We are getting close to the end of another trip around one of our favourite places – Spain. We have traveled over 6000 kms in 5 weeks. In our journey we have visited new places, like Ronda and Cartagena, and further explored some favourite haunts such as Granada, Cordoba and Valencia.
Once again we have been amazed and mesmerised by spectacular scenery, as well as being infatuated by its history and downright quirkiness. The coast around the north west corner is rugged and spectacular. From Gijon through to Fisterra the coastline is dramatic and rugged. But personally, I love the arid landscape of Extremadura, wondering how these people make a living off the land and remembering that many of the conquistadors came from this part of the world – probably already hardened by their environment.
In the south, steering clear of the tourist Meccas, there are amazing beaches stuck in tiny coves – and then there is the hinterland- a curse for truck drivers, but the mountains and canyons are spectacular.
The people understand very little English and our Spanish is equally poor, but apart from the odd deli assistant, they are always welcoming and friendly. A “hola” always gets a reply.
We visit many churches as we walk though towns and cities. Some are simple in their expression of Catholicism and some very ornate with square metres of gold leaf covering the ornaments. With every church we visit I sit and spend some time in prayer, praying for the congregation and its leaders.
Yet we are not uncritical. The omnipresent graffiti, even in some of the most dramatic and ancient settings, is deeply offensive and belittling of this amazing country and its history. And then there are moments walking around the cities when the smell of dog poo is overwhelming. There is the human contribution with the pools of urine against buildings every morning after a evening of drinking. Rubbish by the roadside and around towns is hard to ignore and the many decaying buildings left to rot in towns and cities is quite confronting. The lottery ticket hawkers are also tiresome. One thing that confronts me personally is the number of homeless people and beggars which makes me feel helpless and guilty. I have tried to engage with some of these struggling people on a number of occasions. In one situation the girl was clearly pregnant and simple, and I got the clear impression that someone had put her in the church doorway to use her to make money. On another occasion I engaged with a young man who was on the Camino without support. He spoke some English and it was clear there were other struggles going on. All I could give was some human contact, but on the whole, left feeling helpless.
We can become blind to the failures of our own culture and I am sure many Spaniards no longer see many of these eyesores.
At best, it is a reminder to me to look at my own country and society with a fresh and critical eye.