We continued till we came to a natural tunnel which perhaps had been bored through the imposing rocks by some mighty vanished river or created by some tremor of the earth when these heights had been formed, a channel that we entered where it had been carved out in the rock in granite. After only a few steps our horses began to slip when they sought for a foothold in the uneven surfaces of the stone and their legs were bent, sparks flying from beneath their iron shoes—several times I expected to find myself thrown off and lying there on the rock. My horse was bleeding from its muzzle and from its legs, but we persevered and continued on the long and difficult but magnificent path.
There was something awaiting us in the midst of this primeval forest. Suddenly, as if in a strange vision, we came to a beautiful little meadow huddled among the rocks: clear water, green grass, wild flowers, the purling of brooks and the blue heaven above, a generous stream of light unimpeded by leaves.
There we stopped as if within a magic circle, as if guests within some hallowed place, and the ceremony I now took part in had still more the air of something sacred. The cowherds dismounted from their horses. In the midst of the space, set up as if in a rite, was the skull of an ox. In silence the men approached it one after the other and put coins and food in the eyesockets of the skull. I joined them in this sacrifice intended for stray travellers, all kinds of refugees who would find bread and succour in the dead ox’s eye sockets.
But the unforgettable ceremony did not end there. My country friends took off their hats and began a strange dance, hopping on one foot around the abandoned skull, moving in the ring of footprints left behind by the many others who had passed there before them. Dimly I understood, there by the side of my inscrutable companions, that there was a kind of link between unknown people, a care, an appeal and an answer even in the most distant and isolated solitude of this world.
— Pablo Neruda in his Nobel Lecture “Towards the Splendid City” delivered on December 13, 1971 as the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1971. Available in Nobel Lectures in Literature (1968-1980), edited by Tore Frängsmyr and Sture Allén, (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, 1993), p. 56.
"We continued till we came to a natural tunnel"