exactly what kind of coward I am: first steps on the Path of Faith

I’m on the first day of my walk along the Caminho da Fé, and already I’m off the plan. No problem, if that means getting swept into a government tour of a city, meeting the mayor, getting free candy, and sleeping in luxury. But I’ll get to that. First a quick recap of the past few days:

I arrived in Guarulhos—the suburb of São Paulo with the airport—on Monday, walked to a hotel near the airport, made a fool out of myself ordering dinner in Portuguese (yes, of course, I meant to order two whole loaves of cornbread for dinner), slept late on Tuesday, and then started the real journey.

The walk from Guarulhos to the Rodoviária Tietê bus station is about 20km. It’s not on the Caminho da Fé (Path of Faith), but it’s a walk through Brazil, so it still fits the theme and purpose of this trip.

One of the reasons that I travel is to encounter new things. Take, for example, the cashew apple:


The cashew apple is the reddish fruit in the above picture; the cashew nut is the greenish lump on top. The fruit is chewy and doesn’t taste like much other than sweet and bitter. Supposedly, the fruit isn’t exported because it’s so perishable, but I think that it might be largely because no one wants it. The juice is good though, especially as a mixer.

Even though I didn’t like the cashew apple, I very much liked the experience of finding it and trying it… and telling y’all about it.

Even better was the hot dog with mashed potatoes, crispy fried shoestring potatoes, bacon, and cheeze-whiz as condiments. This country does bizarrely good things with/to hot dogs.

Sometimes my joy is more juvenile, such as when I find that someone in brand marketing is terrible at their job:


Elite Lips? Snob? If you’re going to use English words in your brand names, you can at least ask a competent understander of that language to check your work.

That said, novel food and branding failures aren’t the main reasons for this trip.

I took a 5-hour bus ride north and inland from the city of São Paulo to the city of Sertãozinho, where the Caminho da Fé begins.

Wednesday morning, I went to the hotel at the beginning of the Caminho to get my “credential” booklet:


This booklet gets stamped at various checkpoints along the Caminho da Fé. I present this in Aparecida at the end to receive a certificate.

Getting this booklet required answering a set of questions, involving a couple that were a little bit intrusive, such as my reason for walking the trail. From this form, I learned the Portuguese word for “getting to know oneself”: ‘autoconhecimento’.

The hotel manager who helped me with my credential booklet was very insistent that I not walk near Cravinhos—my intended next stop—after dark. I learned some new vocabulary about crime danger from this conversation.

Huh. Well, that threw a spanner into the works. Cravinhos was far enough away that I’d certainly be arriving late at night… unless I stopped sooner, in Dumont.

Explaining why Dumont presented a problem requires me telling you exactly what kind of coward I am.

I don’t like talking with people. I’d go so far as to say that it scares me. I can do it for brief periods, but I quickly get to a point where I desperately need to get away.

I knew from my research that the only lodging in Dumont was a family home that was open to pilgrims on the Caminho da Fé. A family home meant lots of conversation with strangers in confined quarters. I would do almost anything to avoid that, even if it meant walking an extra 40km in one day and risking armed attack at night.

OK. Keep that in mind for a bit later.

I started out this morning with my first official steps on the Caminho da Fé, in front of the hotel with the helpful and informative manager.


The ‘571’ indicates the number of kilometers to the end of the trail at the basilica in Aparecida. Yellow arrows like those painted on the post below are my best friends for this trek.

The next kilometer marker was especially Brazilian-looking: electric fence protecting nice house near rough neighborhood, Cristo Salvador, blue sky and green hills…


The next 20 kilometers were mostly sugarcane fields. It looked and felt very much like Kansas, with hills rolling just enough to be pretty but not so much as to impede agriculture.

When I got to Dumont, I really wanted to avoid going to a pousada (inn) that I knew to be a family home. So, in blind hope, I asked the cashier at the market where I bought lunch if she knew of a hotel in town. Well, as luck(?) would have it, her sister owned the most beautiful inn… I interrupted the discourse on how lovely this inn is to stress that I just wanted a bed and quiet. But, she had already called her sister on her mobile phone and was telling her to come pick up the tired pilgrim.

From what I could gather from this phone conversation, the innkeeper sister was busy and reluctant, but the cashier sister was wearing her down. I had given up trying to convey what I wanted; I just decided to have faith that whatever this woman was arranging for me would get me a bed and probably food later.

Eventually, a small convoy pulled up, led by a sedan with government plates and some serious-looking people inside. Out of the second vehicle, a van, Patricia the innkeeper came to greet me and tell me to join them.

OK.

So, I climbed into the van and—through a bit of effort with some unfamiliar Portuguese vocabulary—I learned that this was a group of government officials and industrial business people on a tour to determine whether Dumont was the right place for a new candy factory. The innkeeper was also working with the local government on this project as a sort of tour guide. And her sister had just called her in the middle of this to say “Come pick up this stranger and take him with you.”

This is how I spent my afternoon going on a tour of a small city with the mayor, deputy mayor, and other government officials, plus some candy bigwigs. Everyone wanted to talk with the weird guy from the USA who was walking across so much of their country alone. It wasn’t quite as bad as long conversations with strangers often are, I think largely because I could blame the language barrier for all of my awkwardness.

I got some free candy out of it. It’s pretty good.

Now, hours later, I’m alone in a luxury room in a beautiful inn in rural Brazil. There’s promise of dinner soon. Then I’m going straight to bed so that I can get up early tomorrow and keep going.

One thought on “exactly what kind of coward I am: first steps on the Path of Faith

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