Friday, 7 December 2018

Unusual friends - Post woman and Courier delivery man

Unusual friends series number 5 - Continuing the series of stories with home delivery people. Post woman and Courier delivery man.

In the post Internet world the post office is not an often visited place. In England the post office used to provide many services such as providing forms for multitude of services such as applying for a driving license or a passport. They even had a shop where you could buy cards and envelopes and all kinds of paper goods. Here in Spain, Correos does provide some services butI find that I need to go into their offices less and less. 

However they do deliver post, even if it is only a few items and not very often. The lady who comes to deliver uses a motor bike of distinctive colour often parked on the road, with a big bag open to the public while she goes up and down the road to deliver. She always has pleasant greeting for everyone and to my knowledge no one has bothered to annoy her by meddling with her motor bike or the bag of post.

What does surprise me is that often mail which has very doubtful addresses gets delivered to the right mail box using any information that can be made out. I do remember often mail being delivered which is missing our building's number or our apartment number. So long it gets to the local post office with my name, I believe I will get it.

The courier services that deliver packages, and we do seem to get a lot of these, (specially the Amazon deliveries) also have their quirks. Very annoyingly they refuse to accurately inform you of their exact time of arrival, and in some cases we have had to call and find out where our package might be if we were not at home.
But there is one company, whose driver has been in their employ perhaps more than is normal, and this man has got to know us. He will often wave to us while driving by us in the street and I believe he might even know our names. At one stage we had our phone number on the delivery address, and he now calls Marisol's mobile phone when we are not at home. Often times we can get back to collect our package. But if we cannot, he will meet us anywhere in town and hand over the package. On one occasion he called and we said we were having lunch at a local restaurant. 'Which one?' he said and came by and delivered to our table!
Now that is a delivery service.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Unusual friends - Porters, Handymen and Taxi Drivers

Continueing the 'Unusual friends' series. Part 4 with a look at the Porters, Handymen and Taxi Drivers.

Now we have to tread carefully. Marisol is the President of the community in our building for the year 2019, so whatever I say will be under scrutiny. The set of people that fall into the Porters and Handymen category who I know, contain a variety of depths of friendship. In England and also in the US cities the porters were (perhaps still are) sign of a posh building and always to be respected, and when you saw that the apartment you would like to rent was in a building that had a porter, it generally meant that you could double your rental costs.
However in Spain until recently every building had a porter whose job came with an apartment included free of rent or cost and somehow the community charges were always very low. Perhaps they never got paid.
When I first came to visit my Father-in-law back in the seventies I came across this profession because his building had one of these, she was a very pleasant Cuban lady and lived with her family in the building. What she actually did apart from standing in the doorway from time to time I am not too sure.
More recently we came across a couple who are also in this profession and we meet them occasionally in a bar around the corner. However my favourite is a man who works at a building nearby who has become a good friend over the years. I did not know him much until about ten years ago, when he signed up to attending my birthday party in India. Since then I can no longer classify him as unusual and more recently he has been part of our Camino de Santiago group and we have shared a lot of experiences together.

Moving on to another unusual association we come to taxi drivers. Ever since I had this hair raising experience with a taxi in Maracaibo (in Venezuela) where we lived for a while many years ago, I have a lot of respect for the people who run these cars. What happened is that for some reason I happened to catch a cab in the centre of Maracaibo, and just as I opened my mouth, the driver said 'Mire señor, usted quiere ir a su casa o la oficina'?
That translates to 'Would you like to go home or to your office'?
I quickly changed what I was going to say to 'Do you know where I live'?
'I know all about you' he replied, or words to that effect.
Since Maracuchos were keen to pull out their guns at the least annoyance, I did not pursue that line of inquiry any further.
Anyway, here in Spain also I would think all the taxi drivers would know that much about me. One in particular has become a family 'friend' and we have used him whenever we have an occasion to use a taxi.
The other day I was ordering a drink in a nearby bar, something that one does often under the general activity of 'tomar algo' (I have friends who could be called Name Tomar Algo Surname, but I digress). Collecting my drink I was about turn around to join Marisol, when a man sitting nearby said to me 'Ah, you do not recognise me'. At this I looked at him more closely and sure enough it was our taxi 'friend'. 'Hombre, we have not seen you for a while', I said.
I then found out that he was retiring and that his son was now taking over his cab and his clients.
Being in the same boat, I wished him all the best and perhaps we will be seeing him more often, if you see what I mean, 'tomando algo'.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Unusual friends - The waiters and barmen

Continuing with the third of as yet unlimited stories under the banner of 'Unusual friends'..

Now almost two years ago, we (that is us and a couple of friends) happened to be sitting in the terrace of a bar on a brilliant sunny and warm day sipping our drinks and munching calamares, (or rabas as they are known) the local delicacy. The waiter came by and brought us some tapas and I knew that he was Peruvian. The football world cup qualifying rounds were going on and I happened to know that Peru were struggling with a few matches to go. So I made a comment to the guy saying that Peru looked like going out, and he cheered up to know that someone was aware of Peru's progress (or lack of). With a grand gesture he announced that he would take a bet that Peru qualify. I accepted and we agreed to bet on the value of a round of drinks and rabas, about 15 Euros.
The bar in Laredo
My logic was that although I was neutral in what happened in the matches, it would give me and the waiter some common ground for interaction and having some fun. As many of you will know, Peru qualified by the skin of their teeth. We were both very happy that this happened and although I happened to be on travels when the result became known, and the waiter may have thought that I had fled without paying, but I happily paid up my dues when next in town.
A few months later the scene repeated itself and the same waiter offered to repeat the bet if Peru got to the second round. Again I accepted, and this time Peru failed dismally and I won my money back. Perhaps as an exercise in financial gain this was a minor flop, but in terms of making a longterm association I gained a lot. This man is always happy to see me, and even if we pass by without sitting in his terrace, he will still say hello and smile. Also if Peru lose an international game I give him a thumbs down and he shrugs, and if they win its a thumbs up and his face lights up.
There are other bars in Laredo where I find equally friendly faces. Most of them know a bit about me and will tell me that they saw me on the TV or that there was photo of me in the newspaper. This goes for the surrounding towns as well. I have been recognised in Santander and Bilbao bars for being from Laredo, and there is this restaurant in San Miguel where all the waiters and cooks come together and tell me, 'yep, we saw you again' or 'what happened, we have not seen you in the press for a while'.
On another occasion we were in a group driving around Cantabria enjoying a lovely day out, but got late in finding a restaurant to have lunch. Suddenly the thought occurred to me that there was a restaurant in the general area where we were, that I had visited a year or two before and that the people had treated us really well. It was almost 4pm and everyone agreed to give this a shot as a last resort.
So we showed up at the restaurant and as we entered they seemed to be clearing up and looking forward to calling it a day. We were looking for a table for ten, so I could see that it was going to be impossible. And I was right, they said that the kitchen was closing and that they could not accomodate us. I kind of remembered the guy who had hosted us in the past, so on a hunch I described the man to see if he was around. They said yes, he is upstairs and called out for him. This familiar face came down, looked at me and his face lit up. 'Hombre, ya era hora' (Man, about time we saw you around here again) he said and gave me a hug. To my friends he said 'You guys probably dont know how this guy can eat'.
Turned out he was the owner and once he realised what we wanted, he told us to wait five minutes and they set a table and we all enjoyed a late but delicious lunch.
Something similar to this happened to me New York once, where in a similar situation, Sunday, 3pm, a restaurant where we had no reservation and which had a queue outside, and again about eight of us including my sister and her family we decided to chance our luck and I went in and said to the person in charge of reservations and seating 'Hi, do you remember me'?
''Were you not here last week'?
'Yes, it was great and that is why I am back, but I need a table today too and don't have a reservation'.
She shrugged her shoulders and nodded over to the pile of people waiting.
'Please, I have about eight people outside and some children, its late and we are hungry. You have to help me'.
'Impossible', she said.
I hung around a few minutes and she saw me and came over and said 'give me fifteen minutes and I will put together a couple of tables and I will call you'.
I could have hugged her but refrained, but my face probably said how I felt. I came out and gave my folks the good news and we had the most amazing lunch at the Rosa Mexicano, on 58th with 1st Avenue. Those of you who have sampled my Guacamole should know that its based on a recipe from this restaurant.
Rosa Mexicano - 58th and 1st NY

There is something to be said for a long cool Margarita waiting at the bar of a hotel, where you arrived after a long flight from London and then a two hour drive down Interstate 78, something that I used to do on regular intervals when working for a company in Pennsylvania. The barman used to be given advanced notice of my arrival!
It pays to have some emotional intelligence and appreciate what people do (and show it) and you get more than you invest back as a reward.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Unusual Friends - The mentally challenged group

Continuing the stories relating to unusual friends, here is the next instalment about the mentally challenged group.

Now picture this. (I am sorry that I cannot provide a photo here)
A couple of men (possibly brothers) come walking down the road in my direction. They pass scores of people without a sound, but as soon as they spot me, they smile and greet me with a 'buenos dias' and a wave. I always wave back, smile and repeat the greeting. I know of these men and know that they are not all totally there (if you know what I mean). 
What is it that I have which the rest of the population does not?
Happens to me all the time. 
There was this one time at ARCO (The famous art fair) in Madrid and we were told by one of the gallery people that there was a cocktail that evening (by invitation only) and wondered if we were going. I had no knowledge of the event. 
Later when we were on our way out through the elaborate security systems at the exhibition centre, in a big throng of people because it was closing time and slowly making our way to the exit. There may have been a couple of hundred people.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a man coming down some stairs and surveying the crowd, and upon seeing me, began to make his way towards me through the crowd. As he got nearer he waved to me to stop for him. When he got to me he handed me something and said 'We are having a cocktail event this evening, and here are couple of tickets. please join us.'
So, as I said, I do attract attention, but not as much as with the people who feel marginalised.
There is one such man in town, avoided by most people, who is aware that I am from India, so every time he sees me he might shout 'vamonos a Ganges, me cago en diez', which translates to 'lets all go to the Ganges, profanity'.  My reply to him is usually 'why not' and a smile.
Another set of young men (also brothers) are our neighbours and they have severe Autism and Tourette syndrome between them. 
The one with Tourette normally avoids contact but can be seen doing peculiar things as he walks, like avoiding certain areas, or counting steps forward and backwards, or touching every tree three times.
The one with the autism is to be found walking all over town and nearby towns at all hours of the day and night. He also gathers masses of information (from reading at the library I presume) and is likely to engage people in conversation with a dump of all he can think of.
With me he is usually more focussed and I get the 'India' related dump.  If I am with Marisol or friends, he will ignore them and talk only to me while walking alongside.
Something along the lines of 'Did you hear about the holy men gathering on the banks of Ganges, millions of them, 28 got trampled and another 418 are missing, and the city of Cochin has banned fishing with the nets, and the president is visiting the flooded areas of Assam. Did you know that pollution in Amritsar has delayed the trains and the farmers are staging a protest in Kanpur.'
This one way conversation can go on for ten or fifteen minutes, with me nodding or saying 'really?' and trying to find a way of politely ignoring him and get on with my own conversation with whoever I maybe with.
Finally he is likely to get the hint and might end with a 'OK, I will leave you now but can you spare me a Euro for a cup of coffee.' Poor chap.
I wish I could employ him to do some research for me occasionally. 
I can make up a list of topics that might just get him started in the right direction.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Unusual Friends - The sweeper


I have quite a few very unusual ‘friends’ in Laredo.
The other day when I was taking the customary morning paseo with Marisol, this very thought occured to me after I walked into the local newspaper shop which goes by the name of Libreria Arte, run by the very friendly and efficient Carlos and his wife. The event that prompted this thought was that the previous customer as he walked past me, said ‘Buenos Dias’. I responded with the same as local custom demands.
Now this in itself is not unusual except I knew him too and he happened to be the Town Hall employee who is often to be seen sweeping the streets around where I live.
This got me thinking that there were a few very unusual people who all seemed to know me.
A list would have to include
The afore mentioned Sweeper
The entire population of slightly mad people in Laredo
The Peruvian barman of the Lido bar, and a few others of the same profession around town
The porters of two buildings near our home
The post delivery woman
And the driver from the courier company SEUR, who delivers many of our Amazon packages.

I will slowly post some stories from each of these in the coming days, but let me start with an interesting story about the sweeper.
Apart from the occasional Good Morning or similar I don’t have much interaction with this man except that his department is tasked with cleaning the streets yet one frequently comes across  the most intriguing pieces of litter to be found on the sidewalks of our town. The residents of Laredo might be forgiven to jump to the conclusion that I refer to dog poop, but that is hardly intriguing except in the identification of the culprits. These are something else.

They consist of strips of metal as in the photo, and they can be found everywhere in town, but only on the sidewalks (or pavements as they are known in England). The pen in the photo is to give an idea of scale.
We racked our brains for what they could be, but our best guess was along the lines of cosmic fallout. We spent months trying to figure this out, and in the end someone else who had probably seen it happening enlightened us. Before I reveal the source I might add that all our friends and visitors enjoyed immensely the intrigue of trying to guess what they were.
Now to answer the question we have to imagine the street cleaning equipment used in Laredo. A machine is driven down the sidewalks which sprays water and scrapes the sidewalk with a metal brush. The brush consists of hundreds of these ‘bristles’.


Mystery solved, and I should be the first to say buenos dias to the humble sweeper for his part in bringing such entertaining intrigue to our lives.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Camino de Santiago 2018 (Spanish)


Desde Sahagun hasta Ponferrada 170 kms aproximadamente.


Como de costumbre, este año empezamos el Camino desde al punto donde terminamos el año pasado, y para llegar allí cojimos un autobús muy temprano hacia Santander y después otro hasta Torrelavega donde abordamos un tren que nos llevo a Sahagun vía Palencia. La mitad de nuestro grupo quería usar un ‘mochila taxi’ para no cargar con ella, y tuvimos la suerte que en el momento que salimos de la estación, había un taxista muy amable que estaba dispuesto a llevar nuestras mochilas por poco dinero. Después de comer algo, andamos los diez kilómetros que faltaban para llegar a nuestro primer destino, el albergue Santa Clara en Barcianos de Real Camino.
Sahagun
Rosa, la dueña del albergue, había hecho once caminos y sabia mucho del tema. En su opinión la única manera de disfrutar las experiencias espirituales del camino era haciendo el camino entero en 30 días. Mientras ella hacia el papeleo, hablamos de mi experiencias en el camino, y ella me sonrío y dijo que iba en la dirección correcta. Una vez establecidos nos fuimos a dar un paseo por el pueblo, cenar algo y después tomar unas copas. Cuando regresamos, nos dimos cuenta de que habíamos entendido mal (muy mal) la hora cuando Rosa y sus compañeros nos esperaban para dormir y terminar de trabajar. 


Al día siguiente nos dirigimos al pueblo de Mancilla de las Mulas que quedaba a unos 25 kms. Era un día precioso y empezamos bien pero todavía no nos habíamos acostumbrado a la caminata diaria y a los 20 kms paramos, (yo ya empezaba a encontrarme débil) para reponer nuestras fuerzas con algo de comer. Cuando empezamos a caminar de nuevo nos encontramos un panorama de miedo con nubes negras de tormenta justo en nuestra dirección. Cometimos el error de seguir caminando pensando que llegábamos antes de la tormenta. No tuvimos suerte y pronto un diluvio impensable nos cayo encima con viento y toda la fuerza de un huracán y siguió durante todo el camino hasta el albergue. Nos pusimos las capas pero no fueron muy útiles, nos calamos desde la cintura para abajo y las botas eran como depósitos de agua. Cuando llegamos al final después de una hora, nos tuvieron que ayudar a sacar toda la ropa mojada y las capas, las botas y demás cachivaches. No cabe duda que pasamos una tarde muy agitada trabajando para intentar secar todo para poder seguir al día siguiente. El método de meter periódicos dentro de las botas varias veces, y secar las capas con papel funcionó, así que como un milagro todo estaba seco para el día siguiente.


Por suerte los tres días siguientes fueron soleados, hasta demasiado para los caminantes del Camino. Use un paraguas todos los días desde las 10 de la mañana en un paisaje muy llano y que carecía de sombras. Después de andar casi 30 kms de camino muy aburrido, llegamos a Virgen del Camino donde un lujoso hostal El Central nos esperaba. Yo disponía de una habitación con baño, todo un lujo entre todos los albergues con literas y servicios compartidos. El día siguiente andamos otros 29 kms hasta Hospital de Órbigo, donde el albergue Verde que parecía una comuna de estilo hippie donde casi todos los ocupantes eran extranjeros. Había voluntarios que hacían tareas como mantenimiento, reformas, yoga y hasta cocinar a cambio de alojamiento y comida. La cocinera era una Israelita, que nos hizo un curry vegetariano indio que no me parecía muy autentico. El precio de la cena era ‘la voluntad’ y había música y un discurso en Ingles (con algo de traducción en Castellano) sobre el Camino, su historia y porque se dirigía hasta el fin de la tierra en aquello tiempos. También hicieron un comentario sobre como esto de andar hacia el Oeste estaba en nuestro ADN, algo que no quise discutir pensando que nuestros antepasados fueron al Este y Oeste cuando emergieron de Africa. Participamos en la clase de Yoga, disfrutamos de la puesta de Sol y yo compartí la cena con una joven de Nueva York, que acababa de terminar su carrera de Psicología en la universidad de Duke, pensando cuanto me habría gustado tener cuarenta años menos por varias razones.


Entre el camino y los albergues era posible encontrar una multitud de gente y tener conversaciones muy interesantes. Por ejemplo la instructora de yoga que había vivido casi toda su vida en California aunque era española, el fotógrafo Mel de origen Ingles que ahora vivía cerca de Almería, el gigantesco Nuevo Zealandes que me contó la historia de un amigo que se rompió la rodilla poco días de empezar el camino y tuvo que volver a casa, y la mujer americana que tenia dos cintas debajo de sus rodillas que mis compañeros querían saber para que sirvian (soporte para la rodilla) y en conversación dijo que era de Charlotte en Carolina del Norte donde yo había estado hace poco porque nuestro hijo Manjeet vivía allí. En otra oportunidad alguien nos vio a todos juntos y pregunto cual era nuestra religión, porque pensaban que yo era como el guru del grupo!
La Presentadora
El siguiente pueblo, si podemos llamarlo así, era Ganso, otros 29 kms de camino. En una de nuestras paradas para comer y beber algo, había un equipo de televisión y una presentadora guapísima conversando con los peregrinos sobre sus experiencias del camino. Cuando me vieron, se dirigieron a mi para una sesión sobre mi origen, el camino y mis compañeros. Nuestro albergue aquella noche era El Gabino, donde teníamos 8 literas en un dormitorio de 11 camas. Había en el mismo dormitorio una cama reservada para un señor mayor, y este señor fue responsable para el momento de mayor emoción de toda la semana. Dos de nuestro grupo (Alfonso y yo) nos apuntamos para una cena que empezaba a las 7:30, muy temprano para la mayoría de los españoles. Había solo cinco personas para cenar y con las mesas de cuatro Alfonso y yo estuvimos en una mesa con dos mujeres alemanas. El quinto era el señor mencionado arriba y estaba solo en una mesa. Conversamos mucho con las mujeres de Hanover y Hamburg en ingles con traducción por mi parte para Alfonso. Después de la cena empezamos a conversar también con el señor de la mesa de al  lado, y nos contó que el había hecho el Camino seis veces, se llamaba Braulio y que todos en el Camino le conocían. 

Después nos dijo que este año era diferente para el. Cuando preguntamos por que, el se emociono y se le caían las lagrimas. Después de una pequeña pausa nos enseño su mano donde tenia dos anillos y dijo ‘el año pasado mi esposa estaba viva, pero este año ella no esta’. Para simpatizar con el le dije que yo también había perdido alguien este año (mi padre) y me emocione y llore. A mi lado Alfonso también estaba llorando por alguna perdida personal suya. Así que las dos mujeres alemanas veían tres hombres con lagrimas y no intendian lo que sucedía. Después de traducir la conversación se aclaro el tema. 

Después de un rato las mujeres y el señor se retiraron, y mientras Alfonso y yo terminamos nuestros vinos, un hombre paso por nuestra mesa y me saludo en mi idioma (sat sri akal). Así empiezo otra conversación sobre el vinculo de este hombre con la cultura India, a través del Kundalini yoga y sus numerosas visitas a los centros de yoga y los ashrams de los famosos gurus indios. El también estaba interesado en niveles de percepción con la ayuda de hierbas halucigenicas como ayahuasca, y tuvimos una conversación interesante sobre las enseñanzas de Don Juan (el famoso libro de Carlos Castaneda) y el uso del peyote y otras maravillas. A mi lado  a Alfonso se le ponían los pelos de punta cuando le pregunte al hombre si tenia algún mensaje espiritual para mi!
El 'Cowboy Bar'
Mas tarde nos reunimos con nuestros compañeros para tomar algo en un bar dedicado al Oeste Americano (El Cowboy Bar) donde se podía tomar bebidas a precios muy económicos, y donde también se podían ver las películas del Wild West en una televisión montada por este fin.

Si Ganso era pequeño y con muy poco para entretener a un peregrino, nuestro próximo destino era mucho menos. Caminando hacia Riego Ambrose, un total de 29 kms el camino se fue elevando a 1500 metros durante toda la mañana y después por la tarde bajando en una superficie rocosa con piedras sueltas que resulto muy difícil. Yo llegue con mis pies un poco molestos y a Alfonso se le rompieron las botas. Era Jueves 15 de Junio, y España jugaba un partido de futbol en el Mundial en Russia contra Portugal. Sucede que en Riego Ambrosa no había ningún bar o local donde alguien podía ver el partido! Algunos del grupo (incluyéndome) llamamos a un taxi para ir al próximo pueblo donde había un poco mas de vida y bares donde podíamos ver el partido. Resulto un partido emocionante con los dos equipos ganando en diferentes etapas del partido, y finalmente culminando en un empate, mientras nosotros discutíamos las habilidades (o falta de) de Ronaldo y De Gea. Resulto que De Gea comitio dos errores que resultaron en dos de los goles que marco Ronaldo.

El día siguiente era el ultimo día de nuestra caminata, y el camino hacia abajo por las rocas continuo en la misma manera que el día anterior pero con vistas preciosas. No había ningún posibilidad de empezar con un desayuno, pero después de salir del pueblo llegamos a un puesto donde alguien había dejado frutas, galletas y mas cosas para los peregrinos, y una pequeña caja donde los peregrinos podían dejar ‘la voluntad’. Esta caja estaba llena y consta la honestidad de la mayoría de los peregrinos. Después de una hora de bajada llegamos al pueblo de la partida de la noche anterior y desayunamos de verdad. Unas horas mas tarde llegamos a Ponferrada y a nuestro albergue para esta noche. Necesitábamos descansar y tomar un vermut en una terraza sentados en el sol. 
Ponferrada
Después de la una nosotros disponíamos de nuestras habitaciones y nos podíamos cambiar de ropa y descansar. Pronto nos reunimos con amigos y familiares que habían llegado desde Laredo, para almorzar y celebrar el final de nuestro proyecto para este año.

Ahora nos queda solo Ponferrada hasta Sarria para completar el Camino entero.
Posiblemente el año que viene.
Buen Camino.

Camino de Santiago 2018


Camino de Santiago 2018
From Sahagun to Ponferrada about 170 kms.

As usual we took up the Camino from where we had finished last year, and one Sunday morning we took the early morning bus to Santander then another bus/ train combination to reach Sahagun. Those of us who were interested in using a taxi service for our backpacks were relieved to find a taxi just outside the Sahagun station, which agreed to transport our bags for a small sum. After a quick bite to keep us going we walked the short ten kilometres to our first hostel for the night, the Santa Clara in Barcianos de Real Camino.
Sahagun
Rosa, the proprietor at the Santa Clara turned out to be veteran Camino walker, having already completed 11 and most of them in one 30 day finish. She told me that it was the only way to move from the just walking to the higher planes of consciousness that I have tried to accomplish on the short bursts of one week that our group has been doing. I had to reveal my own experiences to her and she confirmed with a smile that I was on the right track. The group headed out for a walkaround the small town and a dinner followed by a drink (or two). Most family run hostels expect the pilgrims to be in bed early and it is customary to ask what would be the expected time for being back at the hostel in the evening. That night we got it wrong, very wrong.

The next morning we headed out at 8 am on the 25 km walk to our next destination, the quaintly named town of Mancilla de las Mulas. It was a bright sunny day and we made good progress. With my energies waning we made a pit stop at about 20 kms and after suitable refreshments took up the walk again, only to find a storm brewing right in front of us. It was scary. Here we made a rash decision to continue walking in the hope of reaching our objective before the heavens opened. No such luck, soon the storm ripped through us, with high winds and lashing rain. We donned our waterproof capes, but it was no use. We were drenched from the waist down and our shoes were like water containers. By the time an hour later we made the Gaia hostel, we had to be helped with our drenched clothes and boots to not flood the entire establishment. Needless to say a very stressed evening of trying to dry our shoes and clothes followed. Newspapers were stuffed in all the boots and this was repeated three times. The capes were wiped dry and the clothes hung up to dry. Miraculously everything was dry by the next morning.
Leon
Luckily the next three days were cloudlessly sunny, and this was perhaps too sunny for the Camino walker. I used an umbrella for shade when walking from about 10am onwards. It was very easy walking in mostly level coutryside while we made our way from Mancilla to Virgen del Camino where a luxury hostal (The Central) awaited. I was lucky to have my own room with my own bath, a real luxury among the normal dormitory style accomodation and shared facilities. then it was a further 29 kms to Hospital de Órbigo, where we were booked into what turned out to be a hippie style commune mostly populated by foreigners. Some volunteers among them were resident helpers doing such jobs as construction, looking after the vegetable patch and giving classes of yoga.  There was also an Israeli cook who had agreed to make a vegetarian curry for dinner, which everyone could have for a voluntary contribution. I realised that the dish we ate was hardly classifiable as a curry and for some strange reason the starter of bread and hummus was billed as an Israeli dish! There was music and the owner gave us a lecture on the significance of the Camino, and how moving westward was built into our DNA, which was hard to believe and I did not argue the point that our forefathers when they emerged from Africa, went both east and west. We did yoga and watched the sunset. I shared a table with a bright Psychology student from New York and wished I was forty years younger for various reasons.

Albergue Verde
In between the walks and the hostals it was possible to make friends and have conversations with all sorts of people, such as the Spanish yoga instructor who had lived all her life in California, the photographer Mel from Brighton who now lived in the South of Spain, the chap from New Zealand whose walking partner had twisted his knee soon after arrival and after surgery had to return home and the lady with the knee bands (my fellow walkers were curious about these) who turned out to be from Charlotte in North Carolina much to my surprise because I had visited that city when my son had lived there until recently. On another occasion someone asked us what religion we practiced, perhaps because our group contained several women and a bearded man with a turban!

Then it was onto the hic town of Ganso 29 kms away. On one of our stops along the way to catch a bite to eat, there was a local TV crew interviewing passing pilgrims about their experiences on the Camino. Once they saw me they headed straight to my side and the gorgeous presenter of the show and I, we discussed my impressions of the Camino and how I was friends with this large Spanish group. In Ganso we were booked into a place called Gabino, in a dormitory with 11 bunk beds. They came in pairs with the only single bed allocated to an old man who provided (at least for me) the emotional highlight of the entire week. Two of us from our group (Alfonso and I) signed up for an early dinner provided by the hostal, and there were only five diners in total. So we had a table for four at which we were joined by two German ladies, while the fifth person who had a table to himself turned out to be the old man mentioned above. There was much conversation with young ladies from Hamburg and Hanover and after dinner the old man joined in the conversation (with me as the translator). He revealed that his name was Braulio and that he had already completed 6 Caminos and that everyone knew him on the Camino. 

Local TV Host
Then he said that this year marked a difference for him, and when we asked what was different, he became quite emotional and began to shed some tears. He showed us his hand on which he wore two rings and said ‘last year at this time my wife was alive, and now she is not’. I sympathised, and revealed that I also had lost someone close to me (my father) recently and that several times I had had the feeling that my father was walking besides me. I too had my eyes brimming with tears and I realised that Alfonso was also crying for some personal loss of his own.

So there was this scene where three men were emotional and two young ladies were wondering what was going on. I translated and I guess they understood the reason for all the tears. Soon after the ladies retired to prepare for an early start, and the old man had also departed, a man approached me and greeted me in Panjabi (Sat Sri Akal). I was surprised but not shocked, having seen other people on the Camino with knowledge of Indian customs. We started talking and this man had been practicing Kundalini Yoga and some other spiritual rituals using ayahuasca and other hallucinogenic plants. The evening was getting more interesting by the minute and we were deep in conversation about the use of peyote and the teachings of Don Juan (the book by Carlos Castaneda). By the time I asked this man if he had a spiritual message for me, Alfonso had his hair standing on end.

Later we caught up with our friends and had a drink at the Cowboy Bar dedicated to the American wild west, including a TV showing western movies, where the drinks were priced at suitably agreeable prices.

If Ganso was small with nothing to show, our next destination turned out to be even less of a place. This was another 29 kms down the camino and went by the name of Riego Ámbrose. The Camino took a steady climb during most of the morning while we climbed to 1500 metres and then a steep drop down a rocky path with loose boulders strewn across, which made for a very difficult walk. Several of our party had their feet in trouble and some boots were broken. It was Thursday the 15th and Spain was expected to play Portugal at the World cup in Russia. Most Spaniards wanted to be at some venue to watch, but as it turned out, there was not a single TV in this town where anyone could watch the game. Some in our group (including me) called a taxi, which took us to the next town with a bit more life, and a bar where we could watch the game. It turned out to be quite a game, with both sides taking turns to be ahead but finally settling for a draw, while we debated the skills (or otherwise) of both Ronaldo, who scored three goals and the Spanish goalkeeper De Gea who was responsible for errors which allowed two Ronaldo shots to end up in goal.

The next day was the final day of our Camino, and the rocky path down the mountain continued through beautiful scenery. It was much easier than we had feared and to make it a delight someone had set up a ‘honesty’ fruit stall along the path perhaps aware that our town had no bars and no breakfast facilities, so that we could have a variety of fruit and leave a contribution in a money box for a very welcome injection of energy. I have to say that the money box was full, a testament to the honesty of most pilgrims. An hour or so later we reached the soccer game town of the night before for a proper breakfast with coffee! A few hours after that we came into Ponferrada, our final destination for a much earned rest, and a large vermouth at a table in a sunny spot outside a bar. Later more friends and family came up from Laredo to join us for the final lunch and to ferry us all back home the next day.
Ponferrada
Now we have only Ponferrada to Sarria (about 100 kms) left to complete the whole Camino, perhaps next year. 
Buen camino.
To see a full set of photos click here