I`m back in Tokushima which means that i`m no longer a walking sweaty pilgrim - i`m a walking sweaty tourist. The hike is finished. Yesterday i made it back to temple number one which is the end as well as the start as the pilgrimage is circular. But last Saturday i was in Niihama with Muto and his Grandmother.
Muto`s Grandmother was a tiny woman who kindly let me sleep in her garage after eating a mountain of awesome food and beer with her, Muto and an old bald monk who used to be a poet. When i left the next morning she gave me 1000 yen and wished me good luck. I said goodbye to Muto too as he was staying with his grandmother for a while so i walked down main roads and back streets for 27km until i came to a small town where i managed to find another free place for hikers to stay. It was a tiny temple right next to a house. The old man who lived in the house with his family treated me like a new toy showing me his temple, his house, his TV and the toilet that i could use which was down the street in a hut on the other side of a disused bowling green.
The next day brought two more temples, the first of which smelled like shit but looked beautiful and was up a big hill. The second was a long long walk through forests and at the top of a 1000m mountain and didn`t have the free hostel that i`d been expecting but the woman who worked in the temple told me of another place in a village 5km down the other side of the mountain so i stayed there instead where the owner gave me a load of rice and meat for free to go with the floor i was sleeping on.
By now my legs were talking to me every morning. They were saying things like, "Dave, don`t move. Stay here. Go back to sleep. Sleep is good. Walking is bad. The wheel was a major development in human evolution. Use some. Stop using me. No, don`t get up. Sit down sit down sit down." On day 34 i wish i`d have listened as it was 34km and 34 degrees. There were six temples to see that day and after wandering in the hot sun through country roads and farms i was shattered when i arrived at temple 75 to find yet another free place to stay and got washed in an onsen/spa with a load of old Japanese men.
The next day was a uneventful dull day mixed with rain and heat where i walked all day by main roads until i reached the small city of Sakaide. Day 41 was 37km long and full of hazy hotness. It included forests, mountain roads and lots of sweat and ended in Takamatsu city which looked like decent enough place but i saw almost nothing of it as i left early the next morning amongst clouds, thunder and a lot of rain. I walked along getting soaked until i reached Shido where it stopped raining as soon as i got to a guesthouse.
By now i`d become tired of walking. My legs were right. Wheels were good. But i couldn`t just give up. I`d just seen temple 86 and i`d walked over 1000km. I was so close to the end that i couldn`t stop walking there in Shido so i decided that the next day would be the longest one and walked 52km. I walked in the morning to temple 87 along flat roads which then started to climb and climb the mountain where temple 88 stood. The trail left the road and went up through forests and i followed a path that wasn`t on my map to the top of the mountain at almost 800m. It felt good as i knew that it was all downhill to the finish line from there. I followed the path down to the other side of the mountain expecting it to come to temple 88. It didn`t. The path got thinner and the trees denser and the mountain steeper until there was no path, there was just ground that was nearly vertical and a lot of vegetation which i managed to use to keep me from tumbling down the side of the hill by grabbing and pulling so i could lower myself. I was lost. I was full of mud, sweat and fear. My glasses fell of my head and disappeared into a load of leaves on the ground. I followed a dry stream down the hill for an hour or two lowering myself all the time using tree roots, branches and damp rocks trying to prevent myself going arse over tit and breaking bones. I found my way out to a road which was about 100m away from the temple 88 entrance. I stumbled into the temple complex covered in dirt and sweat with blood trickling from cuts on my arms. I was quite a sight and quite a state. I managed to get myself cleaned up and and set off for temple 6 which was where i spent the first night of the hike in the temple guesthouse. This time i slept for free in the bell tower.
The next morning i walked back to temple number one which was once the start and was now the finish. I`d done it. 1150km, 690 miles, 44 days, 88 temples (not that i was counting, of course). I sat at the temple for a while, which was packed with bus tour pilgrims, and looked back on the past few weeks. It was already a blur. Muto, temples, sleeping on floors, Buddhists, farms, villages, cities, sun, wind, rain, beaches, mountains, smiles, friendly huge hearted people. It`s like a movie. Part of me felt happy and slightly proud. A tiny part of me wanted to go round again. Most of me just wanted a bath.
I got a train back to Tokushima and looked around trying to figure out where the bad smell was coming from. It was me. I stayed in a nice hotel in Tokushima that was wonderfully called The Agnes and wondered how to celebrate. I called Muto to tell him i`d finished and thank him for being a Japanese and Buddhist teacher and then bought four cans of Asahi in a convenience store and sank them slightly too quickly whilst watching baseball on TV.
So, what next? Osaka and Wakayama tomorrow. I promised Muto i would go to Wakayama as it`s Kobo Daishi`s "resting place". Then it`s onto Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima so hopefully i`ll be able to write something about Japan and not just about how many kilometres i`ve walked and free lunches i`ve eaten which i`m sure you`re bored of by now.