After a brief nap, we were awoken by a lot of noise outside, but no one came up. We decided that there is just too much in the way of activity here, and so we would head into a more remote area.
After getting in the car, we took one of the mountain roads into Tanabe. I had spent a bit of time hiking along the Kumano Kodo, which is a pilgrimage track that goes up through the mountains, so I thought that would be a good place to go. The drive was relatively uneventful, apart from a man who chased us for a while as we were leaving Gobo. As we moved out of the small city, the forests opened up around us and the scenery changed to that of the Kumano forests. I had the idea of going to Kawayu, which is a famous thermal hot spring in a river. Neither of us had any other ideas, and it’s located almost two hours into the mountains from Gobo, and I have to say, it was definitely worth it.
When we got near, we pulled over downstream a little. We were just out of sight of the hot spring, so Alex climbed a pole to check it out. There were people bathing there! It looked like a family of three. He hurried down, and we briefly talked about how best to approach them, without scaring them off. In the best of times, people often get nervous seeing people from other countries here, so it was difficult to predict their reaction. We decided to leave Alex’s bat in the car, although we did keep knives tucked into the back of our pants, just in case.
We walked along the river around to where they were in the hot spring and called out to them. They seemed startled at first, but we were between them and their car. They also had a young child with them, so there really wasn’t anything they could do.
“Are you okay? We have some food if you need it,” Alex called out.
The woman was outside of the river at the time, and the man was playing with the child. When he heard Alex’s voice, he almost flung the child down, picked up a heavy shovel and dashed in front of his family.
“We won’t attack you. We just came for a bath. Can we talk?” Alex followed up in Japanese.
Before the man could reply, the woman turned to him and said, “You said no one would come up here!”
He didn’t turn away from us, but answered “I said that not many people would come up here.”
“We didn’t mean to scare you. We’re just happy to see other people,” I blurted out.
The man’s face softened a little. “How did you know to come here? People don’t really know about his area.”
I briefly explained that I’d been living in Wakayama for a year, and what we’d been through.
“Maybe we can help each other,” Alex added.
The man’s wife didn’t seem very enthused about our presence, but he said that they would discuss it. He told us that there was a shack nearby that we could stay at, and if they decided to trust us, they would come back to the hot spring tomorrow morning and take us to where they were staying. We thanked them and asked them to please come back soon. They left promptly after that. I briefly thought about following them, but the allure of hot water was too great. After taking off our clothes and soaking in the hot spring for over an hour, we found the shack just as it was getting dark. There are no street lights this far up in the mountain.