My father-in-law, when on vacation in Extremadura, gets up at 8:00 every morning to go on long walks around the countryside. Marga and I went with him on short walks a couple times in 2006, but we went out at night a lot that year and you don’t really feel like walking 10 km at 8:00 when you’ve gone to bed at 5:00. In 2007, Marga went with him almost every day. This year, Marga wasn’t feeling very well, so we didn’t go out much and I was free to go walking with Juan almost every morning. As Juan says, “If you don’t go walking in the morning, all we do here is drink, eat, and sleep. You gotta do something to burn some calories!”
In Extremadura in August, the early morning is really the only time that exercise is possible because it just gets too hot. This year was much cooler than most years. Several times when we set out at 8:00, it was pretty chilly. But we always ended up sweating and spending the second half of the walk with our shirts off in the warming morning sun.
One of Juan’s favorite pastimes during these walks is spotting hares, rabbits, and quail. He can’t read the screen on his mobile, but he can spot leporids on the horizon like an eagle. I am the opposite, of course, so I saw very few hopping blurry blobs. Every 10 minutes or so, he’d say, “Look! A rabbit! See it? Nevermind, it ran behind a tree.” Normally the critters were out of sight before I even knew what direction to look in. The few I did see were hopping across the trail 200 meters in front of us. The only one I saw closer than 200 meters was about 100 meters away in a field. As we approached, Juan whispered and pointed to it. When he did, you could see the hare’s black ears flatten across its back, almost completely hiding it below the level of the grass. Juan whispered, “Pretend like you didn’t see it. We’re going to walk another 100 meters and I’m gonna jump over the fence and go get it.” Riiiight. You’re going to leap over a barbed wire fence and go kill the metaphorical definition of “fast” with a stick. But darned if he didn’t squeeze through the fence and go Elmer Fudding on aftew de wascawy wittle buggew. Of course, by the time he got to where it had been, the hare was long, long gone.
These cultural differences still amaze me. Juan grew up poor in an environment where no opportunity to have a good meal should be ignored. Rabbit is a very common meat in Spain, and hare is a delicacy. Once, when I was driving one night in Extremadura, a rabbit made a bad decision and left its life on my bumper. Juan was in the car and said, “Stop the car! Let’s go back and get it! We’ll have a feast tonight!” I, of course, thought he was joking and kept on driving. Only later did I realize he was serious. When a rabbit runs in front of his car, he swerves towards the rabbit.
Unbelievable. More on this in another post.
Juan is excited about showing off the Extremadura lifestyle to my parents when they visit us in August next year. He’s all the time talking about “Paul would like this. Paul would like that.” The walking stick I was given for the first few walks was way too short, so I found another one on one of the treks. Grandpa trimmed and sanded it a bit for me and it worked very well. So it was determined that Paul and Betsy (my parents) needed walking sticks for next year. On the last day, Juan said, “No walking sticks today. Only a hatchet.” About 1.5 km from home we ventured off trail into someone’s almond grove and Juan started hacking. The first one we got was the best, with a nice form around the handle. He explained that it’s important to cut the wood when it’s green and then let it dry out for a year to stiffen and get lighter. We ended up coming home with five potential walking sticks from almond, holly oak, and olive trees.
I leave you with a little bit of wisdom Juan gave me about walking up hills.
He who climbs like an old man arrives at the top like a child.
I suppose the reverse is true as well.