From the Hotel Caravelas, I headed straight for the church of Madalena. The idea was to pay my respects and officially begin my journey there. I stepped inside and was in awe of the profoundly beautiful small town’s spiritual centre. This is what I saw:
Unlike most churches that focus on the masculine aspects of the divine, this church was almost completely devoted to their female counterparts. Front and centre, instead of the usual statue of Jesus being all miserable, there was a statue of Mary Magdalene, the patron saint and namesake of the town. She looked kind and benevolent, gracious and loving. Other women of the faith adorned the walls. The only statue of Jesus I could find was off to the side, and he was speaking to a nun! I can’t recall ever seeing anything like it. Steps from the ocean, this church was devoted to the goddess and her servants.
I removed my pack and walked respectfully to the front row. I knelt and prayed the rosary in constant awe of the beauty surrounding me. I left the church ready for the days ahead. I walked down to the ocean, dipped my hand in, wet my head, and began walking the road. Having paid my respects, I began my ascent.
The night before I learned there was only one road to the top of the mountain. To make sure I was on the right path, I asked several people along the way. It didn’t matter who I asked, they would point to the road and give the same reply, “É só um caminho. Sempre para címa.” Meaning “There is only one road. Always upwards.”
As I walked, I began to notice a rustling in the bushes. The sound followed me from behind the walls of the adjacent farmer’s fields. Somehow, it seemed to cross over the roads between the properties while remaining unseen. Whatever it was, I never saw it, but I still spoke to it. “Hello, old friend,” I said. “I have big shoulders. I can lift you to the top of the mountain, if you like. Maybe, if you didn’t choose to be so ugly, and tried so hard to frighten people, you’d be welcomed around more. But, you no longer frighten me. You may startle me with your ugliness, but I’ll get over it.”
Just within the village limits I took my first break. I looked toward Madalena and the neighbouring island of Faial:
I approached a wall to have a seat. A lizard scurried and hid in the rocks. “Old friend,“ I said. “Why do you hide? Haven’t I welcomed you?” I put down my pack and grabbed some food. I thought I had placed my rosary in my pocket.
I was fifteen minutes up the road when I realized I didn’t have my rosary with me anymore. It had either fallen out or had never reached the inside of my pocket. I debated with myself for several minutes about going back for it. However, sensing the symbolic relevance of it staying within the Madalena’s city limits, I opted to go on alone with my other companions, the weight on my shoulders and the rustling in the bushes. I figured out a new way to pray instead, using my hands and fingers.
A man drove past and asked, “Are you going to the mountain?”
“I am.” I said.
“Let’s go then.” He replied and pointed to the back of his truck.
“No, thank you.” I said. “I want to walk.”
He gave me a smile, a warm, authentic smile. He thanked me and before driving off said, “Força”, a Portuguese phrase of encouragement.
I continued, always upwards. I focused on my gait and my breathing. I drank little but often. I tried to make every step a conscientious one. I encountered many people along the way. We’d all acknowledge each other in one way or another, but mostly the people of the island gave me kind words of encouragement. The people of Pico are caring and selfless. They are the type of people who don’t wait to be asked, they offer to help where they see the need. I could feel the love and concern of the people there. No matter who I asked for directions the reply was always the same, “Sempre para címa.”
My feet blistered. I tired. I drank water regularly and ate. The island of Faial got smaller as I ascended:
I rose into the clouds and continued upwards. I continued to encounter people and animals along the way. I welcomed them all with kindness. As I rose above the clouds, I took these pictures:
After 7 hours, 18 kilometres of road, and about 1220 metres of ascent, I reached the Casa da Montanha, the visitor centre at the foot of the mountain.
I took off my pack and went inside…