Today’s stage was only 18.8kms. Having posted yesterday about “walking”, it was ironic that today I had to practice what I preached! Today I felt that rather than walking on one pair of legs, I was walking on two legs. If that reads a bit strange, it is, but what I am trying to get at is that each step was an effort, as if each leg demanded its own command, rather than just falling into step. Perhaps it was the steep climb out of the valley first thing in the morning, or the up and down the ridges that followed, or the steep climb at midday? However, it can’t have been too bad, for having set out around 7.30am, I arrived at destination around 1.00pm, completing the 18.8kms in around 5 and a half hours.
The day ahead:
The two Dutch pilgrims can be seen ahead of me on the path.
Another bright, clear, sunny day. There was a bit of breeze, which was cooling most of the time, but it became a headwind for a time as we entered and left the valley in mid-morning.
As I walked this morning, I realised how lucky I have been with the weather. Yes, it has been hot, at times too hot, but when I looked at the path on which I was walking, and remembered those paths I have walked in the past weeks, and reflected how often I walk and have walked on clay that has been baked hard as iron by the sun, sometimes including the footprint of a pilgrim who passed by weeks ago, I realised that during and after rain these same paths would be an absolute quagmire of clinging, slippery mud. And where I have only had to negotiate occasional residual puddles and dribbles of water flowing through creeks and culverts, during and after rain there would be constant puddles to negotiate and torrents to cross.
The hills ahead looked daunting. I hoped we would not have to climb the peaks! We didn’t, but we did have to climb a steep rise to the pass between the peaks.
The path took us through pastures where cows (and horses) were feeding. Here is one of the cows. She has a fine pair of horns!
I feared that if she wanted to take revenge for what happens to her bovine kind in the bullring, I would be well and truly skewered on those horns! However, she either didn’t know or didn’t care, but remained placid and indifferent to my passing. This was fortunate for me, for even if I was nimble and agile enough, I did I have a mantle to use as a foil, and encumbered by a backpack, nor was in no position to flee. She gave me a passing glance and resumed chewing her cud while I passed by peacefully.
After an hour or so of walking we bypassed Canaveral, the typical white-walled town seen here sheltering in the lee of the mountains behind. You can also see how high and rocky the mountains are and why I would be reluctant to ascend them.
Having bypassed Canaveral, the path led to those very mountains, but happily, not to the peaks, but to a path that climbed up through the pass between them. It was very steep. It doesn’t show in this photo, perhaps in part because the camera is already pointed upwards, perhaps in part because of the flattening of the distance. I consoled myself that once I had climbed this steep ascent, the guide book assured me that the rest of the stage was gently downhill.
I girded myself for a stiff climb. I put the mantra in overdrive. I had read somewhere that the secret to climbing is breathing. First, breathe through the open mouth, not the nostrils, as it assures better flow of oxygen. Second, and more importantly, synchronise the breath with the steps. Breathe in on each right step and breathe out on each left step, or for very steep climbs, breathing in on each step (both right and left) and breathing out in the interim between. And take small steps, more manageable, less ascent to each pace, so less stress, more manageable. So, with mantra, breathing and steps all in sync, I won’t say I “powered up” the mountain, but I managed to climb it. Taking opportunities to enjoy the scenery as I did so (which is a happy euphemism for taking a rest break and having a breather!!!). The reward for my efforts was the scene from above:
The two Dutch pilgrims were close on my heels. In the valley below (which we had crossed that morning from the right) there is the highway, the railway and a new high-speed railway between Madrid and Lisbon under construction. All these modern modes of transport follow the same direction that the Romans had set two thousand years ago.
A second reward for my mountain-climbing efforts was the shady, pine-lined path that we followed to cross over the pass between the mountains. It was a delight to walk in the shade.
A third reward was the scene of the valley unfolding before me on the other side. It was green and verdant. Some 4-5kms out there was my day’s destination, all gently downhill (though I do note further hills on the horizon!).
Having descended from the heights, the path led through trees and pastures. It was a lovely scene. I especially appreciated the greenery of it, looking fresh and verdant. The word that came to my mind to describe the scene was “serene”. I knew my destination was not far off and I was in no hurry, so I deliberately slowed down (not that I was going that fast anyway!) to make sure that I enjoyed the scene, took it in, breathed it in, savoured it. Here is a visual taste:
Not every moment was serene. Here is one of three water gullies that I had to cross, certainly not the most difficult, each done carefully and with great (hard-earned) respect, such that I negotiated them safely without coming to any harm.
REFLECTION ON AEROPLANES
Today and on many days I have seen the vapour trails of jet airplanes tracing their spidery thread across the sky. I marvelled at these machines, travelling in an hour what we pilgrims manage in a month! Sometimes, of course, I envied the ease that the passengers far above enjoyed compared to my daily slog. My ancestors came to Australia from Ireland in ships, taking 4 months or more to complete the journey to the other side of the world, and never returned. Three or four generations later (depending on whether you count from the parents or their son who migrated), my parents were the first generation to visit Ireland, able to make the journey in 24 hours! I too have enjoyed the benefits of interstate and international air travel. It is fast, safe and mostly punctual. The construction, aerodynamics, technicalities and mechanics of the modern aeroplane are a marvel of human ingenuity. With catering, fuelling, luggage, maintenance, time-tabling, ticketing, pilots, cabin crew and so on, air travel is an enormous industry reaching across the world and uniting it, giving us unprecedented access to all nearly all parts of the world within a day.
But while pilot, crew and passengers soar hundreds of metres above us, I could not help but think that they are far removed from nature. Yes, pilots, crew and passengers share the same human nature as we who travel on foot or by bicycle, motorbike, car, bus, train, tractor or truck. The aircraft in which they travel is also the product of human nature. It is the intelligence, imagination and creativity of human minds that have conceived, designed and fashioned the plane, a technological marvel, as I have testified above. The materials of which the plane is made are taken from the earth. Its manufacture is the work of human hands. But the aircrew and passengers are far above other created nature, the plants,the trees, the flowers, the dried-mud paths, the water gullies, the sheep and cattle, the gardens and the fields that provide the food they serve and eat so high above us.
High in the sky, they cannot smell the scent of the flowers; they cannot smell the aroma of fresh crushed grass under the feet; the aches of being seated in a confined space are different from the aches of walking through the open space; their TV screens are only two dimensional, while we walk through three dimensions; they arrive in hours, while we arrive in months.
While modern technology is marvellous, maybe there is need also for the pilgrim’s lack of technology, for the simplicity of walking, for the closeness to nature, for feeling our belonging to the earth, of which we are made and to which we will return. We are not above nature. We are part of nature. Though some are sceptical of an anthropologically-centred universe, I believe that humans are a special part of nature, its apex, created nature become conscious, created nature capable of free response to the Creator. In this respect, we are unlike anything else on earth; but in every other respect, we are like everything else on earth, material, animal, vegetative, chemical, atomic processes going on within us, making us who we are. Not above nature, for we are part of nature; but the apex of nature, which endows us with a special responsibility towards all other created things, including our planet itself, its climate and so on.
While modern technology is marvellous, maybe we need to follow Aboriginal wisdom too, to go walkabout, to go into the bush, to enter into into the shrine of the land, the earth, the plants, the animals, sunrise and sunset, the seasons. Maybe we need pilgrims who are prepared to walk the path that thousands have followed before them. Maybe we who in the twentieth century can reach the skies, even the moon, and aspire to travel to other planets, a legend for the ancient Greeks, a dream even in the Middle Ages, maybe we especially need to keep our feet on the earth too, lest we become disassociated from who we are, earthlings, sons and daughters of Adam, made from the earth, to which we shall return.
Maybe walking the earth more would teach us to be mindful of the impact on the environment of plane travel, so that we would fly only when necessary.
Plants grow in one place, birds fly, fish swim, insects crawl, animals walk, humans share these same characteristics and so do all of the above. But above and beyond all these, we alone are FREE. While we can and should fly when we have to, maybe it is good to do the pilgrim walk from time to time, to help us keep ourselves in perspective, not to become like Icarus of ancient Greek legend, who was so infatuated with his ability to fly that he flew too close to the sun which melted his feathered apparatus so that he crashed back to earth again.
The old adage has it, “we need to walk before we can fly”. My reflection is, that “while we can fly, maybe we need to walk too” – to help us keep ourselves in perspective, to keep ourselves grounded, to know who we are, where we come from, to where we return, to know where our truly astonishing abilities come from, to know to Whom we belong, the Creator of all.
The destination, Grimaldo, was a small village. There was no wifi available, so publishing this post had to be delayed until the following day.
In the evening, men were setting off fireworks in the street. I asked what it was about. One of the other pilgrims told me there was a fiesta in the town that day and the following day. A figure had been set up on a wooden scaffold in the field above the town, made of old clothes, rags and a discarded mattress.
The effigy/figure would be burn the following night at midnight. I wondered about it. Was it a pre-Christian custom, still being practiced? I have seen something similar in Sydney, on the occasion of Deepavali, Hindus burn an effigy of Lord Krishna.
As well as the effigy, there were also a couple of tents set up. I was told that tonight there would be music and dancing. And so there was! I could hear the music till about 2.30am! I even used ear plugs, to little effect, for the bass percussion beat was pervasive. However, I was resting, and sleeping in intervals, so wasn’t too bothered.