Camino de Santiago - Brian's Update No 13

In which Brian meets his family and increases his contact with pilgrims, including a large Irish contigent, discovering mutual acquaintences

Days 65 to 69

28 May to 1 June

Nuala, George, James & Sinead, loads of Irish people friends & neighbours and a couple from Barcelona!

At the time of writing, I am in a fairly large town called Belorado, it is the 8th of June, I haven't written anything for several days, simply because my circumstances have changed. I am now acting like a true pilgrim and staying in Albergues.

This means I don't have the luxury of a socket, with which to charge my MP3 player, my battery for my camera and even more importantly this XDA11, which I am currently using. Should I allow this machine to run out of power I lose my phone and all the memory it has, my ability to send texts and emails. It is imperative that I keep it charged. The Albergues for the greater part are just large open dormitories, with either bunk beds and mattresses or simply mats (about 30mm thick) thrown on the floor. There are a limited number of showers and toilets, you can queue up to get a shower, and most men don't bother to shave, because of the hassle. I am just after taking a bath, (sit up job, about 40cm in length!) it really is only a deep shower tray, and that is in a hotel, where I have a room all to myself!

Sockets when you can find them are generally in the bathrooms, not a good place to leave electrical equipment. Thus I cannot type any emails, I must conserve battery power until I find a place where I can recharge.

But today I have shortened my day's journey and stayed in town in a hotel. I can easily make up the distance tomorrow; my friends are staying in a village about 4 k from here, so I should catch up with them on the morrow.

I will go back to my journey to Roncesvalles.

George and Nuala took Sinead and James into Biarritz on the Sunday, I was going to complete my journey to Roncesvalles, and then spend Monday with them. George left me out to Ferme Ithurburia, where I had left Pat on the previous day. He called for me early and I was soon walking the very steep ascent to the Col de Bentarte, around 8k away, a bus full of people passed me, and very shortly I stopped to have a photo taken at a shrine, just off the road, to our Blessed Lady. I heard Irish voices the first other than Carl and Anne's, and Nuala and families, since I had left home. These people were getting ready to walk, they numbered about 40.

I just caught the tail end of them, introduced myself, and discovered they were walking for the MS Society of Ireland. I took my photos and hurried after and very soon caught up with them. I talked to quite a few, to Jean and John who were acting as leaders; to Tara a very experienced walker, also helping; to Frank Quinn, from Pomeroy; to the Quinn family are now sponsoring the Tyrone Team, naturally we had a bit of banter about Armagh and Tyrone, I met Michael from Kerry, and a cousin of Molly McLoughlan, Brian McLoughlan's wife. (During Robert Kelly's year as Captain of Warrenpoint Golf Club, we had been for a lovely weekend to Rosapenna with several other couples, including the McLoughlan's).

There was a cameraman with them Ken doing a documentary, he carried on a short interview with me as we walked along. I met so many people; I remember a Jill, and a girl who knew several people around Newry, W-Pont and Rostrevor. They had a terrific system; they were walking for 11 days, with the bus in support, so they were only carrying the necessary items for a days walk, mostly water. The bus was going as far as Roncesvalles and although I didn't know it at the time, some were walking on from Roncesvalles while others would stop and board the bus there. They would picnic at Roncesvalles. They then would drive to their overnight stop; move on the following day to their next starting place. They intended to walk the nicest parts of the Camino; everyone would easily do the necessary kilometres to earn their Compostela in Santiago. Good comradeship, great camaraderie, great craic, wonderful cause, lovely people, they richly deserve what ever support they can muster.

Bert Sladers name was on everyones lips - "Did I know of him, wonderful man, had led this Camino for years on behalf of MS Ireland". Wasn't I the proud man could say of course I knew of this man, sure hadn't I been down with him a few weeks before I came, as if I just dropped in to see this legend every second week! I think some were suitably impressed especially as I then let it be known that Eilis and Pat Fizzy were very friendly. Incidentally, I had a phone call from Pat just about 2 days ago to let me know he will be in Santiago to meet me! Wow!

I hope there are others but more about that later. Rowan hand called me 2 days ago, also to tell me he will be in Santiago to welcome me too, things are looking up! On the way up, I had told Ken that I would sing before they left but at that, time I thought everyone was finishing for the day after the Picnic. I thought I might sing Ben's song 'The Hug' - I was so glad to see them listen to their banter, and hear Irish voices; I could have hugged each one of them! But when I realised some were moving on I didn't bother, it wasn't the right time. I did accept their hospitality, and was very grateful for the salad, bread and yoghurt provided. Thank you very much MS Ireland for your company, your encouragement, and your most welcome picnic and for the money that a number of people stuffed into my hand.

Nuala had arranged to pick me up from here as I was again staying in St. Jean Pied de Port again that evening. Guess what I met another 6 Irish people, Paul and five others who were not on the Camino they were on the GR10, walking the full length of the Pyrenees up and over each peak. This has to be done over a number of years, by people with limited holidays, there were also two chaplains, from UCD, I think out with a group walking the Camino. We had a few beers and I said I would probably see the 4 later in St Jean Pied de Port. They also were staying there for the night, and indeed, we did meet later. Nuala was with me, and we had a goods night's craic with them.

But stranger still, I was sitting with these Irish guys and Nuala and who walked round the corner only Brendan Murdock (a friend and former neighbour). I hailed him, "Where's Phyllis?" away he goes to get her, more wine more beer. It turned out a great evening. I arranged to meet Brendan and Phyllis the next day, hoping that they together with George, Nuala and Grandchildren, could walk me the following day for a distance along the Camino. It was not to be however, as we drove to Roncesvalles the weather closed in and we were in thick cloud and rain. It wasn't suitable for walking, you could hardly see in front of you.

I said to James, 'Right James we'll walk to the Pub', 'Right Grandad', was the reply, I don't think he was a bit put out. We said our goodbyes to Brendan and Phyllis and went on into Pamplona by car.

However on our return the weather had cleared and we did walk part of the Camino as a family, I thought it was great.

Nuala and George together with the children left the following morning after George again left me up to Roncesvalles in readiness for my next day's walk.

George picks me up at 6.40 the following morning and is just pulling into Roncesvalles as the pub is opening. Great I've had no breakfast.

We have driven through thick cloud for perhaps the last 10 minutes or so, breakfast would be very welcome, no need to face the cold and damp just yet. I am the first customer, the owner is trying to tell me something, which I fail to comprehend but a young lassie who has now arrived, and is also walking explains that we should walk the road until we reach the first village, the Camino could be dangerous.

I think you ignore the advice of locals at your peril, from my short experience in the Mournes I know weather can close in very quickly and you become disorientated very easily. I decide to take his advice, we will walk together.

By this time, I have introduced myself to Jordi & Marisol Fernandez from Barcelona, who are on their second day on the Camino. This "young lassie" I learn is 47, doesn't look it but says she is, has a 25 year old daughter, a keen tennis player, very fit. Jordi has a little English but smiles and shrugs go a long way in communication. Jordi is smallish, keen on football, his short legs work furiously, draws away from us on the flat and downgrades but we reel him in on the up slopes. I have been adopted by this charming couple!

I don't carry food, emergency rations, chocolate, nuts, raisins, and muesli and the like; they share their lunch with me. Jordi tells me Marisol is a great singer; I'd loved to have heard her. Apparently she was in a group when fairly young, 4 boys and Marisol, mum put a stop to that whenever they started travelling, thus ended Marisol's singing career!

We are both going to the next town Zubiri, but they are booked into an hotel, I have no arrangements but finish up in a reasonable Albergue, 9 euros for the night, I get a bottom bunk and a pillow! Sheer luxury.

Marisol has been trying to teach me some Spanish as we walk along and I have to learn something about the flora as we go along. Now and then, she plucks a plant as we pass and hands it to me to smell, Tomillo, a nicely scented small purplish plant, good for gargles but toxic. And a new drink to me, which I taste later, Pacharan, tastes like Sloe Gin, but with an anisette smell, made I think the same way but with a different alcohol base. Jordi buys me one after we arrive in the town. I have booked in and they are waiting in the bar of their hotel. They will start to walk at 8.00 the following morning.

I hoped to join them, however where I am people are up from 6.00, it's impossible to lie on, so I'm on the road shortly after 7.00. Our paths cross again a few times, but they are only walking for 7 days and despite our good intentions, we do not manage to walk together again. I have invited them to Rostrevor, I hope they come.

We will exchange photos whenever I get settled after I get home.

Days 70 to 71   

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