a thin grey mist hangs over tineo as we set off walking. wandering upwards, the mist swallows up everything that i might use to measure time… i cannot see the sun as it tracks across the sky. gone is the landscape below and the path in front of me. time is now being marked by the sounds of my footsteps underneath the green canopy that hangs overhead, footsteps that move me along the leafy pathways still moist with last night’s rain. an absence of time leaves me with the sensation of moving through an eternal moment. step step step step/click, step step step step/click. over and over, my footsteps become the sounds from a metronome, its’ rhythm taking me somewhere beyond what is actually in front of my eyes and into the space behind the eyes, the place where perceptions give birth to emotion….
rounding each corner, my eyes begin to play tricks on me as i imagine dark figures emerging out of the mist. each time, my heartbeat skips a beat, speeding up then slowing down. riding this heartbeat rollercoaster, i occasionally look over my shoulder, half expecting to see someone coming up behind me, the twin shadow of the man that i encountered two days ago…..
…… step step step step/click, step step step step/click……i am between Oviedo and grado. the concentration of people that i have been walking with have moved ahead, step step step step/click, step step step step/click, the constant rhythm of their footsteps taking them further and further away from me as i stop to take photos and make sound recordings. the landscape is picture perfect, drawing me away from conversation and camaraderie.
working up a sweat, the camino takes me through a township and when i get to the other end, it is time to shift away from the asphalt and pick up a more rustic camino through a solitary forested area. to the right i see a scooter parked on the side of the narrow track and about 100 metres on i come upon a man. his back is turned to me and it appears that he is peeing. i politely call out hello, making my presence known, and hang back waiting for him to finish before moving past. he does not move, he continues doing his business with his back turned to me. this strikes me as odd. he then half turns, pasa pasa, no te preocupes (come past, don’t worry) he says. tienes un panuelo? (do you have a tissue?). alarm bells.
he turns around and i see that he has his penis in his hand. oh no! it is another sad, lonely man, this time conjured up by the forest. aha, so this is today’s gift from the camino. my heartbeat speeds up as my collection of memories of other such wankers comes gurgling up to the surface, provoking a strong emotional reaction. it is a powerful mixture of fear, anger, disgust, sadness…..what do i do? if i go back to the township, back to people, it means that i have to go back past this person. i decide to pick up the pace and head into the forest. as i walk away from him, looking downwards, he asks me matter-of-factly if i would like to give him a hand. haha! oh great. a creature of the forest with a sense of humour. i respond, no! are you sure? he asks. yes! what response does this person expect? i am practically running now.
there is a strong physical element to what happens in those few minutes. although the rational mind knows that this is just a sad man who enjoys spending his sunday mornings masturbating in public places and freaking out female pilgrims, my reptilian brain jumps to high alert. my heartbeat is racing. is he following me? i push on into the darkness of the forest. i am alone. my heart is jumping out of my chest now. hysteria is building. in that moment, i feel crazy. i say to my feet, lets get out of here! a minute or two later, at the height of my paranoia, and during what seems like an eternal moment, i round a corner and see three people, a family, sitting under a tree, innocently enjoying some food. thank god you are here, i blurt out. they turn to look at me and become very concerned when i burst into tears. what happened? they ask, alarmed. i am definitely in a state (irrational?) and they order me to sit. what happened? the father figure insists. i am embarrassed to tell him ~a side effect of the violence of the situation~ but i force myself to say it anyway. the same way that i feel the experience now as i write this, words come tumbling out into the air, into the space between us……
step step step step/click, i now walk in the mist, experiencing flashbacks from this recent situation. the flashbacks fly in from nowhere/somewhere, manifesting in the shapes and shadows that i am seeing behind every tree, every moving branch. i need help. i simply cannot allow my mind to poison the memories that i have of this beautiful place and of myself within it.
i call in the spirit of the fox from pichincha to walk with me, to be an extra set of eyes in this shadowy place. i look down, and suddenly, appearing out of nowhere/somewhere, there she is, close by. a lean muscular body, clothed in soft brown fur. ears pointing straight upwards, tail swishing silently behind her. i feel her strong heart beating as she moves faithfully at my side, keeping a brisk pace, sticking close to my right leg. trotting along beside me, her eyes move from side to side, scanning, all her senses are hard at work. she is surveying the forest, guiding me. i feel her look up at me, and through her eyes i look to myself. in a language beyond words, she tells me not to worry. i am safe. the shadows connect me to the trees once again as i feel her with me, within me, clean, quick, strong, sharp, clever….pushing the dark figures back into nothingness with one look from those eyes….