Saturday, 7 February 2015

Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains

On four occasions I have walked the 780 kilometres of The Camino de Santiago in Spain. Once I walked the length of Japan from the southern tip of Kyushu in the south to the northern tip of Hokkaido in the north. This evening I completed the 1100 kilometre Shikoku Buddhist Pilgrimage Trail for the second time. I have done these walks with several well known writers: Jane Christmas, Will Ferguson, Paul Barach, Hape Kerkeling, and Conrad Rudolf among others. I have done this all without breaking a sweat or leaving my home.

Usually when I see a book on Amazon listed for $2.73 I pass on by as quickly as possible. Experience has shown that books at this price are usually as appealing as a supermarket selection of fish that are a week past their best by date.

Of course, occasionally I am fooled and get a good book and, this week, a great one.

Paul Barach's Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains: Misadventures on a Buddhist Pilgrimage was an absolute delight. Sure, it was over baked in some places and under cooked in others but overall it was a beautifully engaging book. I enjoyed every step Paul Barach took on this 750 mile pilgrimage in his badly fitting shoes. 
"A 750-mile pilgrimage, an unprepared office worker, and everything that went wrong along the way. 
 Age twenty-eight and fed up with the office job he settled for, Paul Barach decided to travel to Japan to follow a vision he had in college: to walk the ancient 750-mile Shikoku pilgrimage trail. 
Here are some things he did not decide to do: learn Japanese, do any research, road test his hiking shoes, or check if it’s the hottest summer in history. 
And he went anyway, hoping to change his life. 
 Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains is the absurd and dramatic journey of one impulsive American’s search for answers on a holy path in an exotic land. Along the pathway connecting 88 Buddhist temples, he’ll face arduous mountain climbs, hide from guards in a toilet stall, challenge a priest to a mountaintop karate battle, and other misadventures. He’ll also delve into the fascinating legends of this ancient land, including a dragon-fighting holy man, a berserker warrior-priest, haunted temples, all manner of gods and monsters, and a vendetta-driven ghost that overthrew a dynasty.
Told with humor and humility, Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains is a funny, engaging memoir about the consequences of impulsive decisions, and the things you can discover while you’re looking for something else. 
Also that boars are terrifying in person."
Reaching the end of this book left me terribly saddened. I will miss Paul Barach and I will miss Japan and I will especially miss the people and places along the Shikoku Buddhist Pilgrimage. 
I may have to start walking it again tonight with someone new.

5 out of 5 Stars

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