Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pilgrims by the busload!

Encountering other pilgrims was bound to happen, but by the busload was a little overwhelming. That's what I found at the famed Meteora monasteries - busloads of 'pilgrims'. Mostly German.

I've been traveling through the beautiful and rugged countryside - mountains, steep fields of grazing goats and sheeps and the particularly protective dogs who keep them together. I've picked up bits of the E4 European hiking trail for some off-road excursions but have popped back down to roads to get to the villages otherwise bypassed. From this northerly approach, the steep descent to Meteora took some of the mystery out of the collection of 16th-century monasteries perched on pinnacle outcrops as more typically first seen from the valley below. Nonetheless, busload upon busload of religious tourists crowd the monasteries like nothing I've seen so far on the journey. At the women's monastery of St Stephenus, I humbly asked for lodging for one night. An English-speaking nun apologized profusely for their inability to host me... too many nuns, not enough beds, I was told. I was given instead a blessing and a voucher for a hotel below in the next town. The main street of the town, full of icon factory outlets and other schlock trinket shops, was lined with hotels to accommodate the busloads. Exhausted from the 46 kilometers of the day's hike, steeply uphill until the last 5 km of hazardous descent, I stopped in the first hotel and expained that I'm a pilgrim but the monastery was full, so take the nuns' voucher and please provide me with a room and a meal or tell me who could. The hotelier was happy to oblige and squeezed me in with a group from Heppenheim, Germany, coincidentally quite near to where I used to live.

As I ate my banquet meal of 'typical' Greek cuisine that Germans would like, others from the group spied me as a newcomer and pressed me in their reserved manner for details of why I'm suddenly with their group. I explained myself and in a short time was told emphatically that I'm not a real pilgrim because I wasn't with a bus tour, spending a whole week touring the most famous Christian sites in central Greece. Besides, I was told, pilgrims by foot go to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, not to Greece. They were all pretty happy with themselves for 'setting me straight' and were up and ready at 7 am with their luggage assembled in the lobby to go on to their next site - Delphi. It would take me another 6 days and them 3 hours to get there. Meanwhile, the hotelier prepared a bag lunch for me to take along with me and sent me off with hugs and promises of prayers.

Summer has hit with a force and I got sunburned within a few hours. It just can't be helped when I'm perspiring under the direct rays with no where to hide... How can anyone be a summer pilgrim??? For three days, the temperatures soared into the high 20s (80s F). I'm dying out here! Carrying everything, wearing next to nothing and getting burned as I sweat buckets. Even the dogs are disinclined to bark at me and chase me, instead staying sprawled out under the nearest olive tree. The last two days have been a pleasant light drizzle in the mountains again; I'm much happier. But spring has arrived; the winter pilgrimage is coming to an end.


Anonymous said...

Now that I'm done laughing my ass off! Mea Culpa Mea Culpa for krauts around the globe!! God almight we are a self righteous lot!! Proper, organized and by the book! Smack me...if you ever have the misfortune to meet me and I act like that! and please don't tell my hubby (or worse, my sons!!) I said that...I'd be getting smacked up side the head every day! Soo funny to read at a distance and recognize oneself...I'm certain not quite so funny in person.

We reap what we sow...they will get their just reward..and you yours!

As far as the weather...I agree whole heartedly...that's why when I do's in the fall and winter or late late at night!!

God bless and keep, it's almost holy week and your almost there. Thanks for the sharing of this amazing journey! Karin

LDahl said...

I heard recently our ancestors walked on the average 8 miles a day,
what would "real" pilgrims have done without a bus? Heheh!
I'm like you, burn in the sun, I hurt for you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks "anonymous" Karin for your post...I recognized myself too! And these are supposed to be pilgrims on a spiritual mission!

Anna, thanks for the weather report--I'd love to be there right now! We just had another "blizzzzzard" but it's melting on the "warmer" concrete.
Do you have a flashlight? Maybe you can walk at night, are almost there! Seems hard to believe. Nadja

Compostelle 2008 said...

Wow, I have read your blog since the beginning and even last year's towards Santiago. I am in awe! However, I would contrary to you, be basking in the warmth of sunshine after the weather you endured in this pilgrimage!

As for the german pilgrims, well it is like the country, everything categorized and that's it!

Keep going Ann, you are keeping me daydreaming!

Michèle (Ottawa) Canada

AmeBenit said...

Wow! Ana, I have been amazed at your endurance, fortitude, and strength of purpose... even before you started this venture. I wondered how you would endure the harsh Russian winter... and now... it's the heat that seems to be le plus pire! It looks like you will make your deadline. Today is the 28th, we went to daylight savings time last night in France. You lose an hour :) May God be before you and behind you as you close in on the goal. Hope to see you here in Biot, France on your way back.
Veronica Cruz-Doane
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