(Koguchi to Nachi Taisha – Distance: 14.5kms. Walking time 5hrs 10 mins to 7 hrs 60mins. Elevation 60m to 840m to 330m)
I continued to climb. A little while later, I caught up to a couple of female hikers from the US who I had met on Day 2. They complained about being stung by giant suzumbachi hornets. According to my guide map, Autumn, i.e, now, was the season when the hornets were most aggressive. Although a hornet or two had buzzed me, I had not been stung.
Perhaps something in my mongrel blood repelled them or made me a less attractive specimen. This was certainly the case with mosquitoes as I rarely got bitten by them, particularly if I was near somebody else who had tastier blood than mine. Or maybe it was my attitude. In common with some other Australian travellers, I carried a healthy, one might even say an almost arrogant, disregard for the physical threat posed by insects and snakes from many foreign countries.
20 of the 23 most poisonous species of snakes in the world live in Australia. Three of these snakes – the brown snake, the tiger snake and the red-bellied black – I encountered as a child growing up on the Mornington Peninsula south of Melbourne or while hiking, or camping, in various parts of Australia as an adult. I almost stepped on a curled up red-bellied black sleeping on a track once when I was walking in the bush as a teenager with Mik. Luckily my dog Sandy warned me just before I let my foot fall on top of it. A brown snake killed one of my pet cats in the backyard of my childhood home. And I have frequently seen tiger snakes on day walks and overnight hikes. Bites from brown snakes and tiger snakes account for the majority of snake bite deaths in Australia.
Apart from snakes, Australia is also home to several species of poisonous spiders, such as the funnel web and the red back. While gardening, a red back spider bit my father on his arm a couple of times. His arm got infected and ballooned up as it filled with puss. He eventually went to a doctor who lanced his elbow and drained the puss from his arm. The doctor told my father he was lucky and that if he had waited any longer to come and see him then he probably would have needed to amputate my father’s arm.
My garage is full of red back spiders, big fat ones. They are shy and prefer the dark though, which is lucky, and I tend to just shoo them away when I see them.
Stinging ants, such as the bull ant and the jumping jack, also inhabit large areas of Australia. Bull ants are around 3 centimetres long, while jumping jacks are about half the size. Their nests are common in urban areas and very common in the bush. It is always necessary to check for their nests when walking in the bush and/or choosing a place to sit down. Both ant species are very aggressive and territorial. I remember walking through the bush once when I was about twelve or thirteen years old and being stung by a bull ant on the neck. It had jumped from an overhanging branch of a tea tree. I learnt much about pain on that day. The stings of bull ants and jumping jacks hurt, but aren’t fatal, except for people who allergic to them.
I wished the ladies well and strode onwards. Their hiking group had originally numbered four, but two of them had decided not to walk the Ogumotori-goe section of the Kumano Kodo to Nachi Taisha. They took a bus instead.
Shortly after leaving the ladies, a blue beetle flew past me and sped ahead of me along the trail. A forest guide, it lead the way forwards and encouraged me to go on. I took this as a good omen, a blessing from the Buddhist and Shinto deities that inhabited this region.
It was still early in the morning. I kept up a steady pace and my stride lengthened. Up, up and up I went. In my mind, I felt like I had evoked the spirit of Van der Knijff. One of this legendary hiker’s guide books about hiking in the Victorian Alps sat on a book shelf in my home back in Australia. Its front cover shows an eagle-eye view of Van der Knijff jogging along a scree strewn track up the side of a steep mountain. Where other guide books advise that it takes 8 hours to complete a walk, he says 4 hours, where they advise 12 hours, he says 6. I had become Van der Knijff, a half-Maltese version anyway. Many times in the past I had cursed Van der Knijff and his unrealistic recommendations as I struggled along the same hiking routes in Australia that he had taken, but not anymore.
Next Post: Walking the Kumano Kodo: Early Morning of Day 4 (Sunday 29 September), Koguchi to Nachi Taisha, Part 3.