The Sasé Apparition - Through the abandoned villages of Aragon
I booked myself a plane ticket to Amsterdam. I had been working for almost two months non-stop and needed a break from the mountain refuge. As the departure date drew closer, I felt less and less like returning to “civilization.” I didn’t want to see cars and bars. I wanted to stay in the mountains. So that’s what I did. The plane left without me. I filled my backpack with all the essentials for a trek across the mountains and walked towards the Breche, the weight on my back making my ascent slower than usual.
Sparse tufts of grass grew on the frontal face of the moraine. The wind carried the roar of the waterfall from across the cirque, sounding like ever-crashing wave as it flailed and splashed its way down the face of the Marbore. I passed the widening gap in the glacier and veered away from the route, following the water that trickled over the smooth rocks to join a pool in a glacier-gouged limestone hollow. I stripped off and waded into the icy water.
Revived, but somewhat diminished, I rejoined the trail and hiked up the last slippery icy slope towards the border.
“Once more into the breach dear friends,” as Mr Shakespeare once wrote.
I stood there for a moment in the breeze, gazing out southwards over the mountain ranges towards the horizon and the distant shape of the Tozal de Guara. The foot of this mountain was my goal. I took a step forward and crossed into
My destination was directly south. I hadn’t planned a specific route and wasn’t carrying a map. I had decided to follow my nose and see what happened. I could have gone down the valley to Torla, but I had heard that the Anisclo canyon was particularly spectacular, so I chose that route instead, following the GR11trail from the refuge de Goriz where I spent my first night.
I descended steep paths, surrounded by streams and waterfalls and weather-gnarled pines. They were the first trees I had seen in almost two months. I rubbed my hands against the rough bark and plucked a green resinous bud, popped it in my mouth and chewed on it as I continued down the path, my breath pine tree fragrant. At Fon Blanca I came across a simple but cosy stone cabin. It was too early to stop there to sleep, but I put down my pack and had a bite to eat.
The Anisclo valley is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and I had it all to myself. I followed the river that flowed through it and came across a quiet pool with a small waterfall. It was surrounded by flat sun-warmed rocks. I took off my backpack and my clothes and gingerly slid into water. The temperature was literally breathtaking. Not quite as icy as at the Breche, but definitely, as Mr Joyce once put it, scrotum-tightening. I lay on the flat rocks panting, letting the warmth of the sun and the stone soak into my body.
The pines gave way to beech and privet. The smell of trees was overwhelming. My arboreal deprivation and months of pure fresh air made me incredibly sensitive to the rich odours in the air. I walked along a forest trail that ran parallel to the river, listening to the gushing sound of fast flowing water. I was past the knee-aching descents and now with my footfalls cushioned by the soft ground I had more leisure to admire my surroundings. Blue pools, waterfalls, outcrops, overhangs and majestic towering peaks surrounded me. I stopped several times to take in the remarkable beauty of the place. I snacked on wild strawberries and raspberries. They were taste explosions in my mouth. It had rained recently and the woods were still wet. An incredible number of mushrooms and toadstools, of all sizes and colours, grew along the path. If I was more of a mycologist, I could have gathered a copious meal. There were perfect places in the woods to pitch a tent, but I plodded onwards.
While my route was uncertain, I had set myself certain goals. I was following the traces of San Urbez. There were many places named after him in the area and I wanted to link some of them together into a of pilgrimage route of sorts. It gave my hike a coherent theme and an added spiritual dimension. I hoped to reach a hermitage at the end of the valley by nightfall and spend the night there. The legend has it that San Urbez stayed there for many years.
The sun was low by the time I reached the hermitage. It was barred by a padlocked wrought-iron gate and had been converted into a place of worship with an altar and pews. I wouldn’t be sleeping there after all.
San Urbez also oversaw the construction of a bridge that joined both sides of the river. I slowly crossed the Puente de San Urbez, looking down at the chaotic water far beneath me at the bottom of the canyon. Just beside it was an ugly concrete bridge for the park rangers’ jeeps. I smelt the cars before I saw them. I hadn’t seen a car in a long time. They didn’t provoke quite the same feelings of joy as the trees.
I was tired and hungry. I knew that there was a hotel in the half-abandoned
a few kilometres up the road. The thought of a nice hot bath, and a tasty meal
and a comfortable bed was enticing. It would be dark by the time I got there. But
if this was a pilgrimage, I could forgo the luxury. I was autonomous and didn’t
need a hotel. Besides, according to a signpost the hotel was another six
kilometres away. That was going to take me at least another hour and my
backpack was getting heavier. village of Nairn
I ducked off the road and in under the trees. I found a flat sheltered place. I set up my tent did a bit of stretching and breathing. Later I ate. The wind whispered softly in the leaves and the birds sang goodnight to the sun. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The craggy mountains were painted golden by the fading sunlight. I settled in for an early night, physically exhausted but immensely happy. It was good to be on holidays.
I was out on the road early. The sun was low in the sky and there was a chill in the morning air. My backpack seemed heavier than the previous day. A car passed, then braked and reversed.
“Do you want a lift?” asked the driver. I had a tiny moment of hesitation, thinking that I should really walk all the way, but then invented a rule for myself that it was okay to take a lift if I was on a road.
The couple in the car were from Madrid, fleeing the torrid city summer heat. We drove up a few tight hairpin bends. It wouldn’t have been a very enjoyable walk. I saw a few groups of people squeezing themselves into tight wet suits and struggling into climbing harnesses, getting ready for and expedition down the canyons. My benefactors were going to join them and dropped me in the
A cluster of red parasols beckoned with the promise of breakfast.I had a stock of beans and pulses at the refuge to ensure that I got sufficient protein. Hiking was a bit more problematic, so I allowed myself eggs. In fact, I was craving eggs, lightly fried in olive oil, with a pinch of salt and perhaps some ripe tomatoes. My mouth watered at the thought. I could almost taste them. This was a typical Spanish village. I imagined healthy high-altitude free-range chickens pecking a nutritious natural diet.
“We don’t do fried eggs. Only omelettes,” said the thin-lipped, grey-haired matron.
“But you have eggs?” I asked.
It was a disappointing breakfast. I discovered that the eggs came ready beaten in a carton. The bread was half-baked factory dough finished off in an oven. The cheese had seen better days, the slices set before me were curling at the corners and sweating profusely. I asked the old woman about walking trails. She suggested a few routes. As I reached into my bag to pay, I realized that it was the first time I had used money in two months. It was almost a novelty to be able to buy something. How nice it would be to live all the time without the constraints of money and financial transactions. It felt like a tiny victory to have escaped from the system, if only for a short while.
I plodded along at a happy rhythm on a trail through the woods, heading vaguely in the direction of a village called Fiscal. The trail was marked with a yellow and white stripe painted on trees and rocks. It was easy walking and I was glad to be in the shade. Cobwebs spread between the trees tickled my face and informed me that I was the first person to pass by that day. It was nice to be on my own, taking my time, walking when I wanted to walk, stopping when I wanted to stop. Again, I feasted on wild strawberries and raspberries. From time to time, I emerged into clearings or pastures where wild flowers grew. The fragrance reminded me of honey and was so overpowering that I almost felt drunk. I closed my eyes and imagined myself being a bee led by these heady perfumes in search of sweet nectar.
It was hot. Even in the shade, I started to sweat. I had lost a lot of altitude already. I had almost no water left. The only water I could find was in a cattle trough. The cattle were nowhere to be seen. The water dribbled from a source surrounded by a stand of raspberry canes. I gorged myself on the fruit.
Further up the trail, I came face to face with a deer. We stood looking at each other for a moment. Then it turned suddenly and fled into the forest. I heard it for a long time after, braying and barking, spreading the alert that a foreigner was abroad.
The trail became a forestry road. The earth had been scraped away by a bulldozer and some of the rocks had been dynamited. The rocks contained fossils. Thousands of tiny sea creatures that had swum or floated in oceans millions of years ago, long before this age-old rock was even formed. It made the span of my own life seem so very brief and insignificant.
My mind began to float free. At times, I realized that I had no recollection of the previous minutes. My mind slowed down and I entered into a trance like state. There was just the hypnotic rhythm of one foot in front of the other, breathing in and breathing out. Nothing else.
The forestry road led me to the southern side of the mountain. The landscape changed abruptly. The trail became dry and dusty. The air was drier. Thyme and lavender grew by the side of the road. The trees were mostly pines and low thorny bushes. I listened to the rhythmic pulsing sound of crickets and grasshoppers. I wore a broad rimmed canvas hat to protect myself from the sun. I guzzled my cattle trough water. The yellow and white trail markings took me off this easy track and climbed through the underbrush towards a distant ridge, past ruined stone walls and ancient overgrown terraced fields.
I reached the saddle between two valleys. It was a good place to stop. Vultures and hawks glided and circled on the rising thermals where the two valleys met. I could see the Breche on the Northern horizon, much smaller in the distance. There was a small stone chapel perched by the pass. Chiselled into the lichen-stained lintel stone was the date 1779. The chapel had long since been deserted and as evidenced by the quantity of dried dung on the floor, served the role of a shelter for cattle.
I shrugged off my backpack and set it down heavily beside the door. I set a small fire from some quickly gathered dried twigs. It caught instantly. It didn’t take long for a few cups of water to boil in the little saucepan I carried. I carefully stamped out and buried the embers while my tea brewed. Everything was so dry that it wouldn’t have taken much to start a forest fire.
Refreshed, I followed the steep trail downhill into the next valley. Treacherous pinecones rolled underfoot. Polished rocks told tales of countless generations of people who had passed here before me. After a while the trail joined a wider track. I tried to walk in the shade, but there was precious little of it. My boots were covered in fine dust. I was running low on water again. I followed the trail markings down the dried-out bed of a stream. There were more stone walls, some still in good repair. There were walnut trees and apples too and soon I came to the abandoned
I found some water, soaked my head, slaked my thirst and filled my gourd. None
of the houses had rooves anymore, but most of the walls seemed solid enough.
The rafters had given way and collapsed into piles in the centre of the ruins. village
and for the rest of my pilgrimage, I encountered these abandoned villages.
Reminders of the impermanence of all things. For hundreds of years people were
born and died here, living their entire lives in a universe confined to the few
neighbouring valleys. Aragon
In the beginning of the last century, the majority of the world’s population lived in villages and in rural areas. One hundred years later, by far the majority live in cities and towns. The twentieth century phenomenon of rural-urban drift affected Spain just like everywhere else. The young people left the land to work in the cities and towns. Often the few remaining old people, unable to labour the land effectively, joined their children in the high-rise apartment blocks of towns like Sabiñanigo, Huesca and
The Spanish civil war took many of the healthy young men from the villages, never to return. The self-sufficient pockets of population in the
had been one of the heartlands of the resistance movement. Franco knew that an
urban population was easier to control and actively encouraged the population
to turn from rural agriculture to urbanized industry.
There were other contributing factors. The one that was troubling me was water. For those few who have re-inhabited some of these villages water is a permanent issue and a source of conflict and worry, as it must have been for those who lived there before them. As the villages grew, the demand for more farmland and wood for fuel led to the forests being felled. Fewer trees meant less rain. It became harder to irrigate crops.
A few years earlier I met an old man in the deserted village of Otin, who told me that radio had a huge impact on the local population. Isolated villagers suddenly became aware of the glamourous world beyond their valleys and they wanted to be part of it.
These deserted villages rarely had an eerie feeling to them. All that remained was the gentle peacefulness of Nature slowly reclaiming her rights. Even the ghosts had left. Or so I thought.
I continued along the broad track that wound its way around the valley. The searing heat went out of the day. The sun was getting close to the ridge. A silent, long shadowed peacefulness came upon the land, as the late afternoon faded into a long summer evening. My legs and shoulders were tired. I followed a black plastic water pipe for a few kilometres. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to get water. A wooden signpost indicated Sasé, another emptied village perched nearby on the shoulder of the slope. From there Fiscal was just another hour away. I thought I would be there before dark. But in fact it took me another two days.
The trail led into an enchanted wood of venerable giant oaks. Moss covered the stone walls lined the path. I drank in the peaceful silence and the cool shade. Something was drawing me on. I suppose I thought that it was thirst. Perhaps it was, but a thirst of another kind, a deep longing of the heart, or even deeper than the heart, something of the soul itself. The place had cast a spell on me. I started to look around for a place to camp.
Then suddenly I wasn’t alone. I turned my head and there she was, standing on a lichen-stained stone wall above me. An apparition, that looked like a young woman in a blue dress. She beckoned to me to climb the stairs and join her. I was in a dream, where the passage of time had no meaning. Was this the ghost of some ancient villager, returned to haunt the abandoned ruins? I was powerless to resist. So I didn’t.
I went up a flight of hewn sandstone steps. She smiled silently, almost shyly, but there was a hint of something defiant in her eyes. Her skin was as pale and as clear as a child’s. But there was nothing childlike about her curvaceous form, the embodiment of womanhood at its prime. And yet there was something ethereal and insubstantial about her. At the top of the stairs was an overgrown garden and an old stone cabin. A blackbird chirped and chattered noisily. Thorny rosehip bushes were in bloom. A carpet of pink petals covered the ground.
I followed her through the garden. She turned towards me. She was familiar to me, though if I had ever seen her before, it must have been in long forgotten dreams. Her eyes were sometimes brown, sometimes green; her lips were full and luscious. She gave me fresh water to drink and we sat beneath a cherry tree. She held my hand and spoke to me of our previous lives together, and how she had waited so long for me to return.
I spent two days in Sasé, charmed by the spell that had been cast over me, sleeping out at night at the foot of the cherry tree, gazing up at the sky for endless hours. Shooting stars blazed across the night in gold and silver streaks, leaving an impression that lasted longer on my retina than on the blue-black canvas of the night sky. And all the while, an angel in a blue dress lay close by my side, running her fingers through my unkempt hair, whispering to me of days gone by and of love and of loss and of longing.
It was early afternoon by the time I finally pulled myself away from the abandoned enchanted village of Sasé. The trail downhill was steep and dusty. An enticing river wound a lazy path across the valley floor below. On the road cars sped by.
Fiscal seemed a nice enough spot, though I couldn’t find a place that served food without meat. I munched some pumpkin seeds and raisins instead. A helpful signboard showed a map of the local hiking trails. I found one that would bring me close to my destination. I left the Fiscal behind. Heavy trucks passed, covering me in the fine dust that rose from the unpaved track. They carried cargos of gravel and sand for the construction of a new road. I followed the track and entered a forest. I heard earth-shuddering explosions from some nearby quarry, or so I thought. I followed yellow and white trail markings. The trail left the main track and went uphill through the trees. I had taken three steps on the trail when a car bearing the markings of the Guardia Civil, the Spanish military police, skidded to a halt beside me. The window slid down with a smooth electric hum. There were two officers inside, both sporting moustaches and sunglasses.
“Where are you going?” asked the one closest to me. I saw myself mirrored in his sunglasses. I was sweaty, dusty and unshaven. I probably cut a fine figure.
“Up that way,” I said, pointing to trail.
“You cannot go this way. It is too dangerous. They are building a new road. They are using dynamite. You should go back to Fiscal,” he said, pointing in the direction I had come from.
As if to emphasise his point, a new explosion boomed out. It was much closer than the earlier ones. The car window hummed closed and they drove off in a cloud of dust. I was loath to go all the way back to Fiscal. I hesitated for a moment. I decided it would be foolish to continue. The arrival of the Guardia Civil was portentous. If they had arrived a minute later, they wouldn’t have seen me and I would have been on a trail to imminent danger.
I trudged back to Fiscal, hotter and more tired than earlier. I went to the tourist office. The woman there was very friendly and helpful. It seemed that my only option was to hitchhike to the town of
then join the GR1 trail. I knew that route would lead me directly to the San
Urbez. I was hungry and asked if she could recommend somewhere to eat. Boltaña
Ten minutes later, I was sitting at a table on the willow-shaded terrace of a campsite restaurant. The waiter was a friendly local. He knew a few picturesque semi-abandoned villages on a route that would lead me more or less in the right direction. I had a long leisurely feed of fried eggs (at last!), potato chips and salad, all washed down with a large carafe of red wine.
I left in high spirits, singing to myself on the road to the village of Buerba. A car pulled over and offered me a lift. I accepted. The occupants were a friendly family from Saragossa. The little girl’s English teacher was Irish. They dropped me off at the entrance to the village.
Most of the houses in Buerba were boarded up or falling down, but a few of them had been partially restored and some seemed to be inhabited. My waiter had told me of a nice place to bathe near the village. I was hot and sticky. A plunge in a river was just what I needed. I asked an old man for directions. He had a big grey beard and was busy sharpening a scythe. He was stripped to the waist and his torso was covered in grey fur. He indicated a general direction and muttered something I didn’t understand. I looked at him blankly. Then in clearer Spanish, he told me how to find the river. He pointed to a flat field and said I could camp for the night if I wanted. I thanked him for the offer, but I wanted to walk further. I had started out late. Besides, it was more comfortable walking in the cool of the evening.
I stripped off and plunged into the deep pool in a bend of the river. I sat soaking in the cool water and let the gentle current massage my aching body. Afterwards I lay on flat rocks, looking up at the trees and the evening sky, listening to the flowing water and the call of unseen birds.
A signpost indicated a choice of trails. I followed one that climbed steeply through the woods towards the
village of Basaran. The
light was fading. At times the trail was so narrow that my backpack snagged on
branches. I had to clamber over a couple of fallen trees. I felt lethargic. The
euphoria of the wine was starting to wear off. I was tempted to sit down and
stop, but pushed onwards. When I saw the stone walls I knew I was getting close
to the village. I walked through the silent main street as the sun was setting.
I found a flat piece of ground sheltered by a holly bush. I set up my little
tent and crawled inside. I left it open and watched the moonrise over black pine
trees on a dark rocky ridge. The moon glowed orange in the last rays of the
I slept. I dreamt of a young woman in a blue dress. Her face was familiar to me. She was close, but I could not reach her. I stretched my arms out towards her sadly smiling face. She slowly faded away. I was left with feelings of love and of loss and of longing.
I awoke with the sun, thirsty and a little hung over. It was cold enough to merit a woolly hat. I finished the last of my water. There wasn’t even enough to make a cup of tea. After a few stretches and some breathing exercises I packed up and set off in a southerly direction.
There were plenty of tracks to choose from. I followed my nose. I passed a huge solitary bull. He was easily the size of a small minibus. I gave him a wide berth and he gave me a disinterested stare. There might even have been a twinge of loneliness in his eyes, stuck up here on his own in the mountains. Perhaps I was just projecting my own emotions.
The accumulated fatigue, my hangover and my dream all conspired to put me in a melancholy mood. I passed through more abandoned villages and saw more again in the distance. Innumerable stone walls and paved tracks still bore witness to the vanished inhabitants.
It started to get hot. I exchanged my woolly hat for the broad brimmed one. I couldn’t find any water. I walked over dry open land past grazing cattle. Purple plumed thistles and stunted gorse and thorn bushes made up the main of the vegetation. I came to a ridge. I scanned the horizon and realized that I was looking at the Tozal de Guara. I knew its outline well. I had sat looking at that mountain many times in the past.
My mood momentarily lifted. I could reach my destination by nightfall. I felt no hunger. I had eaten well the day before, but I was thirsty. I filled my bottles from the inflow of a cattle trough. This was becoming a habit. I gulped thirsty mouthfuls and soaked my head and my broad-brimmed hat. The water tasted heavenly.
The water bottles added another three kilos to my already heavy backpack. That turned out to be too much. The weight broke one of the plastic clasps that tightened the strap. As a result, my backpack was lopsided. I ambled on, passing the sanctuary of Santa Orisa, a huge windowless stone building. She was the daughter of a ninth century Bohemian king, who had forsaken a life of material luxury for spiritual pursuit. In this thirsty land, she is remembered and revered for bringing water forth from the rocks.
I had a choice of trails. I took the wrong one. After a long knee- aching descent, I was dismayed to recognize the town of Sabiñanigo and its aluminium smelting plants a mere stone’s throw away. My deviation cost me a couple of hours. I cursed myself for travelling without a map. I joined another trail that led me to the
. A brand new road, still
under construction, spoke of regional development funds. It would join up with
the road works in Fiscal, where the dynamite had obliged me to change my route.
village of Yebra de Basa
I worked out a suitable itinerary from a map board in the village and followed the trail markings until they petered out. I spent a while wandering around an empty field. I backtracked and chose another path. After another hour I found the trail markings again. I still had no appetite. I was exhausted. My mood and my blood sugar levels were low. I sat on a rock and forced myself to eat.
I plodded along the trail with my backpack weighing unevenly on my back. I just wanted this hike to be finished. What had I set out here for anyway? My back was sore and my knees were aching from the steep descent earlier. Then the birds sang to me. Butterflies kissed my sweating arms and flittered in front of me, enticing me down the trail. In my mind, I saw the smiling face of the maiden of Sasé again.
The forest air was suffocatingly dry. There wasn’t a trace of a breeze. Crickets chirped their mind-numbing song. After a long time, the unmistakable trickle of water broke the silence. I followed the sound and discovered a small waterfall and a pool at its base. I flung off my backpack and clothes with wild abandon, and slipped into the sweet soothing water.
I dressed and set off refreshed, walking on a thick carpet of spongy pine needles, winding my way up a steep hill. I was beginning to think that I wouldn’t make it to San Urbez by nightfall. A few more hours of gruelling effort brought me to the hamlet of Castillon de Guara. I lost the trail again, then found it, then lost it again. I thrashed about in the undergrowth until I came to a dried up stream. The bed of the stream was a metre or so deeper than where I was standing. Sleeping soundly on that bed was a huge thick-bristled boar. I didn’t fancy an encounter with a sleepy swine awoken from his siesta. I quietly backed away and looked for the trail elsewhere.
I was lost. I didn’t know which way to go. Every direction seemed the same. I couldn’t even find the way I had come from. My hangover had never really cleared and my head was aching from the scorching sun. I wandered aimlessly for at least two hours. I thought I had found a clearing, but it turned out to be a deep gully, much too steep to try to negotiate. The landscape shimmered in the heat-haze. I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. I sat down and cried in frustration. I thought of San Urbez. Did he have moments like mine? He had no bulldozed forest tracks or yellow and white trail markings to follow. Though during his time, the villages were inhabited and there would have been a lot more people on the trails. Apart from a few barking dogs in Castillon, I hadn’t seen a single soul since I had passed through Yebra de Basa. If dogs have souls, that is. I’m sure they do.
In the midst of this mental turmoil, I had a brief moment of lucidity. I realized that I was creating suffering for myself. Needlessly. I was purely goal-orientated, determined to reach my destination. What was really important was not where I was going, but rather where I was. It seemed to be a lesson I had to learn over and over again. Once this shift in perspective occurred, my mood instantly lightened. I gathered my spirits together. I had the wherewithal to camp, the weather was clement and I had enough food. If I didn’t reach my goal by evening, I would certainly get there the next day. There was no need to hurry. I had plenty of time. I reminded myself that this was supposed to be a holiday.
I got up and walked, taking my bearings from the sun. Almost instantly I found some trail markings. I followed them in a kind of stupor. I knew that the main road ran alongside the Rio Guara somewhere in the valley below me. The trail markings disappeared again. I walked through a field of long grass. I nearly leapt out of my skin in surprise when a speeding car passed just ten metres in front of me. The long grass had hidden the road. I crossed the soft tarmac and stood on the riverbank. The round shapes of river-smoothed pebbles lay distorted and magnified below the shimmering surface. The river was low but there was enough water to merit getting in. I let the cooling water suck some of the infernal heat from my aching body. I knew where I was and how to get to where I wanted. I had been walking for over ten hours. I had another three hours to go but there were only a few hills to tackle on the way and the going would be easier as the heat of the day diminished.
Dried and clothed again, I thought about walking barefoot on the warm road, but the tar was so soft that it stuck to the soles of my boots as I walked. I raised my thumb at a few passing cars. Eventually one stopped and dropped me at the turnoff for the unpaved road to Nocito. It was getting late. The sun was low in the sky. Dusty shafts of light filtered through the pines. The air was still and quiet. Only my feet scuffling along in the gravel disturbed the peace. A startled flock of grouse scurried away into the undergrowth.
I started to look for a flat piece of ground to pitch my tent, when I heard a car coming slowly behind me. The registration plate was French. I stuck out my thumb. The car pulled to a stop beside me and the driver wound down the window. A barking poodle sprang up at me, giving me quite a start. The driver shouted at the dog and put it in the back of the car, then cleared some space for me in the passenger seat. I climbed in. The driver was a schoolteacher on holidays and was going to the village of Bara. He dropped me off less than a kilometre away from San Urbez.
It was almost dark by the time I reached the refuge. The tables were set for dinner and small groups of people sat around speaking French and drinking aperitifs. Genevieve saw me and gave me a heart-warming hug. I followed her into the kitchen and met up with a few familiar faces. I slaked my thirst. I had drunk more than six litres of water and I hadn’t urinated once in the entire day. Later, when the service was over, I joined the team around a table under the stars and ate my fill. That night I lay outside at the foot of a giant oak tree, on a thick mattress, with a feather pillow. In the spaces between the branches, I watched shooting stars streak across the night sky and with tear-filled eyes I murmured a little prayer to San Urbez and to the apparition in the blue dress in the village of Sasé.