My first night of the bike pilgrimage, I slept in a dragon’s belly. It was getting dark when a light rain began to fall just while I was crossing by a playground. Of all the stuff for the children, a huge wooden dragon was the most noticeable, and its hollowed belly looked like a cozy shelter. I took it as a very auspicious sign that I was the guest of such a distinguished host in my first night of the pilgrimage.

The most common places where I’d spend the night were around temples, usually under the broad wings of their roofs, at the back side. They used to be quiet places where I felt protected, and most of them had a tap where I could wash up. In addition, the flooring provided the perfect surface upon which to practice yoga and sitting meditation.

There wasn’t any remarkable dangerous situation; Japan is very safe.  Now I remember that a night particularly cold, instead of continuing my quest to find a place with the least conditions, I decided to curl up on the porch of a house whose only peculiarity was that the car parked in front was covered with a blanket, whose coat I considered myself more deserving.

By the wee hours of the morning the door  behind me opened and then closed suddenly. I felt really embarrassed, I picked up my staff and then covered the car with its blanket. The door opened again, framing a couple of elders with a surprised gesture.

I offered all sorts of apologies and tried to explain them the reasons for such an unexpected appearance in their portal, but they closed the door without uttering a word. I walked away feeling sorry for the inconvenience I had caused them, when suddenly I heard behind me: “Chotto matte kudasai!” (Please, wait!).

The old man walked briskly towards me and with both hands and a slight bow he offered me a couple of bananas. I parked my bike and accepted the gift with both hands and an equal bow. That scene instantly evaporated all my sorrow, like the sun would do with the frost a few hours later, and I walked away in the silence of that dawn reciting the mantra of great compassion.

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