Spain 16 March: Lepe - Sanlucar de Guadiana
One River, One Land
It is afternoon, and the road dips down from the mountains into the beautiful, small Spanish town of Sanlucar de Guadiana.
It curves gently at the crest of the hill, around an old 18th century fort (now just a stone shell), and winds down into a bright little town, all painted white. Flowing slowly beside the town is a deep and muddy brown river.
The river is called the Guadiana, and on the other bank there are also bright white buildings, and the people moving about there look just like the people moving about here.
The difference though, is that on the other side the people are Portugese and on this side the people are Spanish and, in the wonder that is the European Union, there is little difference between the two countries other than language.
Cars move back and forth between the 2 countries on the nearby highway, without any noticeable border whatsoever.
The World Harmony Run is now once again in Europe, after spending almost 2 weeks in North Africa. The team now consists of 9 members.
We all met in Faro, Portugal. There is the original team from Tunisia, consisting of team captain Ondrej, from the Czech Republic, Mario and Rasto from Slovakia, Vladimir from the Ukraine and myself from Canada. Another member, Honza has come from the Czech Republic and from Portugal we now have Patricio, the co-ordinator, and Nuno and Jose.
We completed more than 60km of running today and we have given the Mayor our torch; he has offered us his hospitality by inviting us for ice cream at a little café beside the river.
I ask him about the old fort up high on the hill, and he tells us that it is 300 years old and that in this beautiful little town, many battles between Spain and Portugal have been fought in the past.
And that recently, while the hillside was being excavated, another even older fort, dating back to the middle ages, was unearthed; it is not clear who built this one, perhaps the invading Moors, he tells me.
He is surprised that we have come from so many countries and to just how many more countries the torch has been, and how many people have participated in this great adventure over more than 20 years.
He points across the river to Portugal on the other shore; he smiles, and tells us how his people are one with those who live there.
They no longer need forts to keep people away, he says. Today they would love to build a bridge and invite them to come and visit.
On this Sunday morning we started the run in the Spanish town of Lepe, in a town square filled with birdsong and church bells. On the steps of the town hall, we are met by the community’s cultural and athletic director with many young athletes.
We run out of the town, on its narrow winding cobblestone streets.
Soon we are on a highway lined with orange trees, and you can easily imagine that you are in the heart of the land of Don Quixote.
We come next to Villablanca, where we are greeted by the Mayor, Henrique Belenguer. In English, the name means "white town" and the name is appropriate - one would have to search hard for any colour building other than white.
In a square nearby sits a group of old men, who smile and take turns holding the torch.
The Mayor is happy to invite us into his town office for cool drinks.
Nearby in the square, is a statue of a man in costume dancing. I tell the Mayor that the man looks just like him. He smiles and says that I am not far wrong. The statue is just a few years old he says, and is modeled after his uncle. It represents a special dance done only locally, to celebrate a festival to the Virgin Mary.
When I asks for a demonstration, he shyly closes the doors of the town office for privacy then happily shows me a few steps. He says we will have to come again and see the proper performance with the team of men who train with him for the dance.
Later we will run on to El Almendro.
We have now passed by windmills and olive trees, and views of rural Spain in the heart of a perfect spring that would make you think you were in heaven itself.
In this little town we are honoured with not just one, but 2 mayors, who have come together from 2 communities.
Maria Alonso Mora Nunes and Fernando Gomez together hold the torch, and jog it up the steep cobbled street leading out of town.
Before running to our last stop I have a chance to run some kilometres on my own. The highway has little traffic on a quiet afternoon and the narrow 2 lanes wind through such beautiful natural scenery, I wonder why there are not more cars out to enjoy it.
The van following toots its horn at one point, and passes on ahead. I am now left alone with my quiet thoughts, a burning torch, and just a few kilometres left to run.
There is hardly anyone on the road today. But each car that passes slows, and the driver and passengers will smile and wave. You can’t help but feel that in the few swift moments they see the words on your shirt and the torch in your hand, they feel something from the wonder that is the World Harmony Run.
Near the end of my run I hear the motor of a car approaching from behind. I hear the sound of it slowing, the car pulls up alongside and a man rolls down the window with an especially bright smile. He points to his heart and calls out, “per la paz”; for the peace, he says. I smile and say “Si.”
We would like to thank the Mexican restaurant Taco y Tequilla in Faro for giving us a discount on our excellent Mexican dinner.
Tomorrow we will meet with our friends from the Spanish town Ayamonte, so for that please see the report of March 17, from Portugal.
Utpal Marshall (Canada), Ondrej Vesely and Honza Minarcik (Czech Republic), Mario Komak and Rasto Ulicny (Slovakia), Vladimir Balatskyy (Ukraine), Patricio Rodrigues, Nuno Mendonça and Jose Martins (Portugal)
Gallery: See more images!
Portugal 17 March >|