Sunday, 7 August 2011

Two Angels & a Trinity

Kathy charms the youth of Cistierna´s industrial wasteland
I spent the whole last week writing the new Vadiniense guide, and now I am sick of it.
Not the trail. The guide. The writing about the trail. This is hard work!

the Roman road near Cremenes
BOILED DOWN: From where I left off in the last blog post, that trail loses altitude steadily for two more days, passing over a huge dam and along ten unforgettable cliffside kilometers of often-pristine Roman road. It continues into coal country, where I was reminded of my youthful wanderings over similar mountains of mine-tailings. (In Armstrong County Pennsylvania, however, the mines are called "Rosebud" or "Tintown" or "Lenora Lee." Here in Spain we passed the mouth of one called "Imponderable"!) I enjoyed poking round the skeleton of a massive and abandoned mine complex on the riverbank. All the heavy metals in the world could not crush the joy of a little herd of semi-wild horses that whinnied and grazed among the ruins. 
The following two days were green fields full of storks,  an 11th century convent still home to chanting nuns, a haunted monastery on a hilltop, cliff-dwellings carved into hillsides by hermit monks... and miles of broiling black asphalt. I am writing all about it. I will give you all the link when and if it sees the light of day.  

Meantime, I am involved in a bit of folly. It started at the Vermut last Sunday after Mass. Somehow we got to talking about how many more people are around here in August, and how quiet it is in the fields, seeing as the harvest is in and the big plowing hasn´t started yet. And we started talking about languages, and the English words "harvest" and "plowing" and "seeding," and somehow it morphed into a Project.

So, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings at 8 p.m., an assortment of Moratinenses gathered in the ayuntamiento to Learn English.

Before I moved to Spain I took a certification course in teaching English as a foreign language, so I ought to know what I am doing. But I do not. With each lesson I am confronted by my own vast ignorance of grammar and usage. And that´s just the Spanish part! I need a curriculum to follow, something very basic and engaging and just-for-fun. Because that is what this is, really. Fun. We are having fun in there, at least most of us are... and each meeting brought more participants to the table. Angel, the teenage son of Segundino the Carpenter, is a keen student at school -- he has a decent English vocabulary and he keeps my Spanish spelling in order. Paddy offers commentary and clarity, most of the time. Milagros and Angeles, Eduardo and José, Antonio and Toni all take copious notes and ask all kinds of questions and keep things light and bouncy. The time flies by.

And this evening, when I took the trash to the tip, I heard a voice call out from across the huertas. Maybe it was Edu, or maybe Angel or Segun -- "Got eebening, Rebekah!" it called out from the gloaming. I smiled.
But I digress.
There are a couple of things I want to add here that will not go into the Vadiniense guide. Taking a page from the camino blog of my friend Johnnie Walker, I will tell you about an angel we met out there. And the angel who finally rescued us. 
Trini de Carbajal
Sunday July 24 was a scorcher, and Kathy and I walked down a narrow blacktop road that connects the six villages between Cistierna and Gradefes. It was shady, and water babbled in the irrigation channels alongside us. Heavy horses, raised for meat, snorted at us from under the trees. Someone had told us that halfway down the trail, in a town called Carbajal, there´s a bar. And as the day went on, and the temperature rose, we spoke more often of that bar, that beer... (Kathy is, wisely, a proponent of a cold brews on hot days.) And finally, just when our water bottles were running short and lukewarm, we rolled into town. A lady came out into the street and waved and smiled.
We greeted her, asked her if there is indeed a bar there, or someplace to buy a beer.
And she said yes, maybe, but it is full of MEN. It would be better for everyone if we came inside her porch and sat down and let her give us beer. And so we did.
We sat in her cool patio and sipped, and met her husband. We heard about the crops, the neighbor´s fistula, the Virgin Peregrina statue in the local church, and how to feed jasmine vines. We had cheese and olives. Refreshed, our bottles refilled, we went to leave.
"Pray for me," she said. "My name is Trini. Trinidad." Trinity. Cool.  
She asked us to pray, and so we did.

Monday 25 July was hotter still, and there were no trees to shade us on our way. The pavement-walking was taking its toll -- my right pinky toe had a terrific blister that would not heal. We decided to take the bus to Mansilla de las Mulas, another to Leon, and the train back home. We could come back in the car and cover this last 25 kilometers that way... there are some cool old monasteries we didn´t want to miss.

BUT... July 25 is the Feast Day of St. James, a national holiday.
No buses. No jolly builders or coffee salesmen making their rounds, picking up hitch-hiking foreigners. I recalled a similar situation not long ago, out on the plains of Toro. I was stuck. I was gonna have to transcend my toe and get on with it. And so we strapped on our packs and walked. It was pretty and pastoral and breezy, but slow. Heat radiated off the blacktop.

I phoned Paddy with the news. It only made him frustrated. He cannot drive. We´d hoped to see each other that evening, and neither of us could do anything to save the situation. 

Kathy and I arrived at the monumentally simple monastery of San Miguel de Escalada. It was closed, of course. The Belgian tourists there were not interested in giving a ride to two scruffy backpackers. (I still think I could´ve talked them into it if I hadn´t been sectioning an orange as I spoke. I sliced open my thumb. I oozed charm, but the simultaneous blood-flow kinda killed my appeal.) The Belgians unearthed a bandage and staunched the blood and got the hell outta there. We were left alone on the hilltop with the road spooling out across the plain below.

"Damn," Kathy said. "It´s angel time, Santiago. Show us what you got."

hermitage with great reception
"I will leave you my stick, as a token of our good will," I said.

I walked this camino (and the last one too) using a walking stick abandoned at the Peaceable by Dennis the Scottish Frenchman, a pilgrim/motorcyclist who turns up periodically at our house. It was not a great sacrifice, seeing as one of my hands was rendered un-wieldable. I thanked Dennis again for the use of the stick, and we walked off southward again into the afternoon.

We found a bar and ate a massive tortilla. The place filled up with people, but none was driving south.
We walked some more, past the hermit caves on the cliffs above, with mobile phone towers topping them off.  It felt like hours. The toe burned. I felt light-headed. A song played over and over in my head: the Beach Boys, "Barbara Ann." Madness. From somewhere along the road behind me I could hear Kathy making mad noises, too. Krishna Dass, I think. Crazy. 

And then I heard another kind of music. My mobile phone was ringing. It was Paddy. He was in the car, on his way to collect us. No! he said, he was not driving. Dennis was. Out of the blue, just moments before, Dennis the French Scotsman had pulled up to our house. Where were we, anyway?

I whooped and hollered out in the field, and scared a cloud of doves into the bright sky. Me and Kathy collapsed under the first tree in the next town we got to, and in a flash our Rescue Rangers came. Our angels. They scraped us up and took us home, our butts well and truly kicked.
We wanted to do the Ruta Vadiniense. And it ended up doing us.    

Pilgrim´s Friend

6 comments:

Pilgrim Nell said...

Looks like she can't decide whether to dive into that lovely cold beer ... or just drink it? :)

Laura said...

I loved this story. I am sure that Paddy was relieved he could come and pick you up. Very cool timing.

Annie said...

Haha! That last photo is priceless!

The FileNet Smurf said...

From the very first time you posted a pic of Vadiniense that said "somewhere up there" I've known this is the one I want to do, even after these last two blog posts. Very much looking forward to your guide when the CSJ publishes it.

- Nev

Nobody really said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nobody really said...

From the very first time you posted a pic of Vadiniense that said "somewhere up there" I've known this is the one I want to do, even after these last two blog posts. Very much looking forward to your guide when the CSJ publishes it.

- Nev