Sunday, November 27, 2011
Day 59: Chutes and Ladders
Okay, revised plan being implemented... I'm on my way to Barcelona.
We engineers are prone to whip up risk analyses frequently, at least in the nuclear industry. Checking around the shipyards, the travel agencies, various consulates led me to the conclusion the entry requirements into Algeria are vague at best and confusing by design. If authorities wanted, they could find any visitor to their country in violation of something. While the travel agents assure me that I could join on any tour group and separate myself once in country without problem with the police, I give high weight to the fact that the guards at the Oujda border point took plenty of photos of me and scanned my passport, so I'll be on their radar screen wherever I enter. Additionally there was my little flub with the Algerian consulate when I told him verbally that I was on my way to El Quds, Philistine, but on the little map taped inside my credenziale - the same as at the top of this page - I wrote Jerusalem. 'I do not recognize this place,' he said, 'How can I or any Algerian help you get to a place that doesn't exist?' This game could go tilt quickly.
The board game of Chutes and Ladders was a favorite of my toddlerhood - chutes send you back, but their fun, too and they make the game last longer; ladders get you ahead but then the game's over faster (so I concluded as a 4-year-old). So goes the pilgrimage. A chute back to Spain for a ladder around to Tunisia is the best solution, I've concluded with a tinge of regret. I really was looking forward to Christmas in the monastery of St Augustine. Ah well. The chute that could appear if I get on the wrong side of some authority in Algeria could send me straight to prisant and at best a further chute of deportation back to the US. How difficult for a peaceful pilgrim.
This conclusion sent me on a big search for options by sea. Barcelona - Rome - Tunis seems to be the most logical route, and the only workable solution that I found, taking comfort in the precedence that St Ignatius Loyola from Spain made his way to Barcelona to begin his pilgrimage to Jerusalem by ship. Still saddened by the turn of events, I stopped by the Bishop's office in Almeria to get guidance on ways to get to Barcelona by Monday when the ship sails. Guidance was given me by a friendly priest - a combination walking and hitchhiking - and when I asked his name, could you guess, Father Ignatius. Eerie but confirmatory and I've been happily working my way up the coast.
A normal level of adventure has ensued and I should reach Barcelona this afternoon - insha'allah, of course - to work out the next set of details.
There seems to be an opening in the world of Saints for a patron of border crossings.