence that I had not even noticed as out of place until the third street we went down. Complete silence is such a foreign thing these days. There is always something to get in the way. But, we left it undisturbed.

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It wasn’t until we returned to a main roadway that we saw signs of active life apart from ourselves. The familiar sound of engines disturbed the silence we’d been enjoying. I wondered where they were going to and coming from since there seemed to be so little here. A woman approached us. She had short dark, curly hair and a hunched back, but did not look so thin and frail like many older Japanese women I’d seen. Her winkles reflected the strength of the years she’d endured and despite being half my height she looked me in the eye and was excited to help us.

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I liked these guys.

She rambled off directions to reach the next temple, pointing out the street we wanted to go down and explaining what we would be passing. She spoke fast, mostly to Cindy – she is Taiwanese so, many mistook her for Japanese. Luckily, Cindy’s language skills were better than mine and she could understand. There was a hospital we’d pass, a small bridge we’d go over, and then we needed to take a right into the fields towards the mountains to hike up to the temple. The hike at this temple would take tenIMG_3453 or fifteen minutes but, she warned us, the hike up to the next temple, the one we’d reach the following day, would be much more difficult. She spoke with a confident knowledge as if she’d walked this trail a hundred times. I wouldn’t doubt that she had. She wished us luck and walked away, not slowly, like a stallion past her prime trying to prove she could still stride well.

Together, we walked down the road, occasionally exchanging gear. I left my vest in my bag –it was starting to stink- she would walk with the kongozue (the staff) and I would have the sugegasa, then we’d switch, then she’d give me both. “I’ve been thinking about something,” I told her, “I think I might go back with you.” I’d been giving it a lot of consideration. I wanted to continue, but mostly only to prove that I could. “I’m not sure yet. But, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to go, and it would be easier to make the trip back to Tokyo together.”

She didn’t try to sway me one way or the other, maybe because she knows I usually tend to do the opposite of what people try to convince me of; a habit of being needlessly defiant. She now allows me to think too much on my own, which is wise. We passed the hospital and crossed the bridge that was described to us by the Japanese Stallion. There was a road marker indicating where we should make the turn. I partially wished there were no markers so her directions would have been more necessary. But, that was the way in Shikoku. If the road markers failed to help you, the people would not.

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The hike up to the temple was a challenge, but a pleasant one, not overexerting. The temple itself fell in line with what I had come to expect from past experience: it seemed the higher the temple was in the mountains the more I like it; this was not the highest, but it was higher than most. While I was taking pictures of scenes that had been left behind by past visitors, Cindy took pictures of me.

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We had a long walk to make it to any lodgings for the night so, while I enjoyed the temple, we made sure to move on before too long. Coming down the mountain we were, again, looking straight out onto the ocean. A walkway was not far from the road looking out over the ocean. Cindy wanted to stop and relax for a while. This had been against my typical habits in walking the trail. While there was daylight, I wanted to be moving. But, this was also one of the things that I appreciate most about Cindy; she slows me down.

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She’s more photogenic than me, but it is a pain to get her to smile on camera.

We sat looking out on the ocean and trying to be photogenic. If we failed I feel our surroundings helped make up for our shortcomings. Before returning to our walk we refueled at a restaurant that had amazing curry. I might choose to be a little more enthusiastic about the curry, but I don’t want to take anything away from the quality of the Kinmei-don from the previous night. I would never wish to diminish the glory of that dish.

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Having Cindy with me made things significantly easier since she had a phone. She called a few lodgings and we settled on a business hotel that had an Onsen on site. We now had a destination, but we still had quite a distance to travel. The trail began to alternate between the main roadway -where there was nothing but the road, the mountains to our right, and the ocean to our left- and passing through small towns that were similarly sparse in population. It seemed a definite possibility that there were more cats populating these small villages than there were people.

To say Cindy is a fan of cats is comparable to saying Cookie Monster takes some pleasure in a chocolate chip. I’m aware of the rumor that states that Cookie Monster is eating smarter these days, but we all know that doesn’t diminish his passion, and I couldn’t think of anything that could diminish Cindy’s. Each time we saw a cat we needed to stop. And if we saw one there was often three, four, or five more accompanying it. The pictures I have here could not nearly do justice to the amount that were taken.

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I felt almost evil in separating her from the cats, but we still had a long way to go and, though it was not yet getting dark, it was also not early. The cats kept coming. We saw them on roofs, in driveways, crawling out of garage doors. It was enough to give me practice at my evil task to the point where I would just shout at Cindy and keep walking. If she didn’t follow, she would have to meet me at the hotel. Maybe equally evil, but it got the job done.

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We passed through the village of cats, onto another long stretch of roadway, through another village –this one with a noticeable absence of cats- and into another stretch of roadway. We had one more village to go through and another stretch of roadway before reaching the town where our hotel was. I had my mind fixed on the Onsen as I was beginning to feel more discomfort than I had on the entire trail. In the arch of my foot and up through my right leg there was an intense, tight pain each time I applied pressure.

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I used the walking stick as my right leg putting as much of the force and weight of my body that I could into my arms instead. The practice helped the pain in my leg, but it was not an easier way to walk as I stabbed the stick in front of me with both hands and leaned against it moving forward. My arms could manage the pressure, but my left leg was jealous wishing it could get some of the rest as well.

“How are your legs feeling?” I asked Cindy.

“It feels like I’ve been wearing high heels for a long time.”

She hardly wears heels and I never do, but I knew enough to be aware that her feet weren’t feeling great. I didn’t expect they would by now. “We’ll be there soon,” I assured her. I think I said it more to comfort myself.

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When we did arrive it was a wonderful sanctuary to reach. A restaurant and an Onsen inside and I was ready for both. The Onsen provided everything I was hoping for: a quality bath with jets inside and a hot bubbling pool outdoors looking up at a night of stars. I even had the fortune or the men’s bath to myself for almost a half hour. By the time anybody else came in I was ready to go back to the room. When we returned to the room I collapsed on the bed and I did not move for the rest of the night. I was not even able to climb into my sheets.

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