Wednesday, January 12, 2011
A fabulous arrival, but hard-earned.
Yesterday, the last night before arriving, was designed to be an easy walk so I can find accommodation and clean myself and my well-worn clothing as well as possible for a presentable arrival. Yeah, the best laid plans... GoogleMaps guided me to a town called Buenavista 20 kilometers to the north of the Basilica. Reality has two places called Buenavista and I spent hours in frustration being directed toward one and then the other before stepping out and asking if there are many places with this name... for a while, the sun burned through the thick smog over my right shoulder, but then it was over my left - which should rarely happen on a southeasterly route - so I became suspicious. The din and sprawl of industry was overwhelming compared with the tranquility of the whole rest of my pilgrimage. My happy mood on the threshold of the terminus was soured by the chaotic noise of blaring horns, air brakes, and cargo trains.
I finally felt confident that I was headed toward the right Buenavista, and since all good views require elevation, the last 8 kilometers were nearly vertical through stacked cubicles of concrete block houses, a bizillion minibusses, and occasional cows. But when I got to the parish office of the church, the unempowered young people there told me the only hospitality they could offer was a homeless shelter back down the mountain those 8 kilometers. I lost it. I felt like I was the bunny in the carnival game where kids whack the bunnies as they pop out of their holes. These folks who only knew of pilgrims as highway walkers hadn't been faced with the situation before. I'm a pilgrim, not homeless!! I don't ever want to walk backwards! And all that elevation lost! to be repeated! I sobbed. Tired, dirty, on the eve of completion of such a goal, the idea of retreating to a homeless shelter didn't go down well. In the end, many many hours later, the priest arrived. A lovely man, a Benedictine monk-priest, very well educated, perfect English (the third time since November 9th that I had any lengthy conversation in English... he urged me to go to the homeless shelter for my own safety and comfort and to continue on the autopiste in the morning like other pilgrims. Ensued were details of my adventures in the wilderness, the desert, the mountains... sleeping in the storage room in the basement of the church was my preference and by the end of the long day, that's where I slept, peacefully, sadly still dirty with no opportunity to even rinse out my filthy tee shirt, on a nest of old red velvet curtains with white lace. Argh! but all's well that ends well! The priest signed my credenziale and gave me his St. Benedict medallion to protect me on my dangerous journey.
It was the right thing to do, staying in Buenavista. I set out early and walked up and over a pass in the Sierra de Guadalupe nature reserve. Aside from the municipal landfill that I had to walk by, the mountains are beautiful. An old forester who knew the area well provided valuable guidance for shortening the route by chosing rightly from the myriad of footpaths. I was at the Basilica by noon without much exersion. All this distance asking for help every day... I arrived with 10 pesos in my pocket, never having gone to a bank since leaving Denver. I was ready to spend half of it on some churros, but when I explained to the street vendor that I was about to arrive at the end of such a long pilgrimage, he gifted me the crunchy donut sticks as his contribution.
At the Basilica, I whisked by the suspended Tilma with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the moving sidewalk beneath the altar pretty quickly, getting crushed by the crowd. At the information desk, I asked for Monsignor Chavez, whom I met in Albuquerque in October. He came out and greeted me personally. He took my photo in front of the Tilma . which I'l post as soon as he forwards it - and stamped my credenziale... the very last page. The next hourly Mass was starting, so he took me right up to the reserved front row center to allow me a close view of the Tilma throughout the whole Mass. There was a group of 2,000 highway pilgrims there who walked for three days with all sorts of banners and santos. They hired a mariachi band for the Mass and the priest gave a homily about the perseverence needed for the long pilgrimages by foot. More fitting for me than for the horde, I thought, but to each his own pilgrimage.
Numbers will follow soon, but the biggies: 3,431 km in 95 days... excluding the 2 days of rest, I walked at a rate of 37 kilometers per day (=23 miles per day)...
I've arrived. =)