Monday Morning Musings

Posted on May 20, 2019 under Storytelling with one comment

Me and one of my favourite traveling companions, Jan Bader from Heidelberg, Germany.

Three days ago, my walk was along one of the more nondescript sections of the Camino. It passed through an Industrial Park where Jan and I sat and had freshly squeezed orange juice. This was the high point.The trail continued alongside a busy highway through small towns that seemed to lack character. It was cold , windy and rained a bit. Not whining…just stating the facts.

I wasn’t the least bit concerned having trained in much worse conditions in Nova Scotia. But something strange happened along the way that is still leaving me shaking my head. Last week, in my hometown in Nova Scotia, Canada, a woman in her early 40’s died suddenly and unexpectedly. I sent condolences to a close family friend of the deceased.

I’m walking in the middle of nowhere with all my data turned off on my phone.I’m trying to be a purist on the Camino! I did have the volume on as I still keep the phone lines open for any emergencies. I was very startled to hear my phone ping. My friend was on the way to the funeral and was replying to my condolences through Messenger. How could this possibly happen? People who know me understand that, at the best of times, technology eludes me. I’m still shaking my head.

I stayed in a very large Alburgue that evening. One of the rooms that held 30 bunk beds was nearly empty, a rarity on the Camino.

The communal dining area was busy with the handful of pilgrims who had also checked in. Everyone was journaling, checking their guide books for the next day’s walk and checking social media.

I need you to use your imagination. At one table, there were six of us, three on either side. Some were drinking beer. Others were drinking fine red wine from Leon at 3 Euros (about $4.50 Canadian). Guido, from Italy was sitting to my right and a woman from Germany was on my left. Three pilgrims faced us on the other side of the table.

The German lady asked if she could borrow a guidebook. I was drinking a cold beer. Guido reached across in front of me, thrusting the book to the grateful pilgrim.However, so enchanted was he of this middle aged woman, that he kept his arm extended after passing her the book. His armpit was literally in my face and his arm was between me and my beer.

The people across from me were watching with grins on their faces. I delicately passed my hand under Guido’s arm and brought it up and over his arm in order to get a mouthful of ale. Guido remained unconscious of my predicament. I started pointing at his armpit to the three people across the table suggesting he had body odour, which he didn’t. This little charade continued for a full five minutes. When their grins turned to laughter, Guido finally realized that he was the subject of everyone’s attention. We all had a great chuckle.

Later at communal dinner, I struck up a conversation with a retired Anglican minister from Northern Ontario and a computer programmer from London, England She looked my age and the other chap was in his 20’s. I asked the minister if she felt safe traveling alone. “I’m on a mission of trust” was her reply. No question that her Camino was a spiritual journey. If she visits every church on the Camino, they might need to send out a search party for her later this Fall.

We had this amazing discussion about organized religion, spirituality, the after life, same sex marriage and so forth.

I am going to be very embarrassed if I show up at home after the Camino having gained weight after a 700K walk and about 1.2 million steps. Walking 25-35k everyday requires a lot of fuel. The eternal quest for pilgrims is food and drink… at all hours of the day. Some days, I am appalled when I think about my consumption which includes sweets and other junk food.

For example, on Saturday, I had already had consumed about 5000 calories before dinner. I went into this Spanish restaurant. There was a fixed price meal which, of course, included wine. The waiter opened a bottle of red and delivered fresh crusty bread. The seafood paella was exquisite followed by meatballs in a “green sauce.” Dessert and coffee… (the wine was limitless- I showed great restraint and showed my Canadian manners).Total bill? 11 Euros or approximately $16. I would be grossly overweight and an alcoholic if I lived in Spain.
Have a great week.
P.S. Jan Bader is a fine young man. I like to think that I have a pretty good sense of humour. He has been me matching insult for insult. His humour and generally good mood will carry him far in life. Unless someone supplants him, he will receive my Camino award for “pilgrim with the best sense of humour”.

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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on May 16, 2019 under Thursday Tidbits with 5 comments

“….with a billion stars all around.”
Peaceful Easy Feeling. The Eagles.

A few mornings ago, I left my Alburgue (hostel) at 5:00 a.m. alone. Normally, there are always pilgrims (other masochists who like to start administering pain to their feet first thing in the morning)already out the door but not this day. With no towns or villages in the first 10k, I had the trail to myself.
But on the Camino, you’re never alone. I was joined by billions of stars including the Big Dipper. The moon was a stunning orange colour. Thousands of frogs were croaking.I walked through a stand of trees, the only ones for miles around. There, I was greeted by the cacophony of hundreds of birds. A brilliant sunrise greeted me 90 minutes into my walk. I felt in awe and very serene.

I was feeling particularly blessed on this morning having had the best sleep of the trip the previous night. Besides a great sleep, I realized unadulterated joy when I discovered that I had a pair of fresh, unsullied underwear in the bottom of my knapsack. It’s hard to believe that finding clean underwear could evoke such joy but on the Camino, you travel light and clothes tend to get recycled as laundry facilities can be hard to find.

Two days earlier, I had slept with 100 other peregrinos (pilgrims). After a night of enjoying the sounds and smells of a hundred people burping, farting and, of course, snoring (there were even arschlochs who kept their cell phones on, a no no in the albergues), and a 41 kilometre walk I treated myself to a private room in this small village.

When I arrived in El Burgo Ranero that afternoon, I was nearly dead. The last three hours of my 41k jaunt were in 30 degree heat. You’ll have to read my Camino book later this fall to understand my apparent lunacy.

Victor, a pleasant young man, checked me in and checked me out. This wild eyed Canadian was in desperate need of a cold beer. Realizing my plight, he scurried off and returned with two frosty Estrella’s. I could have hugged him. Actually, I did. He popped off the tops, we clinked bottles and I slaked my thirst. It didn’t do a lot for the three new blisters I acquired that day.

After a second beer and a shower, I was in bad need of sustenance. Victor told me that the best restaurant in this tiny village was on the Main Street. It turned out to be the best and worst restaurant in town as it was the ONLY one in town!

Walking very gingerly on achy feet, I arrived at my destination to discover that the owners, a youngish couple in their thirties, were having a full scale war. Their little son was crying as the two went toe to toe in an epic verbal war. Charming.

I was ignored for five minutes. I was deliriously hungry and the plastic flowers adorning my table were beginning to look appetizing.

The man and his son left and the female, dabbing tears from her eyes, approached my table. I pointed to the menu board on the wall and ordered chicken breast, along with a glass of red wine. I practically begged for the immediate delivery of some bread.

With hand gestures, she indicated that this entree would take one hour. I gathered that this would entail the killing, eviscerating and de-feathering of the helpless bird. It was obvious that what she really wanted was for me to leave so that she could compose herself or administer the same treatment to her husband as the chicken.

A wee bit exasperated, I pointed to the chalkboard once more and waved my arms indicating that she could choose my supper. Another interminable 10 minutes passed as delirium set in.

My gracious hostess (a one person staff this day), approached my table with a plate of cheese, fresh baguette and a bottle of the finest red wine on the planet. I could have hugged her but decided discretion was the better part of valour, concerned that hubby might return unannounced provoking World War 3 and possibly ending my life.

The cheese, bread and wine nearly brought me to tears, such was their exquisite taste. The second course was a fresh salad of chilled prawns, fresh tuna, tomatoes and onions topped with a salad dressing of Spanish olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Had I died right then and there, I would have died happy.

She then called me to the counter and produced trays of home made sausages of different varieties. I indicated that sausages were fine. She might have worried that I was a vegetarian! I can’t begin to describe how delectable these tasted when pan fried.

She insisted I have dessert… ice cream. I was too full and filled with bliss to say no.

I was running low on cash and wondered how I would pay after this feast. Oh yes, when she opened the wine bottle, she just left it on my table allowing me to pour my own.

It was easily the best 13 Euros I had spent during my time in Spain. She then walked me through a hallway to the back of the building so that she could show me her magnificent garden.

She kissed both of my cheeks and gave me the biggest hug imaginable. A potential nightmare turned into a highlight moment of my Camino.

One last thing. It will be a year tomorrow that our mother died. She was an O’Flaherty, of proud Irish stock. On Monday when I arrived at my albergue, I asked the desk clerk if there might be an errant ball cap lying around as my Tilley hat was drenched with sweat and quite disgusting. I wanted to sit outside with my friends and wanted a fresh chapeau to protect my bald head from the hot sun.

The clerk disappeared. “Only one hat, sir,” he said. Slightly misty eyed I looked to see a slightly oversized black baseball cap adorned with a bright green shamrock.

Have a great weekend.

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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on May 12, 2019 under Monday Morning Musings with one comment

Two new friends from the Camino on day nine on the Camino. Say hello to Frida and Jan.
The first 300 K’s are in the books. The Camino continues to amaze.
Every day is like a meeting of the United Nations. I have met people from all around the world, and everyone has a story to tell.

I met a young man from Barcelona the other day very early in the morning. I asked Marco a few questions about his Camino. For someone so young, he had some interesting insights. “ The Camino speaks to you. It tells you that the journey is going to be very difficult. There will be many obstacles. You will feel pain, loneliness, frustration and despair. But the Camino will also give you serenity, incredible beauty and camaraderie to help you along the way.” Marco was spot on. It is this and much more.

I have a patch of the Canada flag on the back of my hat. (Thanks Eva for ironing it on!) It is a bit of a magnet. Everyone recognizes it and Canada is still respected around the world.

Speaking of Canada, I bumped into twin sisters, Teresa and Tracy from B.C. They recently turned fifty and are doing the Camino to celebrate this milestone. I met them a few days ago in a village along the trail. I realized that I was very low on cash and no ATM anywhere in sight. They loaned me four Euros. When I told them I was a retired financial planner, they were not impressed with my planning skills.

We ended up walking for several hours together. We laughed most of the time. These are strong women with a love of the outdoors. It will be one of my fondest memories of the Camino. I asked them to adopt me. They declined!

I stayed in an Alburgue (hostel) the other night. I was the only male among 8 other women. We shared dinner together and many, many laughs. At the end of the meal I sang for them. “ Let Me Call You sweetheart.” More laughter.

It was extremely cold in the Alburgue that night. The only other occupant of my room that night was Marie from France. I had become accustomed to snoring so when I couldn’t even hear Marie breathe, I feared that she had died of hypothermia. Finally, at 2:00 a.m.,she started to snore. I was so relieved but then I couldn’t sleep because of her snoring. Life on the Camino!

Have a great week.

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