I went downhill and followed the river. I was hardly up the creek in the same manner as my grandfather or the Numantines, the ultimate creek, but nightfall was approaching and I was in remote territory; not even the fisherman was in his creek.
I followed the narrow forest lane I had taken to Garray and as I passed the same abandoned mill straddling the Duero, I reached into the bottom of my pack, grateful I had the foresight to toss in an extra bottle of water and a bag of almonds.
Almonds always remind me of the English vagabond I met years back on the ferry crossing from Algeciras, Spain, to Tangiers, Morocco: He'd offered me a handful of almonds from his sack, stating that they were a perfect protein, the ideal food of the nomadic temperament.
I smiled. It seemed I carried him in my pack too, goading me on into a more nomadic life. I also dug out my one fall-back to old-fashioned technology, a small compass. I couldn't be sure the stream I was following would take me straight to Soria, where I hoped to alight that night. I located southwest, grabbed a handful of almonds, and set out beyond the mill.
While at times nervous about making it to Soria unscathed, a larger part of me was exhilarated by the sudden acquisition of real silence, a rare occurrence in the modern world. This part of Castile had become more and more abandoned for the big cities and in that forest, along the Duero between Garray and Soria, heading southwest, I was pulled into a sudden world absent of manmade sounds. The river took on a symphonic melody. The beech trees fanned their leaves and chimed. A fish pushed up and plopped back into the water.
As I hiked, I also thought of the woman I met on the bus from Zaragoza two days earlier. A native Sorian, she told me that growing up next door to Numancia instilled in her a great courage and pride over making independent choices in her life. The example of these ancient people over how to behave when up the creek was one that made them exceptional, that kept them eternally alive 2,200 years later.
As the sun raced to the ground and the last light of day offered another half hour of comfort, I finally left the forest and the Duero and made my way up to the crest of a hill. There, below, in another 2-3 kilometers sat Soria, her lights coming on, her citizens pouring out into the streets for their paseo, her bars and cafes filling up with another comforting sound—the perfect complement to the silence of nature—the sweet chatter of talk big and small of neighbors over a beer, a glass of wine, and an array of small plates scattered across the table. I quickened my pace anticipating the sweet reward that came from following the stream.
And I thought of my grandfather, smiling that I was taking his advice literally, but also thinking of how often the paddle he had found was an inner state, no matter what the outside world was doing. That was the root source of my comfort: All of us will find ourselves up the creek at one time or another in our lives, likely, more than once. And if we look hard and hold our ground, we'll discover that we always have a paddle.
Beebe Bahrami (Her official website & Pilgrim's Way Cafe) is a widely published writer and cultural anthropologist who specializes in travel, food and wine, spirituality, outdoors adventures, and cross-cultural writing, particularly on France, Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. Among her travel books are The Spiritual Traveler Spain and Historic Walking Guides Madrid. She is currently at work on a travel memoir set in southwestern France.
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Other European travel stories from the archives
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