Hiking Addict? Perhaps Not…

I must have been truly exhausted last night, because I fell asleep immediately and didn’t wake up until 8:30. It was oddly quiet this morning, probably because the loud and annoying Phillipino people checked out already. Despite having the most solid sleep I’ve had in a week, I still felt tired and,my body felt like a bag of bricks. I guess that’s all the walking and cycling catching up with me. I had breakfast and got ready, then set out for a flea market that the girls last night were telling me about. I wanted to get a coffee from this cafe I saw yesterday, but it was closed. So I got a chilled one from Family Mart. Like I keep mentioning, it’s becoming an addiction. I walked to the temple where the market was held, and was surprised at how big it was. It completely covered the area in front of and next to the temple grounds, as well as spilling out into the streets. The vendors were selling mostly antique things (crockery, kimono fabric, bags, that kind of thing), but there were also some pickle and vegetable sellers thrown in for good measure. One side of the market was great, but the other was kind of tacky, packed with carnival style games and fried food stalls.

After looking around and debating whether or not to buy a hand carved wooden bento, I walked back towards the main river in Kyoto, to a station called Demachiyanagi. This station is the terminal for a special train that goes up into the northern mountains of Kyoto. There are two main towns that are accessible from this train; Kibune and Kurama. It is popular to hike between the two towns via a special route that passes through forest and temples. This is what I planned to do. So I took the train up to Kibuneguchi, where I would start my hike.

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It was a funny little train. It was two cars long, and had different kinds of seats inside. There was a row of single seats, some pairs of seats facing each other, and some bench-style seats facing the window for your viewing pleasure. The train slowly made its way toward the mountain, with voice-overs every 20 seconds that said the name of the next station, and continually thanked everyone for using the train. It said everything in Japanese and English, but the English voice was really slow and annoying. It spoke English as if it was speaking to a non-English speaker. I felt like the voice was being intentionally patronizing.

The train arrived at the station and I got off and collected a free map. I was a bit disoriented, and there was nothing around, so I wasn’t really sure where I was meant to go. I knew that I could either take a bus to the main part of Kibune town, or walk for about 20 minutes. I could see the bus stop, but I wanted to walk, so I studied the map and eventually worked out where I was meant to go. It was much colder up in the mountains, and I wondered if wearing shorts was such a good idea. I had been walking for about 5 minutes when it started to rain. Not heavily, just a shower, kind of. Just my luck, I thought, but it didn’t last very long, and I didn’t get very wet. The walk to the town took 20 minutes, as expected, and was just along a paved road that wound around the hills and followed the river. I was amazed at how tall the cedar trees were, and how clear the river’s water was. The town wasn’t really much of a town, more of a small collection of noodle restaurants and a shrine. And, being Monday, most things were closed. It started to spit again, and I sheltered underneath an overhanging roof to eat lunch. There was a bench there, which belonged to a restaurant that wasn’t open, so I sat on that. I ate a new kind of salad, with sweet potato, walnuts, pumpkin, hijiki and burdock root mixed in with the salad. And I had an ebi-may sushi roll, which I am now a pro at unwrapping (it’s tricky the first time because they are always wrapped so that the rice and nori don’t touch.) Then I was still hungry, and wished I had brought another onigiri as well. I thought there might be yaki-mochi vendours or homemade onigiri stalls in the town, but there weren’t. I did, however, come across a guy selling all kinds of daifuku, so I bought one that was famous in the area, which was brown and filled with tsuba-anko. Super tasty!

Feeling slightly better after finding the daifuku, I set off on the hike to Kumara. You have to pay 200 yen to enter the trail, but I have no idea why. The sun had come out (although temporarily), and the forest was incredibly beautiful. The trail was also very steep. It went straight up, and I was panting after about three minutes, thinking how am I going to do this?! I remembered reading about the hike online, and I remembered reading that it’s intimidating at first, but soon levels out. Intimidating, it certainly was! I passed a few people coming down, who told me gambatte! (do your best!) After a while, I got to a small shrine, which also featured this sign…

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1915 meters to the main gate at Kurama. That doesn’t sound that far, but you have to remember that this is a climb, not a paved, flat path. I just kept thinking of my grandfather, and how he would be proud if I finished all these hikes that I set out to do. I also thought of my dad, and how he’d want me to keep going and do my best, and never give up. I make it sound like the hie was impossible, but really  it wasn’t that bad. The first bit was steep, but only enough to make my heart rate rise, not enough that I needed climbing picks and ropes. Don’t get the wrong idea here people.

The next section of the course featured a whole heap of tree roots, all over the ground. They were incredible, and looked like a maze. Some parts were really smooth, from being stepped on over and over again. I really had to watch my footing because the roots were really uneven, and some were quite high. The root forest led to another small shrine, and then I had to climb about 400 stairs (steep ones), which seemed to go on forever. I passed a lot of people, all going in the opposite direction to me, of course. I had only gone up, so I thought maybe I should have started from the other end of the course, because it might be easier. Oh well, I liked the challenge.

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At the top of the death stairs, there was another collection of root trees, which snaked across the ground in a beautiful pattern. I have a thing about tree roots- I just think they’re really cool. And then, there were stairs that went down! I was so excited. These stairs led through more forest, and eventually came out at a large temple. I started to rain again, but the view from the temple balcony was so beautiful, and all the mountains faded into the distance in different shades of blue. I felt so free and calm, I think hiking tends to de-clutter my brain.

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From the shrine, the path kept leading downwards, and I passed more forest and little shrines and lanterns along the way. I happily passed all the people coming up, feeling a bit smug that I had chosen to walk the course in this direction, because I ended up going down a lot more than I went up. He he, suckers.

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Then, I was suddenly at the bottom. I had arrived in Karuma in only an hour, which I thought was strange. I really thought I remembered reading that it would take about three hours. Maybe it does if you walk in the other direction, who knows. Anyway, I was a bit surprised and stunned, but I walked around the small town on Karuma, then headed back to the train. I was actually surprised how easy the hike had been, as I was expecting it to be a bit harder and longer. But I was also happy that I had completed it.

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The train ride home was fast, and at the station I bought a chestnut flavoured daifuku from a little stall. It was only 3:30, so I decided to catch the subway to Gion, and buy some food for dinner from the department store there. It felt strange riding the subway in Kyoto. I associate trains and subways with Tokyo, so I felt kind of out of place. There was also only 4 people in the carriage, whereas in  Tokyo is would be full at all times of the day. In Gion, I wondered around the basement food level of Takashimaya, then walked through Nishiki market, and all the way back to the hostel. It was freezing, and the wind was icy. My legs got really cold because I was still wearing shorts.

When I got back, Tida the dog greeted me, and I learned that he was about to be taken for a walk. I was invited to come, and I said yes, because they were only going to a nearby park. Tida liked eating the grass. It was freezing, so we didn’t stay out long. I warmed up in my room, and then it was time for dinner.

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I was so hungry, having worked up a huge appetite from hiking all day. So I went all out and made a huge tei shoku dinner. I made a donburi with brown rice, topped with some cooked spinach and mushroom from the supermarket, and an egg, which cooked in the heat of the other food. I also had a cabbage salad, some miso soup, and the collection of food that I’d bought from the department store. It was amazingly delicious, and I ate everything. I ate dinner with 2 staff members and another guest. I like how everyone just joins each other and talks. It’s really homely, and it feels like a little family.

One of the girls has been learning how to do the tea ceremony, so we had a little practice one, and drank the matcha tea with daifuku ice cream and matcha Kit Kats that I’d bought. I had a go at whisking the tea, which was much harder than it sounds.

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I can’t believe tomorrow is my last night in Kyoto already. Time is zooming by and I’m gling to be back in Australia before I blink. Tomorrow we are having nikujaga party at the hostel, for my last day. They have last day parties for everyone, so there’s a party almost every day!

Here are some more photos from today that didn’t really fit anywhere…

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