Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On America's Long Camino

El Camino Real, from Taos to Mexico City... 400 years as a thoroughfare leading to Spain's New World headquarters. I've been walking on or near the actual path used by missionaries, traders and soldiers well before the English made it to the eastern shores of this continent. Ah, to be walking right through history. The stretch out of Santa Fe was particularly rewarding... across a broad mesa separating Rio Arribo (upriver) and Rio Abajo (downriver) of the Rio Grande valley.

I walked the easy switchback up, lee of the wind, and nearly immediately learned the sport of tumbleweed polo as I got to the flat treeless surface. Tumbleweeds, as ubiquitous as mistletoe in Europe except dried and escaped from the tree holds, skirt near the ground surface alternatively getting launched or thrown to the ground. Somehow, my head seems to have a magnet for attracting them... walking sticks double as polo mallets to whack them past without injury. It's a game I could do without but must play defensively to survive the desert landscape.

Along the top of the mesa, the deeply rutted sand and dirt path - a beige ribbon through the scrubby carpet of rabbit sage - was marked occasionally with signposts indicating that prior to 1937, this was the famous cross-country Route 66. I can't imagine it's changed much and can fully imagine a cross-country drive required a full-time tire-repair station in the rumble seat. Rattlesnakes aplenty, too, sunning themselves half out of their borrows. Long before it was integrated into Route 66, it was the Camino Real, first bringing the missionaries and their supplies to the provincial capitol of Santa Fe and later, when Mexico gained independence from Spain, connecting the Santa Fe Trail with the trade in Chihuahua. Same ruts, no doubt. After about 10 miles, it abruptly ended in a 600-foot drop. Watch that first step! Switchbacks through the black airy basalt that were difficult enough on foot... carts wouldn't have fared well.

As I experienced in Ukraine and Romania and Turkey groups of very nice people warned me to stay away from other groups of very nice people. Many different people warned me to avoid the tribal lands of various Pueblo Indians groups - they're secretive, I was told, they don't like strangers, avoid eye-contact, stay only on the main road if you must enter the reservations... blah blah blah, what do you think? such kindness I received! Waves and smiles as anyone passed me, invitations in for a cup of coffee (it's still rather cool and very windy), to sit and rest. War Chiefs and Governors have stamped my credenziale, always happy to do so; someone always offering a bite to eat and something to drink. People are people and are really kind everywhere.

As always, accommodation remains the most challenging part of the day. In Santa Fe, an archdiocese even, the old monsignor stamped my credenziale but couldn't offer hospitality, he said; same at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. I approached many hotels to exchange a mention on my blogsite for a simple room for the night, but everyone's booked for a conference - although one manager, after telling me how much she would love to accommodate my request and would under different circumstances, but would be happy to offer me a reduced rate of $89.95. Funny thing, though, when I had entered the city, a fellow had driven up along side of me having recognized the scallop shell on my pack. He had recently walked the Camino to Santiago! Pilgrims Unite! He had given me his card... so stuck for a place to sleep hours later as the sun was setting, I called to ask for advice.... sure, come stay at my place, I've got a pull-out couch! That's all it takes, somewhere simple and safe to lay my weary bones for some hours of restorative sleep. Ultreia!

Yesterday, a few days out of Santa Fe, I arrived in a village, particularly weary from another day of strong headwind, the church locked up, no one around... yet, a Bed-and-Breakfast... Hacienda Vargas in Algodones - oh, joy, how perfect! Right on the Camino Real (paved as a two-laned country road here) and an authentic (and now fully modernized) stagecoach stop perfectly suited to the old west. Quaintly, there's a private chapel integrated in the square-built single-story adobe cluster around a broad courtyard shaded by a huge cottonwood. Super charming...oozing with romance and comfortable as can be. And the greatest surprise was the fabulous breakfast! I broke my trend of eating lightly before setting out to tuck into the mounds of fresh hot breakfast food - when do pilgrims eat an herb souffle? If every visiting Santa Fe or Albuquerque, seek this place out for a grand reward, between the Santa Ana and San Filipe reservations.

Oh, and one more turn of good fortune - while in Santa Fe, I saw a flier at the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe announcing that Monsignor Chavez, leading expert on Our Lady of Guadalupe and San Juan Diego, will be giving a talk in Albuquerque this week! I missed him when he came to Denver in June, but this is just when I'll be walking through Albuqueque. Great luck! I want him to know that a pilgrim's on the trail and will be in Mexico City in middle January.


Sheila Phelan Wright said...

Hi Ann,
When you return, I need to understand better your 'no pay' rule. I comprehend it as a goal...but just wonder if there is any room for variance. Guess we'll see, won't we. It's such a joy to be reminded of the basic kindness of people. Thanks for that.

Compostelle 2008 said...

Ultreia! There is goodness everywhere

Michèle, Ottawa (ON) Canada

joemac said...

Hi ann

I hope that this note finds you strong.
I've missed your posts over the lase few days.


Anonymous said...

Pryvit Anna! Been unable to follow your "trail" as I was in Ohio for all of October. My mama passed away on the 7th and I needed to hang out with family there. Mama didn't have internet, lol! I "glanced" over your ongoing journey and am salivating to read it, really read it when I catch up.

Sounds like you are as resourceful as ever! Buena suerte y aventuras! Our Ukie group misses you!

LDahl said...

Happily reading your newest pilgrim account. You are now walking through areas I know and can visualize. Thank God for the places that are letting you stay for mention, they sound most inviting.