Sunday, September 23, 2007

Star Peace Episode VI: Return of the Hippie

The past few days have been terribly difficult and extremely rewarding at the same time. Last night I was walking by a church in this small town in southern Portugal when the church bells chimed that mass was about to begin. I was extremely tired and pretty hungry but decided to attend mass anyway. It had been awhile since I had been to church and I thought the spiritual sustenance would be beneficial. I walked in and the usher offered to watch my bag and guitar at the back while I attended the service. I sat down and immediately started to pray. Mass started and with the first sign of the cross I became emotional nearly breaking out in tears right there and then. Though the mass was in Portuguese I participated to the best of my ability. When I couldn't understand what was being said I prayed. Mass ended and the people filed out. I was one of the few left within the church when a woman walked up to me with her daughter and told me how much I resembled Jesus and that it was nice to see Jesus attending church (at least I think that's what she said). All I could do was smile and nod and she walked away. After leaving the pew I knelt to genuflect and just lost it. Kneeling in the middle of the church I began bawling and praying that I would have reprieve this night from mosquitoes, torrential beach wind, and prying eyes. After a few minutes of open crying I stood up, wiped the tears from my face, and started towards the door. The usher was standing there talking with the woman who told me I looked like Jesus. She had placed a card on my bag of St. Rapahel, the patron saint of travelers. I looked at her and smiled. In my best Spanish (which is pretty limited) I asked if it was possible to sleep there in the church. The usher, Madelena, told me that it was not. She then started speaking in Portuguese to the other woman. Madelena told me something that I didn't quite understand and proceeded to lock up the church. After locking up she turned to me and made the motion for me to follow her. She led me to a house and opened up the door. The place looked like a guest house for traveling families as it had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, dining room, and television area. She took me in and motioned for me to put down my things. She then proceeded to make up one of the beds for me and left. She returned minutes later with her daughter who spoke English. They invited me to stay here as long as I wanted. They brought me fresh towels and soap and took my clothes to be washed. The "Jesus" woman then came with bags of fresh groceries. I have not been able to stop thanking God for this amazing manifestation. After a wonderful lunch with Madelena and her daughter and a spectacular dinner of split pea soup and pizza I am now sitting in their office writing.

Thinking about the month that has passed since I last posted I am wondering how to put many of the experiences I've had in words. After my last post I ended up staying in Madrid for a week as I met up with some friends of mine whom I met at the Running of the Nudes in Pamplona. Javier, a wonderful Argentinian with whom I connected on a very deep level had given me his address in Madrid and Dingo and I just showed up at his place. When he returned home from work he was quite surprised to see me there but proceeded to make us a fabulous dinner. The next day Dingo left to continue his own journey but I stayed in Madrid. Dingo has been a fabulous traveling companion and we experienced a lot together. I am truly grateful to have had his company for such a large part of this journey. The next evening I stayed with Sophie, a woman from France, as Javi's then-boyfriend was coming back to stay with him and was quite jealous of mine and Javi's relationship. Sophie and I had a great time together practicing my french, cooking vegan food, watching animal activist movies, and sunbathing by the pool. Javi, Sophie, and I hung out with another cool guy named Mario named after the famous brothers. After a week of relaxing in Madrid and eating completely vegan food I was off on the road again.

I caught a few rides heading south to Grenada including a ride with a beekeeper from the Pyrenees on his way to Morocco. I bought some honey from him and went on my way. I soon made it into Grenada and walked around the city a bit. I sat down on a bench in a small park and started eating some bread with the honey. A man walking by stopped and looked at me. He then sat down and began speaking to me. Alcohol dripping off his breath he asked me, "Do you know what the difference is between humans and animals?" Without waiting for a reply he said "Curiosity, man is curious as to why things work out such as they do." He talked about many things as I listened. After a couple hours passed he showed me to a nice cheap hotel where I could stay the night. I said my farewell and checked in. The next morning making my way to the bus station I sat down on a bench to eat my morning meal of dried fruits and nuts. The same man walking by stopped and sat down with me again. When it was time to go to the station he took me to the best bus stop to get there. We wished each other the best and parted ways. Upon arrival at the station I hopped on a bus bound for Orjiva, the town located near the hippie community. On the bus I met a young guy from Germany with long blond dreds. Benjamin was heading out into the mountains to do some camping and I told him of Benficio. Thinking it sounded like a good idea he decided to join me. When we arrived in Orjiva someone pointed us in the direction of Hitchhiker Corner where the Beneficio inhabitants hitch up to the commune. We waited there maybe five minutes before a woman stopped and loaded us into her car. She took us up the hill and pointed us in the direction of Beneficio. We walked a ways before we ended up in a dirt car park full of campers and beat up cars. Not sure what to make of it we headed up a trail which led into the woods. We saw many tents set up to our right so we found a spot and set up ours among them. After dropping off our things we continued up the trail passing tee pees, houses made of many recycled materials, and marijuana plants.

Continuing up the trail we climbed higher and higher into the mountains. At the top of a hill we stopped and chatted for a bit before heading back down. We climbed down a ravine and ended up coming into the camp of a man named Roi (pron. Roy). Roi looks as though Gandhi would look if he had the head of Groucho Marx. Standing there completely naked he invited the both of us to join him for tea. We agreed and sat with him in the outdoor carpeted circle used as the center for Roi's home. We spoke for awhile on enlightened topics and life in Beneficio. We had heard about a meditation group meeting that evening so we told Roi we wanted to go attend that. He said, "Welcome, you are here". We stayed for the meditation session where we focused on opening our chakras then remained for dinner. After dinner we said thank you and made our way down to the main lodge which was a big outdoor circle with a fire pit in the center. Musical instruments were abundant including guitars, drums, flutes and others. People were gathered around singing, playing, smoking marijuana, and thoroughly enjoying themselves in the relaxed and open atmosphere. The full moon that night provided a lot of beautiful energy and people were very happy. Ben and I sat and smoked joining in on the fun. I stayed up all night meeting new people, having amazing conversations, playing music, dancing, and soaking up the incredible energy of the place. A couple hours before dawn Sam, a talented young guy from England with whom I had spent most of the night talking, said goodnight and headed to bed. I found myself alone in the center of the circle playing with the fading coals of the fire and with no desire to go to sleep.
As dawn approached I decided to hike up a hill to catch the sunrise. I started out barefoot as I had no desire to wear shoes at this point. I had nothing with me but the shorts around my hips, the shirt on my back, and the camera strapped around my shoulder. I began walking and didn't stop until I reached the top of a large hill. From there I caught the sun coming over the mountain across from me on the town above Beneficio. Now that the sun was up I looked around and soaked up the beauty of the community in the valley below. I turned and saw that the mountain continued upwards and felt the desire to continue on, so I did. As I walked I found the earth turning more and more brown, the plants becoming drier, and the day growing hotter. I passed ruined buildings and with them the last signs of civilization but I continued on. Sometimes the heat would become so intense on the rocks below my feet I risked life and limb to run across steep gradients just to find shade and reprieve for my feet but still I continued on. I would find a tree from time to time under whose branches I relaxed in the shade as much as the hot day would allow. I would meditate under these trees for what seemed like hours. When I was ready to bear the heat of the sun soaked rocks I continued on. As the sun began its descent so did I. I started walking down into the valley but my way was soon blocked by tangles of brush. Light was fading fast so I found a place to sleep amongst the bushes. That night I stayed awake again praying, meditating, and receiving the most amazing visions. That night I communicated with nature. I listened to the wind speak to me through the trees. The crickets chirped a sweet song for me and the moon shone between the bushes to enlighten me and my surroundings. Believe it or not I watched as several spiders gathered together to create a web right next to my head. I realized that this web was a natural dream catcher and that I was dreaming while fully awake. That night I experienced things that I never imagined possible. I saw gateways to other dimensions and I traveled them. I felt time itself. We see the effects of time's passage around us but before this I had never actually felt time. There is no way to describe in words what I actually experienced but suffice to say I found the divine light within which is exactly what I had been searching for. I have no idea how long that night lasted. It could have been minutes or hours, it all felt the same to me.

Dawn crept over the horizon and I crawled out of my shelter. I began my decent further down the mountain trying to get back to Beneficio. When I heard water I would try to find it as I knew there was a river running from the mountains straight down through the community. I would traverse steep rock faces holding on with only the tips of my fingers and toes. I would climb down to areas of green thinking there must be water nearby only to find my passage blocked by thick bramble choking off any passage. The day wore on with no food or water to be found but as unusual as it may seem I was neither hungry nor thirsty. I realized that I had everything I needed within me already and that if I only kept going I would find my way. The sun crossed the desert canyon and started to dip behind the western canyon wall above me. By the fading light I made my way into a copse of trees. As I tramped through the small forest the light became more and more dim. Soon I couldn't see where I was going so I felt my way around. I came to a point where the way ahead was blocked, both sides were closed around me and I could not see from where I had come. I decided to stop there for the night and continue at first light. This night was the coldest and darkest night I had experienced in this lifetime. I spent most of the night curled in a ball crying. I may have slept a little but there was no way to tell for sure. I prayed and cried until the sun came up. When I could see my surroundings I noticed a small passage ahead of me. Crawling through the dirt with thorny vines grabbing at my back I slowly made my way between the branches. I have no idea how long I was crawling through that mess but by the time it opened up and I could stand I felt as though I had never before stood upright. The sun was shining through the trees and I could hear running water, the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. I pushed past bushes not caring about the thorns and the blood they drew. I climbed up and over trees and saw below me a pool of water, orange in color and smelling of disease. Needless to say I did not drink. I came out of the woods and noticed above me powerlines I had passed on the first day. I decide that instead of attempting to continue down into oblivion I would climb back up the mountain following the powerlines and go back the way I had come. I climbed and climbed running from the shade of one tree to the shade of another that my blistering feet would have relief. I found the path I had taken the first day and followed it back. The late afternoon sun was beating down on me by the time I saw my first glimpse of humanity in three days. A woman in her late 50s was washing her dishes in a hommade sink. I walked over to the ledge above her and managed to croak out, "tiennes aqua?" She looked me up and down and said "Of course". She handed me a bottle and I drank the sweetest tasting water that had ever touched my lips. She said to me, "You look like Robinson Crusoe. Didn't I see you pass by here a few days ago? What on earth have you been doing?" I didn't say much but recounted my tale to Sula as best I could. She showed me a fig tree which I immidiately climbed and began eating fig after fig right there in the tree. After some time had passed I went back down the mountain to the main commune area. I thought I would try to find Benjamin as I was sure he would be worried about me. Sure enough I found notes posted all over Beneficio in his hand writing asking if anyone had seen me and that if I returned to contact him as soon as possible. He had taken my things up to Roi's place and had left that morning. I walked all the way up to Roi's and found him sitting there in his circle with a smile on his face as though he were expecting me, which I'm sure he was. We didn't say a word to each other, we didn't have to. He knew exactly what I went through as he was right there with me. He had no worries that I would return and tried to convey that to Benjamin while he was there. I sat down with Roi then colapsed completely.
The sun was past the canyon wall by the time I awoke. Roi was humming as he placed stone and clay for the house he was building. He looked at me and smiled. I returned the smile whole-heartedly. Roi then proceeded to make dinner for us but oddly enough I wasn't hungry. In fact my appetite didn't return until a few days later. For the next couple weeks I spent most of my time with Roi, meditating, cooking, hauling stones from the mountain, picking fresh figs, grapes, and almonds, tending the garden, and enjoying the nature that surrounded me. Roi gave me a traditional north african dress and said "This is how a servant of God should dress". I put it on and immidiatly fell in love with it. Since he gave it to me I haven't worn anything else. It just fits me. I met some other amazing people including our neighbor Randy. Randy was from New Jersey and was a huge Jimmy Hendrix fan. One night I helped him take a used bench seat down the hill for trash and we spent the evening sitting in the back of his van smoking ganja and listening to Hendrix tapes. Other interesting people included the homosexual biblical couple Simon and Paul, a crazy Italian named Jesus, the bundles of wood-toting Mohammed, and too many others to name.

After two and a half weeks in Beneficio I thought life was perfect and couldn't get any better. I was spending the day with Randy smoking and watching over his garden guarding against the heard goats that sometimes came down to eat his plants when a woman passed by on her way up the mountain trail. We invited her to come over and relax for a bit. Jana (pron. Yana) was from Prague and within her eyes I could see an entire universe. She and I shared a strong connection instantly. She stayed for dinner with us and that night she and I slept arm in arm within the circle at Roi's. We spent the next couple days together enjoying life around Beneficio. One day Jana's friend Alesh showed up as well as Roi's brother and his friend. We had a feast of many wonderful foods all prepared right there in Beneficio including some fresh sourdough bread Roi backed in his clay oven. Alesh and Jana were heading out the next day and I wasn't sure if I'd join them or not as I was enjoying Beneficio so much. I really felt at home there. In the morning Jana and Alesh gathered their things and started saying goodbye. I looked at Roi and he said to me, "don't leave anything unfinished." With that I knew I wanted to go with Jana. I packed my things quickly, gave Roi a huge hug, and ran down the hill after them. By the time we reached Orjiva we had missed the bus heading south so we decided to hitchhike. In my experience hitchhiking with two people is difficult, with three there was no way we were going to get a ride. Someone did pull over but said he could only take one and was heading to Grenada so Alesh left us and went with him. Jana and I then spent the day slowly making our way to the coast tropical of Spain. By early evening we arrived in Nerja and found our way to the beach. We set up camp amongst the rocks and spent a beautiful night together sharing love as I had never experienced before. The next day we relaxed on the beach singing and playing guitar. We swam in the surf and soaked up the rays of the sun. That afternoon we made our way further up the coast to Marbella and spent another night on the beach. The next morning Jana took a bus to Malaga where she was to catch a plane bound for Barcelona. There she would meet her boyfriend and they would hike the Pyrenees together before heading back to Prague.

After an emotional goodbye at the bus station I took off down the road. I managed to catch a few rides and ended up in Tarifa, the southern most point of Spain. Here I could catch a ferry over to Morrocco which would have been very cool. However, the ferry cost 30 euros which was about ten times what I had to my name so I stayed in Tarifa. I saw a guy sitting on a bench with a drum so I went over and started hanging out with him. That evening he showed me a place to sleep out of the driving coastal wind in an abandoned worksite. I didn't really sleep that night. I spent the night thinking of Jana, writing poetry, meditating, and doing yoga. In the morning I left and made my way west towards Portugal. The first ride I received took me to a really cool beach on the coast where we tanned in the nude and smoked just enjoying the beautiful day. When we were leaving a young blond british guy ran up to me and handed me a plastic bag with rice and tomato soup within. He said that they were heading home that evening and that he was going to just throw the stuff away so if I wanted it I was welcome. After my ride dropped me off in the andalucia region of Spain I was shortly picked up by three young beautiful Spanish women. When they dropped me off the one I had been sitting with in the back said, "You look like Jesus Christ". Continuing on my way I made it into the town of Jerez. I spent the night there and attempted to hitchhike in the morning. To give you an idea I spent the next three days hitchhiking and made it about 200 kilometers. This means I spent about ten hours each day on the side of the road walking with my thumb out in the blistering heat of the southern spanish sun and two hours in cars. A van pulled over and handed me a watermelon. So for these days I was surviving on rice and watermelon. The places I slept were laden with mosquitoes so it was very difficult to actually sleep. I finally arrrived at the border town on the Portuguese side of the border where I met a group of homeless guys sitting in the park. I hung out with them awhile and connected well with a guy named Paul who barely spoke English. That evening he took me to a homeless shelter where they gave us coffee and ham sandwhiches. I am not usually one to eat meat and I never drink coffee but the coffee was delicious and I ate about four sandwhiches. Paul then took me to his home underneath a ramp to the municiple swimming pool where he invited me to stay the night with him and his companion, a dog named El Niño. The next day he took me to a place where I had a nice shower then we returned to the shelter for a great meal of soup, rice, salad, and honeydew melon. After that I attempted to hitch further into Portugal. I walked down the street, set my things down and stuck my thumb out. Scant minutes passed when a woman walked up to me and gave me a bag full of fruit. She told me I reminded her of her 24 year old son. She said I would be hard pressed to get a ride there and gave me 20 euros for the bus and whatever else. She walked into her house right there and returned shortly with another bag full of food and a picture of her son. She then wished me a good journey and left me there. I hopped on the bus and headed up the coast a bit. I arrived in another beach town where I attempted to sleep on the beach but was agani bombarded by mosquitoes and coastal wind. The next morning instead of hitching I decided to walk along the beach to the next town. About halfway there I stopped to rest and met a lonely old German guy. I played my guitar for him and we hung out together for awhile. When I got up to leave he handed me ten euros and wished me a good journey. Shortly thereafter I arrived here in Altura where I met this amazing family. They have taken me in and treated me so well. I cannot believe the things I have been through on this journey and the experiences that I have had thus far. I am extremely blessed to be here and surrounded by love. I know this would be even more difficult without the support of family and friends so I wish to thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. From here I haven't decided which direction to go but I'm sure it will lead me to even more adventure. Until next time, até a vista!
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