Friday, August 13, 2010

Planning for Chimayo

The planning of this pilgrimage is turning out to be the busy part - I look forward to when all I have to do is walk everyday. Language, history, culture, and logistics are all competing for the little available time remaining.

Honestly, though,whether I had 10 days or 10 months, I'd fill it completely with reading and planning, so it makes little difference in the end... 8 more weeks is a good amount of time; still, if the temperature dropped enough tomorrow, I'd leave at dawn. (It won't drop enough until October, though, so the departure date is set at October 10th.)

Becoming conversant in Latin American Spanish isn't particularly daunting, but it takes a little time... two or three times a week, I get myself to a happy hour or cocktail party where everyone speaks only in Spanish. I've found a fantastic resource for locating such places around town. Every day, I create an opportunity to speak out loud, even if only to the cats. Spanish fits much easier in my mouth than Russian or Ukrainian - I have to force myself to remove the 'vee' sound from the alphabet, but I'm not crying out to buy a vowel like in those eastern dialects.

The Pilgrim-in-Training is walking so much around town that she's already walked the equivalent distance of 90% of the way to Chimayo. The training is paying off - in four months her pace has increased from a scant 2 miles per hour on relatively flat paved surfaces with a rest required hourly to more than 2.75 miles per hour, sustainable with only short shade rests for 12 miles with a 15-pound backpack. She's lost more than 20 pounds in the process and has noticeably more energy. Which is all great, because there's no good way to Chimayo without crossing a few very big mountains.

The route planning is not at all straight forward... there's a multitude of permutations and no direct path. Under such conditions, there's no way to get lost. We'll head south along the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies, crossing them in the first week and then the Wet Mountains and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in quick succession into the expansive San Luis Valley not far from the headwaters of the Rio Grande River, which continues all the way down to Mexico. The 'mile-high' city from which we start will mark the lowest altitude of the route to Chimayo. We'll have to weave our way between many 14ers - mountains exceeding 14,000 feet (4,300 meters) - to get into the San Luis Valley.

One week after leaving Denver, we'll encounter an interesting but subtle demarcation. The Arkansas River between the Front Range and the Wet Mountains was formerly the extent of New Spain and a long-standing border between Mexico and the US. In an interesting geographic and linguistic relic, once we cross the river [at Cañon City], the predominant language will be Spanish. I'll have plenty of miles to transition from English through Spanglish into full-fledged Spanish.

Although the distance between Denver and Chimayo - 331 miles, it seems - is perhaps only 10% of the distance to Mexico City, it's an important milestone. This is a bit further than the distance between Burgos and Santiago de Compostela in Spain along the Camino Frances whence tens of thousands of pilgrims pass every year. It's a very do-able distance to trek in about three weeks. Of course in Spain there is an abundance of pilgrim houses to stay in and a well-worn broad path marked with big yellow arrows to walk along with no fear of straying from the destination, and an absence of mountain lions, bears, rattlesnakes, and other creatures of the day and night looking for a meal... Otherwise, there's beautiful landscape with wilderness challenges that can be an interesting alternative to the Camino right here in America.

Chimayo may be one of the most-visited and long-standing pilgrimage destinations in the US, but it lacks the inveterate tradition of foot treks originating from places further afield than Santa Fe or Taos, New Mexico as compared to Santiago de Compostela. There are a lot of foot pilgrims to Chimayo, but mostly limited to Holy Week for specific traditional celebrations. I think originating in Denver will be spectacular with regard to culture and nature and landscape, and in October when the golden leaves of the aspen trees will be quaking in sweeps within spruce and pine groves below the snow-capped 14ers during harvest time in the broad Rio Grande Valley, passing through various mining districts and ghost towns of the Old West... this will be something I'm sure a lot of people will enjoy. Giant yellow arrows and pilgrim houses aren't requirements for a pilgrimage.