After six months on the road from Brussels to Canary Islands, I hit Lisbon in the spring, and embarked on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Fatima, a 7-day 80-kilometer hike from Lisbon. This was the time to pray that I could “find myself” somehow in this strange vast wilderness.
(Excerpt from the book WINGS AND WANDERLUST – DISCOVERING YOUR INNER SELF)
eastwind journals, November 27, 2021 (archive tr32)
DAY ONE. I had to travel light with a backpack of less than 1.5 kilos. I had no tent, no umbrella, candles instead of flashlight. I slept in the open air always, except Day 4, anywhere convenient in the farm fields. I wore beach sandals which were full of holes after the hike.
DAY TWO. I was suddenly in the magic of the Portuguese countryside, quaint exotic villages. I prayed the rosary about 4 times a day. I walked at about 2 kilometers per hour, 5 to 6 hours or 10 kilometers a day, minus rest and lunch, from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon.
DAY THREE. I awoke early near an empty village plaza, not a soul. I brushed my teeth in a quaint fountain, as if it were my hotel suite. I did not take breakfast until nine. I bought provisions in small village stores, fresh fruits, bread, tomatoes, sausages, and occasional canned sardines, a luxury item.
Entering another 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 guessed. 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 sudden silence screamed at me.
DAY FOUR. In the late afternoon, it started drizzling. I saw a sheep shed. It smelled a bit of sheep dung, but I had no choice. The farmer let me sleep there. I remembered Jesus born in a manger inside such a sheep shed. Imagine, the Creator of the Universe born on itchy dried grass in a smelly shed in utter humility. Now I prayed to Him to guide me, not so much to Fatima as I knew the way, but to the chaotic world out there waiting for me.
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. The faint peal of sheep bells made my hair stand on edge. I wondered if the bells were tolling for me.
There, Mama Mary gave me the gift of inner peace. It was overwhelming. I was in tears. It was my ‘reward’, her way of showing her presence. The moment was intense and magical, so overpowering, so rare in a lifetime full of schedules and tasks and storms and whirlwinds.
DAY SIX. My pace was now faster to make it to Fatima by day 7. There it was at a distance, the gothic spires reaching for the heavens. I arrived at 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.
DAY SEVEN. 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.
EPILOGUE. Hitch-hiking back to Lisbon, I wrote on my notebook – “You must be empty so you can be filled. Nothingness complements fullness. They are partners, like light and darkness. Darkness can make us see. Thank you, Mama Mary.”
I discovered later, my 4 rosaries a day were powerful. After the pilgrimage, I was no longer worried about “finding myself”. I lost my worries at Fatima. I went wild to celebrate, watching a bull fiesta in a Portuguese village. I would later on write many articles about Fatima as a journalist. It was strange. I could go from total darkness to blinding light without flinching.
As a young Filipino, aged 26, I hitch-hiked 25,000 kilometers in Europe and North Africa for three straight years. I wrote a book on my adventures entitled WINGS AND WANDERLUST – DISCOVERING YOUR INNER SELF.
It Is more than a travelogue. I learned deep insights on the road that changed me totally. I want to share these insights, which can perhaps also change people’s lives.