Day 37 – The Road To Enlightenment – Walking The Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage – A Closed Ferry, Stranded On The Shores Of Lake Biwa, In Hikone, Japan
Day 37 – The Road To Enlightenment – Walking The Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage –
A Closed Ferry, Stranded On The Shores Of Lake Biwa, In Hikone, Japan
The main reason we had booked two nights stay in Hikone was to visit Temple #30, located on an island that is reachable only by a ferry boat that leaves from the Hikone port.
We even booked a hot springs hotel right next to the port, so we could take the early morning ferry, right after breakfast.
Since we had already walked the distance from Otsu to Hikone in the last few days, we took a train from Otsu to Hikone.
On our walk from Hikone station to our hotel, we decided to stop again at the ferry terminal, to verify that the boat would leave at 9:30 in the morning.
Two days ago we visited the port and saw a sign that said that because of the coronavirus, the schedule was reduced to one morning ferry trip only.
But as we reached the ferry terminal, we saw that the sign had been removed.
The door was open and a man told us that all ferry passages were canceled until the end of the lockdown on May 7th.
The temple would be closed until that date also.
This was such a bummer.
I turned my face away from Jules, to hide my helpless tears.
I have to admit that we did not take the news lightly.
If we had only come yesterday morning, we could have gone on the last ride of the ferry, but now we have no way to visit the temple.
We will have to come here again at the end of the lockdown, and hope that the lockdown will really be loosened on time and not extended.
We felt so disappointed.
Now we are staying for two nights in a mostly closed town with nothing to do.
At least we had booked a hot springs hotel with half board, so they would be preparing our dinners and breakfasts.
We checked into the hotel and left them our backpacks.
A sign on the hotel’s door said that the hot springs and restaurant were closed to the public.
Normally this Onsen can be used by day visitors who do not stay in the hotel, but now they were keeping it open only for the hotel’s guests.
This was good news for us, because usually this Onsen is very popular, and lots of people come to use the baths.
We decided to spend the next two days walking the distance towards our next temple in Gifu.
We were dressed warmly for the cold and windy weather, and we decided to stop in a park to have some of our tea, before our walk.
As I prepared the tea, Jules checked his emails.
He got an email from our hotel in Gifu, cancelling our reservations because they were closing down.
This reservation in Gifu, was just two days ahead, and it was our second cancellation in Gifu.
Our pilgrimage just got a little rougher, with this cancellation for the usually busy Japanese “Golden Week.“
It was obvious that the government was determined to really crack down on the number of people trying to take their customary family reunion/vacation trips during this most popular time of the year.
Mayors of many cities have made direct requests, asking hotels in their cities to close down.
Suddenly, the sunny weather turned very cloudy, and it looked like it would start raining any moment.
We decided to go back to the hotel, and assess our options.
It was not easy to decide what to do next.
We felt confused and not sure what would be the best way to continue…
Our next temple in Gifu is a few days’ walk away, and without a place to stay in Gifu it would be difficult to walk there.
I was feeling really at a loss.
Jules suggested trying to book a business hotel in Gifu, which maybe would not close down, or extending our stay in Nagahama instead, from which we could still use trains in combination with walking.
These were all good options, but we had booked four nights in Gifu, and now it felt like a waste of our time.
But help is always at hand.
Just the day before, we got an email from a woman living in Holland, who has been reading our blog.
She and her partner completed the Saigoku pilgrimage a few years ago.
She read that we were not able to get the stamp at Temple #4, after climbing to the summit, and wrote to us offering to send us a photocopy for our records.
We were so delighted with her offer.
Corine also wrote to us with a detailed report of how they had visited some of the temples.
They had stayed in an apartment in Kyoto, and visited most of the temples from there by taking trains.
We were just trying to lay low until the lockdown ends, and going to Gifu when the whole town was closed down, seemed like not such a good idea.
We looked into booking an apartment in Kyoto as well.
From Kyoto, we can visit and walk west to other temples on our pilgrimage, and then return to Nagahama and resume our pilgrimage walk to the north and west of Honshu island.
It was easy finding a comfortable apartment in Kyoto for a good rate nowadays.
We decided that tomorrow we would visit Temple #33 in Gifu prefecture and the next day return to Kyoto for a few days.
By renting an apartment, we would have our own kitchen and would not be reliant on restaurants and cafes that might or might not be open.
We will make up the distance that we will be missing by walking the same number of kilometers, but along a different route.
This was not so disappointing to us, because we had already walked this exact route from Gifu to Hikone three years ago, when we walked the Nakasendo from Tokyo to Kyoto.
In our hotel, we got a spacious Japanese style room with an amazing view of Lake Biwa through our wall of windows. We did our laundry using the hotel’s machines.
Then we went to soak in the wonderful hot springs.
The hot springs has big windowed walls overlooking Lake Biwa.
The lake is so big in this area that you can hardly see the other side.
A big falcon was gliding on the air currents, right by the window.
I laid naked in the hot springs, following its elegant flight.
It was so near, I could see his eyes surveying the lake below.
A woman came into the Onsen.
She was friendly and wanted to talk.
We both soaked naked together and talked.
She said that she was studying English and wanted to improve her English.
We spoke in a mixture of Japanese and English.
She told me that she had come to stay here in the hotel, because she loves hot springs, and all the hot springs in the area of her home had closed down.
I told her about Chikubu island that is now closed, and how that meant that we could not get to temple #30.
She expressed her sympathy.
I asked her if she thought that the lockdown would be lifted on May 6th, and she said she did not think so, but when she saw the sadness in my eyes, she said that the temples should be open and that the trains would keep going as usual.
We ate dinner in our hotel dressed in our yukatas.
The food was plentiful and good.
The waiting staff was super friendly and warm hearted.
If we were not so insecure about what tomorrow might bring, I would say it was a pleasant day.
Before going to bed, I read again the email that I had received from Corine in Holland.
She ended her most helpful email by using these words that warmed my heart so much:
“Due to the lockdown, let us try to live in the here and now.
Please know that we carry you deep in our hearts.
Deep respect to Kannon and to you.
Warm regards from Holland,
The world is full of angels, who emerge when you need them the most….
Good night, Corine, good night dear world….
With humble hearts,
Tali and Jules
Steps walked – 9,157
7 km. walked
Active walking time – 2 hours
Total walking time today – 2 hours.
Total walking distance on the Saigoku to date – 687.5 km
None, although we tried to take the ferry from Hikone to Chikubushima to visit temple #30