DAY 32: The Enchanted Forest
The chilling dawn fog swept through the tent as I unzipped the door. The brittle wind invaded our little sanctuary, sweeping any warmth we’d had previously, away in one fell blow and stinging my skin in the process.
It. Was. Freezing.
I hurriedly ran inside the warm sanctuary of the Pilgrim Albergue where on the table a warm breakfast of Tortilla de Española (Spanish Omelette) awaited me. Munching on the bread and guacamole that came along with the meal, all four of us looked out the window at the overcast weather and sighed. While I could count on one hand over our entire 838k Camino del Norte route the days where the sky had been obscured by clouds, the early morning hid any signs that it was going to be 30 degrees (Celsius) today. From behind the comforting bay window glass of the Albergue, we watched some of our fellow Peregrinos (Pilgrims) disappear down the Camino path at a rapid pace, hopping up and down to get their frigid limbs warm again. I winced. That warm day seemed like a dream away.
Soon enough, we too hoisted on our backpacks and ventured out into the chilly morning, following the sounds of waterproof jacket clad pilgrims who’d stopped at the only cafe in town to warm up with a coffee. We headed left down the road, keeping our eyes peeled for the yellow seashell that would mark our turn off. Ten minutes later we were solitary figures on the road, the moaning horns of passer-by trucks the only sound that broke the eerie silence. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that we were lost. Turning around we began to back-track through the fog, when from the weathered porch of a crumbling Galician house, an old lady called out to us.
“Buenas Dias. Estás perdido?” Good Morning, are you lost?
“Si.” We called back apologetically. “¿Por favor nos dice dónde está el route del Camino?” (Can you please tell us where the Camino path is?)
The old woman nodded kindly. She rose to her feet and pointed across the road where a tiny dirt path wound its way into the countryside. She said in Spanish, “Follow that and it will lead up to the Camino in a few hundred meters.”
“Gracias!” We called back to thank the lady but she was already gone, her rocking chair swinging back and forth eerily in the wind without her. We crossed over the hidden pathway and soon came to a cluster of malformed trees that seemed to mark the unofficial entrance into the woods.
Any of you horror aficionados know that this is the part where the audience is yelling at the screen, shaking their heads, knowing something terrible will befall those teens if they go into the woods.
Nevertheless, we entered through the curved tree-trunk gates to what I will forever refer to as “The Enchanted Forest.”
It was within a few minutes that our world began to change. As we walked through the forest, my body began to relax even underneath the weight of my backpack. I felt warm somehow and I simply couldn’t figure out why until I looked up through the cracks of the forestry and saw that the sky was blue. Sunlight sparkled through the shade of the surrounding oak and birch trees and the once ominous branches now seemed to beckon us forward. Heat swept through the breeze that whispered around us and the trees parted wider to reveal a gateway into the breathtaking Galician countryside.
The hidden road we traversed wound its way through a summary woodland, passing by seemingly endless fields of flawless ombre-green grass that were home to families of ivory coloured cows and clusters of clucking ebony-black hens. Fairytale-esque farm cottages lined the path, each garlanded with flowers and rows of fruit trees. We crossed over ancient stone bridges, guarding the bewitching smile of the burbling brooks. Beams of sun burned through the gaps in the forest, lighting up the world around us in an astonishing way that gave the impression that the trees were on fire. Munching away on a handful of sweet, wild blackberries, we chatted away on Skype with some family, marvelling at the fact that we were talking to each other as we walked through the Galician wilderness, while they sat at home in Australia, peering at us through a screen.
The one time we came into contact with anyone else along the path was at a minuscule intersection in the Enchanted Forest when a tiny cafe aided us in replenishing our energy with their fresh crepes and fruit juices. As we re-entered the forest we found ourselves beside a crystal clear stream and on the spur of the moment, we kicked off our shoes to soak our aching feet. The ice cold water did the trick and soon we were back on the track, walking with a renewed energy.
Through the countryside we went, waving to the locals who had made The Enchanted Forest their home. We passed by wildlife, exquisite natural flora and even a majestic church that had been built in 1773.
Here we finally felt the full heat of the day and relaxed with a few lime icy poles while the statues of the neighbouring cemetery glared down at us in mock anger. From the stone benches we were sitting on, I could make out the end of the forest path and the open road it would lead us out onto. We enjoyed the last few hundred meters of the magic and then slowly, one footstep at a time let our feet carry us out onto the gravel road.
As we left the Enchanted Forest behind, the sun disappeared behind another invasion of clouds and we walked the rest of the way to Vilalba, our destination for the night, in an overcast haze.
The white-washed buildings of the city soon came into view and with the help of Google Maps we traversed the back streets, taking the quickest route possible to our Albergue. Walls of stylish sepia photographs welcomed us through the door and I felt my shoulders heave as I let my backpack fall to the floor.
While we waited for our chance to use the communal kitchen of the Albergue, we each showered and then I wandered down to the hostel lounge, my eyes immediately drawn to the exchange-a-book-shelf. I felt an excitement pass through my bones and my eyes lit up. I couldn’t help the giddy smile that stretched across my face. Beside the array of books, I noticed an almost identical shelf dedicated to DVDs. I scanned the titles, my eyes washing over renowned movies like Sleepaway Camp, Friday the 13th, Jaws (1&2), The Blair Witch Project and The Conjuring.
I couldn’t help but wonder at the peculiar theme, if this was simply synchronicity or the owner of the Albergue was just a big fan of horror. I also couldn’t help but notice the similarities of a few of the cover pictures on the DVDs to the entrance of The Enchanted Forest this morning. Where we had walked, could easily have been used as a set for a long line of creepy-woodsy horror movies. And yet, nothing about The Enchanted Forest warranted emotions of horror. It made me realise just how many beautiful locations were probably used around the world to film something that would terrorise. How the energy of wanting to frighten people would have seeped into the trees, the grass, the ground. How that very energy could pollute the area just as much as a mountain of toxic waste would.
Horror Movies may be entertaining to many of us in this world, but guess what? They’re not very realistic. So next time someone tries to dissuade you from going into the creepy looking woods, just remember – there could be an enchanted wonderland behind that facade. Or there might not be. As it is with almost everything in this world, it’s just a matter of courage, curiosity and perception.
Outside, the fiery sunset caught my eye and my attention returned to the bookshelf in front of me. My fingers reached out, automatically being drawn to the dusty spine of a particular novel. A small spark of electricity seemed to run through my hand and for a moment I wondered if I had imagined it. I turned the book over to see the title: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I sat down on the couch, the bloody glow of the sky encasing me. Then I began to read.