The first thing I remember about our first day on the Kumano Kodo UNESCO heritage trail is giving Jill my day pack so that I could crawl under a some boulders that form a small cave called Tainai-kuguri.
Our trail notes say that you can test your faith by climbing through the crack at the far end. Local legend has it that if you are a woman and you go through, you will be assured a smooth labor. It says nothing of what happens when you go through as a man, but I made up that I will have a smooth and easy life, and that I will be reborn, thereby ensuring a long life.
I kissed her goodbye and affixed my headlamp, quipping that I’ve learned lots since being born the first time, and won’t go through any cave without a headlamp.
Before even entering you can see light peeking through the other end. I had expected a more arduous escape. Don’t get me wrong, it was quite tight. I had to throw my walking stick through and then pull myself out. It was so quick and easy that I imagined doing it several times, ensuring multiple lives!
The Kumano only got steep from here and it was about 5 km of steady incline. It was a beautiful trail, passing through ancient camphor and cedar and pine, with deceptively loud stream backed up by a chorus of grumpy and tired sounding frogs creeping from moss covered tree stumps.
The Kumano Kodo trail is so inspiring, I was compelled to write haiku, pausing along the trail at points to jot down a few lines. Here are a few examples.
Wind wind wind wind wind
Always the wind complains the bird
On his journey home
On the hillside a
Discarded water bottle
It was that kind of trail. A trail that has been used by pilgrims for centuries. Earliest records of this trail date back to the early 10th century. And you can hear those who have passed before you in the treetops as they listen for your soft footfall over fallen leaves. You can feel their long forgotten pain and devotion in the sweat that beads up and is cooled by the rising wind.
There are more physical reminders of their passing all along the trail in the form of small shrines and temples. Some of these are elaborate stone and wood shelters with banners and bells, while the simplest are only indicated by a few coins left beside a moss covered rock cleft in two by the slow power of the tree growing on top.
Much like the original pilgrims who traveled the Kumano centuries ago, we stayed at hot springs, which was and still is used to wash away impurities and soothe tired muscles.
But we will save that for another post.