Thursday, July 7, 2011

Do you remember an Inn, Miranda, do you remember an inn?

As I lay in the bunk at Ribadiso do Baixo last month, I remembered a poem from my youth.  Tarantella by Hilair Belloc.  "Do you remember an Inn, Miranda, do you remember an inn?"

I especially chose the albergue at Ribadiso as the only 'traditional' albergue for our group to experience on their three week walk of the Camino Frances.  I chose Ribadiso for two reasons.  It is large enough to accommodate a group of 14 people and it is old - very old!  The albergue is in the renovated 13th c pilgrim hospice of San Anton which won an architectural award when the dilapidated stone buildings were resurrected about 12 years ago aso that they could once more welcome pilgrims on the road to Compostela.

I remember staying in Ribadiso in 2002.  We thought we would walk to Arzua from Palas de Rei - some 30km - but when we saw pilgrims sitting on the green lawns in front of the albergue, dangling their feet in the river which flowed under the Roman bridge we decided to stop.  There was nothing else around, only a few farm houses on the distant hills and lots of cows.  As we walked through the large wooden doors into the cobbled courtyard one could almost hear the echo of horse hooves of pilgrims past.  All albergues in Galicia were 'donativo' (donation) and although we dropped a few euro into the box we saw a few young people bypass the donation box. 
We showered in the cabins at the back of the albergue and did our washing before joining the other pilgrims on the lawn by the river. Sitting in a field, chatting to other pilgrims, sharing bread and blister plasters is almost gospel-like and I felt the soul of the Camino, finding shelter after a long day's walk and sharing with fellow pilgrims.
By evening it was getting cold so we moved into the diningroom and gathered around the large wooden table.  The walls are almost a meter thick and the doorway is low so we had to duck to get into the room.  A huge fireplace, blackened by a few hundred years of fire, dominated one end of the room. 
There was nowhere to buy food and we were starving.  I had a box of instant tagliatelli in my pack and a quick search of the kitchen revealed a half packet of pasta, a quarter bottle of oil, salt, some onions and a few other odds and ends.  An elderly woman in her eighties and her middle-aged daughter came into the kitchen also food hunting.  They had two tomatoes and another pilgrim had bread. Soon there were more hungry pilgrims so we pooled resources and started cooking on the rather temperamental stove.  We carried the plates of food through to the diningroom and lit a few candles.  Nobody had wine but we had water and soon we were chatting and laughing and breaking bread and telling stories in a Camino-lingua around the table, one couple demonstrating how they had danced with a procession in a fiesta.
It was a wonderful evening of camaraderie and sharing and I wanted my group to exeprience that - to experience the soul of the Camino. 
But, it didn't turn out that way.  Since 2002 a new cafe-bar restaurant has opened right next door to the pilgrim shelter with plastic chairs and tables and umbrellas, a wellstocked bar and an extensive menu.  50m further up the road is a brand new albergue with laminate flooring, washing machines, television, wifi and internet.
Only 6 of our group checked into the albergue (the others carried on to Arzua where they booked into a hotel) paying the required €6 each.  A few other pilgrims arrived but only one of the stone rooms was full.  I walked down to the river and even though it was a beautiful day there were no pilgrims sitting on the grass, I could hear them all next door in the courtyard of the cafe bar.  I watched a blue dragonfly flutter about in the reeds and then went to have a look at the diningroom.  As I ducked under the stone doorway, I found the diningroom empty, the cavernous fireplace black and cold.  There was no laughter there, no singing, no impromptu dancing - no soul. 

Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of tar?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
(Under the vine of the dark veranda)?
Do you remember an Inn, Miranda,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
Who hadn't got a penny,
And who weren't paying any,
And the hammer at the doors and the din?
And the hip! hop! hap!
Of the clap
Of the hands to the swirl and the twirl
Of the girl gone chancing,
Backing and advancing,
Snapping of the clapper to the spin
Out and in--
And the ting, tong, tang of the guitar!
Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?
Never more;
Never more.
Only the high peaks hoar;
And Aragon a torrent at the door.
No sound
In the walls of the halls where falls
The tread
Of the feet of the dead to the ground,
No sound:
But the boom
Of the far waterfall like doom

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ode to the amaWalker pilgrims


We had two married couples who got on really well and who were a great delight.
Our senior citizen was Roy, a musical chap who carried and played his large and small organs (which were often the butt of risqué jokes and innuendos!)
He even entertained us and other diners in Santiago by playing the grand piano in the Casino R
estaurant – once the domain of gentlemen only.   His wife Kay is a bubbly, happy, cheerful Aussie who enjoyed her beers and even a Spanish version of a frosty, slush-puppy Guinness.

Charles was quieter but became the story teller in the group and after a Brandy and coke responded to the pleas of the younger ladies by regaling them with tales of his shipwreck off the Seychelles and his many canoeing escapades.
 His wife Barbara was our poet and mystic who spread calm and serenity and off the road. Excepting one night when Charles suggested they share a top or bottom bunk. (She put his daring suggestion down to the number of beers he had that day!)

Linda was our wild child – setting the pace by walking alone from St Jean Pied de Port the day before we arrived in Roncesvalles and also doing a solo hike up to O Cebreiro when we all got the taxi up the hill for breakfast.

Janet – the only US member of the group – was our invaluable translator of menus and notices stuck on doors, and telephone-whizz who was able to call hotels, taxis and transfer companies on our behalf. She learned the 12 South African slang words given to her and delivered an amusing speech all about ‘kak hills’ and ‘vrot rocks’ ‘blerry blisters’ and ‘lekker’ food. She is an Honorary South African with a badge to prove it.

Kim Francis was our morning song bird who woke up singing a Yoga tune, laughing and smiling like a breath of fresh air all along the Camino.

Sally, her roomie, was the quieter one, often comparing herself (mostly her aches and pains) with everyone else’s. Sally proved to herself that she is stronger than she thought she was.

Kathy was our girl scout, always in front, forging up or down the mountains and arriving first at the town or village, sussing out the easiest route to our overnight accommodation and then sending directions ahead.

Rayna, her roomie, was the carer on the team, always ready with a travel sick pill or a blister plaster when a pilgrim was in need.

Carole and Kim – our Jo’burg girls – skipped and ran, hopped and giggled their way across the Camino often surprising us by dashing past us and leaping into the air just ahead of us like Springboks!! They trekked an extra 70km up and down the Cebreiro hills like two gazelles and sent an sms to Syl, “Thank you for giving us our wings (angel wings) for this wonderful walk!”

Eugenie, Syl’s roomie, went from walking 0km to hiking 30km and surprised everyone (including herself) by setting the pace, often leaving the younger women behind in her dust.
Syl was the planner and organiser who made sure everyone had a bed at night, a meal and someone to help cart their heavy baggage to the next overnight stop. She was often the sweeper and made sure that no-one was left on the road.

Pami spent 9 days on the Camino with the group. Unfortunately she had to leave us to return home when her sister became critically ill in Cape Town. But, she left us with her deep spirituality and love of the Camino, making sure that she was in our thoughts and hearts as we continued on without her.

PS:  Pami's sister Joy passed away peacefully on Sunday 3rd July.  The whole amaWalker group send their deepest condolences to her and her family.  Rest in peace Joy.