In mid-April of 1999 when I and Fr. Bernardo Blanco, my Claretian friend and spiritual adviser, reached his birthplace in Ceadea de Aliste in Zamora, Spain; while partaking of an early breakfast of coffee, bread and jamon serrano with some green salad prepared by Fr. Blanco’s sister, the octogenarian Anastacia; the idea of doing a cross-country hike to Portugal was discussed. But Anastacia was against it as she forewarned us that a week ago, a man was mauled and was feasted upon by huge shepherd dogs near the border. It could be some subtle way of dissuading us, because Fr. Blanco was then 68 years old and Anastacia may have felt that the rigors of a cross-country hike would take a toll upon Fr. Blanco’s health. But, Fr. Blanco was insistent and was flaunting that he was physically fit. Thus, after breakfast, we went through the meadow through a footpath and Fr. Blanco scouted for two (2) fallen branches off a tree, gave the longer one to me and kept the other for himself. The tree branches would serve as our rod and staff for our cross-country hike.
It was April in Spain but a couple of days ago then, we experienced snowflakes still falling from the skies. But this appointed day for the cross-country hike was sunny and bright. Though the heat of the sun was somewhat scorching, the breeze of the air was so cold. And we walked, strutted and ambled through the plains. From afar, I saw a clump of tall pine trees, and Fr. Blanco told me that the border is just behind the clump of the tall pine trees. In the middle of our cross-country hike, Fr. Blanco told me to keep still as he stopped ambling.
Turning around as I was walking ahead of Fr. Blanco, I saw a pack of huge dogs which I eventually learned are of the Spanish Mastiff breed, going into our direction as though racing with each other. I was praying so hard that we would not be mauled, maimed and feasted upon by these dogs, as was narrated by Anastacia. But I did not want to show to Fr. Blanco that I was then so fearful, as I could see Fr. Blanco just standing still.
After a while however, with the pack just about 10 meters away from us, I heard a tweeting sound from some sort of a whistle. And I saw the huge dogs which looked like enormous St. Bernard dogs stopped as though an invisible barrier separating us from the huge dogs came down from heaven. I thereafter learned that the tweeting sound emanated from the whistle which was sounded off by the shepherd.
And then, we resumed our ambulation to the border. We reached the unguarded border and there was some kind of a concrete monument which announced that it was Portugal’s border town.
We reached a village which I thereafter learned was part of the municipality of Mirando do Duoro in Portugal. There were houses with brick roofing but I was surprised as the village seemed deserted. Perhaps, the village people went to a nearby town meeting or a festivity as we only got to meet a Portuguese lady who was somewhat retarded and was just sitting on a rocking chair at the front porch of a bungalow type of a house. Fr. Blanco’s efforts to start off a conversation, using some Portuguese phrases within his ken, with the young lady proved futile however, as she seemed to be some kind of deaf-mute. Thus, we headed back for Ceadea de Aliste as we have to be in Madrid for dinner with Fr. Blanco’s niece, Hermi, who was one of Anastacia’s daughters.
The 6-hour trip to Madrid was long but was done with clockwork precision. I saw the wall clock at the bus station in Zamora ticked at 2 PM when the bus left. Upon reaching Madrid, I again opted to consult the wall clock hanging on one of the walls at the bus station, when I stepped out of the bus–it was 8 PM.
Hermi and her husband Primi, fetched us at the bus station and we were served at their apartment house with a very luscious dish. We partook of paella, morcilla, and a dish consisting of the middle part of a trout fish (starting just after the gills and up to the abdomen) which was cooked in very low heat for hours in olive oil with an abundance of garlic. And that was what Hermi told me. On top of those ingredients, Hermi told me that the cooking ware to be used must be made of pure clay or any kind of earthenware cooking receptacle.
The trout dish was so ambrosial and nectarous and I have been longing for years to taste that dish once again.