The man turned away from counting carob pods and looked towards us. “Where are you heading for?” he asked in the manner of one who had discerned that we were lost. We were strangers to the area to be sure, and our map was of too small a scale to be really precise, but we were not utterly lost.
“We are Orient-bound,” we replied, keen to comprehend whatever local wisdom might be had about the region.
“That’s far, far away,” said the farmer. “You’ll walk by a thousand carob trees, meet wise men and mad men, poets and philosophers, and even then you’ll not be half way to your goal. You must take the route through Petra, past the silent monastery, and just keep going.”
We appreciated at this point that the counter of carobs was blind. “I have goats too,” he said, probably sensing our worry that there’s probably not much of a living to be made in the carob business these days.
So we chatted about goats and the many creative ways in which one might use the pods of the carob tree. He told us of how he had once been to Petra, and hoped one day to touch the snow on the mountains, and pay his respects to the wali in his mansion at Alfàbia. “There you’ll find the finest gardens of the land,” he said.
Then he spoke with reverence of the wines of Binissalem. “Better even than those from Gilgamesh and Babylon,” he whispered before admitting that he didn’t actually know if wine was made in Gilgamesh or Babylon. Then he told us of the glosadors who live in the hills and recite poetry. And he told us of the dangers of the mountains:
Mal trobassis un fondal
com s’Avenc de Femenia,
que si hi caus es migdia,
es vespre no ets a baix.
You’ll find it hard to find a chasm
like S’Avenc de Femenia
where, if you fall at midday,
you’ll still not have hit the bottom by evening.
“Be wary of Maria Enganxa,” he warned. “She lives deep in the wells. If ever children dare to gaze into a well, Maria will lure them in. So many children in the mountains have fallen to their deaths in that manner. But go on your way, and you will see marvellous things. I have heard tell that there are pine trees that bear apricots and melons. Ask, when you get to the mountains, about the witches who gather at dusk on the summits, throwing yarn to one another and weaving a web over the valleys.”
We made our farewells and continued on our oriental odyssey, stopping as we had been instructed to admire Petra and then heading slowly into the hills.