In 2007, Australian author & journalist Stephanie Dale joined her son Ben for the middle leg of his pilgrimage from Canterbury, in England, to Jerusalem. Her newly released travel memoir, My Pilgrim’s Heart, is the story of their adventures.
EXCERPT: CROATIA: Why am I doing this again?
We wake in the dawn light to the excitement of being back on the road. It takes us a good half-day’s slog to clear Zadar’s industrial corridor and then clod our way through the riot of new cement works on the edge of the city; new freeway, new footpaths, new blisters.
Now why am I doing this again?
After a week of hotels and trains and ferries my biorhythms are not co-operating. My shoulders scream as the extra weight of the computer pushes me beyond anything at all I consider acceptable, even though I’ve posted home everything superfluous, even face cream!
Right on the fringe of the habitation wasteland, we hear the most terrible meowing hastening from the weeds. My heart sinks, certain a cat is about to present itself with half its legs run over.
Rather, it is just an extremely hungry ginger kitten, starving as much for human company as it is for food. Ben opens a tin of tuna and offers it gently to a very grateful little puss.
Half an hour later we take our first rest beneath a small palm with the Adriatic Sea just metres away. I hobble over to the only sign of civilisation this side of the road, a concrete jetty, and there I lie flat on my back among the dry seagull poo.
I look vaguely at the sky and give my attention to the wind. It blows harder. I allow the news it brings of otherworlds to sink into my bones.
I shade my face with my fingers and through the gaps I watch the birds. I like to think they are swooping and soaring just for me.
I am in the altered state of the pilgrim: it’s called Delusional.
We press on. Today is agonising, of spirit as much as anything else. I feel as if I’m dragging a sack of bones along the bitumen and indeed I am – my own. It is the time of the dark moon. I should be in my hammock.
We walk in the noonday sun. It is too much so we stop awhile in the shade of a small tree near the water’s edge. Ben’s great. He is happy to rest when I need to. There by the shores of the Adriatic he gets internet! I harmonise effort and ease and sleep.
We walk on, the heat of the day gone now. There is a row of houses selling produce on the street. We buy tomatoes and a string of dried figs from an old bent woman dressed all in black. I leave Ben to finalise the transaction and walk on. He hollers for me to come back. He’s not paying thirty kuna for figs and two tomatoes, not when he’s just feasted on a massive plate of spaghetti bolognaise for the same price.
I want the figs. They might be so common I scrape them off my bootsoles, but figs is figs and figs is quality dried fruit and besides, I’m presuming she grew them herself – or at least scraped them off her own boot soles.
Civilisation gives way to a two lane road south, bound on both sides by low, dark green scrub. The romance of the Adriatic coastline buckles under the weight of the rubbish that keeps pace with us. I think seriously about buying a donkey.
Then wacko-the-diddleo! We make Sv Petar!
Out of the Adriatic blue, here we are. And there’s a camping ground to meet us. We pitch our tents in time to sit on the rock wall by the shore, dangling our legs over the water, watching the sun go down behind the islands on the western horizon.
Surprisingly, my feet have held up okay. Sure I have new blisters. But they are new blisters. The old ones have held steady and I can walk at sundown without feeling like my bones are poking through the skin of my feet.
It is a beautiful evening. A pilgrim’s evening. The sun glows yellow orange through grey clouds. There are only shadows and light around us, the jetty, the islands, the low slung sun. I listen to the water lapping at the rock wall and gaze into the soft lime green of the rocks beneath the shallow waters; my spirit walks the shining golden pathway on the water to the sun.
Ah yes, now I remember: this is why I’m doing this again.