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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Walking 2




Here is the second account of DZel's recent pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela:

On our first day after climbing some unforgiving hills, we came across one of many water fountains that streamed water from snow-capped mountains. While some believe water has no taste; this water was delicious, full-bodied, and tasteful! Its natural cold temperature quickly calmed the thirst I worked up during the first hours of climbing. I could not get enough of it and for a moment fantasized about my bathing in it, but there were miles to tread before sundown and no time for any luxurious baths. The goal for the first day was to reach a small stop called “Alto del Pollo,” strange name, I know, but we had decided to stop there and find a place to stay the night. It so happens that the entrance to “Alto del Pollo” was incredibly unwelcoming; a sharp inclining hill adorned with hundreds of rocks of all sizes. The hike almost brought me to my knees and my body temperature increased with my heart rate. I run, bike, swim, and do plenty of exercise; still my heart informed me during that climb that I was nothing but a weakling!

Indeed I was humbled and I accept that I am not extreme athlete; but then again, El Camino de Santiago is not about physical strength, it is about spiritual growth. Like all the pilgrims I met on the Camino, the walk through this path to Santiago de Compostela was all about modesty, self-awareness, and soul-searching. Walking comes so naturally to all of us, and the truth is that we do not need to walk far to realize that the act itself can be a meditative one; we can walk in rhythm with our thoughts and submerge our bodies in the physical universe we live and experience our presence in the beautiful environment we are all part of.

Anyhow, there was no “albergue” with beds in “Alto del Pollo” so we had to continue walking for another hour or so in the late afternoon to see if we could find someone to sleep. To our luck we walked into a beautiful small town, which had no more than 30 permanent residents. There was a small private hostel there run by the most welcoming staff. For about 15 Euros each, we found a clean bed to sleep in, and a disinfected bathroom to shower in. Immediately after showering we washing out cloths by hand and hung them outside the albergue on a clothes line that was set up for all the pilgrims to dry their wash.

The albergue housed for that evening over 100 pilgrims from around the world. I went to sit at the local benches where I almost believed I was sitting at the United Nations; Germans, Australians, Austrians, Chinese, Venezuelans, Germans, Brazilians, Mexicans, and Americans all sat around outdoor café opening themselves to random conversations with fellow pilgrims. Some of us shared tips on treating worn feet, others recommended pilgrim housing along the road, but in the end most conversations lead to the same question: why do the Camino de Santiago?

I am not sure if the global economy has its place in my story, but what I do know is that at least 5 people I met were able to find the time to embark on this journey thanks to their unemployment. Others lost a loved one or had endured emotionally draining periods that left them with a thirst for spiritual awareness and consolation for their worn souls. As for me, those of you who know me well and know all that I have lived in the last year understand why I would take this journey. Sometimes when you feel lost, the best way back home is to walk without direction; at the end of your journey you will realize that your heart has taken you where you should be.

Our dinner that evening felt like the last supper, well, actually more like Thanksgiving! It was a quite a feast for only 9 euros! All the wine, water, pasta, beef, and cake we could fit into our bellies. I sat by several Italians, a German man who had been walking for over 3 months from his hometown, a couple of Central American women, and a few Spaniards from Alicante. Over the dinner table it seemed as if most of us knew each other for years, sharing more than expected from a stranger you have never met before. I wondered why we don’t sit with strangers in restaurants more often and just talk. Why do we sit alone at a table when we go out to eat when there are so many more doing the same? Eating alone is so boring!

After our meal I was ready to get some shut-eye, we expected to start walking no later than 5:30am. The truth is that there was a bit of stress among the pilgrims since there was an increasing amount of them that were in search of a bed to sleep in, and since most albergues were first-come-first-serve many pilgrims set out early in hopes of getting to the next albergue early enough to secure a spot. To ease our stress we decided that we would walk at our pace, and that if there were no beds left we would sleep under the stars in our sleeping bags. For many this was a common practice when camping, bit for a city girl like me, the thought of sleeping in sack, without a toilet, and the possibility of being shit on by a random cow grazing in the hills worried me a bit. Then I thought how the air could clear up my skin, my shit fertilizes the soil, and well, the cow shit could rejuvenate my aging sunburned skin. Who knows maybe I could later put my new find on the international market and become a millionaire like the woman who invested Spanx?

Back to the topic Denise! The following morning waking up was a bit of a challenge; I haven’t woken up before 5:30 in a while, much less while on vacation! While I looked forward to walking through the mountains of Galicia and rural regions, I almost suffered a panic attack at the thought of having to lug my 30 pound backpack for 32 kilometers! I know, I keep bitching about the backpack, and I sound like a wiener, so let this be the last time I remind you guys about it.

The most vivid memory I have of that morning is the smell: fresh cow droppings. To most that may sound like an unpleasant scent, but the scent took me back to those early morning in Moyahua during the summer when my abuelita woke us up early to drink the warm frothy milk she had just milked from her cow. I clearly saw myself sitting at her dining table, covered with wildly colorful floral print plastic table cloth, with my clear glass decorated with bright orange flowers, waiting for her to pour the milk into my glass from the silver tin bucket she used to milk the cow. Her worn tanned large hands holding the tin bucket slowly pouring the thick warm milk into my glass were so present in my mind that I almost believed I was at her table as I walked that morning. As I let the image run through my mind my heart just warmed up and I felt so close to my father and family. If only I could walk back in time and take my grandmother’s hand to my cheek and kiss it and tell her how much I loved her. Little did she know that I would later go across the sea in search of memories of her and my father’s hometown.

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I'm an LA transplant now living in Brooklyn. I develop film projects by day, write at night, and have a dangerous predilection for vintage Robinson Golluber scarves- this blog serves as a tiny window to everything else I do when I'm not satisfying those first three passions. I'm trying to blog more and tweet less @annabelleqv. What about you?

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