Today would prove to be a relatively easy day to walk; although once again, feelings of being an unpriviledged outsider; and old feelings of being bullied and picked on surface, as fresh as the days they first came! Read on for more.
I woke up to the sounds of pilgrims laughing and talking as they pass the hut by. Earlier than yesterday, but still a late start. I got up, packed up mini-camp; and my hosts made me breakfast using the vegetables I had; and some eggs and of course, tortillas! I am so spoiled by the tortillas on the road that I can't bring myself to enjoy the tortillas in the city anymore. I better learn how to make my own from scratch!
I set off and started off at an easy pace and great cadence. For the most part the morning portion was even, with a few rocky downhill sections where I had to completely stop my cadence and carefully navigate the rocks down. Later on, another lengthy and rocky uphill ascent started, and this time, there was no path to navigate by, just smooth and bright white rock. The only indication was other pilgrims. At one point, a man leading a group points to me and tells me to follow his breathing exercise; as I had forgotten to breathe again on my concentration going up. I thanked him and continued on up.
When the ascent of the mid-morning was over, I noticed a bunch of women were off the left side in a particularly shady and inviting tree, and I noticed a nice empty spot. I gratefully took that spot and sat, panting the ascent away. A few moments later, I felt someone sit down next to me - close.
I looked over, and saw a pair of legs clad in form fitting grey leggings. Distinctly feminine.
I quickly looked away, before I could look further up and see the person. Those legs were really close to me. I also spotted a framed mountaineer's backpack next to them.
I shook my head to clear out all thoughts, started taking conscious breaths to take in the air, the trees, the coolness... I decided to look to the other side in search of distraction.
Another lady, but this time further away (normal social distance) also sporting a large backpack. Next to her sat an old man, with a large framed backpack similar in size to mine.
What is this? Did I just land myself in a support group of large back-packers?! "Hello, I am Peter, and I am a large backpacker-holic! Hello Peter, please to meet you, we understand your addiction!" I *do* have a tendency to carry too much a burden when I am out and about, and recognize this is something within me to warrant this joke loosely based on Alcoholics Anonymous.
I felt eyes searing into me. It came from the other side - the side of the grey legging lady. This may all just be in my head, but that was not my experience at the time. I did not react, and when the feeling of those eyes were gone, I looked over again. I felt ashamed that I only looked at her legs before, and looked away. I had a thought to look at her face and see who it is. She looked young, but very strong. Very attractive. As soon as she started moving her head, like a novice teenager who doesn't know what he is doing, I quickly looked away.
Yes, I become really stupid when I see someone that is attractive. I also become really shy. I dislike how many men, including myself in the past will hit on women, past their objections, and as far as being disrespectful. I haven't gotten myself to where I can act maturely or be in a higher mindset when situations like this occur. So, currently, I avoid such situations and when the hormones are pumping, I shy away and keep to myself.
So, I did exactly that, thinking that this is likely all in my head and whatever I am doing must be offensive to her. Better to stop now before I dig myself a deep hole to fall into. I looked straight ahead and closed my eyes. Focusing on resting, focusing on my sore feet, focusing on whatever pains I had and acknowledging them. I slipped into a sort of meditation and sat and breathed for a while. My intent at that moment was when I felt rested enough, get going again. These are just people also resting.
That moment came, and I got up and started putting my backpack on again. Doing this is a process as the backpack is too heavy for me to lift. I will put my right hand on the central handle; and left hand on the strap that I will pivot onto my shoulder. I brace myself and count to three and make a massive lift. The backpack slides onto the right shoulder and the left strap is in place. I jumped and slip my left arm through while the strap is in the air and there is no weight. Once the backpack settles, I buckle in the hip straps and sternum strap. As I am doing this final part, I hear *her* getting up to go as well.
Nah, this is all in my head again! I shook off my stray thoughts and looked for my walking stick and magnifying glass. I retrieved my magnifying glass and place it gingerly in my back pocket. It is half broken so there is sharp glass I need to be mindful of. I felt those eyes on me again, but this time, there was an air of patience. It's all in my head, it's all in my head, I am just being an idiot.
I turned around to grab my walking stick and go, and there she was, in front of me, holding my walking stick out to me. My stomach does flip flops, and I tell myself that she was just helping me out, and there is nothing more to it. I am sure of this. I thanked her and started to set off.
She sets off with me, as does her companions. I ignored them, not sure what or how to say anything to her. Soon, they drifted ahead, as I am slower. I leapfrog them as they slowed down to let the other lady catch up, huffing and puffing like I was. I continued on as the landscape turned light green and there was nothing but grassy fields. My uncomfortable moment is over and I promised myself I would revisit this part of myself and figure it out and address it in a higher way.
Up ahead was a white pavilion with people handing out bags of water. I stopped and dug out my now empty jug of water. I asked them to put water into the jug. While they were doing this, I looked around and saw many other huts in a grid configuration, and they were all sporting the Rutas del Peregrino logo and selling related merchandise. Even this pilgrimage walk has merch and swag, I marvelled. I only had 900 pesos left and did not want to spend any of it on things I would have to carry. Many other pilgrims felt differently, however and I saw streams of them buying merch and swag like it was Christmas.
The water jug was brought back to me, full, and so I set off again into those green fields. Soon, I started to get tired again and my Cadence slowed down. A group of young women walked by and one of them offered me her water bottle. I accepted and she walked on while the others giggled. I am not sure what that was all about, but thinking vaguely I stumbled into some cultural thing having to do with gender roles or courting practices. I shrugged as it was currently "above my paygrade".
The fields then turned into tall grass with red soil landscape and I stopped and sat down at the first huts in this landscape. By now it was near noon and the sun was pounding itself into me. I sat for a while and recorded yesterday's journal audio. I set off again once I was done. This section was by far the easiest, and the energy was really smooth flowing. My cadence was at its highest during this section and this continued for a few kilometers.
The road started to curve and the landscape turned more yellow and a stone wall joined the road for a while as the road headed south towards the midday sun.
The easy Cadence kept on going ... A ... B ... C ... D ... and suddenly I came to the highway. The pilgrim road continued alongside the highway, sometimes crossing it. I continued along the highway, going through the town of Mixtlan as we went. At one point, the road deviated from the highway a bit and dipped down to cross *under* the highway, and there was a man handing out oranges and water. I decided to not take any, as he was giving them away for free and there would be other pilgrims would need them more than I. I was having a lot of fun walking with that easy cadence on the even road! At another point, I decided to call my friend, Michelle Adam and speak to her. She had contacted me earlier in the week and I wanted to tell her how much her blog entries of late were timely topics for what I was going through. We had a long conversation along the lines of the human connection discovery I had on this trip thus far and she invited me to similarly open up to the land and let the land do its magic on me and work on my heart wall.
After a long while I got tired and found a small hut on the side of the road and took a rest. They offered me water for free and I sat with them while the sun inched towards the west. I got up to go when they started to clean up for the day. The road alongside the highway continued for a while longer.
By mid-afternoon, the road finally diverged from the highway. I was so relieved for the return to nature. Something about walking along highways felt depressing and lonely. I felt disconnected from the land walking along the highway. The easy cadence slowed down a bit as it was a gentle downhill down a narrow and grassy path, with an occasional hiccup of rocks that marked hops downward.
I was greeted with this sight, and fears of falling, losing balance, and heights formed a lump in my throat! Nevertheless, I approached and saw that the narrow path consisted of a single line of sandbags and I saw pilgrims ahead simply walk it as if walking across a log.
Suddenly, calm washed over me and a quiet voice within said "I can do this." it was insistent. I decided to listen to it and walked towards it as if it was a normal path, just put my feet single file as I went. I did so, and although I felt a tinge of trepidation; I walked across that "bridge" with no issues. There was a hut on the other side, and a nice large container of agua fresca. I sat down and requested a liter of it. The young man manning that hut asked me questions I did not understand and I indicated as such. The conversation simplified and faded as he saw I was tired. When it was time to move on, he indicated that camp was only about 20 minutes away. I felt encouraged and left.
The road then followed the river south and west; still at an easy cadence, and I passed old rustic stone buildings; walls; ruins of settlements that seemed to be from centuries ago. If I did not know any better, they looked remarkably similar to old dark age settlements in Europe!
The path continued and there was another crossing:
Followed by this really picturesque hut along the river. It was especially enticing with two containers of agua fresca and the smell of grilling fish and shrimp! I sat down at this hut and asked for a liter of agua fresca - it was lime with chia seeds, which was particularly refreshing because something about the chia seeds helped hold off thirst longer. I asked the people manning this hut how much further along the camp was and he indicated that the camp was actually a medium sized town, and it was another 20 minutes away.
That was what the last guy said! Sigh. The excitement was killing me!
I got up once again and continued on. I reached towards my wallet to pay for the agua fresca, and he shook his finger, saying it was free. Lots of freebies along the road today. The path continued again and reached more lush areas. At one point there was a camp of kids lounging along the river and they had mattresses out on the dirt. They picked a really good spot and it reminded me of all those cute illustrations in books of kids playing by the river. I greeted them and continued on.
The paths eventually diverged and a sign indicated "Peregrinos to Atenguillo ->" pointing to a path off the the left going downhill. It was a rather windy path and eventually I came across an actual stone bridge crossing the river and cobblestone path continuing into town:
The cobblestone streets led *uphill* ... Groan. My cadence really slowed down as I walked that path; and there was a sign indicating Economical Dormitories to the left. I saw some pilgrims go that way and a woman was calling for people to come. Something told me to ignore this and I moved on. The path continued uphill through town and I saw pilgrims turn to the right. There was no signs indicating so, and I followed them. The street narrowed until it was just something resembling an alley. On the left was a series of two Coca-Cola pavilions with food and drink; and to the right was a sign that simply saying "Hosting - 15 pesos" and led through a dark door. Something drew me to the place and I walked through the door. What I saw next was a ruined house - something normally marked for destruction. It looked like it burned. A lone young man was there and asked if I was interested in staying.
The walls were still solid, and most of the roof was gone. At worst, a few shingles might fall on me. It was clean, and it was spacious, and had a nice backyard that was grassy and shady. A single large tree protected the property. At 15 pesos, it was hard to beat, so I paid him and he showed me where I could set up camp. I prompty set my stuff down and claimed a spot in this still intact room that had two large windows that looked out to the huts I mentioned. The smell of birria was overwhelming me and I was dying to try it, so I went across the alleyway!
The woman served me a nice hearty helping of Birria con Chivo with a towel full of fresh tortillas, onions, cilantro, and limes on the side. It was thick, tender, satisfyingly fatty and the perfect fill for the day's walk. I hadn't eaten since waking up. I finished and paid her and got back to the mini-camp. People started to come in, similarly drawn by the low price; and soon, there were a few people chatting in the next room in Spanish.
I was too tired to interact with them, and sat and relaxed on top of my sleeping bag. The lights turned on and a family made a spot on the other side of the room. A large man approached and towered over me and asked me to leave and seek another spot in a different room. I felt angry that this was the second time this happened, but again, I did not protest because this man was really large and really tall. He used a stern tone on me - I felt the familiar tones of outsider come up from within; and a bit of offense for the guy using his size and power to take what looked like a prime spot in the house.
The host came and explained that the family felt uncomfortable with me around and it was better that I was relocated to another room in the house. He sounded apologetic, and I resigned myself to this outcome. He showed me to the other room - smaller, and was a storage room for building supplies. It was covered by a black tarp and did not look that great. The light was above the tarp and denied any light. The ceiling was really high here and there was no roof. I sighed again and a young woman came and also apologized.
I was angry, but was reminded that it is a mirror of the privilege that Americans and white people enjoyed while in the USA, and this is the kind of stuff immigrants faced. The things we take for granted! I was definitely not going to pick this battle; and asked the host if he could remove the tarp. I explained that I liked to sleep with fresh air circulating and the tarp felt too closed in and dark for me. Both the host and the young woman asked if I will be cold, and I answered that I grew up in a cold climate. They promptly removed the tarp and I moved my mini-camp over. The mother of the family apologized and tried to explain that they are a family and I am just one person. I was angry but understood their reason.
Before I knew it, I fell asleep and did not know this until I woke up some hours later. I looked around and noticed that many others have come to stay; and that they all retired to the room the family took, and the one I was moved from.
... ... ... I was angry all over again! Was it a lie? Was there a different reason? Is it me simply being a foreigner? It did not matter, I was angry. The reason for this anger was because it reminded me of my years in pre-school, kindergarten, and first grade where I was made fun of, bullied, and beaten up daily for three years straight. I was the different and unaccepted one all over again.
I have not felt these feelings for a very long time, and it hurt to feel them once again; and they were wounds that never were addressed. Back then, I got really angry, fed up, and did something about it with an intent, but a result that was much more destructive than I intended. An outcome that I did not understand except for how powerful I was in my intent, and how powerful my anger was. I became fearful of my own power and vowed never to use it like this. The positive side effect of this destructive outcome was that I was never made fun of, or bullied on ever again. People, other kids respected me and gave me space, even though it came from fear.
I fell asleep again with these feelings; as there was nothing I could do about them; and I realized that the upshot was that I was in a drafty room with fresh air as I requested; as opposed to being in a closed room with many others where I would be denied the fresh air and the coolness required for me to fall asleep.
64.37 km traveled so far. 16.48km traveled this day.
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