Day 5: 21.5 kms
Today´s reflection: I can do this!
♥ I sit now in the albergue at the end of a satisfying day, warm, dry, thankful. I am thankful for it has been a good day. After a slightly confusing start (listen to my blow-by-blow for more detail), I was able to leave Abla and start moving towards my next destination- Hueneja.
Part of the reason, I am sure, that I am feeling so perky today is because I took a rest day yesterday. My dear friend Jose, who lives in Almeria, came to visit me, and together we went on a bit of a road trip that took us across the Almerian desert, past spaghetti western film sets from the past, and towards a town called Uleila del Campo. In an earlier conversation, I had been commenting on how it seemed that the pilgrim who walks long distances is a bit of an anomaly in these parts- but that does not mean that the notion of the pilgrimage does not exist. Here, in the south of Spain, the religious pilgrimage has a different face- one that emerges from a more fiery and passionate approach to the sorts of rituals that connect individuals and communities to their god. If you have ever been to the Easter processions of Sevilla, you will know what I am talking about. People pay good money for the privilege of publicly crawling on hands and knees, or attaching heavy chains to themselves, or dragging a full-sized wooden cross- all to win favour with god or to keep a promise that they might have made to god in exchange for something (curing illness or passing exams, for example). In northern Spain, you can also see this, but it is something that is much more visible and common in the south. One such practice involves making the pilgrimage on foot (or on knees) to specific chapels, usually located on high mountains- to make good on a promise, to show God you mean business.
There is a legend related to one such mountain called Monteagud, situated near Uleila del Campo. Legend has it that there was a gypsy woman who, after crawling on her hands and knees to the top to keep her promise to God, decided to throw herself off a precipice, as surviving such an act would surely mean that God was paying attention. The story goes that she survived, which was nothing short of miraculous (I have seen this precipice and would definitely agree with this). The thing is, that after this happened, a somewhat wealthy family offered to pay her money if she would jump off the precipice in their stead- I guess earning them God´s favour as well. While this seems a little cray-cray, it is interesting to note that on Northern caminos, in ye olden times, it was also the case that wealthy families would pay people to walk the camino for them (not quite as hazardous to the health, but a similar concept nonetheless)……….Unfortunately, the gypsy woman didn´t survive the second fall- I know that there is a moral in there- but I hesitate to comment on it here for fear of offending any Christian readers.
After visiting the chapel at the top, we went to a nearby town for lunch and quite by accident ended up in a place that is well known locally as serving up ¨scandalously¨ delicious meals. Reservations at Bar Joserra are a must, especially on a Sunday- but we were able to get a couple of seats at the bar and before we knew it, Joserra himself had whipped out place settings for two, a massive mouthwatering salad and a bottle of local red (which was pretty damned yum). This was followed by a decadent cocido made with barley, fennel and blood sausage, and then something called ¨secreto iberico¨(iberian surprise), which was essentially half a grilled pig on a plate accompanied by a pile of fried potatoes and roasted red peppers. Oh. My. God.
We crawled out of there an hour and a half later, but only made it as far as the plaza mayor, where we lay in the sun and tried to recover for a bit, before heading back to Abla for sweet, blessed rest.
Today´s walk was great. Once I got going and I could see that in fact, it wasn´t going to rain in the old testament sense of the word, I very much enjoyed walking. My body felt strong, and it was the first day since beginning this adventure that I could feel myself slipping into the easy rhythm. The rhythm of packing my backpack, the rhythm of following the arrows (of which there were plenty), the rhythm of coming into a town on the way and stopping for a coffee and a chat with whoever is in the bar before going on my way……… My body is starting to adjust to the weight of the backpack, and I now begin to experience the arrows like friendly voices, reassuringly pointing me in the right direction and firmly telling me where not to go. In Fiñana, at the bar, a beautiful old man strikes up a conversation with me, which culminates in him announcing that I will definitely make it to Santiago- he knows this just by looking at my face. He tells me I am strong- a far cry from the women I met in Alboloduhy! His words are the antidote to their negativity and fear, and I take them and hide them away in the special place, because I know that the moment will come when I will have to draw on their positivity and energy. It is a testament to the power of words. When I arrive in Hueneja, the women who receive me to give me the keys to the albergue, are similarly full of strong, positive vibes. Today has brought me the gift of external validation, but it has also brought me into an awareness of my own understanding that I can do this. That it is only in my mind. That all I have to do is take care of my body, rest, and smile. Be grateful.
Wandering past olive and persimmon trees, friendly dogs that play with me in the street, and vibrant smelling rosemary bushes- I am deep enough into the walk today that my senses are stimulated, particularly by smell. Fat drops of water on dry earth release a rich, warm air that I breathe in while simultaneously remembering the first moments of childhood summer storms in Mt Isa, remembering that smell as the harbinger of loud thunder, buckets of water raining down from the sky, and a whole lot of fun. The riverbed that I walk along for a couple of kilometres also feeds my senses with a slightly funky, yet comforting aroma, taking me to the creeks in the same desert landscape of that other life. Places that were dangerous, but also a lot of fun to play in.
Arriving in Hueneja, I am of course ravenous, so I head straight into the first bar/restaurant I see and put away a salad, a plate heaving with fried potatoes, chorizo and fried egg, and a basket of fresh bread. The bar has a lovely fire going, on which they are grilling chicken and pieces of pancetta. The local baker, Miguel, approaches me and asks me some questions about the camino. We have a really lovely conversation over a beer, and it is with a full belly and heart that I get to the Albergue, have a hot shower and put my feet up, so I can reflect on the day and share it with you.
Now, I know I can do this. It took a few days to get into the swing of it, but here is the blessed feeling. One foot (mindfully) in front of the other and a proper mindset, that is all it takes♥
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