Last year, retired journalist 67 year old Mike Gardner, who lives in Calasparra, Murcia, walked the Camino de Santiago, an 800-kilometre pilgrimage across the north of Spain.
Here is day two and Mike describes a typical café on the Camino, though this one didn’t have a kitchen!
There was a frosty atmosphere in our dorm, so we got up early and set off around 7.30am, heading for Zubiri, passing a caravan which promised a healthy Camino if you discard an item of underwear in a large box which was positioned next to the sugar and biscuits. Unfortunately it was too late for me, so I kept my underpants on and carried on towards Larrasoaña, to rest up for Pamplona tomorrow, feeling a bit sorry for myself.
There had been some consternation among the pilgrims last night about a picture that had been posted on Facebook recently, depicting a flooded crossing on River Erro, close to Bizkarret. According to the pilgrim, it had been a very wet spring which had produced dangerous floods and the picture wasn’t the worst of it. Someone else had posted a warning that the bridge was unpassable and quite recently, a brave, but apparently foolhardy pilgrim, had been swept away, still wearing his backpack and holding his walking poles, before being rescued a considerable distance down river. My guidebook did not mention biblical floods and contained a tranquil photograph of pilgrims wearing false smiles and dangling their feet in the river which looked about three inches deep. When we got there, the river was much deeper and flowing rapidly between large, square blocks of concrete, but it wasn’t much trouble to cross over them safely.
I arrived in Larrasoaña, entering the village by crossing an old bridge over Rio Arga, which was called Puente de Los Bandidos. I managed to translate this to Bridge of the Bandits on account of the area’s reputation for violent robberies of pilgrims going way back to medieval times.
I had been walking with a young man from Germany called Paul, who was a sweet person, keen to improve his English and we spent the rest of the day together at the albergue with not much to do but rest and try to forget the distance we still had to walk, which was always prominently featured on signs and posters and at the stands at well over 750 kilometres. It took all of 60 seconds to walk from one end of the village to the other and we found ourselves outside a restaurant, which Paul liked the look of, called The Amari. It is the only restaurant in the world without a kitchen! It is run by a man called Angel who is to customer service, what Donald Trump is to diplomacy, but every pilgrim should go there and I will try to explain why. It is more of a supermarket than a restaurant and Angel’s motto is ‘good music and fast food’. When I walked in, Sting was blasting out Roxanne on a record player that looked 60 years old (records are round black things that very, very old people used to have, to listen to music). Angel was standing behind a small counter alongside a microwave oven which had seen better days. In front of him was a small chopping board and a knife – and that was it. You selected your meal from a limited choice of plastic bags with his speciality being ‘authentic’ minestrone that had probably not been within 500 miles of Italy.
The restaurant was packed and everyone seemed to enjoy the food. There were plenty of empty plates. Angel said he would make me a tuna baguette and that I was very lucky as there weren’t many left. After 40 minutes, I was still waiting and when I asked him where my baguette was, he said he had forgotten, but that I wasn’t to worry because he had sold it to someone else. He smiled insincerely and I ended up with a tuna sandwich on brown bread and not much else. It was very tasty and his coffee was delicious. All pilgrims should go here – great music and an eccentric owner who seems to speak about 20 languages.
A fellow pilgrim tried to cheer me up. “We’ve only got 755 kilometres to go.”
Next month: Meeting a crazy 81-year-old Australian – who finished the Camino in 26 days.
Miracles on the Camino by Mike Gardner can be downloaded directly onto your Kindle, mobile, tablet or computer from Amazon books for 4.32€. It has 173 pages and more than 80 pictures.