Day 10: 27km
Today’s reflection: Just concentrate on the next footstep
“But, are you walking alone?” count: 3
☘ Oh, what a glorious day! I really feel like I am hitting my stride now.
The day starts as usual with breakfast in the bar in La Peza. The woman working behind the bar approaches me and, as she is also a walker, asks me a few questions about the camino. First cab off the rank is “But, are you walking alone?” 😳. This woman is asking me this question because she is fascinated by people who come from other countries to walk by themselves. She wishes she could do this also, and she explains to me how uncomfortable she feels about what it means to be a woman in Spain and to do things alone. To live alone, to go out alone, to not have a partner, to not have children, to hike alone…………I would even say that she is angry about it, which is heartening. I guess that until women get angry about the ways that their access to public space is limited and controlled, they wont feel the need to resist and just get out there anyway. I am reminded of Maria Angeles, the artist who housed me in her 16th century palacete in Guadix. The night I arrived and I was going out to grab something to eat, she commented that I was going to really like Guadix because in Guadix it is ok for women to go out to a bar or a restaurant and eat by themselves. She tells me that nobody cares. The fact that she took a couple of minutes to speak about this phenomenon with me also speaks to the fact that this blurring of genders on the streets and in other social spaces of Guadix is unusual. It may sound patronising to say this, but I feel sorry for Spanish women in this regard. Even though I have a Spanish passport, and a Spanish name- I really dont identify with women here in this way. And I am glad that I dont. At this moment, Australia doesn’t feel so parrochial.
As I set out, I continue to feel disappointed that there is this kind of thinking, because it means that it is more complicated for local women to choose to enjoy the spectacular landscapes around this area, like I am today. Alone if they want to. Especially the first seven or so kilometres, which are very very pleasant. Leaving La Peza, there is a choice to go the high way or the low way (recommended when there is snow). I choose the high way and for a couple of hours I find myself walking up and down across a mountain, breathing in the vast scenery and thoroughly enjoying myself. If only every walking day could be like this! The temperature is perfect, there is blue sky and sunshine, and I am pain-free at this early stage of the day-what could be better? Heading down the mountain, the path joins the asphalt road that goes to Quentar, running alongside it for a few kilometres, weaving its way through forest, at times moving towards the road before shifting away again. The path here is narrow, and at times stony. I see or hear cars moving along the road every now and again, and each time I do, I wish them away because they are breaking the silence that I have been enjoying up until that point………….Finally, the path hits the road head on, crossing over and taking me back onto a solitary mountain path that continues to wind its way towards Quentar for a few kilometres, leading me through more countryside, merrily lit with the colours of autumn. I enter a forest full of trees that have been mutilated for their sap. Giant sections of bark have been cut away, creating open wounds from which sap drips slowly into small black buckets that have been attached just underneath. Seeing the trees like this, enslaved and bleeding, is not nice. I wonder where that tree blood is going to wind up?
After a while, I come to a section where I face 4kms of uphill slog. I know well enough that there is only one way to attack this, that is, through the place of no mind. This is an opportunity to simply be in the breath, to practice not looking up, to just stay concentrated on the next footstep. It links in nicely with the theme of uncertainty and not really having a clearly imagined view of the future. Allowing the future to remain comfortably fuzzy and undefined for a moment. It is quite a challenge as I have at my disposal a pedometer app on my iphone that will quickly tell me how far I have walked. I have to fight the impulse to not keep checking. HARD. Counting down metres means focusing on the objective in terms of what I still have to do. This grinds me down, brings me into contact with suffering. I find it easier when I am focused just on where I am stepping at each moment, doing myself the favour of recognising that ultimately I am not going to arrive any more quickly anyhow. So, what is to be gained? I engage with the sensation of air pumping in and out of my lungs, of my feet hitting the ground, of my arms swinging. There are sweet moments, when I am not resisting the urge to look up or pull out my phone to check the distance covered. These moments are deliciously empty and it is a liberation to not experience the incessant mind chatter, and the irritating voice that keeps piping up over and over again “are we there yet?”. In those moments, I am just a body that is moving, nothing more, nothing less………………..the slog takes me to a desolate quarry at the top of a mountain, where I pause to get the walking poles out. What is coming now is a couple of kilometers of messy downhill along a very narrow path, lots of loose stones and steep, slippery surfaces. I am starting to feel my knees, but I dont care because despite everything, the walk down is divine. Majestic blue green mountains dressed in the shadows of the clouds that pass overhead stand silent, holding the space for me, giving me passage. I know that Quentar is only six or so kms away -I feel like “Ive done it!”, so I am beginning to experience a wonderful sense of satisfaction at having made it through this 27 km day with a smile on my face . The walking sticks are really helpful and take a lot of the pressure off my poor knees as I come down. The camino continues to faithfully lead me down down down until I finally reach Quentar, which turns out to be a picturesque, white, typically Andalucian town that has been poured into a valley between mountains. I am absolutely starving, so I head into the first bar I see, order a hamburger (which is duly inhaled), and drink two bottles of beer in quick succession. It is a jolly end to the walking day. What remains is to find the albergue, which is a bnb by the name of Fundalucia, owned by a german couple. There is a fire burning in the living room, and a warm bed with flannelette sheets and blankets. The shower doesnt disappoint either. At the end of it all, I lay my head down and allow my body to sink down into that blissful place, happy for the day I was lucky enough to have today. May there be many more like today, on this camino☘
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