I'm still able to follow the old railroad beds on small dirt roads or grassy paths alongside. I've seen some graceful big felines - pumas they tell me, but I think it's more of a generic name than species; these are fluffy and pale yellow - but mostly guinea pigs and armadillos on the ground and an abundance of noisy birds in the sky and treetops.
The tranquility increases as I head westward. The number of villages has decreased significantly and I only see a few people during the day's walk. It's interesting to note the vocabulary... when I ask how far to the next village (and these are villages of a few dozen to a few hundred inhabitants), the answer from the old men of the ranches is generally given in leagues. A league is the distance that can be walked in an hour. This used to be a standard unit of measure in all European countries - so much so that it's the same word in many languages - until people switched over to cars. It's amusing to hear the old men speak of leagues while the young people (including me!) use kilometers.
Pilgrim duties along any off-the-beaten-track camino include the interviews. Already, I was interviewed for a local paper Vadia, did a television interview in a town called General LaValle, and an interview during a live radio program in Vicuña MacKenna. What is a pilgrim doing here??? As unnerving as it might be for those moments when my slowly improving Spanish mustn't fail, it's a fun part of the pilgrim experience telling people why there villages are important. I'm following, after all, a Camino Real, where the Spanish colonists marked out their new world, rightly or wrongly, a part of history. I've seen a few references to the Camino Real - old wayside inns - but because the current population is largely made up of second and third generation Italians, Irish, and Germans, the history is all but lost. Another reason pilgrims are important.
A purpose of following this route to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico was to see if the tradition of Guadalupe is known in these distant parts of the Americas. Yes, indeed, it is. I pass Iglesias and Capillas de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe every day, and nearly every church and many private homes I've entered have the image hanging in prime spots. To be a pilgrim to the Basilica in Mexico is to be welcomed everywhere. The downside is, as is so often, having to carry so much food everyone insists on giving me - kilos of fruit, salami, and cheese. Pilgrim life's not so bad!