On this day, I faced the rift between the follow and the leader within myself; with a healthy dose of Divine Trust in the end; had a bad fall in the afternoon; and made great progress despite suffering knees and feet. Read on for more!
I woke to the sound of tents rustling, quiet murmurs of people shaking off the morning dew; and I was covered in morning due; as was my sleeping bag. The sky was a very dark shade of blue, with a twinge of lighter blue in the eastern horizon. This was the earliest I have gotten up and out of the sleeping bag.
I could barely see, and my back and hips were sore. The cold and moist air brought crisp vitality to my body and boosted me quickly through packing up mini-camp. I fumbled through the motions in the dark and managed to hit the road just as the sun was peeking above the eastern horizon. What a lovely and early start!
I could barely see any better, so I followed the animating and moving figures ahead of me hoping that I was following the walking pilgrims. Trusting that no matter what, that I was going to the right place - towards Talpa de Allende.
The path went from straight to curvy, going through forest. I once again got to enjoy the refreshing and invigorating energy that the trees and soil were giving me, and that I was participating in the natural energetic cycle again. Cold air was streaming in through my nostrils, hot, spent air exhaling through my mouth; as the Cadence built up - A, B, C, D, A, B, C, D towards what I called the Locomotive pace.
The forest gave way to a scene of rocks, and I had to quickly slow the Locomotive to accommodate my progress through the rocks. Other pilgrims were passing me left and right, as they were not deterred by the rocks; and as I looked ahead, I saw that there was no path amongst the rocks, except for what the long train of pilgrims were making.
This progress continued for another hour or so, while more pilgrims were passing me. Eventually no more pilgrims passed me, and I was left alone, with no pilgrims to follow and mark the path. I was a little lost by this time as the forest had completely given way to a endless field of large rocks. I had relied so much on following the other pilgrims so much this morning that I never built up my own navigation and resources in preparation for this moment!
My pace slowed to a crawl as I wallowed in my dismay. In a way I was suffering, and in another way, I was immersing and relishing in this emotion, this experience. Tears steamed up to my eyes and formed droplets like forming condensation. A few drops managed to hit critical mass and roll down my cheeks. The feeling of dismay was rolling and cycling out of me like my hot breaths were earlier when I was in Locomotive mode.
I continued to step blindly forward - "direcho" as the Spanish word goes (straight ahead), and I started to scan the horizon. I saw what looked like a distinct "chink" in the horizon, as if it were a gateway of some sort, and decided that I was going to walk towards that until I found a path again.
I continued like this for a long while, as the air began to warm up, as the rocks continued onwards before me. All I could do was Trust the Universe.
Then, a path formed again, being very curvy and wended its way through rock walls; until it led back along the main highway and a long and *extremely* crowded series of huts! The trust paid off, and my stomach suddenly let out a loud hungry protest. It was time for breakfast. My body wanted fatty, hearty, thick food.
I eventually found an empty spot in the sun - everyone else was avoiding it and was crowding all the available shade and shadows. I was alone in a 8 person table and a waitress came to take my order. There are no menus except for what is listed on the neon cardboard signs. I ordered Chilaquiles with eggs; and a large bowl of menudo. The chilaquiles came first, with the eggs and some sort of sour cream with the thick consistency of yogurt. I wolfed that down as the tortillas arrived and sopped up the sauces, chile salsa, and the cream with a couple of them.
Then came the menudo:
This was by far the best bowl of Menudo I have ever presented with. Normally I did not like this dish because there was always too much "limp" and "purpose-less" fat, and little substance. This was not the case. In fact, I felt the Earth's abundance from it and dove in with gusto; as yet more tortillas arrived.
I also ordered a two liter jug of orange juice, which actually came as agua fresca de nataranja (orange), and ended up being an appropriate accompaniment. I relished this second dish as sun continued to slowly climb the sky and aided in building an immense sweat. A great sign of soup working itself through me, cleansing me for the day ahead!
I finished up and paid a tad less than a hundred pesos. I got up and felt the weight of the meal. It was going to a hardy store of energy, but it meant I had to carry it! I looked around and there were so many people, pilgrims and mainstreamers, like a sea of upright sardines, animating. I was very disoriented and had no idea where the road leading to Talpa was!
I made my way to the highway and followed it east, and saw a few scattered pilgrims who were equally disoriented and confused. We ambled our way through the crowds, and some of them resigned to follow the highway as it became more devoid of people in its transition back to a lonely road.
I was in turmoil. I was missing the woods, the nature, the lack of urban influence and was yearning for it as the steps along the highway continued, sun beating at my back. I spotted a group who had a camp set up and I approached them. They asked if I wanted food and I indicated that I was full. They asked my need and I responded that I was looking for the pilgrim road. They understood my yearning and dismay and told me to cut across the fields and farms across the highway. I will find the road and plenty of pilgrims to follow. I did as directed and indeed found them, on the lovely road in nature, flanked by nature and farms.
I was overjoyed and annoyed at the same time. How did I miss the road?! The feelings stayed with me as I rejoined the train of pilgrims. Looking back, I must have lost my way during the rocks and missed the road. However, if it were not for straying, I would not have had such a great breakfast. Things work out the way they work out and I am still alive and back on the path to Talpa again.
The Locomotive pace began to build up again and for the next couple of hours, the road breezed under my feet and I kept pace with the other pilgrims, leapfrogging and being leapfrogged by a particular family with small children walking. Pretty soon we came to a series of huts going through a rural town; and it was time for refreshment. I sweated profusely the last couple of hours, huffing and puffing at a locomotive pace.
I came across a vendor w1ith a half full giant container of agua fresca, and asked for a liter of it - lime with chia seeds. He did not have a large enough cup, so I asked for two cups. He looked at me strangely, trying to figure out how I would manage it with only one hand. He helpfully suggested that he fill a bag, and stick a straw. Good enough for me!
I paid and walked on, liquid bag in hand, drinking via the straw as I walked. The way through the hut town was slightly rocky and uphill, flanked by low stone walls. The afternoon path continued this way until we rejoined the highway. Eventually we came across another series of huts and I stopped when I spied a large pile of coconuts, and a man wielding a machete, hacking at them to make suitable agua containers natural style. I found a space on a thin log bench to sit on and watch Mr. Coconut Machete work.
I got thirsty again, the desire for coconut reaching a peak and walked over to ask for one. He obliged and asked if I wanted the full meal? This entailed me drinking from the coconut, then him converting the coconut into a dish of the flesh served with chile, salt, and lime juice. Delightful! I accepted and partook in that mini-meal. Soon, it was time to move on. The sun now marked the early afternoon and there was a long way to go, I felt.
The path turned into a straight and steady double file road, with thin patches of dry grass separating the two files. I spent time criss-crossing between the two paths, as the procession of pilgrims was steady as cars going along a two lane highway, weaving between each other to accommodate different paces. There was only tall, dry, and yellow field grass hiding us from the highway. On occassion, horsemen would pass us, clearly marked by the clip-clopping.
At one point, I missed a step to avoid a rock without being conscious of it and I fell, *hard*. Falls are much harder when there is a heavy load on the back to fuel the extra momentum downward and forward. My knees hit the dark dirt first and I slid forward on my right knee, then came through a few tumbles led by the backpack and eventually ended on my side, looking back.
A horseman was right behind me going at a locomotive pace and both he and the horse had to break their momentum to avoid crushing me underneath. As I watched him stop, barely aware of what was going on, immersed in a sea of pain, and not having registered the fall. My eyes swam as I saw him jump off the horse and come to aid me. I felt many hands bring me upright and I was up again as the horseman took a last step off the stirrups. He saw that I was upright and got right back onto the horse, not being needed; and continued on.
The other pilgrims wordlessly checked me and the pain was subsiding a bit as I registered the events for the last dozen seconds or so. There was pain on my right knee and my pants were shredded along the legs, covered in dark dirt. I checked myself for broken bones or limbs and found none, just a lot of pain. I indicated to the other pilgrims I was fine and they continued on. I took a gingerly step, one after anotheer and found that I could walk.
I continued onward too, but at a slower pace.
The road lost its grassy surroundings and soon was right alongside the highway, with a thin and gravelly path serving as a curb. We had no choice but to walk along this modest path. This continued on until the sun had made its way halfway from its high point towards the western horizon; and the Rutas del Peregrino finally diverged from the highway again, much to our collective relief!
The road gets into more woodsy nature and starts to gently curve and progress downhill, with increasing shade on either side of the path. We all enjoyed the change in pace and continued this way for a while until the path straightened and started a steady uphill again.
My locomotive pace and Cadence slow to a crawl as I realize how tired I am after such a long way. Once again pilgrims were passing me left and right and I trudged onwards, sweat streaming down my torso, beneath my dirt caked shirt.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped at a hut to rest a bit. I noticed that my feet were swollen and pressed up against the shoe very hard making them painful to walk on, especially at the toes. I took off my shoes and noticed a blister beginning to form on one of the toes on my left foot. Instinctively, I took out a second sock and put it over that food, knowing that I was making a trade. An even tighter fit for extra protection for that toe. It took me about half an hour to put that shoe back on.
As I continued to walk, I decided to call my friend, Lloyd to catch up, ask him for advice on the blister, and help pass the time and distract me from the pain. We had a lovely conversation and I got plenty of knowledge on what I needed to do with that blister.
Just when I could not take it anymore, and my left knee was beginning to protest loudly, I saw a sea green awning and a few giant containers of agua fresca and a few chairs! I sat down at one of these chairs and requested a liter of an inviting amber colored agua-fresca.
It turned out to be a fine agua fresca de pina (pineapple) and I proceeded to nurse it as I rested and massaged my left knee and investigated for injuries on my right leg, as it was in pain as well. Turns out I scraped my right knee and all of the skin was off, leaving flesh covered in dirt. During my ascent on the Spine of the Devil yesterday, I dislocated my left knee and spent some time on one of the ascending huts hitting it back into pace, not noticing the pain because of all the sugar and fire coursing through me. This knee was just extremely sore now and needed time to rest.
While I continued to nurse my drink and knees, I checked the maps on my phone for the 3rd time today. The morning started out with 23km remaining (as the crow flies), then 19 km at the menudo restaurant. The current reading was 13 km remaning. There were so many curves and deviations along the way that the actual route did not match the distance.
At this rate, I was not going to make it to Talpa tonight as projected by others along the way. It will have to wait until tomorrow. I rested until both knees calmed down and the pain subsided.
I got up to continue on. The sun was now about 2 inches from the horizon, and the road became cobblestone and was facing the sun in a moderately steep uphill. I settled into a tortoise pace once again and walked on the right hand side of the road, feet shuffling back and forth, as I walked in a small zig-zag to accommodate all factors.
Along the way, I checked my maps. 10.5km, then 7.8km an hour later. Another half hour passes and it read 7.7km. Apparently it was still quite twisty of a road. The scenery became quite pastoral, the cobblestone gave way to red soil; farms, fields, and tractors adorning the sides of the road.
As the sun was only half an inch from the horizon, I was seeing pink from all the burn-in at looking at the sun as I walked to it. I spotted a giant sign to the right, and it welcomed pilgrims for the night, and that the church was undergoing construction for the next few years. I took that as a sign to rest here for the night and went into the secluded field that had a single small structure - a fancy alter to a virgin, with steps where pilgrims bent their knee and prayed and express their Gratitude to this particular virgin.
I found a spot in an energetically sound and flat patch of grass and proceeded to slowly set up mini-camp. Several other pilgrims came in as the sun was setting; and I eventually laid down to rest and enjoy some time off my feet.
I took off my shoes and felt my feet sigh with relief as they swelled; and I left my socks on. Eventually I got up and walked over to Thank the resident virgin at the alter, following the example of other pilgrims; and did this in silence. I decided to scout ahead a bit, and found a portable hospital facility; and a long series of huts. Something told me to not seek my needs at these places and that it would be fine to head back to my mini-camp.
I stumbled back to my mini-camp, sat down and started to unpack my backpack, to look for my evening food supplies and my toiletry bag with my little first aid kit. What I had left for food were cookies in a tube, Pringles style; a can of tuna from a few days ago; crackers; a cucumber; an onion; and five limes. I decided to eat all but the limes and the onion, as those things required a knife to cut them. I did not carry a knife with me as I was advised to not carry anything that could be seen as a weapon in Mexico.
Pilgrims were setting up their tents as the night progressed and the moon rose; and a bright yellow light turned on and illuminated the entire area. I eventually got all my medical supplies sorted and treated my right knee, cleaning it until the flesh was exposed to cooling air; and using some herbal clay to create a shell scab.
I put everything away and proceeded to arrange my backpack towards sleeping arrangements. I looked around for places to use as a bathroom for the night; found it and settled in for the night. Sun hat covering my face to block out that yellow light.
Sleep came in steadily and I was soon in a dreamless slumber.
99.92 km traveled so far; 21.03 km traveled this day.
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