It started to snow. And then some more. We pulled on as many layers we could and turned the Land Rover’s heater up to full bore. The snow piled up on the road and I was thankful we were in a Land Rover.
As we headed south, I noticed more Spanish looking, adobe houses. The New Mexico highway markers were like a star burst - a circle shaped with four prongs jutting out of the edge. I later discovered that this was an ancient, local icon called a Zia. And, it did represent the sun.
Right now, I could have done with more sun and less of the cold, white stuff. Was it only a few weeks ago, that I was so charmed by the snow? Well, I had been there, done that. Now I wanted more warmth.
The sun lazily put in an appearance, and by the time we pulled into my cousin Sarah’s driveway, in a little place called Pojoaque (NM), the snow had vanished.
I had never met Sarah before. Our contact had been via her older sister, Susan. Like her sister, Sarah had red-gold hair, blue eyes and a very friendly, welcoming nature. Sarah, Susan and I were descendants from one family in Ireland. That family had left their homeland in the 1860’s. Some had gone to USA and the others came to New Zealand. One hundred years later, in the 1960’s, Sarah and Susan’s father started investigating his roots. He made enquiries in NZ and finally tracked down my father. As well as being pleased to find each other, they were delighted to discover that they had two daughters the same age - Susan and myself. We became pen pals and have been "talking to each other" ever since. Susan came out to NZ with her husband and family not long after my mother died. It was like we had always known each other.
That day on the Land Rover expedition, as Sarah opened the door and I saw her smiling face and laughing eyes, I felt that I had always known her, too.
We had our own little guesthouse, in Sarah’s yard. It was a proper mud and straw adobe building, coloured in earthy tones with bright blue window frames and doors. Inside, the sun streamed onto the Spanish rugs and orange flagstones. Pueblo designed wall hangings splashed their bright colours across the white internal walls. It was a fully self contained unit with a step up to the huge flounced bed platform and a step down into a small, cool coloured kitchen. Sarah had thoughtfully stocked the fridge with everything we could possibly need, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables. I went straight for the raw carrots. They were fresh and magnificent.
Later, over dinner we met Sarah’s husband Joe, an intelligent man with a kind face, and their two lively young daughters Emily and Hailey. It was so great to be part of a happy, family home.
As I lazed back in our wee adobe house, very contented and with a full tummy, I thought how nice it would be to stay here for the rest of the year. We could just pretend to drive around the world in a Land Rover, and periodically send digitally enhanced photos to friends and various press agencies – Land Rover in front of Eiffel Tower/Taj Mahal/herd of camels, etc, etc
And, so, that’s exactly what we did. (Yeah right, only kidding)
There’s an unbelievable sense of freedom in waking up and knowing you don’t have to pack up and move on. We slept in and then I lay in bed and ate grapes and carrots. TH must have got tired of peeling grapes and he finally stirred me from my pit and over to Sarah’s place for a proper breakfast.
Sarah made a delicious dish called "Seattle Babies." This is a whipped milk and egg mix, which is poured into a fry pan to cook, and then served with lemon juice and sugar. Yummo!
It was the week before Easter and Sarah had arranged for babysitters, so she could be free to take us on a special outing to the legendary shrine - El Santuario de Chimayó. As the local equivalent of Lourdes, this is probably the most visited church in New Mexico, especially at Easter time and the days that lead up to it. Annual pilgrimages occur every year. Most pilgrims start walking in Santa Fe, twenty-seven miles to the south, but others come the eighty miles from Albuquerque, walking part of the way barefoot or crawling the last few yards on their knees (a common tradition in Spain and Latin America).
We rolled along in the comfort of Sarah’s car. The roadside scenes fascinated me. Groups of people plodded along the winding road, some carrying huge crosses, others flagellating themselves. Still more hobbled on bloody and blistered feet. No one seemed alone. There were always supporters, possibly family members who also carried food and water, for the barefoot pilgrims or those struggling with heavy crosses.
When we arrived at the Chimayó Shrine, I didn’t know what to expect. I am not a catholic, and didn’t want to show any disrespect. But, I was quite shocked by what I had seen. Sarah encouraged us to at least see inside the church, which was a Spanish mission styled building.
We were greeted by a priest, who asked us where we were from. Of course, he then assumed we had made our own long pilgrimage. We were shunted ahead of the tired, the lame, the thirsty, the humble, and given our own personalised tour. I tried to explain, and that I didn’t deserve any preferential treatment, but the man thought I was being overly modest (as all good pilgrims are). He’d never met New Zealand pilgrims before and was very pleased and honoured to be our guide.
The tour finished in a room festooned with hundreds of abandoned crutches, and leg clamps. There were also lots of before-and-after photographs. In this room is the sacred, healing dirt of Chimayó.
By now our priest had heard from Sarah, that we were only at the first stage of a long journey around the world. He insisted we must take a precious sampling of this sacred earth to keep us safe. I was mightily embarrassed at having such a mistaken fuss made of me, and I hung my head with shame. The priest, interpreting this as more modesty, personally scooped up a sample, blessed it and presented to me. I accepted it with grace and good manners as, in a way, I was on a personal odyssey. That priest was more perceptive than I thought. He ended up being more right about the effect this Land Rover expedition would have on me, than I realised at the time.
© Eventful Woman, 2006
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