Kumano Kodō Nakahechi
The Kumano Kodō (熊野古道) is a series of ancient pilgrimage routes that crisscross the Kii Hantō Peninsula on Japanese’s main island Honshū. These sacred trails were and are used for the pilgrimage to the sacred site Kumano Sanzan or the Three Grad shrines: Kumano Hongū Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha and Kumano Hayatama Taisha.
March, 14 th Takijiri-oji
Hitchhiking. I already decided in Korea that is was time to go back into nature again. I missed sleeping in my tent and being on the road so much. Cycling means only transportation for me, so what I really enjoy is hiking, especially long distance treks over several days while sleeping in the woods. There wasn’t enough time to hike the Shikoku 88 Temple pilgrimage (1200 km), but luckily there was another pilgrimage in the neighbor prefecture Wakayama. Kumano Kodō. The Kumano Kodō (熊野古道) is a series of ancient pilgrimage routes that crisscross the Kii Hantō Peninsula. These sacred trails were and are used for the pilgrimage to the sacred site Kumano Sanzan or the Three Grad shrines: Kumano Hongū Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha and Kumano Hayatama Taisha. I decided for the main road “Nakahechi” from Takijiri to Kumano Nachi Taisha.I asked Angel to join me and she was immediately in! I wondered about the routine while packing. Within half an hour my backpack was complete. Exactly one year ago I hiked the Caminho Português together with my mom and it took me days for packing. Surprisingly I was using the same 34 l backpack and while last year it was packed, this year I have some space left even though I’m carrying my tent, mattress and camping stuff as well (and I already was experienced last year). It is still cold in Ōsaka and and last night it was raining heavily. We decided to hitchhike the 170 km to Tanabe, but we couldn’t wait to get started, so we took a train to get to Wakayama first. Somehow we got into the Airport train and dropped off last minute before crossing the airport bridge. Rinku town was a nice spot to start hitchhiking. We bought a pen and got some papers and we placed ourselves at the main road. Hitchhikers are not common in Japan, but all people were smiling at us. Even the people who didn’t take us were apologizing via eye contact. That’s Japan. Angèle told me that her dream was to get picked up by a truck once and before she could finish the sentence a truck stopped and picked us up. Our Japanese skills were just enough for a raw conversation. He dropped us off at Wakayama and again we got picked up within 20 min by a middle aged couple. In Kainan we tried again our luck and surprisingly we got picked up by two super young girls. I was impressed by their braveness. For the security loving Japanese, especially girls it is super brave to pick up random people and their inability to speak english doesn’t make it better. The girls dropped us at a train station and it was still fourty minutes by train to get to Tanabe. The next train was coming in one hour, so we tried our luck again. This time we hadn’t any luck, but it was nice, because we took the train and enjoyed our lunch in there while riding along the cost. It was my very first hitchhiking experience and I was surprised how easy it was and how much fun! In Tanabe we got our pilgrim’s passport (Credencial) at the tourist’s information and our first stamp. My heart was jumping when I saw that they have a tight cooperation with the Spanish Camino de Santiago and the familiar shape of the shell! We took the Bus to Takijiri, the starting point. On our journey we could see how the landscape slowly changed and now we were in the wilderness surrounded by green mountains and deep blue rivers. In a cafe next to the trail I got the traditional pilgrim’s hat and we got warned not to start today anymore. For sure we did. Like always in Japan we entered a forest and it went up very steep on stairs. It went dark very quickly and we took the very first plane spot to pitch our tents there. We cooked our dinner and enjoyed it. The temperature is compareable with the one in the end of November. We couldn’t stay outside for a long time, so we crawled in our sleeping bags very early. I cannot describe how deeply happy I felt to lay in my tent again. I could hear something I couldn’t experience for weeks in Nishinari. Nothing. Silence.
March, 15 th Chikatsuyu
Shrines and stamps. The night was much colder than expected. My body felt stiff when I woke up by early bird‘s sang. The warm sun came out and I fell asleep again. I could hear the first pilgrims passing. I crawled out of my tent and the deep forest was spottet by sunlight. A beautiful scenery. While breakfast the sun was warming us up and happily we packed our stuff to start the journey. Like yesterday we had to climb many stairs made of roots and changed to T-Shirts. On a horseback road we could see the surrounding mountains. I could feel how happiness flooded my body. Just being there with my small backpack satisfied me. We had a great view into the village and we could see that spring is almost there. The mountain were rather green than brown. We entered a small village and I really felt like being back on the Camino in Spain. It is a deep and strong feeling, I cannot describe, but it makes my heart jump. This means pure happiness to me and I enjoyed it a lot. We walked around two hours until we arrived a tiny village with a public toilet, where we could fill up our water reservoir, get some refreshment and wash our dishes. When we continued, we took the wrong road and got immediately picked up by a local woman with her two babies, who brought us back on the road. Like in Spain! We were a little bit hungry, so we asked her where we could get food, so she brought us to a restaurant. We entered and I couldn’t believe what happened. It was heaven. The stuff welcomed us like family members and we took lunch outside with an amazin view of the mountains. They offered organic food from local farmers and I got the best Curry rice of my life. Checking the map, we realized we have a problem about food. Usually food is available everywhere in Japan and this route is well know with a good infrastructure. I think I haven’t been deeper into Japanese countryside so far. The owner was supe nice and invited us to stay at his place or pitch our tents in the garden immediately. He also offered us to work there with our Working Holiday Visa or as a Volunteer any time. In this moment I regretted a little bit that my journey ended so quickly. I would have loved to stay and work at this cozy place in the mountains. We talked to two of the volunteers and almost decided to stay today, but it was too early. It was hard leave, but I was also super excited, because this was exactly the spirit I was looking for. We got some sandwiches made of self baked bread and left. The road guided us again into the forest with a mystical atmosphere. You maybe remember in the second generation of Pokémon (gold and silver) you travel a sacrificed forest within Johto region. This forest is Kumano Kodō and the place where you could find the legendary Pokémon Celebi in a shrine (Japanese version only). These little shrines really exists and logdging stamps for your Credencial. Angèle and me, we have this special kind of connection and we both talked a lot. I guess there wasn’t almost a minute silence between us. But this happened very freely and so we had a lot of fun. Luckily there as a Michi no eki (roadstation) next to the trail where we could get some food, especially fresh vegetables. Hungry we entered and of course we bought to much. We entered the forest again and pitched up our tents on a nice pleateau. After few minutes it began to get dark while we enjoyed our georgeous dinner. With a full belly and a bottle filled with warm tea we crawled into our sleeping back while hoping that this night would be dry and warmer than last night.
March, 16 th Yukawa-oji
Rain. I woke up at 5 am due to a loud thunder. I hoped so much that it would be airplane traffic which just started in the morning For sure I was wrong. Almost twenty minutes later the confirmation followed in form of rain. Even though the thought of being in the woods during a heavy thunderstorm was scared me, the sound of rain dropping on my tent made me feel very comfy and sleepy. This sound always takes me back into my childhood, when I was laying in my warm bed in our Caravan near the Baltic Sea. This night was warmer than last one, in the woods we were protected of wind and the soft soil absorbed the rain. I zipped the hood of my sleeping bag and my eyes and chin was covered by buff scarfes. Only my nose was outside my sleeping bag. With one buff deep over my eyes it was totally dark and in my green sleeping bag I must have looked like a caterpillar in its cocoon. When I woke up again I felt recovered, but I it was still raining and I was absolutely unmotivated to leave my tent. I ate the super delicious sandwiches from yesterday for breakfast in my tent. Angèle did the same. I packed all my stuff inside my tiny house and then the moment came. It was cold and wet outside, but the worst was to pack the wet tent. My hands were frozen. We were happy to start moving and getting warm again. Only few meters further there was a shelter with an amazing view over the village. Although our tents got wet in the forest it might was the better place for the night, because we were protected of the wind, while on this hill it was super cold. We went down into village to get food for the next days. We came out with three fully packed shopping bags. On the next public toilet (which was super convinient, toilets are the perfect for sleeping since they are super clean, warm and a preheated toilet seats also means power supply is available). This time we repacked our bags, cleaned our stuff and got fresh water. I‘m already used to the weird views by other women which happens n toilets in every country. We started and the heavy grey clouds seems to loose their water any moment. But we stayed dry. The air was cold and humid, but super clear and fresh. We had to climb up and with our super loaded backpacks it was no fun. Today‘s trail followed mainly a lonely asphalt road through the mountains which connected one tiny village with the next one. The view was wonderful and we were happy to make some kilometers very easily. We decided to sleep at a toilet tonight and got amazed by this thoughts. As already mentioned Jaapanese toilets are like a hiker‘s hostel and it exactly felt like. For lunch we cooked a Mizu soup and I felt much better after it. I loaded some energy I needed for the last kilometers. The ancient trail was destroyed by a thyphoon in 2011, so there was an official detour for this part and this one was just amazing. While the ancient road of Kumano Kodō leads through super green mystical woods, the detour pass was guiding us deep into the mountains. We were absolutely surrounded by amazing green mountains and there wasn’t any sign or noise of civilization. I never experienced this in Japan before. The sun came out and we could enjoy a fantastic view. It was just perfect and it didn’t matter anymore that we were climbing up lot of elevation meters. On top the route became the ancient road again and guided us through the woods again and then onto a forest road. The sun was gone and it got colder. It was time to arrive at the next shelter soon. The awaited shelter was a Dixi toilet and I‘m sure you can imagine how disappointed we were. Usually you can absolutely trust Japanese. We walked further, the next shelter was supposed to be very close as well. Japan didn’t disappointed us. In a little valley deep in the forest we found a shrine and an open shelter with enough space to pitch up both tents beneath it. The earth toilet was not the awaited lodge, but there was running water, so we had everything we needed in the end. We enjoyed dinner and crawled into our sleeping bags around 8 pm. One thing I really love about camping i wilderness is that it adjusts your natural biorhythm due to the sunlight. During my cycling trip I was always sleeping deeply between 8 and 9 pm and waking up fully energetic at 7 am. Something I’m trying my whole life in every day life without any success… The moon was already shining bright through the roof of leaves. This will be a clear and cold night.
March, 17 th Honguchohongu
Hiker‘s hotel. Indeed this night was cold and humid even though there was no rain during the night. My breath kept the tent’s inner membrane wet and I also could discover drops in the inside the chambers of my sleeping bag. In this moment I didn’t want to leave my tent and rather break up. During breakfast I felt better and we could see the sunlight shining through the deep roof of leaves. For sure me tent did not dry during breakfast. We startet and the trail guided us up into a forest where we had to climb many many stairs. On the top there was a very nice shelter with super nice toilets. It would have been the perfect place to spend the night. We continued and enjoyed the trail in the forest. We were still deep in the mountains with no sing of civilization. After a while we could see the immense impact of last September‘s thyphoon. This one was very heavy and the pictures of a ship hitting Kansai‘s airport bridge went across the world. I already discovered the power of destruction of this typhoon at Mt. Ponpon first hand and here again I saw a swath of destruction. The trail was still blocked
and we followed an official detour along a road when it began to rain. Since I‘m not a fan of rain pants, which just make you sweat I unzipped the legs of my one and only hiking pants. My naked legs were shining bright in the mixture of sunlight and rain and yes it was cold, but I had no choice. The rain was just a test of braveness, which we passed and after a few drops it stopped. We arrived at a little village with a huge rest area and it just started to rain when we arrived. It didn’t matter and we took our time to have the best lunch break on this trail so far. We used all the space and I even could dry my tent and sleeping bag and charge my devices in the toilet. After a long break we continued and dark clouds were followed by bright sunshine and vice verso, but we stayed dry. The view of the mountains surrounding us was amazing in the sunlight. I was so happy, unbelievable that I didn’t want to leave my tent in the morning. Today were many dayhikers on the trail, because it was only a dayhike to the famous Kumano Hongu Taisha Temple. We met a group of elderly Japanese ladies, who were extremely excited about our heavy backpacks and tried to carry them. The last kilometers were just amazing and I enjoyed it with every breath. There was no place on earth I wanted to rather be. This was where I belong. Into nature. Where my heart is happy. Free. With my backpack on my bag. I don‘t know how many kilometers I carried it already on trails around the globe. Once I can feel it on my back, freedom and happiness are flooding my body. When I started this kind of adventures I needed the double size of backpack (60 l) for summer while now a winter camping tour fits easily into my 34 l backpack. That one I carried through Spain. Today I discovered something super interesting. Earth toilets. I mean real earth toilets. Not the ones with a disgusting hole ending into a container which you can smell kilometers away (like the one at the shelter tonight). No, in this ones one could see the earth and it wasn’t nether smelling nor disgusting. When one pressed the bottom a machine was mixing the earth. Funnily the toilet seat was heated as well. This is an amazing idea the famous European trails should copy to avoid all the nasty „public toilet spots“ in the bushes next to the trail. We arrived at the temple and were extremely happy. The village was supposed to be much bigger with a supermarket and an Onsen (natural hot spring). The whole day we were dreaming of a hot bath at the end of the day and I was more than looking forward to wash my super fatty hair. I keep wearing a hat, because I cannot show them anymore. And I guess we are smelling a lot. No, I‘m sure we do. I can smell myself. We collected the last stamp at the temple and went to tourist information to get our certificate. Unfortunately they were closed. The supermarket was small and only offered instant food, but we were still motivated and looking for the Onsen. We lost all motivation when we heated the Onsen was closed. It was getting dark, cold and starting to rain. We stand next to the street with no idea. The cheapest hostels around were like 60 € for a bunk bed. Too expensive. So we decided to stay in a hiker‘s hotel. Means a public toilet. We went to bus station and for the first time in my life in Japan the public toilet was locked. Why now? Luckily a few hundred kilometers further was another one and luckily this one was open. Even though it was directly next to a noisy main road it was a very nice one. The best place to sleep on a public toilet is the disabled toilet, which is always available. This one has much space, mostly an own room, power supply and in this case even an integrated shower with warm water. Warm water is extremely rare in Japan! We couldn’t shower, but at least we could wash ourselves a little bit. This night is not supposed to be the best night, but at least we are supposed to stay dry.
March, 18 th Kogeguchi
Shorts. We set an alarm clock at 7 am to avoid a heart attack of the cleaning and it almost work. She could only see us having breakfast in front of the toilet house which was already weird enough. It was a super warm and comfy night. Being inside a building affects the temperature a lot and one thing I was extremely happy about was the plane floor. If it is not exactly plane I have to fight all the night not to slip off my mattress. I don’t know how many nights I already spent next to the mattress on the cold ground. We went to the tourist information to get the pilgrimage certificate. The one we went to was a souvenir shop and sent us to the correct one. The owner of the souvenir shop was super nice and when I told him that I walked to Santiago de Compostela he congratulated me and showed me his own Credencial. He was excited and gave us both a wooden talisman with the sign of both, Kumano Kodō and the pilgrim‘s shell. I was super happy, because I liked it so much. The Kumano Kodō is strong related to the Camino and does a lot of advertisement for the so called Dual Pilrimage. In the tourist information I showed them pictures of my Credencial from my very first Camino and I got a special Dual Pilgrimage Certificate and a pin. They also took a photo
of me and uploaded it on their website. I was extremely excited, each time something is related to the Camino my hearts starts jumping. The Camino changed my life and without it I wouldn’t be in Japan right now and living a completely different life. I can‘t wait to go back to Santiago, the place where a piece of my heart lays. All this and a visit
in the supermarket took so many time that in the end we were as late as always. But today there was a big difference. I was wearing shorts again. This time not because of the rain, because the sun was shining and it was super warm. This changed our motivation a lot. This trail officially is another route of the Kumano Kodō network called Nakahechi. So we had to walk around three kilometers along the road to get to the trailhead. On the way there was a shelter with the most delicious mandarines I ever tried and we loaded our already overloaded backpacks even more. At
the trailhead it went up very steep into the forest. It was very nice to walk through the half shadow besides the mountains. Today‘s trail was very homogenous, but nice as well. During our lunchbreak we enjoyed the warm sun. The motivation was very small to continue, but we still had some kilometers to walk. The trail guided us next to the mountains through the woods. On the left there was the mountain wall, while on the right it steeply went down. We walked around a corner and then surprisingly we enjoyed the most amazing view of this trail. We were surrounded by mountains without any civilization and had an 300 ° view. The mountains far away seemed like a green wall at the blue horizon. We could have stayed and watched there for hours. Our backpacks were full of food and I could painfully feel it. It was harder today, maybe due to the temperature as well. The last ascent was longer and steeper than expected and took all our power. Since we run out of water and the weather forecast predicted rain we wanted to sleep beneath a shelter at the next toilet which was at the end of this stage. The very last kilometers we were just suffering. All my power was gone and I needed the left energy to place my feet properly. It went down very steep on rocky and loose stairs. These are the hell for knees. I didn’t used my hiking sticks yet and I‘m very proud how brave my injured knee managed the trail without any problems. One and a half year ago it was instabile and already caused trouble while walking for around ten kilometers. I‘m extremely thankful about the strength of my body and that he is doing so properly everything my sometimes stupid and crazy mind wants while looking for the next adventure. Walking down the stairs with the heavy backpack took all our concentration and energy. And for the very first time on this journey we were silent. Unfortunately the toilet and shelter was already in the next village next to a main road. We had no choice. When we arrived the shelter the disappointment followed: a big sign which said camping forbidden. Great. I really struggling with the concept of this pilgrimage route. On one hand they do a lot of advertisement to attract people, especially pilgrim‘s which did one of the most famous pilgrimages in the world: Camino de Santiago. Everything is well made to attract especially foreigners. Everybody speaks very good english (which is super rare in Japan) and there are many many signs. On the other hand there are only few accommodations which are horribly expensive. On the Camino de Santiago a night in a traditional Albergue costs around 5-10 €. Bunk bed, warm shower and shared room. Here the same accommodation costs minimum 10000 Yen (30 €) per night. I would be ok to pay for accommodation more than in Europe, because the prices are higher in Japan and they don‘t have the network. But more than 30 € a night I can‘t and don’t want to pay for bunk bed. This is not the idea of pilgrimage. They attract this kind of clients with no idea that they also might act like this: they camp. I guess on both sides, the disappointment is very high, which is sad, because the route itself and its history is just amazing. For sure we camped there. Forbidden or not, at this point, we had no option anymore. We were hiding our tent behind the building, protected by the roof and hoping that we wouldn’t cause any trouble in the night or morning.
March, 19 th Kii-Katsuura
heaven hell. Covered under the shelter and hidden behind some sinks the night was just perfect: dry, plane, calm and windless. I did not even realized that it was raining
until I left my tent. We were already very fast in packing and had some breakfast at the no camping allowed picnic shelter. Angèle told me she will take a bus. For her it wasn’t fun anymore which I can totally understand, because her sleeping bag was much thinner and her backpack looked like a fridge at her back. I wouldn’t say I was motivated or had fun, but I‘m just too stubborn to stop. Leaving her now meant saying goodbye to her for a very long time, when I am back in Osaka she will be already on her bike trip to Shikoku. It was raining and I walked through a little village. I bought some chocolate before I went to the trailhead. Today‘s trail was supposed to be a 1000 m ascent within 5 km. I felt powerful and alone I could be much faster. It rained and it only took ten minutes until I was wet inside and outside my of my rain jacket.. Sweat was running and my breath was deep and heavy while I climbed one rocky slippery stair after the other. I almost run. The
wood‘s soil was brown, the trees fresh green and the air cold and almost white due to the fog. An unexplainable strength was raising up inside me and I continued. In my ears only my evenly deep breaths. One set of stairs was following the next one. Deep breaths. I didn’t stop for more than one hour. And then I saw stairs whithout any end. I couldn’t see the end. I climbed and climbed. No end. It seemed like these stairs would end in heaven, but it felt like hell. I was sweating a lot and for a second I was afraid of the cold and how I could withstand the cold in the following ten kilometers after that climb. I wouldn’t say I was in danger at any time, but at this time of the journey it wasn’t an easy everyone can do hike anymore. I played a Pokemon song from my childhood to motivate me. I don’t know why, I never did it before, but it worked out very well and suddenly I must have been over the clouds and it became clear. But the stairs didn’t end. I climbed a short passage without my backpack to position my camera and realized the backpack makes a major difference, even though it was light packed. I passed a corner and suddenly I saw a backpack. It was a heavy one. I was super surprised and kept on running. I breathed hard. I wanted to talk to that person. There was somebody else. I was not sure if he wanted to talk to me as well, but I didn’t care. Chris was maybe surprised, but ok to walk together. Only moments later we arrived summit which wasn’t marked, but released me a lot. Talking together time and distance run much faster and more easily. We arrived at a detour which was made because of a landslide due to the heavy thyphoon last year. That meant fourty extra minutes, but the trail was easy and the time went on quickly. We arrived at a shelter and made a quick toilet break. It was less than five minutes, but I was already shaking. I also saw some dayhikers we met several days ago. I was only wearing my longsleeve plus a shirt beneath my rain jacket which was totally wet in- and outside. I couldn’t change clothes or wear my fleece jacket, because I only had one set and I needed it dry for the night. I ate my chocolate while walking and I could feel how my body was absorbing the energy. Several up and downs were following. The terrain was super difficult and it took much concentration not to slip. It started raining heavy again and with the rain the cold come and were attacking my body. I just wanted to escape, but there was no escape. I had to walk. A strange feeling came up, even though the circumstances were so rough I enjoyed walking. I‘m addicted to walking. After a while I realized I couldn‘t sleep in my tent or even toilet tonight or better said I didn’t want to. I wanted a shower in the end. I didn‘t had a shower for almost a week, I was smelling desgustingly and don’t let‘s talk about my hair. This was holidays and ending up with a cold and feeling disgusting was not the intention of it. We couldn’t take any break and so we were extremely fast. I realized how much my body got used to difficult hikes during the last months. Now I benefitted from the regular hikes every weekend. The last kilometers I was just suffering and fighting the cold. I just wanted to end. One kilometer before the famous Nachi temple and end of the pilgrimage was the toilet I was planning to stay. The place was just amazing and this place was a dream of shelter. But I couldn’t stay. It was too early as well. We did a great job and arrived at the temple at 3 pm. In the end I hiked the 17 km in less than 5 hours. I was shaking when we arrived at the temple. I took some pictures and even without collecting a stamp or certificate I headed to bus station. The original pla was to hike the 6 km to Kii-Katsuura as well, but it was not possible. In the bus I booked a hotel with Onsen and couldn‘t wait to place my frozen body into the hot bath tub. Finally I arrived at the hotel and spent almost one hour in the bath while my clothes enjoyed the washing machine. I had to shampoo my hair three times to get rid of all the fat! I never experienced this before in my whole life. In summer I always take a bath in every little pond and it is much easier to stay clean or even human. After the bath and with fresh warm clothesI felt like. I met Chris for dinner and we went to a local restaurant. Kii-Katsuura is directly at the Ocean and famous for tuna. I tried tuna Sashimi (raw tuna) which was unbelievable delicious. Like chicken the raw variant is much better than the cooked one. We spent a nice evening. Later I found out my beloved camera is broken. I spoke with my best friend who is an expert and he told me it isn’t possible to fix it. The lense is broken and cannot realized by the body anymore. I‘m indescribable sad about it. Without my camera I feel kind of naked. After today I couldnt image stop walking and was motivated to walk on. I wanted to go to Shirahama as well, which is a spot of the series Detective Conan and a dream from childhood to take a picture of the incredible white sand of Shirahama. I took this camera on so many adventures, high mountains and now shortly before Sakura (famous cherry blossom) it just stopped working. What a mess… 😦
March, 20 th Shirahama
White sand. I opened my windows in the morning and couldn’t believe my eyes: whether forecast was right, the sun was shining warmly into my face. Within an hour I got ready and went to train station. I took the next local train to Shirahama. The idea came up at the beginning of this journey. I remember exactly the moment I decided to go to Japan and Shirahama was one of the spots I wanted to go. I always wanted to go there by bike, but now it would be stupid not to go there, while it was directly on the way, the sun was shining and I missed the Ocean so much. Shirahama is well known for its white beach and Onsen, but mostly only by Japanese. It is almost unknown by Westerners and I only knew about it due to one of my favourite Anime Detective Conan. I enjoyed the train ride a lot, riding slowly through the sunny countryside, the mountains on one side and the beautiful blue ocean at the other side. Shirahama is very small health resort, the bus dropped me off at the beach after a short ride. It was lunch time, so I bought a snack at the Konbini to enjoy it at the beach. The Detective Conan’s episode is called “the white sand of Shirahama” and yes indeed the sand was incredible white. I never saw it in my whole life. It was almost painful in the eyes. It created the most beautiful contrast to the ocean I’ve ever seen. The ocean was bright turquoise turning into deep blue at the horizon. I could have screamed for happiness. This was the perfect place to end the pilgrimage and the award for continuing yesterday. The trail provides! I started cooking Curry Udon on my little stove at the beach. As always I was too hungry and impatient, so it burned. After lunch I went to the nearby toilet for cleaning the mess and suddenly a person appeared behind me, staring at me. I turned around and couldn’t believe my eyes! It was Angèle! couldn’t say anything for minutes and we both were shocked. We didn’t had any contact via phone or appointment to meet at Shirahama. It was just impossible. How we could meet randomly here in this toilet? The joy was huge. It was destiny and of course where else should we meet, if not on a toilet? This pilgrimage was rather a pilgrimage from toilet to toilet and now we met there again randomly after I was sure we will never meet again. Together we enjoyed the beach, since this little health resort was not made for wild camping and there was a cheap guesthouse Angèle changed her plans and decided to stay with me at the guest house instead traveling back to Ōsaka today. Her backpack was in Tanabe, where she stayed the night before, so she went back there to get it while I kept on enjoying the sunny day at Shirahama. It walked along the coast to visit Engetsu Island, a small island in shape of a bridge. I walked barefoot and enjoyed it a lot. Last year I walked the whole summer barefoot, everywhere, even on the hikes and my feet were healthy and strong. Since coming to Japan this was the first time and my feet are so weak and sensible. But barefoot season just started. There are foot Onsen almost everywhere in Shirahama. So I stopped and enjoyed the super hot water while watching at the Ocean. It was extremely hot and almost painful, but after a while it was like paradise. I talked to some locals and checked in my guest house. It was a lovely place and I would love to spend there some time in summer. I picked up Angèle from the bus station, we got some drinks and went to the beach to watch the beautiful sunset. We talked until the moon and the stars were out. Slowly we walked back to our guesthouse, but not without stopping at a foot Onsen. Back at the guest house, I went to bed and fell asleep immediately. No idea why I was that tired.
The Kumano Kodō trails belongs to the World Heritage. The 72 km long Nakahechi trail is the most famous one of them. They do a lot of advertisment and are in partnership with the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The infrastructure is as good as in Spain. There are signs everywhere on trail and a lot of cultural and historical explanations as well. It is impossible to get lost. As in Santiago de Compostela the pilgrim can get a Credencial (Pilgrim’s passport) and a Certificate at the end. They offer a special Certificate for pilgrims which did both trails called “Dual Pilrgrim”. The stamps are located into small wooden Shrines on trail and you can stamp your Credencial by yourself. The Credencial is available at Kii-Tanabe tourist information near the train station, at the tourist information at trailhead or in the internet and it’s for free. The certificate one can get at the World Heritage centre at Kumano Hungū Taisha near the bus station. The tourist informations are prepared for foreigners and speak English very well. The maps they provide for the pilgrims are very detailed and helpful. There is no more specific preparation needed. On the trail there are many bus stops, so one can easily hike Kumano Kodō in day hike stages. They also provide luggage transportation for one accommodation to the next along the trail.
The trail itself is very beautiful. It guides through Japanese mountains far away from the busy life. Mainly it guides through deep green forests. It is very homogenous, but beautiful. If you enjoy being in the woods surrounded by lush green mountains, Kumano Kodō Nakahechi is the perfect place. There are several ups and downs along stairs made of rocks, which can be very challenging, especially when they are wet. There are many toilets and shelters on the trail to enjoy a break, but no public trash bins. Don’t forget a plastic bag to carry back your garbage. Every 500 m there are marks in case of emergency to distinguish one’s position. Mobile service is available almost everywhere on the trial (it only wasn’t available for 800 m through a deep valley).
Accommodations are available in the end of each stage, but they are limited. The price for a simple accommodation is many times higher than on the Camino de Santiago. For example a bunk bed in mixed dorm was around 35 USD for one night / person at Hongū Taisha. There are several official campsites on the trail as well. Wild camping in the woods is possible, but not recommend for beginners.
Access: Tanabe Station, then take a bus to Takijiri 滝尻 bus stop. From the Nachi-no-taki falls there are many buses heading to Nachi or Kii-Katsuura Station (very popular tourist destination).
Distance: 73.1 km