Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Day 187 Volcanos, lovely

How quickly the terrain changes with a bit of elevation difference.  Within days of walking, gone the lush jungles, arrive the clearcut pastures with picturesque Jersey cows grazing on broad verdant slopes.  It looks like Wisconsin.  Days more of walking and the scenery changes to tall picture-perfect volcanic cones dripping with waterfalls, cascades, and cataracts.  Active, too, emiting gases and glowing at night.  These have largely remained hidden in the puffy white clouds, yet from time to time, the bitten-off peaks appear.  The swirling clouds that shroud can be playful boas encircling the throats and shoulders of the mountains as I walk by.  I spent a day walking through rather fresh cinder, in areas plowed through as deep as a house.  Dusty grey powder and nothing but a fashion faux-pas to wear black pants as I do, freshly laundered, too.

The short daily distances I've got mapped out to reach the Santuario de Lajas exactly on the day before Easter have gotten to me - what do I do with the rest of the day?  Because it's not my comfortable pace, I gave myself a day off in the cute mountain village of Penipe where Franciscan nuns runs a shelter for evacuees from the local volcano, Tungurahua.  Despite the nightly glow, there are no evacuees at the moment, so I had the place to myself and three nuns attended me with diligence.  One of the nuns, a sweet babbler named Salvadora, insisted that I stay a week, and I compromised by staying two nights.  From a local indigenous group, she holds many secrets of the herbal world in her head and produced a tasty and effective infusion of several herbs to cure all complaints of the stomach: chamomile, lemon verbena, lemon balm, dandilion leaves, and corn silk, snipped fresh from the ear.  With the day of rest, I can now resume my comfortable pace of a marathon a day.

Funny thing, a good number of people have been offering me chocolate Easter eggs for the road =)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Day 177 On the Way

My full energy returned after just a few sluggish days in the soft rain and I'm a happy happy pilgrim once again.  Unfortunately, Ecuador doesn't have the through-going network of dirt roads connecting mountain villages that Peru has and I'm sort of stuck following the main north-south highway, which is never so beautiful as the countryside paths.  Elegant modern houses fill the clean villages and dot the hillsides... why?  I've asked a dozen different people the source of the prosperity that makes Ecuador look drastically different than the neighborhoods south of the border.  It's because of the US, they all agree.  People go and work in the US for some years and bring the money back here to improve the quality of their hard-working lives.  The US dollar is the local currency - they don't even bother to print their own parity equivalent.  Amazing.  Clean and tidy everywhere, the children in particular are extraordinarily well-mannered and greet me individually.  What a difference a border makes.

Here are a few fun statistics for the pilgrimage so far:
    • Argentina 32 days 1,326 kms
    • Chile 51 days 2,243 kms
    • <Atacama Desert 36 days 1,575 kms>
    • Peru 83 days 3,363 kms

      I'm heading for Colombia a little slower than my normal pace so that I can end up at the Santuario de Lagas for Easter, just on the other side of the border.  Pilgriming on major holidays is usually challenging, so finding a shrine or monastery is important.  I copied this image from the Wikipedia page... not a bad place for the Easter Bunny to deliver a basket full of chocolate eggs.  (Hope springs eternal.)

      Saturday, March 2, 2013

      Day 170 Forced Rest

      Finally, Ecuador presented itself beneath my eager feet, in a soft warm rain and a lot of mud in an oversized world.  At first, I thought that the leaves on some of the undergrowth were big enough to diaper a baby, then saw others I thought big enough to blanket a baby, then others big enough to blanket me.  Always interesting.

      My last night in Peru was spent in a village called San Ignacio de Loyola, my old friend from Spain.  I read his autobiography a few years ago and read of our commonality... severe stomach pain during a pilgrimage.  I experienced it first when I went to Santiago de Compostella, again in Crimea, and lastly in Istanbul.  I thought I had it beaten, attributed to Vitamin A D E or K deficiencies and affecting the upper digestive track.  I try to be careful about what I eat, but it's not always easy when you eat as the locals.  The Peruvian countryside diet is very meager in fat and meat.  When I arrived in Ecuador, an entirely different plate was presented - fresh whole milk instead of canned sweetened evaporated milk, 5 or 6 ounces of beef rather than an ounce or two of guinea pig or chicken in soup... richness.  I ate a rather small portion - the priest kept insisting 'eat, eat', but by nightfall, I was flat out with a rock in my stomach.  I made it through the night but in the morning, the folks at the parish office called the doctor (housecall!).  He gave me the magic shot in the rear, which arrested the constant vomiting, and prescribed rest.  I thought that would be that, as it was on the other occassions, and after a calm and restful second night in the same bed, I set off with the blissful satisfaction that it had passed.  Fooled!  Another small meal of beef and rice and milk in my coffee was enough to cause another fitful, painful sleepless night.  After walking some distance by foot, I moved ahead a town by bus at the insistance of the (rather frightened) parish priest to a hideous tourist town of expat Americans and Brits but with a regional hospital.  There, after a refreshing bag of intravenous saline, they diagnosed it as gastritis and sent me off with some tablets to set me right.  Poor Saint Ignacious, what was he to do when moving from one gastronomic palate to another?

      I now have a map of Ecuador and am working out a route that includes the famous sanctuaries and historic places and will rest for the day before continuing on my pilgrimage tomorrow, after days of interruption.  Life's still good, of course, loving the pilgrim way.

      I can't say for sure, of course, but I think I'm at the halfway point at just over 7,000 kms.  In Peru alone, I passed more than 3,400, more than any other single country I've walked through.  Immediately in Ecuador, the ugliness of 'gringo' is gone and people are far more inclined to smile and greet me as I do them.  Nice.