A Magical Treasure Hunt
The time spent in Sintra and our biking pilgrimage through Portugal opened me up to a different perspective on Mary. Different and sometimes hidden stories, symbols and keys revealed themselves, that led me on a journey that embraces the Divine Feminine and Mary. Well, I should say the Marys. As there have been so many Marys that introduced themselves to me.
Our journey in Portugal started off with being neighbours of Mary, as we found ourselves living right next door to a church dedicated to her. 'Igreja de Santa Maria' dates back from the time of Portugal's foundation as a nation. Dom Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, conquered Sintra from the Moors in 1147. At that time, a small chapel was built here. It is sparkly decorated, with an ancient plaque dedicated to Inanna/Ishtar.
Symbolic Keys leading to Mary
While browsing an antique store in Sintra, I came across a collection of large antique bronze keys. I asked the owner what these were about and she explained these were from the 1800s. Some had quite elaborate decorations and one of them in particular stood out. The key with the coat of arms of Coimbra, which featured a crowned woman in a cup, surrounded by a serpent/dragon and a lion. On the back it had 7 towers.
Since the key had a price tag of 198 Euro, I left it where it was but for weeks it had a magical pull (it still does actually), I marvelled at it, curious about its meaning. I started to see more and more keys around Sintra, when I entered the Church of Sao Pedro (Saint Peter), the whole blue tiled wall was covered in stories relating to the keys of heaven, lined with Marys along the wall:
So keys... it told me to pay attention to symbols and signs and to be curious about the crowned lady in the cup.
Flowers guiding the way
Marys in order of Appearance
So many Marys and a few female Saints!! Click on image or scroll through to see full images and descriptions.
A lot of Marys indeed... I am curious where else we will be led, whether we can continue our pilgrimage into Spain, and perhaps into Southern France, exploring more caves, or perhaps that is not in the Divine Cards at this time. Time will tell.
To each of these Marys I brought prayers for our family, for our planet and for friends who had requested so. I will continue to do so when I can. If you'd like to be specifically included, just send me a message.
If you read this far, wow... I'm impressed. Many blessings to you.
Our Mary Biking Pilgrimage so far
Last Saturday, Mar 21, was the final day of free movement in Portugal. We had rented a car for a 2-week block, thinking we would be able to see some of the country this way. This was before most of the country had shut down. Then on March 21, we learned that lockdown would begin the next morning, with all essential services closing for a 15-day period. A hike I'd been interested in was to a nearby hillside, to a site of a paleolithic settlement with over 100 rock art carvings - an area now called "Gravuras Rupestre do Giāo". Not much on line, and all in Portuguese.
It was forecast to rain, and the drive up to the area brought us into the clouds. We spent a fruitless 3 hours trying to find the rock engravings, in the end, without success. But that didn't stop us from having a surreal time above the treeline, exploring under granite boulders and imagining paleolithic life with stone tools, goats and likely, harder times trying to survive. Kiki recorded a meditation while the boys and I searched and tried not to get lost. The entire area is covered with gorse, so it's a prickly walk. Maybe take some time to have a little sit.
Burial / Initiation Mound & Chamber
Though we did not find what we were seeking, we did find a "mamoa" - an ancient burial mound and chamber dating back to the same time period. The boys were a bit disappointed to not see the skeleton of the royalty that must have been buried there.
May the following reflections from Sleeping Beauty and my ten year journey with vertigo serve to perhaps see our current world wide situation in a different light.
The boats have come to shore, tied up to their anchor, quietly waiting.
A soft blanket of clouds moves into the inlet
Tucking Sleeping Beauty in for a good rest
The Sun (Ra) is ready to go down
But he is still out of reach
Not quite ready to touch her face yet
As the days grow longer
Slowly and steadily
He will move closer
Closer and closer
Until Ra touches her forehead
And kisses her awake
Her Lessons in facing illness
The past ten years Sleeping Beauty has quietly steeped me with her guidance and lessons. Living right across from her, I would often look to her to find calm and peace, to be soothed by her beauty, to be moved to a state of awe and wonder.
Vertigo first appeared in my life in February 2010.
I remember the first episode clearly, coming out of nowhere, my vision started to swirl so fast, all I could do was lay down as quick as I could and try to find stillness in the swirling. I had to will not only my body but also my eyes to stillness, for even moving my eyes under my closed eyelids caused nausea.
Episodes would arrive without notice, sometimes with months of peace and quiet in between, sometimes for days and weeks on end without much relief.
At first all I did was to wish the vertigo to go away and tried everything I could to make it go away. I took medicines to try and deal with the nausea, and continue life as if nothing was happening.
I would continue to paddle across into town, oblivious to Sleeping Beauty's message.
I visited doctors to try and understand what was happening. I learnt this was not the usual vertigo that most people experience, this was a rare form caused by an imbalance of pressure of water in the inner ear. It was labeled 'Menieres Disease' and even the ENT (Ear Nose Throat) specialist at St.Pauls hospital in Vancouver admitted this to be the most poorly understood disease in her field. She offered a few options, from medicine to injection of medicine into the inner ear, to surgery. None of them guaranteed to heal or would have major and permanent damaging effect on the hearing in my right ear.
During these years, yoga was my steady go-to support, oblivious to Sleeping Beauty's message.
I thought I could continue. My daily practice turned into a job, by teaching classes in town, opening Sun Studio.
With each episode of vertigo, my family was affected. From one moment to the next I would not be available. I would crawl up the stairs to lay in bed, unable to move, bucket beside me. At times Lief and Sol would have to cook their own dinner, entertain themselves for a full day, while Tracy would be at work and I would be in bed, barely able to talk or give directions.
At times I wondered what I had done to deserve this. Wasn't I doing everything I could to make this illness go away? I tried to find the reason for it all. I thought if I would understand why this was happening to me, then I could cure it. At times I would enter this place of feeling a victim. and I would feel beaten down by it, as if I was punished for something.
Still I continued, juggling motherhood, family life, with yoga and running a business.
But after 4 years of teaching I was forced to reduce teaching Kundalini Yoga to the point that eventually I did not teach at all. I declared 2019 the year of being an artist in residence at home, on Robertson Island. I finally came to full stillness, for even the artwork came to a halt. Most days I would sit under a tree, leaning into its trunk, soaking up the peace and quiet, listening to the birds and sounds of the waves.
Finally after 8 years of vertigo knocking on my door, I started to hear Sleeping Beauty's message. I have been a slow learner.
Finally I heard her call for deep and complete surrender.
Not just in the moments of vertigo,
Not just in the moments when my ear is screaming at me
Not just when I'm made to stop by my physical body
No, I was asked to surrender all my activities, all movements that were not leading me to rest at home.
Like the rest of the world, Portugal is being challenged, though with less impact than the rest of Europe. Numbers as of writing are 3 deaths and 785 cases. But what is clear is that the numbers reported on the numerous tracking sites lag actual circulating cases by about 10 days. Keith from home shared Tomas Pueyo's excellent article published on Medium describing the lags. 40 million views. Not bad for an epidemiology article!
And like the rest of the world, social distancing has been incremental. It began with admonishments to wash hands and avoid large groups. Then all sporting events were cancelled, particularly affecting the boys, since that was the primary reason for them to come to Europe. Porto was one of the first affected areas in the country, and the northern part of the country has the highest numbers of cases (381 of total 785). Beaches and all parks closed soon after, and this is now countrywide. This morning, a state of emergency was declared. Portugal is not yet in lockdown, but this is likely. Next door Spain is following Italy, having just surpassed 1000 deaths.
Life in Ponte da Barca is quiet. There is little foot or vehicle traffic. The normally busy cafes are nearly empty, but are still open. The restaurants, for the most part, are closed. Most businesses are closed. Public spaces are empty. Masks are on the faces of about 1/4 of the people we see. Supermarkets are open, but with quotas, with guards allowing new customers to enter when existing shoppers exit. Shelves still have food, and there is still fruits and veggies, milk and cheese and bread. Antiseptics and hand sanitizer is sold out. The longest lineups are at the Farmacias. A few days ago, on March 17, I rode to Braga to buy some English books, and it was closed, but the owner inside, finishing up with paperwork, let me in for a last-minute book purchase for us.
So how are we making out? Well, for the most part, we are calm and happy. We focus on the day-to-day routine, like everyone now. Home school is a big focus. News site browsing is rationed for sanity's sake. We are staying put, aware of the fearful stories of expats fleeing European countries, battling cancelled flights. We are aware of Air Canada's many flight suspensions. We would not be the most welcome at home right now. Even if we were to plan to return home, how can one do so when everyday brings a new reality?
The house is happy and we are getting along. And we're healthy. We get out for hikes in the surrounding hills. We have a car rented now. Our accommodations here are booked until April 1, with the possibility to extend to April 16. This is a good place to be for a lockdown, if and when it comes. Our hope is that things let up so that at least we can get to Holland for a visit with Kiki's family. We all would like to see Oma Gesman. We have nearly 3 months before our flight home...
Again, we are not suffering. We are grateful for the work of all the world's governments, scientists and health care workers, working to have us all come through this in as good condition as can be. Signing off with the new "yours truly" - stay safe!
As we are watching the world being in different phases of transition adapting to its call for stillness, we are aware it may be any day now that we may not be able to physically move around anymore. Already stores have closed doors, or are limiting numbers of people allowed in.
We have decided to stay in this northern part of Portugal. We decided to create a sense of peace and stability and calmness for our children, rather than entering a chaotic 4 or 5 days of travel to scramble to get back to Haida Gwaii in time.
This storm will pass. And we trust that when the storm is passed, it will be clear what our path is. Whether we can stick to our original plan to end our travels in the Netherlands in June: visiting my grandmother, my Dutch family and friends, or not. Two months from now is a long time, especially looking at the swift changes that are occurring each day.
So now that it's clear we will stay in Portugal for an unknown time, we decided to rent a car while we still can. To be able to drive deeper into the beautiful nature parks that surround us and to take in nature's medicine. We experienced such a healing, peaceful and soothing energy on the Peneda mountain.
This week we explored Castelo de Aboim close to Ponte da Barca. Tracy prepared an 11km route to circle the 2431 feet high mountain:
In the mountain village of Sampriz, we started our hike at the church where we found a chapel dedicated to a 'Mounted Knight slaying the Dragon' with a beautiful view of the valley. From here we trailed our way through forests and fields, resting at refreshing water falls and creeks and finally ascending to the large boulders on top.
Along the way we were herded up by a troupe of goats and greeted by the gentle bell sounds of a lone but friendly deer-eyed cow:
On the top of the mountain we found the Star of Bethlehem! It is amazing to me that after hours of hiking and a brief brake for snacks, the men in my family continue to move.... Boundless energy! So grateful for them spreading their joy, laughter and light!
While I enjoyed leaning back against the generous top boulder, soaking up the light and energies of this peaceful environment, Tracy practices yoga and the boys run around throwing sticks.... some going nowhere... some going somewhere....:
I saw a snake. It has a ring around its head. It has dots on its back. It lives in Portugal and Spain and France. It is the most common snake in Europe. They live by the river or a stream or a pond or a lake. They also live by edges of forests and woodlands, grasslands, and gardens. They like to eat frogs and toads and fish. Some grass snakes lay from 8 to 40 eggs. They can live up to 15 years.
I will be writing about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and how it is affecting not only Portugal, but how it is affecting me and my life. So far, worldwide, there are 164,837 cases and 6,470 deaths. These numbers are growing exponentially every day.
Yesterday, in Portugal, there were 41 cases, today I woke up to 112 cases. The only thing that they show on the Portuguese news, (and probably all of the news) is the coronavirus. But compared to other countries, Portugal has it easy. France and Spain have both tripled their cases and Italy’s a mess. But enough about other countries, we’re talking about Portugal. Most major cities (Lisboa, Porto, Braga, etc…) here have the majority of the cases. We’ve been to most of the major cities here before the cases appeared, so I think we’re good. Currently, there have been no deaths from the COVID-19 in Portugal, but that might change at any moment.
If you would like to keep up to date with how many cases the world has please click here. It’s a really reliable source and it uses sources from all around the world. It is the World Health Organization (WHO).
So, the coronavirus is simply completely obliterating our plans for this trip. My parents say that we are not going to any other country besides Portugal, we’re not going to any more football matches, and we can’t go to any major cities.
Worst of all, we’re staying here in Ponte de Barca where there was an amazing football pitch that we played for hours on, each day. Yesterday, though, we were playing 3 on 3 with some Portuguese boys, when these two officials walked up to us and said something in Portuguese to the boys. The boys motioned for us to come off the pitch and said, “Coronavirus.” Today Sol and I went to check on the pitch. The doors are locked. We’ll try to find another pitch.
I guess that we’re not going anywhere. We can’t come back to Canada without being in quarantine, and the airports are sketchy. At least, at the place where we’re staying, we have wifi.
We have rented a car for 15 more days so we can explore the surrounding area a bit better. Probably more hikes and churches. Last time we rented a BMW and had fun with that. The roads here are really windy so we can’t go super fast, as there are cliffs on the side as well.
Anyway, I just feel that we’ve seen Portugal already and I’m ready to leave, but now we can’t. In Spain, it is actually against the law to cycle. I’m really disappointed because this is a once in a lifetime experience, that has just been ruined. Yes, we still have Portugal, but it will become just like the other countries.
Portugal is doing okay, compared to other countries. It has been growing a lot in the past few days, but is still under a thousand. We’re stuck in Portugal until further notice. The coronavirus has annihilated our trip. We’ve rented a car to see the area, and I would like to leave Portugal, however we can’t. This virus is taking so many lives. I sincerely hope that they find a cure.
PS: Just for comparison, I've written out a fraction for you to see how many people are infected versus how many people there are in the world. I've done some calculations and the percentage of the people in the world with coronavirus is 0.002%.
We've been cautious about crossing the border into Spain, so lingered in northern Portugal. We've been in Ponte da Barca for nearly a week, and rather than head north, we headed east - to the relatively unknown Parque Nacional Peneda Geres. An area of hills and mountains running along the Spanish border. We rented a car, booked a base camp in Soajo and off we went...
First stop was the Nossa Senhora da Abadia - remote sanctuary established in the year 883 after a visitation by Mary in the form of an apparition in a cave to one in prayer. Like Fátima, it's a shrine to Mary, and therefore, of real interest to Kiki. We spent a very pleasant few hours exploring the sanctuary, the cave of the visitation and the surrounding hills.
Soajo seems carved into the mountainside. The mountains are granite. Monolithic rockfaces and huge boulders. Soajo is one of about 100 small villages scattered throughout the park, with signs of habitation back to paleolithic times. A Roman road still runs through the park. The villages are all stone, many made with rough hewn granite blocks, dark and damp with small windows. The people tend goats and raise cattle and work terraced fields. It's a place where time feels slower than elsewhere. People sit out in the squares and talk about the rain and smoke cigarettes.
We did two super sweet hikes: the Caminho do Pāo e Fe (literally, the 'way of bread and faith', a 5km loop up a valley) and the longer PR17 Peneda trail, which begins at another gothic sanctuary, then runs up around Peneda mountain, a stunning granite mountain with a dammed lake at the top and a climber's crag. Peneda is the name of both the mountain and the village sitting in the valley beneath it. Peneda is Portuguese for boulder, so good name for the place
We came down from the mountains, back to the relative busyness of Arcos de Valdevez, where we quickly learned about the state of the world with respect to the pandemic. And then, we went for lunch to have a family chat and think long and hard about things.
Shortly after arriving in Portugal, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) began in Wuhan province in China. We've been following this expanding infection closely, and the question of concerned family members is, "When are you coming home?" [To protect the privacy of concerned parties, names have been withheld.] We ask that question ourselves every few days. If one looks at headlines, we should be getting out of Europe, right?
Factors in decision-making
We are trying to make a rational decision, based on:
1. How serious is this infecton?
2. The likelihood of us becoming infected, given known location and numbers infected
3. Our personal risk of serious illness or death in the event of infection
4. Our present location. Currently, this is northern Portugal.
5. Our planned itinerary, which presently, is to northern Spain, southern France, northern Italy (yikes!), Switzerland, SW Germany and Holland.
6. Consequences of our returning home, even being healthy, having traveled to one of these areas, especially with respect to quarantine and other hassles
There are two sources of information used to come to the conclusion that, at this point in time, we are going to continue traveling. For now.
1. The lay press - a good source for up to the minute information on present community transmissions in areas we've been or are going to go. As a good example:
As of yesterday afternoon, 13 cases in the country, all having traveled or having been in close contact with a known positive case. Italy being the suspected source for the first cases.
The NY Times website is also good:
Latest numbers, as of March 7, show global infections at 102,000 and 3500 deaths, with the vast majority (85%) in China. This article presents a fantastic look at the numbers
2. The medical literature - I am still receiving a steady stream of email related to the public health response in Canada, and from the medical journals that are reporting the scientific understanding we have of the behaviour of this virus. The New England Journal of Medicine is probably the most authoritative journal out there, kind of like the New York Times, but for health practitioners. It maintains a page: www.nejm.org/coronavirus, which shows its recent publications on this pathogen. About a week ago, a paper was published of the clinical course for about 1100 infected patients in Wuhan, China, the ground zero for the infection. Most were infected at the infamous animal market where the virus originated.
Looking just at today's emails, here are some other sources for the scientifically and morbidly curious:
1. BC Centre for Disease Control - mostly BC-based numbers: BC has 21 cases, as of March 6. http://www.bccdc.ca/about/news-stories/stories/2020/information-on-novel-coronavirus
2. World Health Organization - this organization declares the pandemic, defined as sustained human-human disease transmission over many geographic areas. See figure below. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
So how serious is this infection? The mortality rate is 2%, according to multiple sources. Meaning a 2 in 100 chance of dying if infected, though largely in the elderly, those with immune deficiencies and those with lots of other health issues (like COPD, heart disease or diabetes).
What about the risk of getting infected? Our mingling in the general population is low. The best estimate for the risk of close contacts being
We have not spent time in close contact with any Portuguese, and our mode of travel is, for now at least, the bike. We are in areas with a low burden of illness. We are well rested, fit, young(ish), taking no medications and have no significant medical history. I think our current risk is close to zero.
What will we do differently?
Northern Italy is out, much to Sol's chagrin. His hero, Renaldo, plays in Turin, Italy, for Juventus. This city is in the no-go area. We're avoiding this area.
France and Spain are still ON. Once we bike to Santiago, arriving in 2 weeks, we will train to Bilbao, then to Bordeaux in France. The plan then is to bike to Narbonne on the Mediterranean. From there, as long as the coast is clear, we'll stay put for some time and then see. If the Canadian Government issues any travel advisories, we will follow them. We may be home well before June...