My restless mind tends to keep me awake into the early morning, and Sunday night was no exception. With a coffee standing outside a small shop at the base of the mountain, I took a moment to gloss over the challenge that laid before me. Montserrat steeped overhead, its sanded oval peaks rippling into a cloudless blue sky. I tried to imagine being up there at some point in the distance, looking down where I was then standing. I am not sure I would have recognized the starting line even if I could see it.
As I ascended the foothills, the sleepiness dusted off and my body felt lighter. I felt energized. The higher we climbed, the path below us hugged the rocky fortress closer; the surrounding landscape spread far and wide, its green plateaus etched into foothills, orange and red shingles freckled in the distance. Remembering how I felt at the base of the mountain, I felt how far I had come, which instilled confidence in me for the road ahead.
We arrived in time to see the boys’ choir. Entering the cathedral, I felt a sense of peace and ease perhaps visitors of all walks of life could appreciate. Learning the cultural significance Montserrat holds for Catalan people drew a greater appreciation for my presence there. Catalan culture has been undergoing a revival following the end of Franco’s dictatorship in 1975. Under his rule, Catalonians were oppressed and not permitted to speak their language, among other cultural practices. The monastery at Montserrat was the first institution to hold a public service in Catalan in 1947, where some 100,000 people came from all over Catalonia, some walking for days, to attend the service. Considering I was for one able to take a bus to the base of the mountain and I was there for a cultural experience on my study abroad trip, my position was humbly put into perspective.
The day was challenging as I imagined it would be – it was surely physically tiring, but it charged me mentally and emotionally. I am thankful we walked Costa Brava before taking on Montserrat because I felt the transition in intensity and duration was appropriate having had minimal prior hiking experience. Montserrat was more accessible than Costa Brava because it can be accessed by car, public buses, cable car, train, or if you are up for the challenge, by walking. Walking would take much longer of course, and the use of vehicles and public transit take about an hour. Having many routes makes Montserrat available to everyone, which was not the case for Costa Brava.
There was a similar sense of connection to nature as I felt during the Costa Brava excursion, but there was less time to stop and fully take in my surroundings. Walking Costa Brava was easier in ways because we had time take in the incredible views, the sea breeze relieved us from the heat, and we stopped along the way for lunch. Hiking Montserrat we did not have a long break, but I made sure to listen to my body and stop to catch my breath when needed. Montserrat’s hike was about twice as long, and it was steep all the way up to the top, but once I acclimated to the demands of the mountain, the journey went smoothly. I feel proud to have met the challenge, and feel stronger mentally and physically for it.
Throughout this program, my mountain has been inviting an opportunity to go beyond what I think is possible, and allowing others to exceed my expectations as well. Fundamentally I think humans truly want to be 100% authentic in public and private. Admittedly, I desire to feel accepted, loved and appreciated, but it is not often a situation encourages such honesty and vulnerability when you are in a foreign environment with unfamiliar people. Being connected to those around you is important, but to connect with others, you must first be true to yourself. You must value your wants, needs and desires and honor them. Granting myself the freedom to wander, to express myself, and to live new experiences has gotten me closer to myself, helped me connect on a deeper level with those around me, and has made my journey here all the more meaningful.