Our Riches Within

By: Marilyn Ball


In Paulo Coelho’s allegorical novel The Alchemist, Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy, travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert searching for treasure buried in the Pyramids only to discover the richness inside himself. His simple, absorbing story inspires wisdom.


There are many paths to spiritual awakening. For Santiago, traveling outside his comfort zone into the mysterious frontier lying ahead testifies to the importance of listening to our hearts and taking action to move forward. For me, like Santiago, travel introduces new realities and provides a broader worldview for enriching my soul and enhancing my own landscape for further inner growth and development.


So, when I was invited to join a group of 15 on an adventure to Southern Spain and Portugal, I accepted. I knew that I would be entering unknown territory where new challenges lay ahead. I would escape my own comfort zone by taking a huge leap of faith with hopes of realizing a spiritual awakening in this region so rich in history and mystery. I viewed the opportunity as my own pilgrimage of self-discovery and renewal.


I traveled alone to Lisbon, Portugal, and then flew to Seville, Spain, to meet the group. We traveled by cars to the same rural area of Andalusia, where Santiago begins his journey, to spend our first week in a nineteenth-century farmhouse. We traveled each day to areas in and around the region before moving on to Portugal. Aside from the few people I knew from Asheville, the rest of the group were unfamiliar. Believing that people equal possibilities, I traveled intending to make new friends and create new social ties.


I believe that friendship is a conduit for happiness, joy, and even longer lives. This trip provided an opportunity to be myself and immerse myself in a group already formed by many years of travel, adventure, love, and unconditional friendship.


During our first night at the farmhouse, everybody agreed on our agenda for the week ahead. Each day, anybody could go anywhere with anyone for as long as they wanted. Dinner for the entire group was served sometime in the evening, with everyone pitching in to cook and clean. There were no expectations, and a nice flow soon permeated the farmhouse.


This area, where Santiago lived and worked as a shepherd, is a melting pot of ethnicities. Given that the origin of humanity was almost certainly in Africa, several theories suggest that the first humans in Europe crossed the Strait of Gibraltar to Andalusia.


As we traveled this magical region filled with narrow medieval streets and whitewashed homes nestled into the hillsides, I found the common image of Andalucía to be bright colors, romance, and passion. The figure of the matador in the bullring, cape and sword in hand, and the gypsy art of flamenco all combined into a symbolic life in this mystical part of Southern Spain.


At the end of each day, our group gathered for the evening meal, always consisting of a medley of tapas, fresh fish, olive oil and saffron, Manchego cheese, olives and some of the sweetest wines I’ve ever tasted. As we shared our stories of explorations and discoveries, I began to understand how we were all somehow connected.


As the days went on, I discovered how each of us, in our own way, was searching for his or her hidden treasure. By sharing our experiences, we were richer than when we first arrived. Everything around us became brighter, and each day was better than the day before.


While exploring the many ethnic influences of the region, I gained a broader understanding of how the terrain of earth and soul are perfect reflections of each other and how the connection to the spiritual essences within all of us ushers in deeper levels of acceptance, peaceful feelings, and released fears.


Halfway between the farmhouse and the sierra lays the small village of Medina Sidonia. I was traveling on a touring motorbike as we made our way along pleasant roads gently surrounded by rolling green hills on either side. Medina Sidonia wraps around a mound on a hilltop with vistas stretching all the way to the coast.


We stepped into a small café at one end of the plaza and drank cappuccinos, sitting high in the clouds overlooking the Roman-era town below. The sun warmed my heart as I considered my life ­– how I was really living it to the fullest, wanting to squeeze as much out of every day, every experience, every new opportunity as possible, and then returning as much to the pot as I took out.


On my journey, I fell in love with the people, the language, the food, and the essence of all those who had traveled here from the beginning of time. I realized that destiny was waiting for me in this land that I would never have discovered on my own. Somehow, fate was on my side as I traveled across lands and water, determined to tackle my fears of the unknown in pursuit of my personal legacy.


By taking this forward leap, I met people who will forever be part of my life and explored a part of the world no longer held only in my imagination. The connection soon became more apparent between my inner-self and the earth I walk upon. Like Santiago, I came away with the knowledge that when you leave behind the familiar, you can’t help but be changed by the unknown.


Marilyn is a visionary communication expert with extensive background in marketing and leadership. She can be reached at info@12twelve.me.


Pimientos De Piquillo Rellenos De Queso De Cabra

Or: Goat Cheese-Stuffed Piquillo Peppers

Piquillo peppers make a spectacular tapa and are easy to prepare.


Elegantly shaped, scarlet red, and so, so sweet, Piquillo Peppers have just a hint of heat and acidity. They are hand picked when perfectly ripe and then slowly roasted over beech wood, giving them a slight smokiness, and then packed in cans or jars in their own juices. You can find them locally at the Fresh Market and sometimes on the salad bar at Ingles.


Although found in Spain forever, their mass production dates back only to the 1970s when they were made popular by Spanish chefs.



8 to 9 ounces herbed goat cheese, at room temperatures.

14 to 16 whole piquillo peppers (from a can or a jar), and 2 piquillo peppers finely chopped

1 to 2 tablespoons of the liquid in which the peppers are packed

1/3 cup fragrant extra-virgin olive oil

4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees


Place the goat cheese in a bowl, add the chopped piquillo peppers and their liquid, and mash them together. Stuff the whole piquillo peppers three-quarters full with the cheese mixture (I like to use my fingers to do this).


Place the olive oil and garlic in a large oven-proof skillet that can accommodate all the stuffed peppers in one layer and heat over medium-low heat until the garlic is very fragrant but not browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the stuffed peppers and cook for 1 minute on each side.


Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the peppers are hot and the cheese is very soft, about 15 minutes. (If the cheese oozes out, just push it back into the peppers with the back of a spoon.) Let the peppers cool to warm.


To serve, using a spatula, transfer the stuffed peppers to a large serving platter and drizzle garlic oil from the skillet over them.


Serves 6-8 as a tapa



Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker