A little tear started welling and I could feel a lump in my throat. After two days hiking completely alone, I was only 400 metres from the spiritual crescendo of the trail.
I had been on the beautiful and spiritual World Heritage listed Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail in the Kii Mountains and felt proud to have walked where devotees for centuries before me had come to perform their purification rites at the many shrines along the way. I had come across only four other people over two days so it had been an intensely spiritual and personal experience......... until I got to the sacred Kumano Hongu Taisha temple. Damn, damn, damn - there they were - the tour buses full of visitors who had come to pay homage.
They will never know how it feels to walk in solitude under intensely blue skies, among huge forests of Cypress pines, to smell the freshest of air, to climb up to the stone steps to the tops of mountains, to see the hawks circling above, to hear nothing but the sound of birds and the crystal clear, running river. They may never know, but I will never forget.
It will be hard to forget my gorgeous Japanese hosts at a 150 year old guesthouse on the first night. Midori ("green, like the drink" she told me), Odaki and I shard some hilarious conversations with our ten common words of Japenglish. The call at 5.30am of "Blekfist, blekfist" (breakfast) to enjoy a protein fix of tofu, fish and eggs before hitting the trail, will forever be etched in my mind.
It will be hard to forget the delight of soaking my weary body in a thermal pool each night, watching the locals boiling eggs in the special 'cooking bath' and sitting in a flowing river where the natural thermal heats comes through the riverbank.
It will be hard to forget this whole region, which is an intensely beautiful, natural part of Japan and only just being discovered by those in search of something outside of the cities and usual cultural meccas.
For so many reasons, this special part of the world will be hard for me to forget.