Last year, retired journalist Mike Gardner, who lives in Calasparra, Murcia, walked the Camino de Santiago, an 800-kilometre pilgrimage across the north of Spain. Mike, who is 68, was so moved by his experiences that he wrote a book calledMiracles on the Caminoand The Costa Cálida Chronicle is serialising his blogs, which were followed by thousands of fans across the world.
Mike tries to buy a meal in the smallest supermarket in the world.
I arrived at a smart café on the outskirts of Castrojeriz in good spirits. I was about to meet a Camino legend: a Russian from Moscow, slightly crazy, loud, witty, charming and highly intelligent – a cross between Stephen Fry and Stephen Coogan. We had met briefly the day before and when you meet Kazim you can never forget him.
Kazim dismissed my outstretched hand and gave me a kind of Russian bear hug, warmness glowing inside him. Kazim was in the middle of a text conversation with his wife Elizaveta, who is an English teacher with a knowledge of grammar slightly better than Trevor McDonald.
Kazim is a big man with a big heart, a larger-than-life pilgrim who is charming and eccentric – he has so many distinctive characteristics. We laughed a lot as I teased him about his huge backpack which weighed 22 kilos and contained a two-man tent, ‘just in case’ he said.
It was a four-hour walk to our alberque in Itero de la Vega, but it seemed like 10 minutes. After we had showered and eaten, I suggested we went to the river to bathe our feet. I could feel another blister coming on. Kazim brought a bottle of wine to share with the rest of our Camino family who were staying nearby, at some kind of religious chapel which promised to throw in a foot massage along with the bunk beds. Apparently, it was an offer they couldn’t refuse.
We found a suitable place alongside the River Pisuega and dangled our feet in the cool water. It was another magical Camino moment as I looked around me wondering how I could be so lucky to be in such a wonderful place, with a special friend who was already feeling like a son. We were shaded under tall trees, already in full leaf and a heron flew along the water right in front of us, gliding effortlessly over the still water under the blue sky.
The next day was easy walking and we arrived in Villacazar de Sirga around 5pm – I met Susann from Germany, an old Camino friend from day three. She took me to the local supermarket where the proprietor was a friendly woman with blonde hair and a red face and she didn’t seem too fussed about making excessive profits as its opening hours were set at 30 minutes per day. Inside, it was around 10 feet square and it was a squeeze to accommodate more than two customers at a time, but for tired pilgrims it was all anyone could ask for.
It is easy to get confused in affairs of the calendar on the Camino. While I was resting, a bit of a debate was taking place between two pilgrims about what day it was. A girl from Italy was convinced it was Wednesday – she was quite certain about it, but a young man from Brazil thought it was Friday. They asked me, but I wasn’t much help as I didn’t have a clue and I didn’t care very much. I took a wild guess at Saturday and we found out later it was Friday. Every day just merges into one here; just one foot in front of the other; look after your body and feet and keep piling up the kilometres, one by one.
Kazim, who was staying at another hostel nearby, arrived with a couple of bottles of red wine and we enjoyed a wonderful night with Corky from Florida, Susann from Germany and Alfonso from Mexico. I had taught Kazim an English joke today which isn’t very funny and depends mainly on perfect timing. He was keen to try it out on his multinational audience and the absurdity of it all was hilarious. You had to be there!
‘My friend worked on the dodgems in the fair, but he got the sack last week for no reason.’ Kazim said confidently. ‘Now he is suing the company for Fun Fare Dismissal.’
I don’t think anyone understood the joke, but we all laughed together for what seemed a very long time. Now I should tell you that my Russian friend has many qualities, but keeping a low profile is not one of them. He is loud: very loud. It was getting close to lights out and we were receiving a few dirty looks from exhausted pilgrims trying to sleep just a few feet away from our party. A South Korean man, who had a low noise tolerance, appeared at the entrance to the dormitory and you could see him contemplating asking us to be quiet, but one look at Kazim, our 6ft 4ins and 16-stone Russian and he quickly changed his mind.
When I went to bed, I closed my eyes and after another unforgettable day, I couldn’t stop smiling.
Next month: After 18 days, I have reached Calzada del Coto – which means I am halfway to Santiago
Miracles on the Camino by Mike Gardner can be downloaded onto your Kindle, mobile, tablet or computer from Amazon books for 4.32€. It has 173 pages and more than 80 pictures and is also available as a hardback and can be delivered to Spain.