Showing posts with label typhoon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label typhoon. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A True Tale of Typhoon Talas postscript

Sunday morning I woke late and the sun was already up. The sun!.... havent seen it for a few days. In many ways its as if the typhoon was just a dream.
The way to the next temple is straight up the mountain, but as the trail is very steep and there is a good chance the trail is running with water, washed out, or in other ways damaged, I decide to take the longer way, along the river around the mountain and go up the other side where there is a ropeway.
I head out of Oi across the bridge. The river is still swollen,brown and turbulent, but the debris in the trees show that it was 4 or 5 meters higher yesterday at its most flooded.
Im in the shade of the mountain which im grateful for as its already starting to warm up. The main road is on the other side of the river and this road is narrow with few habitations. Every few hundred meters water comes pouring off the mountainside and its like walking along a Japanese city street in the summer with the store doors open and air-conditioned air blasting out on to the street. There are rocks and stones scattered across the road, but no landslides.
About 6k later I get to the ropeway station that goes up 600 meters to Tairyuji. The ropeway car attendant tells me that yesterday the paddies in the village below were all underwater. The views from the ropeway are stunning and from the top I can even see back to the pagoda of Kakurinji. At the temple they tell me that trees along the trail down fell during the typhoon so the trail is dangerous so I decide to go back down by ropeway and head off the 14k to the next temple.
Walking through the village I was confronted with a strange site...... piles of rice by the sides of the road. The villagers had been up since first light sweeping the roads clean of all the rice that had been washed out of the paddies. This shrine was nice, with 1,000 year old trees. I chatted with one of the men cleaning up there and he gave me a bottle of tea..... so far I have found more osettai (gifts to pilgrims) at shrines than at the temples.
The main street of the village gave further evidence of the destruction caused yesterday by the flooding..... every house had been emptied and all the furniture, tatami etc stacked on the street to dry...
A few hours later, over a pass and on my way down along another river towards Byodoji, a rescre helicopter slowly hovers and passes up and down the river. teams of people are also walking the riverbanks peering down into the riverbanks. Typhoon Talas has claimed 100 people, either dead or missing.
But its not all doom and gloom. Life goes on. Not far from Byodoji I spy shrine banners flying and the sound of people. Matsuri!! Its a small Yasaka Shrine and the people insist is stay awhile and eat some local delicacies and drink some cold beers. Drinking beer and walking in the hot sun do not go well together, but im only a few minutes from the last temple I can visit on this segment of the pilgrimage, and it would be rude to refuse such an invitation, so I join them. They showed me some nice old sarutahiko masks as well......

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A True Tale of Typhoon Talas part3

So, it's Friday evening and the rain has not stopped for more than 24 hours. But now the winds pick up. But first, a little about the rain. Its difficult to convey just how rainy it was, but maybe a comparison will help. When I got back home I checked the weather data for the nearest data point to me, just a few k away. On Friday and Saturday 870mm of rain fell on me. Now the area of japan I live in is known as being particularly rainy, and Japan is the rainiest temperate country, and 870mm is 6 months rainfall where I live!!

For those of you who live in Britain, my hometown of Coventry, and Cornwall where I used to live, 870mm is a whole years rainfall!!
Somewhere like the San Francisco bay Area, 870mm is 3 years rainfall!!!

So thats what i mean when I said it was raining heavily, but now the winds started to pick up. The rain was coming almost horizontally, so I quickly zipped myself into my bivvy sack, a waterproof mummy bag in which I have slept out in the rain before. I turn and put my back to the wind, but it doesnt help much as the wind comes at me from all directions.

This went on all night.

I did catch some catnaps, but was woken by the rain lashing my face. Several times the rain hit with such force that even through the bivvy sack it felt like pin pricks on my back.

So what to do in such a situation? Nothing!

Doing nothing is a rare skill.

I used to do a lot of long distance hitch-hiking, and on more than one occasion I have stood in one spot by the side of the road for more than 24 hours.

I used to do a lot of solo desert hiking, and in the winter when the sun goes down the temperature drops dramatically, so you crawl into the sleeping back at 5:30 and dont get out till 7 next morning.

This is how you learn to be comfortable doing nothing.

In between doing nothing I soak up the experience. I am IN the typhoon. The typhoon dominates all my senses. I am privileged to feel awe, something rare I believe in the modern world. And implicit in awe is humility.

Across the road is a small cemetery with some big trees, not the straight perpendicular kind, but curvy, gnarly, "round " trees. The winds are making it dance. It twists one way and then another, like seaweed in the tide, and incredibly it doesnt break, or snap. Natures engineering is remarkable.

Several people have commented that I must be brave, but actually not at all. Bravery is when you do something even though you have fear. I had no fear. What was there to fear? The typhoon would eventually pass, all I had to do was wait. Dangers of typhoons include falling trees, but there were none big enough or close enough to fall on me, and anyway the concrete roof I was under was a damn sight stronger that most flimsy japanese houses. I was nowhere near where a landslide could reach me, and though the river was nearby and roaring the village is far enough above the banks that a flood is most unlikely.

And so the night past and a dark grey day began, but the storm raged as before. I start to shiver. Though my bivvy sack is waterproof, my clothes are soaking wet.... condensation and sweat.

Around ten a car stops. 2 prefectural workers who drive the roads looking for falling limbs, rocks etc that fall on the road. They ask me if I have been here all night. I ask if there is any buses nearby, or trains, but they tell me nothing is running because of the typhoon.

They make a few phonecalls and then tell me that someone is coming to get me.....


20 minutes later the little village fire engine turn up from 500 meters away. Im a little embarrassed as I am not in need of rescuing. I ask the fireman where we are going and he tells me to the school 300 meters away. The driveway up to the school is a river.

The school is closed, but the gymnasium is still used for village events and clubs, and one of the rooms off the main hall is set up for henro. Blankets, cushions, a sink and a single ring stove. out on the porch a washing machine. I had read that the village offered free camping in the school grounds for walking henro, but apparently they also put people up in this room.

I dry myself off and wolf down 4 rice balls they have brought me. The typhoon is still raging outside, but from inside it seems unreal.


Im exhausted as I have hardly slept the past 2 nights, and I promptly crash out, waking a few hours later when Im brought some dinner and breakfast for tomorrow.


This is the "rest hut" where I spent 22 hours.....................

Friday, September 9, 2011

A True Tale of Typhoon Talas part2


I reach the temple about 10. Its taken me 4 hours to climb the 6 kilometers. About halfway from the gate to the main buildings the rain suddenly becomes heavier... its as if someone just gave a couple of turns on the faucet. What was very heavy rain is now torrential. Kakurinji looks to be a really pretty temple. Its unusual in that it was not destroyed by the local warlord and has never burned down. The rain is so heavy that all I can do is sneak around under the eaves of the buildings and take a few shots.


The area in front of the office where pilgrims get their stamps is under cover so that is where I settle to wait and see if the rain lets up enough to allow me to look around some more. Several car pilgrims come and go and the priest tells me that we are in the center of the path of the typhoon. He keeps telling me its dangerous, but offers no advice. The rain comes straight down.


After 2 hours it is obvious that the rain is not going to ease up, so I decide to head off. The next temple is also a mountaintop temple, on the next mountain over, and the map shows a rest hut for pilgrims in the valley between, so that where I head to wait out the storm.


The amount of rain coming down is pretty incredible. Every ten meters or so along the road going down water is pouring off the mountainside on to and then down the road. The water is above my ankles so its more like fording a river. At one point the footpath down the mountain crosses the road and I peer down it to see what its like and at first would have described it as a river, but it was actually white-water rapids. I decide to stick to the road. There is so many streams flooding into the road from the mountainside that it reminded me of flash-floods in the desert. One time I was out with my sheep only a mile away from home and we had a 20 minute monsoon. I could not get home for 12 hours as there were half a dozen rivers between me and home. Whereas the desert monsoons were as heavy as this typhoon rain, in the desert it rains for minutes or an hour at most.


It took about an hour and a half to get down the mountain to the little village of Oi. I found the shelter on the outskirts of the village, surrounded by empty houses. There may have been more to the village further down the road, but it was raining so heavily I was not going to explore.

The sheltetr was just like in a park, 4 pillars supporting a roof over a picnic table and benches. This one was pretty large, maybe 5 meters on the side, and there were half a dozen other chairs as well.

I decide this is where I will stay until the rain eases up. I take off my wet boots and put on my last set of dry clothes. Ive been wearing a poncho, but my sweat has drenched my clothes. Dry socks were a particularly good feeling. Other than the occasional gust of wind that brought in the rain to spray me, its fairly dry in the middle of the covered space. I have some jerky, some raisins, and a bottle of sports drink, so I settle in and do some reading. There is no traffic along the road, and the only noise is the sound of the incessant heavy rain hitting the ground and the roar of the swelling river a hundred meters or so behind me.

A few hours later night starts to fall, and then the weather took a turn for the worse.......

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A True Tale of Typhoon Talas part1


I've been somewhat erratic with posting recently as I have started to walk the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. For various reasons I have decided to do it in 4 or 5 day sections. Last weekend I did the second leg. When I originally made the plan the weather forecast was good, but since then a typhoon appeared in the picture and was projected to head for Shikoku. Typhoons have a habit of changing directions, and as it was actually only classified as a Tropical Storm at the time I left, I decided to risk it and go anyway.


Thursday 1st September.

As I head out of Tokushima City its raining quite heavily. The route to the next temple, Onzanji, number 18, is along a main road lined with urban sprawl with little of interest. 11 kilometers of asphalt in the pouring rain with noisy traffic is not fun, though with fresh legs I am able to walk quickly. At Onzanji I meet another walking henro (pilgrim). This is most certainly the off-season for walking the pilgrimage, part of the reason I chose this time of the year, but each day I bump into a few walkers. So far my experience with walking henro is that they are happy to exchange practical information, but chatting is not on the agenda. Comes with the territory.

We both head off at the same time towards Temple 19, Tatsueji, 4 and a half k along country lanes. About half way the rain stops and its possible to take off the poncho.

Tatsueji has an interesting legend concerning a woman from Hamada but I will save that story for another post. The other henro says that due to the typhoon he is having a friend come and pick him up. I am going on another 11k to Katsuura where there is a Michi no Eki (road station) that has a rest hut for pilgrims and a 24 hour convenience store, a good place to stop for the night.


Along the way I stop in at every shrine I pass.... that is actually the main reason for me walking the pilgrimage, to visit the shrines. A few kilometers from Katsuura dusk descends and it starts to rain again. It will not stop raining for the next 50 hours.

It's dark when I pull into the michi no eki, and everything is closed for the night save the conbini and the toilets. The rest hut for pilgrims is in the parking lot, but as it is really just a roof over some benches the blankets left for the pilgrims are soaking wet. I head into the larger covered area of the main building where there are a lot more benches. It is far enough inside that the wind will not be able to bring the rain in to me. I unpack my bag and put on a set of dry clothes. Though I have been wearing a waterproof poncho, my sweating means that I am completely drenched. Temple 20, Kakurinji, is on the mountaintop above Katsuura at about 500 meters above sea level.

2 men were having some sort of a meeting on benches nearby and as they are leaving one of them asks if I am planning on staying here the night. I tell him yes and that I plan on getting up early and heading up to Kakurinji tomorrow. He offers to drive me up there tonight. There is bound to be a big Nio Gate there that I could sleep under, but I politely decline his offer as the whole point of the journey is to see what can be seen by walking.

The wind picks up several times during the night, but not enough to drive the rain into my sleeping place, though actually I didn’t get much sleep due to mosquitoes. I had some repellant, but it seems weak and ineffective. At one point I walk over to the conbini and buy a can of beer to drink as an aid to sleep.

Friday September 2nd,

I am up as the sky turns from black to dark grey, about 5:30. By trail the temple is about 3k away, but as the trail is steep, most likely muddy, and with a lot of wet slippery rock, I decide to walk up the road. Its twice as far, but I figure there will possibly be some shacks or other man-made structures by the side of the road that I can take shelter from the rain under and have breaks. I have found that the best way to climb mountains is to take plenty of cigarette breaks.

A few kilometers up the road I do find a storage shed that is not locked so am grateful to be able to sit for a while out of the rain. As I have been climbing the rainfall seems to have been becoming heavier. Not surprising really. The road only goes to the temple, and several times I am passed by cars heading up that return about 30 minutes later. car pilgrims i suspect.
The final third of the climb the road becomes very steep. I am soaked to the skin with my own sweat, and though my pack is probably no more than 12 kilos it starts to feel much heavier. I count off 50 paces, pause for a count of 10, then count off 50 more paces, and so on. I am in no hurry and must pace myself.
Close to the top the walking trail crosses the road, and as it is stone steps and it will save me about 500 meters I take it the final leg up to the temple.........