Mike describes meeting a crazy Australian pilgrim who was 81, didn’t have a phone or a map and got fit by ballroom dancing!

Pamplona is the historical capital of Navarre, which is referred to by proud locals as Iruña and is world-famous for the ‘Running of the Bulls’ during the San Fermin festival in early July. The festival was brought to literary renown by Ernest Hemingway in his 1926 masterpiece The Sun Also Rises. The American author is a god-like figure in the city. He would often relax in the Café Iruña, in the Plaza Castillo, where today, tourists pose for Facebook photos alongside a bronze life-size statue of the writer. 

The ‘Running of the Bulls’ is not without risk for participants, who are expected to wear white pants, a white shirt with a red scarf around the waist and a red handkerchief around the neck. They run in front of, alongside, behind and sometimes under, a herd of fighting bulls which are scheduled for the fight that night and are not known for a sympathetic view of drunken humans. Hundreds have been badly injured and 15 have been killed, although those figures have to be considered unreliable as records have only been kept since 1910.

Mike with his German friend Melanie
and her affectionate dog, Nebi
Mike with his German friend Melanie
and her affectionate dog, Nebi

The centre of the city is vibrant, historic and beautiful, but it is difficult to concentrate on such things as fatigue begins to take control of your legs. We stayed in Zariquiegui where we met a German woman called Melanie with her dog Nebi.

John receives treatment for his blisters in Puente de la Reina. The 81-year-old Australian prepared for his Camino by ballroom dancing two nights a week.
John receives treatment for his blisters in Puente de la Reina. The 81-year-old Australian prepared for his Camino by ballroom dancing two nights a week.

The following day we had a close encounter with a lunatic from Australia in a square on the outskirts of Puente de la Reina. His name was John and he took bad planning to a whole new level. Get a load of this; he was 81 and didn’t know where he was! John was a hoot. I asked him where his map was and he said he didn’t have one and that he didn’t think he needed it! He shuffled alongside us at the kind of pace that will get him to Santiago sometime around 2020. John’s training for the Camino involved ballroom dancing and not much else. He said he had four blisters, but when Melanie examined him it was more like seven. He said he couldn’t figure out why his feet were hurting, but it might have something to do with his boots which were two sizes too small and only had an outside chance of fitting the ballerina Margot Fontaine. Melanie worked her magic on his ailing feet and he was soon feeling better. John hugged us and headed off blissfully happy, as if he couldn’t believe life could be this good. I don’t think we will see him again, but I had given him two pills of one gram paracetamol which Paul thought would knock out The Incredible Hulk, so perhaps he is lying under a bush somewhere with a big smile on his face. 

Paul started telling me about a group of friendly South Koreans he had spent his first day with. They had talked together for much of the day, using a lot of sign language and they had made a big impression on him. Paul told me that his big regret was that they had neglected to take a picture. We turned around the next bend and there they were; another Camino coincidence. After what seemed like 10 minutes of hugging, they arranged themselves satisfactorily for a photograph which I took diligently, composing the picture carefully and, so I thought, with great skill and dedication. They then set off purposely and we probably won’t see them again. At the next stop, Paul let out a small yell of disbelief as he checked the photo which was just fine apart from the fact that my thumb was obliterating all the faces!

You may recall my inept map reading! Well I did it again today. What we thought was a gentle 23 kilometres is 11km further and Paul and Melanie were not best pleased. The dog didn’t seem to care much. 

Next month:

A monastery where you can drink red wine – as much as you want for free.

Miracles on the Camino by Mike Gardner can be downloaded directly onto your Kindle, mobile, tablet or computer from Amazon books for 4.32 euros. It has 173 pages and more than 80 pictures.