Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Shimanto this Shimanto that

at a shrine in the woods
Our river joins the Shimanto River winding its way out to the sea through yet another beautiful valley.  We turn and head downstream, again trying to avoid the main road by taking the little locals' road (I mean the road, not the locals, although come to think of it, the locals are little) which passes their houses and tiny farm plots.  We criss cross the river on bridges sometimes or find ourselves on a little-used lane littered with rockfall which leads to a shrine built in the woods.  The shrines are sometimes quite substantial buildings of wood in a clearing with a tori gate at the top of long flight of stone steps.  We're woolly on the Shinto religion but this indigenous religion seems to be animist in origin judging by the location of the shrines in the countryside.  I think there are a multitude of gods which are worshipped but that there's no formal rituals or membership - clearly I'm trying to bluff my way through this and it is not working, is it?  Anyway, if you like all the fun of the fair, then, judging by what we've seen at some of the temples, Buddhism is the way to go.  But if you only want to beseech some Higher Authority in help to pass your driving test, then Shinto is the way to go.

a "submersible" bridge - as useful as a chocolate fireguard?
We know the weather forecast is for rain all day tomorrow so we're keen to reach Shimanto City and suss out a good camp spot that will see us through the deluge.  It's Friday evening and there's some sort of rush hour as quarry workers and farmers start heading home.  A young Japanese guy shouts out "Bonjour!" to us as he overtakes us.  We call him back. 
 He is cycling all around Japan and on his way back to Kyoto.  Unfortunately his English is not so great (maybe we should have tried some French) and the conversation is brief.  It looks like rain will start before sundown so we're all in a bit of a hurry.  Happily we turn down a small side lane and roll up to a toilet block with a croquet field and a nice covered space with benches. Perfect.  This will do nicely.  And it does.  It rains all night and the next day - about 25 hours non-stop.  We tie up the tent to the benches and have a good read.  Now and again a local or a tourist pops by to use the facilities and in the morning rain there seems to be an inordinate number of visitors.  Just down the road is one of the submersible bridges which, for some reason, are a tourist attraction around here.  There's a wedding ceremony taking place on a boat by this one.  At this point I wonder if the Japanese are as stoical as the Norwegians about their weather and recall seeing a group having a picnic in pouring rain during the first week of our journey in 2012.

home for two nights

pilgrim or dental hygienist?
When Saturday comes the skies are clearing and the clouds are lifting.  We leave our shelter with a nice dry tent and head into Shimanto City, which used to be called Nakamura and still is by the locals and the railway company.  At the train station is free wi-fi and sockets in the little waiting room and we quickly check the weather forecast.  More rain after the weekend.  Bleah.  We head southwest towards a long beach just before the cape and along the way start to see pilgrims.  Shikoku has a renowned pilgrimage visiting 88 Buddhist temples around the island.  Spring is deemed the best season as it's neither too hot, too cold nor too rainy.  Ha. The pilgrims traditionally wear white clothes, a conical straw hat and carry a wooden staff with a bell on it, so they're easy to spot.   And as we have joined their route on the longest stretch between two temples, you can but admire their hardiness and commitment.  We see a few guys walking singly and then at a convenience store meet Gabriella, from Australia, who is walking a 10-day stretch.  It wasn't planned but an American running a hostel in the north encouraged her to do it and lent her a tent.  We meet up again at the beach and camp together on the edge of the sand.  Out in the water are bobbing bodies of surfers all waiting for the Big One. We cook and chat and go to sleep under clear skies and twinkling stars.

As the next day looks very grey we decide to return to Shimanto City.  We are expecting rain again in the night so we scout around for somewhere suitable to camp.  In the end we do a large circuit of the river and even pass by our shelter from Thursday and Friday night.  It would be perfect but......we're not sure if we can stay there again without irritating the locals.  Who knows in Japan? Everyone is so polite here but word is, they dont really mean it.  But how would we know and do we care? Instead we pitch on a dyke next to a large arbor that provides some shelter from the strong winds.  It starts raining at about 6 in the evening and carries on until the morning.  It's not carnage, but it's close.  Our tent does brilliantly to keep out the wind and the rain but the ground is sodden and the surface water builds up until it starts seeping through the floor of the tent.  We are quite amazed as we start to dry everything out how well we came off this night.  
twig insect on the drying line
The ground is one big soggy puddle.  But the goodness is that the next few days will be better.  So off we head up the coast, riding on the bikepath-cum-pavement which allows us to look around without worrying about any near-death experiences with zippy toy cars.  After a bit of coastline the road heads inland following a river.  This will only end in a climb, we know.  Happily there is the empty farmers road on the other riverbank we can take and as the sun is shining we are full of joy and love and compassion for the whole wide world.  Except the map publisher.  
the end of this particular road
At the head of the valley we come to a climb with just the main road and all the fast traffic.  Then we detect the tiny old road heading up and joining the main road near to the pass.  Off we head on a very poor road that gets gradually worse until it's nothing but a soggy wet track or path.  There are signs of tarmac but landslides and overgrowth block our way.  We have to retreat all the way to the bottom and then join the main road for the climb.  Relief comes after the pass when we find a real side road that leads down to Shimanto Town on the upper reaches of the Shimanto River.  It all sounds familiar but we haven't been here before.  The river winds around Shikoku so much that it seems inevitable to meet it again.  And the town is the real Shimanto, but has now been relegated to Shimanto Town now that there's a Shimanto City downstream.   So, that clears that up.
man does technical stuff while woman breaks her back
The sunlight is soft and warm as we reach the town.  After checking out Temple 37 (they do have names of course, but I can't read the characters) we head to the local sports park and camp in the adventure playground.  It rains momentarily in the night and we know the going has finally got good again. The account shows 8 nights of rain in our last 11.  We are due some starry starry nights, aren't we?

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