By Bernie Lopez firstname.lastname@example.org Permission is granted to re-publish with credits and notification. Disclaimer – the views in this article are those of the author alone.
These two stories, previously blogged, are excerpts from the book entitled WINGS AND WANDERLUST on the adventures of a Filipino who drifted for 25,000 kilometers through 18 European countries for three years. The book is more than a set of adventure anecdotes. It goes deeper into the art of discovering one’s inner self, for those who are searching for meaning in a troubled world. It is a wake up call for those who are beset by boredom or absurdity, to rock the boat and discover new people and new places.
To order the book, email email@example.com. It is a great Christmas gift, no fuss, sent within 3 days by courier to your friends anywhere. More excerpts are found in eastwind-memoirs-collection.
01 – CHRISTMAS IN ATHENS
linger o sun, intensify yet-still for you nourish a hungry malignant spirit that seeks escape from the haunting wails of limit and finite-ness
After six months of hitchhiking, I ended up in Athens in the dead of winter. I hitched from Bari in Italy, then took a boat to Dubrovnik in Yugoslavia, and slept in the snow in my arctic-weather sleeping bag in Skopje. It was an easy but freezing hitch to Athens.
Back home, I normally spent Christmas eve hearing an evening Mass and having a sumptuous merienda cena with the family. Christmas was for the family, for the warmth of home. I knew no other kind of Christmas. Athens was my first Christmas away from home. Weeks before, I knew I would get homesick. I was preparing myself mentally for it. I could look for Filipino seamen in Piraeus or get drunk with the Arabs to forget my loneliness.
So, I collected money from the Arabs at the hostel, announcing a midnight drinking party. Everyone agreed, including the Jewish girl. The Greeks had this terrible cheap wine called retsina, which smelled like aviation gas. But being Christmas, on top of retsina, I also bought some vodka and gin and mixed them all up for a terrible bash. Arabs and Jews normally did not celebrate Christmas but the holiday feeling was in the air in Athens, so we had this grand party at the hostel. Arabs also normally did not drink. Not this bunch.
At eleven o’clock in the evening, we were all pretty drunk. I was depressed and homesick and the Arabs and the lone Jewish girl could see it. They were trying to comfort me. After all, I was the only Christian in the group. I was surrounded by Islamism and Judaism. At half past eleven, I stood up, wobbled a bit, and quietly sneaked out, thinking they would not notice my short absence.
I secretly quietly went to a nearby church alone for the midnight Mass, something I had done my entire life on Christmas. I felt guilty that I was going to church drunk but I thought it was better than not going at all. It was my refuge from my loneliness, the warmth of church with many people singing carols. The momentary silence of the late evening in the streets after leaving the noise of the party and the cold breeze stabilized me. All of a sudden, there was solemnity.
The church was crowded and to hide my being drunk, I simply stayed outside the church beyond the huge front doors. I stayed behind the crowd which was spilling over outside the church. I wanted to receive communion but decide against it, not in my state of inebriation. It would be irreverent. I just prayed and sang ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ with the crowd. Bethlehem was just a stone’s throw away. I felt better.
Almost at the end of the mass, someone elbowed me. It was the whole gang. They followed me to church. They wrapped the vodka and gin in paper bags to hide it. They giggled when I saw them. Instinctively, I felt embarrassed as church goers might see this bunch of drunken Arabs and a Jew. But then again, I was touched. Friends who did not believe in Christmas believed in friendship. They came to Mass to share themselves with me on this precious day. I was almost in tears. That was the greatest Christmas gift on the road. After Mass, we left and were rowdy in the streets, shouting and singing, as we went back to the hostel. They sang strange Arab songs. My loneliness disappeared.
I asked for an attendance report. Everyone shouted his/her origin – Tel Aviv, Khartoum, Marrekesh, Manila, Cairo, Dakar, Tunis, I forget the others. Come to think of it, they were more Muslim North Africans rather than Arabs, descendants of Bedouins and Berbers converted to Islam. They were mostly escaping the physical poverty of their North African homelands, looking for jobs in Athens, or going north to Paris or London or Copenhagen. I and the Jewish girl were escaping the spiritual poverty of affluent societies. They were escaping the physical poverty of depressed cities.
We slept at about three in the morning only because there were no more to drink and the stores were closed, just about the time baby Jesus struggled in a crib meant for sheep. Everybody filed back to their rooms. My first Christmas away from home was not bad, only because of friends who were not even Christians. I would never forget that Christmas, this melting pot of religion and culture. firstname.lastname@example.org
02 – CHRISTMAS IN FATIMA the pilgrimage to be idle is not evil you must be empty so you can be filled nothingness complements fullness they are cosmic partners like yin and yang or light and darkness yielding shadows and shapes I was on the road again, hitchhiking from Brussels to Canary Islands on a frenzied pace. I headed north for spring, hitting Lisbon like a lightning bolt. It was time to stop soaring and to start gliding gently. I embarked on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Fatima, a 7-day 80-kilometer hike from Lisbon. This was the time of meditation and soul searching, to pray that I could “find myself” somehow, to pray for light in an era of darkness. After the spiritual desert of New York, I wandered aimlessly, looking for an oasis somewhere in the vastness. Strangely, my Christmas story was on the month of April, day 4 of the pilgrimage.
I left half of my things in Lisbon, keeping my backpack weight to 1.5 kilos for the long distance hike on beach sandals. I had a sleeping bag, no tent (my guardian angel made sure it would not rain, except a drizzle on day 4, and for a reason), extra pants and shirt, matches and candle (no flashlight), a map, and uncooked food of bread, fruits, sausages, and wine or milk on a skin bag (no cooking gear).
I took the bus to the outskirts of Lisbon. As I walked north, the city gradually faded; the traffic vanished; the noise dwindled. I was tired at the end of day 1, but it was good for the soul. After dinner, I slept early. I slept in the open air most of the time, anywhere convenient in the farm fields. In the early morning of day 2, I was in the purity and magic of the Portuguese countryside. All of a sudden, there were quaint villages. The road narrowed but never ended.
I prayed the rosary about 4 times a day. I did about 2 kilometers per hour, or one kilometer in 20 to 30 minutes. I walked about 10 kilometers a day for about 5 to 6 hours, minus rest and lunch, from 7 am to 5 pm. I hiked the 80 kilometers to Fatima in seven days.
In the morning of day 2, I brushed my teeth in a quaint village fountain at the central plaza, as if it were my hotel suite. I awoke at six o’clock and did not have breakfast until nine. I bought provisions in small village stores. I preferred milk from wine in my skin bag during this gruelling work out.
On day 3, entering a small village, a bunch of children ran to greet me. They were all shouting “Peregrino, peregrino” (pilgrim). They crowded each other, giggling and staring at me. They suddenly dispersed into a nearby orchard, and came back with 2 kilos of peaches. I could only take half a kilo. An old woman came out of a house, shouting at the children. They stole the peaches, I surmised. I waved and smiled at her. Her anger dissipated into a smile. I had to eat them right away because they were getting heavy. The children followed me to the edge of the village. They were singing and shouting and I felt embarrassed because people would come out of their houses and stare. After the village, the silence screamed at me.
On day 4, my Christmas story began, strangely in the month April
on the fourth day, there was a slight drizzle so I asked a farmer if I could sleep in his sheep’s shed the shed had a certain sheep odor that was a bit offensive all of a sudden, the birth of Jesus came to me in a flash the drizzle was perhaps sent by the Lord to give Light that I was asking for I suddenly realized how it defies the imagination that the Creator of the universe was humble enough to permit Himself to be born in a crib meant for new-born sheep in a sheep shed which smelled the hay of such a crib is itchy on the skin the swaddling cloth helps but still the God who made all of us did not stay in a three star inn but a no-star sheep shed His power must be awesome and limitless to be able to do this the omnipotent God in total humility born in a manger at whose side powerful kings and winged angels knelt in adoration
On day 5, I spent the night under an olive tree on top of a knoll. I could see the panorama of the valley below, olive trees all around, reminding me of Gethsemani. There was a stone fence down below twisting and turning, vanishing into the bluish mist. It looked like a painting. I heard the faint peal of sheep bells. I wondered if the bells were tolling for me, not for the end but for the beginning of my life.
It was here that Our Lady of Fatima gave me the gift of inner peace. It was overwhelming. I was almost in tears. It was my ‘reward’ from Our Lady, her way of showing her presence. The moment was intense and magical. I can never forget that feeling because it was so clear, so overpowering, and so rare in a lifetime full of schedules and tasks and storms and whirlwinds. It was the gift of inner peace. In hind sight, I would be a journalist, and I would write many articles on Our Lady of Fatima and her messages of salvation and disaster. inner peace may not always be a gift you may have to earn it when you finally find it you will discover it was built into your soul long before you were born when you were crafted in a super-nova billions of years ago you just have to make it come out somewhere sometime somehow otherwise life is absurd when you finally find it keep it and do not lose it because it is a treasure of your life time
On day 6, my pace was faster to make it to Fatima by day 7. There it was at a distance, the gothic spires reaching up to the heavens. I reached Fatima at night, and ended up sleeping outside the giant portals of the church. Every hour, until dawn, the huge bells rang and echoed in my soul. I could hardly sleep.
At the crack of dawn of day 7, I was up, afraid the early church goers might see me sprawled at the door step of the church. Everything was grey and misty. At a distance, I discerned a crowd. It was an early outdoor Mass near where they had a spring of the miraculous water that had cured thousands of people in the last few decades. After Mass, I put some water from the spring on my forehead. That was the end of the pilgrimage. I was not expecting any miracles. After the pilgrimage, I was no longer worried about “finding myself”. I somehow knew it would come in its own time, this self-discovery. After the pilgrimage, I knew eastwind would end in a nice way. I lost my angst at Fatima.
It was strange. I could go from total darkness to blinding light without flinching. It was as if I was longing for it and was expecting it. It was like the ice-water shower after half an hour in the steam room at Amsterdam’s Melkeweg. Life on the road was a pendulum swing, from the chaos of Las Palmas to the serenity of the Papagayo cave, from passion with Vicky to prayer at Fatima, from total solitude in Madrid to total immersion in Andorra. I took the bus back to Lisbon, picked up my stuff, and hitched north with my guitar towards Coimbra and Santander and the mystique of the Basque people. I was sporting a brand-new soul. email@example.com To order the book, email firstname.lastname@example.org. It is a great Christmas gift, no fuss, sent within 3 days by courier to your friends anywhere. More excerpts are found in eastwind-memoirs-collection.