Flame trees

durmitor national park montenegro

Durmitor National Park (Photo credit: MichaelTyler)

It’s nippy in the mountains, the air in the evening has a perpetual odour of wood smoke, and nearly every house has beside it a little taj-mahalesque woodpile.

I’ll set down some happy memories: the city walls at sunset, the back gardens, and private doors affixed to the walls; the island, finally, rough tracked, overrun with peacocks, the sea off the rocks and a purposeful cruise ship in the neck of water between the mainland; bees crawling over piles of thin-skinned grapes at the market.

A two-hour bus to K— and the afternoon ahead. Scrambled up a hill to a fort, which runs a wall down on each side of the ridge to the old town walls. Sat looking at the barren mountain that towers over the fort, and saw unexpected life. Firstly, hikers taking a zigzagging road, second, animals herding down the road, thirdly, a little house in the valley.

From a hole in the wall, I walked down the valley to an old church, the walls a pale blue. There was a sign saying goat cheese for sale, so the animals were goats. Pomegranates grew wild, the fruit small. A man was collecting brush on his back. There was another way down the mountain, which the family in the house must use, maybe with a horse. It zigzags to the side of the town and is reinforced with stones.

That night we went to sit part way up the mountain with candles and a boombox, and watched the cruise ship reverse and leave.

I stayed then at an apartment, which was someone’s home (I never did quite figure out who), and had a pleasant few hours watching television and reading while my host came and went. They lit the wood stove in the kitchen, which is apparently ubiquitous to kitchens in the country. The boyfriend lit the stove, and the girlfriend prepared coffee, and then they left.

Today I walked to the canyon. The route was difficult to follow confidently. At first the road went past sunny V-shaped cottages, and then for a long time through a pine forest, during which time I encountered few other animal souls, other than one cow and a tractor working a field towards the end, and a man with a chainsaw strapped to the back of his motorbike.

There is a community in the canyon, which opens out to a flat part way down, some fields, and trees turning orange. Coming back, the sun shone between the pine trees in points that swarmed with insects.

Right this instant, I’m listening to Sarah Blasko’s version of Flame Trees, which is coincidently about traveling (home): ‘Oh the flame trees will blind the weary driver  /  And there’s nothing else could set fire to this town’. When I was on the islands, when it was raining and I was in a tight spot, my friend wrote to me about ‘this wonderful world’, and that’s true too.

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Cold comfort

English: Waszyngton Av, autumn, Krakow, Poland...

Waszyngton Av, autumn: Aleja Waszyngtona, jesień, Kraków (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I walk through the old town, go to the hostel to get my bag, and go. Autumn has passed through, is passing through the countryside. The landscape is hazy, with smoke or vapour. The haze softens the valleys, the trees turned orange and brown, the apples still caught up on the bare branches of apple trees.

Yesterday was Sunday, the same haziness and stillness. A wan day. I bought ten vintage postcards at a flea market, all written on, 1960s to 80s: vistas of Poland, wildernesses, coast, people running into snow. The man who sold them had shoeboxes full. At one of the galleries in Vienna, an artist, Klimt perhaps, had postcards to his lover on display. Most were just short, scrawled linesI’ve arrived, an impression. Once that was how you told somebody that you were fine.

Later, I walked through a woodland park, drank tea in a cafe, and finally, walked back to the hostel. The paleness and stillness does something to time: time seems either less or more than what it is, like past and present overlapping in the immediacy of the day. Defeated, flooded, silent.

A few weeks ago Gretchen’s Happiness Project emailed a quote about walking: Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it (Kierkegaard, letter, 1847). Which isn’t quite how I want it to be in my memory.

In mode of a scrapbook, I finished the novel The Life of Pi a few weeks ago. The final idea haunted me for a while; the story of the boy and the animals in the lifeboat, or, the story of the boy and the mother and the crew and a cannibal in the lifeboat: which one do you prefer. I had an idea, but it’s in my notebook, which is in my locker. I think it was something like, the world is the world whether God exists or not, but it’s enriching to believe that He does (according to the narrator).

Once in a gift shop I read a quote ‘there are no mistakes’. Pema says The path is the goal. And somewhere, Be yourself.

One of the museums was a house set up as a traditional family home, all cluttered with furniture and objects. The card read horror vacui (fear of the void), typical accumulation of works of art, brick-a-brac, and artistic artifacts, which can still be seen in contemporary K— houses (paraphrased).

A common mode for windows is a spacious windowsill, on which sits one or more pot plant, and a lace curtain falls flat and opaque to conceal the room.

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Grain and stones

Wind turbines

Wind turbines (Photo credit: madmack66)

3.

We passed the village, farms, a cow yard, streams. Sat down at a cross ways for bread and cheese. Kept walking, the scenery less dense than yesterday, less under-story, more low and stony. Stopped or paused, still standing, my feet sore and swollen. Sat down near a food van, saw D— and we talked about blisters with some other walkers. She said the way symbolises at different points different things, like death and rebirth. She said My dogs are barking, which means My feet hurt. I said my dogs are barking too. I ate sardines and cheese with bread and an apple in the hostel kitchen. But when I was tending my blisters on a bench the Australian lady came and talked to me, and said she knows how I feel. I lay on my bunk and thought about things and decided I shouldn’t have done it, but anyway I did.

4.

I didn’t want to but at 6 am I got up and got ready, and started walking. I walked with B— from B—, who has self-published a book. I walked pretty quickly with him, through farmland and denser woodland. I took a lower route and was drained and wan by P—. The last part was through lush, green verges, wild roses and decrepit, mouldering farm buildings, in the rain. My feet felt bound, swollen. I hobbled into town with two C— ladies, who are gung-ho and give me guidance. Washed my clothes and sat on my bunk. Hobbled out in my thongs to buy poles, stamps, baked beans, bread and fruit. A man who gave me directions gave me a tour in Spanish of the architecture. Had dinner alongside the C— ladies. Stretched for a few minutes before the radiator.

5.

At the first hill I needed the bathroom so went to a local bar that smelt of cigarette smoke and bought a coffee. Ahead were wind turbines along a ridge. The path went through canola and grain fields, the grasses rippled with wind. I had lunch in the grass and walked down the hill, which was very stony. I walked with a C— guy who said you can double knot your shoe laces and do them up to the top. There was another two towns, sleepy. I sat on a bench that looked over a valley to a church on a ridgeline and thought I don’t have to know what happens next. Two Spanish speaking men came along. One said Tired?! to me. I said Yes. He said We are too. In town two mares had foals by their side. I asked a K— guy where he was staying and a guy told us about a 5 euro hostel.

6.

The scenery was grape vines and olive trees. A quietly spoken, considered Australian came and walked with me. Stopped at a church, the brochure describes the building as plain but beautiful. The lady attending the stamp kindly and shakily lettered the dates on both stamps I have had today, though she’d only made the one. I followed a Dutch lady to a hermitage, through an olive grove. Inside was bare aside from a stone altar and ledges piled with letters and stones. A funeral program for a boy child had written at the top something like Wish you could be here, Nana and Pop. The lady said There seem to be a lot of goodbyes. I got the second last bed at the parish hostel, staffed by two volunteer C—s. Went to the library for hours to plan my trip. The C— ladies were extremely sweet and polite with one another and guests. As I prepared my snack one of them interestedly exclaimed Oh, I never thought of putting sardines in my bocadillo before!

Right now I’m on hiatus in P— where I have all the day before me. Yesterday I walked down to the harbour, light and dry and warm.

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Started out

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

Before.

Canola is in flower, the sky a soft blue, everything is bright and mute. In P— I was told that I had to take a later bus. The police were examining the bus so we were late to go. A lady sat next to me going to her brother in S—. The countryside was green. I was in a panic about my accommodation, it was almost midnight and the street was deserted and all the houses closed in on themselves, but the guy stuck his head out the upper window, showed me the house and talked to me for a while. It’s hard to be given so much, so I say Yes, yes, ok, thank you, and that’s that. I slept very well.

In the morning I stitched on a button and talked to his sister. In the night one of her children came downstairs with a nightmare and the host tried to grab him but the little boy just stood by the wall for a few minutes and then ran upstairs. Here a fountain is making the shape of a boat hull.

Waiting on the platform, above a stationary train the rain poured down before the treetops, which was an exciting and simple beginning. I followed walkers to the office and met an American lady, D—. The guy at the hostel said the first stage is to listen to your body. There will come a time in the next two or three weeks when you don’t want to walk anymore, you want to quit you are so tired. But you keep walking. Then you learn to love yourself. The second stage is you learn to love other people as they are. Everyone is only a walker until they reach S—, where they become a pilgrim. People often get scared when they near S— that they won’t keep the good feeling, but they don’t need to feel that way. He also said you live in the moment and you have to have fun. D— said this is out of her comfort zone.

1.

I woke in the night and listened to the rain and wondered when it was time to get up. Breakfast was tea and bread and butter and jam. I started with D—, an Irish man and two American men. The countryside was green and steep, there were sheep grazing and flowers. I talked to a Polish lady in Spanish. After a coffee stop I walked on with D— and we talked about why we were doing the walk. Then we stopped talking and saw a snowy mountain ahead, and then it started snowing on the wind, and we were on the snowy mountain and it seemed to keep going and the hostel we both thought was up ahead was nowhere. We kept walking though for what seemed a long, unexpectedly difficult way (it’s meant to be hard, but this hard?) into this, water filling our shoes, and my plastic poncho split down the middle so I held it against the wind like a shawl, but bits kept flying off. I put on my flannelette and cotton jumper over my woolen jumper and wrapped a sarong over my head. D— kept encouraging me and telling me to walk behind her but my poncho kept shredding itself on the wind. At a bend the American guys came back and said it only gets worse. We ran to get a ride with some shepherds. A girl was already in the back looking pale and sick. Later we had pizza.

2.

The scenery was farms, houses, beds of vegetables on the river floodplain. I walked truly slowly and tried to look at everything at my own pace. The path got steep and I had to use tree sticks to push me up. An Irish mother and daughter passed me, swearing to one another. I could walk easier if I thought I was fine. At the hostel I washed my muddy pants and went to church. The priest welcome pilgrims and named countries, including Australia. Later I met the Irish pair and they said Didn’t we meet before, oh you’re from Iceland aren’t you. I said no, I’ve been there though. They said Oh, the tags on your bag. But yesterday someone was referring to a girl from Iceland, and now I want to know, was that me?

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