I have spent a few days in a Mediterranean town of Spain called Oropesa del Mar. I enjoyed buying the fruits and vegetables directly from the farmers at a nearby village (Cabanes), because they are more fresh, tasty and cheap than those in the supermarkets. The peaches are as sweet and juicy as large. I always take one apart and, after washing it in the central fountain, I relish on it while walking up to the church of St John Baptists, on the upper part of the town. I also like to visit the Roman Arch, on whose surroundings one can still find remains of Roman pottery.
In the way back to Oropesa, I stop in the middle of the so called Desert of Palms, of deceiving name because it’s covered with abundant vegetation (Mediterranean scrub and palmetto). In the Fountain of Miravet, which takes its name from a nearby castle that belonged to the famous medieval knight El Cid, I fill a big bottle with the sweet and fresh water of this fountain (and wash and eat another peach).
Thanks to the existence of an endemic mosquito, the bulldozers have not been allowed to get in this desert to widen the road. Although it has some difficult curves, the inconvenience is well worth it, even and especially for the locals who have in this natural landscape their greatest treasure, although they mostly ignore it. Talking to the fruit-seller, she mentioned that she cannot understand how a mosquito can stop a bulldozer… yet this is the case.
Several times I hiked across this desert. I especially remember the day I walked out from Oropesa towards the nearest mountain, the so called Hill of the Lord. I crossed under the highway through a tunnel-drain and I climbed laboriously its steep slopes. When I was about to reach the top I stumbled upon a wild pig and her babies. At the base of the mountain I had previously met a menacing black dog. In both encounters I began to recite the mantra of great compassion and the animals turned away. The view from one thousand feet above the sea level, overlooking all the coastal line was magnificent, well worth the effort.
I sat down to meditate for a few minutes on the highest point, and then went down undoing the same path. As I approached the highway, the traffic noise was becoming more intense and uncomfortable, but it was when I got back into downtown Oropesa, being surrounded by its vacation terraces, amusements, people wearing swimsuits and bikinis, that I realized that all around me had a quality very different from what it had just a few hours ago. Upon my return I saw everyone inside of a dream, and I’m not speaking metaphorically but absolutely in such way. The mountain somehow had altered my consciousness so I could see and feel life differently, as a huge pantomime full of actors moving around like flies inside of a flask.
After that experience, I understood why the monastic order of the Discalced Carmelites built in this desert one of their monasteries, and why all its topography is dotted with chapels, canyons and small caves where, for centuries, those inclined to introspection have sought refuge (from the dream). Nobody does it anymore (perhaps that’s why it’s dubbed as a desert). We modern people have chosen the soft sands of the beach inside the dream than the rough path that leads out of it. It’s understandable… yet sad.