Camino de Bond


“You know with love comes strange currencies
And here is my appeal
I need a chance, a second chance, a third chance
A fourth chance, a word, a signal
A nod, a little breath
Just to fool myself, to catch myself
And make it real, real”


Two weeks ago, on my birthday, my Soulmate and I headed off to Sarria in Spain to spend a week walking 117 odd kilometres of the Camino. It was our first holiday without the Wunder Monkees in over 20 years ! Having previously been a regular flyer and casual about airports , I got increasingly nervous as we got closer to the airport and I think my anxiety only started to settle down after the plane took off.

I got engrossed in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years Of Solitude’ and we were landing before we knew it.

We were to meet someone who was to our hotel in Sarria after we collected our bags and through the mass of signs with tour company names and surnames we spotted a little guy holding a sign saying ‘BONB’ which we guessed must be us. He hadn’t any English, and we hadn’t any Spanish, but through the wonder of Google Translate on our phones we had a great chat all the way to Sarria. Our driver, Javier, pointed out restaurants that we’d be walking past in a few days to look out for, told us what each town was famous for, stopped and pulled over to show us giant stork nests on the top of telegraph poles, warned us about wild boar.. and we were suddenly at our hotel.

We checked in and strolled around Sarria for a while before getting something to eat and settling down early as one member of our party, not me, was keen to start out at 06.30am the following day! We went to bed at 10-ish and were dozing off when the band started playing in the courtyard outside. The wedding went on until 02.30am…many prayers and oaths were said….

We headed off at 08.00am and spent the next few hours walking 24k to PortMarin through gorgeous countryside, with lots of beautiful old stone buildings, and the odd church. I am very easily distracted and stopped to examine old wooden wheels, to pet Alsatians, marvel at door frames…and then had to canter to catch up with my determined and focused walking partner!

In the first coffee shop we stopped at we bought a coffee, a bottle of water, and two bananas and were charged the princely sum of €4.40 !

I had a lemonade at the next café, which cost €3 ! This was especially delicious as it was 11.30am!

We had long, comfortable chats about funerals (ours), illness, troubles, and dramas, and agreed that we were all the better from arriving at the other side of them. We held hands a lot, and saw a Robin on the path.

We said ‘Hello’, ‘Hola’, and ‘Buen Camino !’ to everyone we passed, and arrived at our hotel in PortoMarin in the early afternoon.

We had a siesta and then went for a walk around the village. It looked as if it had been here forever, especially the Templar church of St.Nicholas, but the whole village had been moved up the hill in 1962 when they built a new dam.

The next morning we had our bags packed and left in reception for collection, and were waiting for the breakfast buffet to open …at 07.30am !!! We’re those people now! In every other hotel we’ve ever, ever stayed in , we always ask what is the last possible serving of breakfast and tailor our schedule around that, but now we’re waiting for the breakfast buffet to open at 07.30am…strange things happen to a guy on Camino.

The walk today was 26k to Palas de Rei , with an elevation of 750m, which is higher than Croagh Patrick. This important fact was not known to us as we headed off. We plodded up the first hill, which was EXHAUSTING, and at the top discovered that it was just the foothill of a much LARGER hill. At the top of that hill I discovered a Roman Fort, which I decided to make my new home, but was harrumphed on by my loving Soulmate with the temptation of a pre-noon lemonade at the next café.

The next café was in Ventas de Naron, at the 11k stage and I sat and drank my lemonade very, very slowly. When I got up I nearly fell forward as my left calf refused to move. I hobbled around the corner and went into the little Knights Templar ‘hospital. This church was attended by a blind man who stamped my Camino passport, allowing me to guide his hand. As he stamped the card he ‘accidently’ knocked against his donation coinbox, giving it a good rattle. He handed me a little prayer card and then when he heard my coins rattle the donation box he smiled and gave me another , ‘better’, prayer card.

The Camino Passport is a fold out card where you acquire stamps in churches, hotels, museums and cafes along the way. To get your Camino certificate at the end in Santiago you have to present this card to the Pilgrim Passport Office and you have to have walked at least 100k, and have at least 2 stamps per day.

Shortly outside of Ventas de Naron we met our next climb , which dwarfed the previous two. My left calf was aching constantly now, but she held my hand and pointed out another Robin that seemed to be following us, told me I was a very brave soldier, and we eventually arrived in Palas de Rei at 3.30pm, having walked/hobbled for over 7 hours.

We checked in and after a wee rest we decided to go for a walk to explore the town, and find a pharmacist that sold Voltarol. The receptionist laughed as I made my way slowly down the stairs, and joked that I would spend less time in Purgatory. I replied that after this I would ascend straight to heaven at a time of my own choosing.

We had a lovely meal in a café near the hotel, and a combination of stronger than usual Paracetamol, Rioja, and the Voltoral, meant a good night’s sleep was had.

The next day we had a lie in until 7.20am and left the hotel after a nice breakfast at 8.15am for a shorter , gentler walk of 14k to Melide. We passed a few familiar faces on the way. It’s odd that there are probably thousands of people making the same journey each day and yet out of them there are some that you remember and look out for, the elderly Spanish man with his son who always wore black, and smiled when he said ‘Hello’, the Chinese lady who wore a puffa jacket whist we were sweating bullets in our tees, Chicago Tom, a retired cop,  the three Dubs who were always cheery and we were never sure who was married to whom, the two Georgia boys, the English guy who we always seemed to meet on a hill and who always said “This wasn’t in the brochure !” , and the three girls from Cork who seemed to take it in turns each day to fall out with the other two.

I stopped and went into a wee church which was nice and cool and had some old murals on the walls of the Crucifixion, where the soldiers looked like Conquistadors rather than Romans , and I sat for a moment and thought about the artist who’d painted it 300 years ago, who maybe never left this village and had never seen a picture of a Roman soldier, so drew what he knew.

We made it to Melide in great time and were checked in and having our siesta when an almighty thunderstorm erupted. When it cleared we went for a stroll and had some slices of Octopus that a restaurant were handing out. I was tempted to have more later for our dinner, my Soulmate was not. We ended up having steak and chips a couple of beers and had change out of €30.

We went to bed around 10pm read for a bit and fell into a deep sleep…until 01.30am when a couple of pilgrims loudly entered the bedroom next door and then proceeded to engage in flagellation, gymnastics , and furniture rearrangement until 05.30am, when we heard one of them leave…perhaps in search of medical attention…or counselling…or Morning Vespers…maybe they were conducting the Morning Vespers ?

My Soulmate felt very sorry for the poor girl, and I wondered what Camino brochure they were following.   

We headed off in search of Arzua the next morning, and we were a little quieter in ourselves. Maybe it was a lack of sleep after last night’s shenanigans, general tiredness after three days walking, or maybe you just reach a point on the Camino when you are contemplative.

I had a habit of stopping at any old stone building for a proper look, and old stone churches in particular. If the church was open I went in for a further look. This was out of general and historical curiosity rather than any religious hankering, but I did pray sometimes.

At a little church, Boente de Abaixo, I went in to get our passports stamped, a the lady attendant asked where I was from. I said Ireland and she said she’d never been but wanted to some day. I said her church was beautiful.

“Are you religious ?” She asked.

I thought for a moment about why she asked that of me, standing in her church, while on a pilgrimage.

“Sometimes.” I answered.

“This is for you.” She said, handing me a little prayer card.

I took it from her and sat down in a pew and read it. The gist of it was that I am on the journey, as thousands of people have been before, over hundreds of years, I offer up my tiredness,  help me, give me a generous heart, help me walk the way of life with happiness.

Her version had a few more saints and mentions of God in it, but that was the gist, and it made sense to me at just that moment.

I think I was a bit more chatty after that.

We held hands and saw another Robin…or the same Robin really was following us.

We got to our hotel early and went looking for a launderette because one of us, despite being reminded several times to bring enough socks and jocks, and maybe not so many really cool band tees. We met Chicago Tom in the launderette and chatted about his retired life in Florida, and his Camino journey, he’d started in St.John in France, 37 days , and over 1,000k away.

We later bumped into the Dublin threesome and the Georgia boys and chatted briefly to them about their journeys. Everyone doing it for a different reason, and yet connected somehow.

Good night’s sleep without any neighbourly flagellation/lovefest interuptions, breakfast before 07.30am and off in search of Arca, which we later saw referred to as both O Pino, and O’Pedrouza. We were a bit confused until we arrived and saw that it was all three, the same way that Bunbeg, Derrybeg, and Gweedore are three villages in Donegal that are on the same street.

It was 19k and gentle enough terrain and we arrived early and decide to have lunch before our siesta. My Soulmate had heard that a café, OK M19 , catered for Coeliacs, so we went there. We took a seat in their gorgeous garden and were then ignored for a decent time, during which my Soulmate looked it up on TripAdvisor and saw it’s most recent 1 star review where the poster said that she’d visited Spain for over 20 years, loved it, but had never met ruder staff anywhere in the world. When the waiter came I just said ‘Beer, grande’ , and my Soulmate said ‘Rioja’. He started to say something in Spanish about today’s special, and I took a chance and said ‘One please’ holding up a single finger for explanation. My Soulmate didn’t fancy explaining her dietary requirements, so just ate the olives.

The special was Cuttlefish, including the heads and tendrils.

We had a big appetite for dinner later. We stayed up later than usual, sitting outside the café having a beer and open and honest chats. It’s not like we don’t have them at home, but time spent mostly in only each other’s company, walking, experiencing the same journey, prompted them more often.

We saw two nice little churches in o Pedrouza as we left, and then didn’t really see anymore until we got to A Lavacolla, where pilgrims traditionally washed their clothes and themselves before they arrived in Santiago. We’d had a shower that morning, and been to the launderette, so we passed on that.

It was quite hilly and the hottest day so far , but we made it to the cathedral in Santiago by 2pm. We found our hotel then went for a wander, sat in a square, had pints of beer and Rioja and booked a fancy restaurant for dinner that evening, had a snooze, then went for dinner in Orixe, which was gorgeous.

As we had no walking to do the next day we had a sinful lie in until 9.00am the next day then went exploring museums, the Sepulchre, a Benedictine monastery, another museum, and then had a siesta.

On our way to dinner that night we got caught up in a procession where they were carrying a life size effigy of Jesus on a huge plinth, priests were twirling incense like it was going out of fashion , there were Spanish ladies dressed in black lace looking exactly like what you now picture in your head as soon as you read, ‘Spanish ladies dressed in black lace’, and a band ! We followed it until it passed close to our restaurant and then we ducked inside. We asked the waiter what was the procession for, “I don’t know, they do this nearly everyday !” he replied.

During dinner we got word from home that an old friend , Brian Toal, had passed away. It was quite the shock. We knew he’d been ill last year, but hadn’t realised how ill. In our younger days, we spent manys an evening in the Westenra’s Video Bar in Monaghan, The Bursted Sofa in Clones, and the Monaghan United Saturday night disco, in Brian’s company. He was always quiet, shy, and yet somehow self assured. Later I’d bump into him when we’d play 5-a-side soccer in the Beech Hill gym. You never wanted to play opposite Brian, he took it very seriously…no , that’s not fair…he took it very, very, very seriously, and you never wanted to get in his way , or in front of one of his shots, or on the receiving end of one of his tackles.

Later still I’d bump into him occasionally at a gig, Post Party , and Fontaines DC being the most recent.

Our hearts went out to Denise and the kids. Next day we lit a candle for him in the Cathedral.

I love Santiago.

Around every corner is a doorway, a new square, something to be explored.

I loved spending time on our own, away from the everyday.

We saw a Robin every single day. Or we saw the same Robin every single day.

We chatted freely.

We held hands.

Life is short.

Travel wisely.

Travel well.

Travel often.


Hold hands.

Buen Camino !


P.S. For Brian

Author: paul

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