Today I set out on an adventure. My Spanish pupils would probably call it an excursion, which sounds like a trip into the wild with a compass, star chart and guidebook for wild berries. I would call my Sunday activity more of a humble hike.
Alyssa, Misha and I were equipped with tennis shoes, water bottles and small lunches. Alyssa was in charge of bandages for blisters and Misha brought the Spanish dictionary and written directions to El Perdigon, our destination. We were all fueled with a desire to walk, and also eager to reconnect to rural life, fresh air, farmland and remember how humans relate to their natural environment.
Our path out of Zamora began in a park along the River Douro. Early in the morning, the trails were fairly empty except for a few exercisers, dog walkers and, of course, piles of autumn leaves. City dwellers appreciate urban green spaces to escape from the concrete and smog of downtown areas. And I didn't walk ten minutes before finding these people using nature for their daily activities.
Not soon after, we spotted a house in the park's woods. A clothesline and wash buckets surrounded the abode, symbols of sustainability and low-impact living. This statement of alternative living was strengthened by its proximity to the city, since we were still in the city-center!
My friends and I had barely finished marveling at the hut when we encountered two bundled men dwarfed by their fishing rods. Alyssa approached them and proposed a brief photo-shoot. Seeing the camera, they scurried to their bucket to display their 16-inch fish. We snapped dozens of pictures of them and their catch and their proud smiles. They requested some copies, and we obliged. They suggested we meet them the following Sunday between nine and five, since they fish there every day. This was our second encounter with urban environmentalism. Perhaps I didn't need to walk way out of town to find what I was looking for, but it was only nine in the morning and we still had our sights set on El Perdigon.
So we hiked ... well, actually, we walked on the shoulder of a two-lane highway because we got lost. But the city shrunk behind us and the fields of grain now dry and golden brown, spread for miles to the right and left. Alyssa rued how easy it is to forget that traveling by foot is so simply rewarding, and I was grateful to forget the consumerism of a city for a day.
But when we tried to get back on the right path, we happened upon enormous warehouses of wholesale kitchen furniture and tents for outdoor celebrations. The buildings were concrete and nondescript, and deserted, since it was Sunday. As soon as we walked over a scale the size of a swimming pool, we realized we were in a weigh station for trucks, which made sense since we were next to a bulk food distribution center. There were no more fields, and diesel smells out-did the cow manure smells. This faceless industrial zone tainted our expectations for a refreshing stroll and the sight of mass production and its reliance on transportation didn't make sense in the countryside.
In fact, it made little sense at the time because we had turned our backs to the city. Rural culture may not need all-purpose party tents and thousands of chrome faucets. However, the city, less than five miles away, sustains a market for these items. The grocery stores need trucks to deliver food and most stores in Zamora are quaint shops, not nearly big enough to display party tents.
I was surprised at the beginning of the trip when I witnessed urban dwellers benefiting from their natural surroundings at the park and along the river. Now, out in the countryside, I was equally surprised to see the rural space used for the city's benefit, like an external hard drive for excess material that would not fit within the hectic cityscape. The relationship between the two areas is so strong that I found signs of the city amidst farmland and vice versa, and I'm sure I could find similar patterns at home in the United States and around the world. While I was searching for unpolluted air and pastoral surroundings, I found that my notions of the countryside were heavily romanticized and that they are interdependent environments.
At the end of the hike I was busy mulling over these new ideas about my place and space in the world, but my legs were so tired they could not carry me another mile.
Photos: Allie Taylor