The Filipino author hitchhiked 25,000 kilometers, drifting through 18 countries in Europe and North Africa for 3 years. This is a true story, excerpts from an upcoming book Wings and Wanderlust.
New York City is a paradox. It is for the best of the best — musicians, actors, writers. It is also for the worst of the worst — derelicts, drug addicts, crime gangs. Or perhaps it was I who was a paradox. In spite of enjoying it, I hated New York. I was searching for something spiritual. Yet, how could I find it, when I was so decadent? Some of the things I did cannot be written here.
New York was a spiritual desert for me, a dead end. But that was me. New York is actually neutral. It is what you make of it. It is really up to you. And so I left New York. I wanted to drift through Europe to “look for myself”. [The penname] Eastwind was born not because of a romantic dream but an escape from the spiritual desert. I took a plane to Brussels, the starting point, and the end point after 3-odd years on a tailspin.
After six months on the road from Brussels to Canary Islands on a frenzied pace, I hit 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. This pilgrimage was an important phase of my adventure. After the spiritual desert of New York, I wandered aimlessly, looking for an oasis somewhere in the vastness.
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), no cooking gear, extra pants and shirt, wine skin bag, matches and candle (no flashlight), a map, and food.
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 5 to 6 hours or 10 kilometers a day, minus rest and lunch, from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon. 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, fresh fruits, bread, tomatoes, sausages, and occasional canned sardines, a luxury item. 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.
At late afternoon of day 4, it started drizzling. I saw a sheep shed. It smelled a bit of sheep shit, but I had no choice. The farmer let me sleep there. I remembered Jesus born in a manger inside such a barn. Imagine, the Creator of the Universe in a sheep’s cot. Now I prayed to Him to guide me, not so much to Fatima as I knew the way, but to the cruel world out there as I did not know the way.
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 Gethsemane. 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.
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. I would later on write many articles on 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. (firstname.lastname@example.org)