For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Camino People (1)

The Camino's about self-discovery, and it's also about the discovery of landscape. (The two are interlinked.) Walking long distances over several weeks or months through a particular landscape is a unique experience. There's no more intimate way to explore a country, and to understand it, than when its earth is under your boot soles. The relatively slow pace of walking is just the right speed - not too fast so you miss things, not too slow so you get bored.

I love walking. For me it's a near perfect activity. I've found places and seen things while walking you would never, ever find or see if journeying by car - or even by bike. I feel privileged. But, as well as the landscape (which may be beautiful or scarred, mundane or marvellous - it's all part of the Camino), there are the people populating that landscape, and this is the most important thing of all...

It must be said that the people along the Camino are a pretty amazing bunch. OK, as in life generally, they're not all kind and friendly and helpful. But many of them are. You'd be amazed how many times when you're lost at some crossroads, with no scallop shell or yellow arrow in sight, a 4 x 4 pulls up in a cloud of dust (you may not have seen any other vehicle for hours) and someone jumps out and indicates the right way. Not only that, but that someone often wants to know all about you, where you've come from, where you're going, and leaves you with a pat on the back and a warm 'Welcome to Spain, peregrino!'

In any remote pueblo, if you're dithering before two turnings, wondering which way's the exit from the village, you can bet your life shutters will rattle, and some incredibly old Spanish lady will silently gesticulate, and point out the correct path. It happens all the time...

The people along the Camino are its very heart and soul. Here are a few of them I met on my recent trip. This is the indomitable Elena from the Bar Ruta de la Plata in Carcaboso...


Women rule the bars in Spain. While the bar owner is smoking, chatting and playing cards, his wife will be dashing hither and thither, carrying four glasses in each hand, multi-tasking like mad, yet still managing to greet every customer, control any boisterous drinkers, heat up some tapas in the microwave, sell some lottery tickets, switch on the cigarette machine with the zapper, and bang down 20 saucers - with spoons and sugar sachets - on the counter, in preparation for the next wave of coffee addicts...

On Sunday 31 January I entered Carcaboso's Bar Ruta de la Plata completely exhausted. I summoned what little Spanish I could muster, and asked about rooms and prices and all sorts of ridiculous things that for some reason seemed important to me at the time. Elena's son, who helped run the bar, inspected me with amusement. 'Tranquilo!' he said. 'Tranquilo!' he repeated, as he helped me off with my backpack. He placed a beer, and some nuts and sunflower seeds, in front of me. 'Tranquilo! Tranquilo!' Later they found me a room, and showed me where I could eat, and Elena spent half an hour drawing a map of the next day's route, and in the morning she made me a lovely packed lunch...

And this is Mañuela, the hospitalera at the private albergue in Calzada de Béjar. I was the only pilgrim there, but she spent ages lighting and tending to a wood burning stove (though it was still freezing in the dormitory), and later preparing a meal from scratch - simple chicken soup, then a tortilla de patatas, but all home-made and delicious...


And here's Mari Carmen de la Iglesia from the new Casa Rural (called VII Carreras) in San Pedro de Rozados, one of the nicest places I stayed. The welcome was warm. The tapas at the bar were tasty - spiced black sausage (morcilla), tortilla, croquetas... The rooms were superb - all individual, with hot showers and radiators (made a change from all the nights I'd shivered in my sleeping bag in the freezing cold), a smart tiled floor, a comfortable bed. As soon as I arrived Mari Carmen asked me if I wanted any washing done - which she did free of charge in her washing machine. And later I had excellent fish soup... (Chicken soup? Now fish soup? Do pilgrims drink soup all the time? Well... yes! Camino lovers will know what I mean...)


Finally, here's pilgrim Agustin, the master chef from Sunday's post, king of the chorizo, sovereign of the sausage, prince of the pork fat...

5 comments:

jenne said...

Hi-- Your post is fascinating to me in part because I just finished the draft of a memoir about a trip to Italy many years ago. I also can't walk anymore and so I walk on the page-- run, soar, et cetera. I have a sample ch on my blog titled Of Awnings and Peaches about a day in Turin. Saw your link on Sweepy Jean's blog. xamerican voman.....xj

ksam said...

SW, you reminded me of a day in Arcade on the Portuguese Route. Joe and I tried no less than 5 times to get off route to find the Post Office. Correo..we learned the word but kept getting put back on the camino...over and over again. We finally called it quits, deciding that for some reason we were not supposed to go downtown in Arcade!! Hoping we'd make it to Pontevedre in time..we hustled off...again, every miss step being redirected by locals, usually little old ladies. In Pontevedre we finally reach the main Correo, only to realize our spanish it totally in adequate for the task (trying to mail quite a good bit of gear home!!) During the friendly miming of how poor my spanish was, and having it good humoredly mirrored by one of the postal women (pointing to self, and saying...Espanol..uno, dos, tres, and her laughing answer..Ingles...one two three!) I suddenly looked at her...and said, Deutsche?? She answers Algemain...and promptly finds me another postal worker who wasn't half bad in German..and so the rest of the deal went down in German...very very weird day!! Guess that's why the Camino Angels kept re directing us in Arcade!! Trust the Angels...you may not know why...but good things come! Pax, Karin

Quaker Matt said...

Hi Mr Solitary Walker...

Just found your site when I googled for 'Wonderful Walker'. Interesting to read your thoughts on Krishnamurti and the Lakes (where I live). I'm writing a book that touches on a lot of things in your blog, so will bookmark it and return.

Cheers

John

hurlmere@btinternet.com

Tramp said...

Hi.
In South America 20 years ago 3 of us were cycling north from Santiago in Chile. We stopped at a simple cafe and went through our usual lengthy procedure of negotiating with the menu and the host, a short grey-haired man who patiently treble-checked every detail of the order. The whole procedure was hampered by our limited Spanish.
Mine host brought our drinks and disappeared into the kitchen. He returned shortly afterwards with a violin, tucked it under his chin and proceeded to serenade us until the food arrived. Before we left he explained that he had played in the Santiago Symphony Orchestra and had had to retired to help the family run this cafe. This was his way of combining his old life with his new situation.
Such experiences of genuine hospitality I remember when having to endure the plastic environments of multi-national catering establishments.
Tramp

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for all these stories, everyone!