(Hongu Taisha to Koguchi- Distance: 13kms. Walking time 4hrs 25mins to 5hrs 35mins. Elevation 55m to 450m to 50m)
I woke to a symphony of birds greeting the new day. The sound of so many birds chirping and squawking was unusual here. Although magpies, crows, cockies, rosellas and indian miners routinely celebrate the rising of the Sun at home in Melbourne, I had only seen and heard the occasional bird on Day 1 and 2 of my Kumano Kodo walk. I had concluded that this was a consequence of a lack of diverse flora in the forests and mountains through which I had trekked. Although there were ferns, grasses, bushes and the occasional wild flower here and there along the trail, most of the trees I had encountered so far were Japanese cedars, replanted to replace the various species of trees logged from these areas over the previous centuries. I had expected to see more Japanese maples and bamboo. Initially, the habitat appeared plentiful, but on closer inspection it was mostly barren, like a regrowth forest of Baltic pines that contains little more than pine cones, needles and sap.
However, the flora growing around Minshuku Momofuku and along the banks of the Yomura-gawa River was far more diverse than many of the areas I had trekked through so far and sustained a far greater diversity of fauna as a consequence. As I lay on my futon, it was like all the birds from kilometres around had decided to converge on this one place and proclaim their existence. I laid there for half an hour enjoying their song.
Yet their song was not the only indicator of abundant life here. As we were getting packed and ready to leave the guesthouse, Patrick, who had been outside walking in the garden, told us that he had seen a big monkey in a tree. I rushed outside to catch a glimpse of the simian, but unfortunately it had swung away. The thought of a wild monkey climbing through the trees less than ten metres away was exciting nonetheless.
Just as we were about to leave, the owner of the guesthouse arrived and gave each of us a complimentary bento box full of onari, triangles of glutinous rice filled with salty fish or spiced beef. This was a gracious gift, possibly a thank you for our liberal frequenting of his yakatori bar the night before.
We ate a basic breakfast across the river at the canteen of the Wataze Onsen and then caught a bus to the village of Ukegawa, a couple of kilometres east, to where the Kumano Kodo walk began again.
Ukegawa is a small village. There is not a lot there, but it does have a good convenience store. I purchased some chocolate as well a couple of sweet red bean rice cakes, a local delicacy, to supplement the onari I was going to eat for lunch on Day 3.
Leaving Ukegawa, we encountered a familiar brown Kumano Kodo signpost where the trail resumed. This one was no. 54. The initial part of the trail climbed steeply, although not as steep as at Takajiri-oji. After 5 kilometres of steady climbing, we reached the top of the mountain range and followed the trail as it levelled out, occasionally rising and falling. Compared to the two previous days of walking, the Kogumotori-goe section of the Kumano Kodo between Ukegawa and Koguchi was definitely the easiest part of the Kumano Kodo; and as we were to soon learn, easier than the final day of walking to Nachi-Taisha from Koguchi.
This part of the trail had a number of viewing points giving grand views of the mountains to the east and north east. We passed more teahouse ruins and shrines dedicated to local Shinto and Buddhist deities. At some of these, I prayed for the prosperity and health of my wife and son, and also for the continued health of Mik and Patrick so they could finish the Kumano Kodo.
Each day of the walk, I felt myself getting fitter and more agile. It was a joy for me to be able to concentrate just upon walking and put aside for a time the stresses of my working life back in Australia. The Kumano Kodo forced a welcome simplicity and focus upon the mind. I was also enjoying walking in my light Adidas runners. They had held up admirably to the rigours of the walk so far. However, Patrick was beginning to struggle. He had slipped over several times as the grip on his hiking boots was insufficient for safely traversing the stones and steps that frequently lay on our path. He had also strained a muscle in his foot which made the walk even more challenging for him. Yet, in spite of this, he continued doggedly ahead as he was determined to finish the Kumano Kodo.
Next post – Walking the Kumano Kodo: Afternoon of Day 3 (Saturday 28 September), Hongu Taisha to Koguchi.