Mike is crippled by blisters – until an Irish priest saves his Camino.

Today has been amazing. I have gone from depression to euphoria in one unforgettable day and I have been part of a special moment which, if you had a mind to, could be described as spiritual and is certainly inexplicable and possibly miraculous. Here is what happened. 

Breakfast in Villafranca Montes De Oca with Bruna, the cool Italian woman who was struggling to walk
Breakfast in Villafranca Montes De Oca with Bruna, the cool Italian woman who was struggling to walk

It is seven in the morning and I am feeling down in the dumps. I struggled to sleep much last night again and I am now the proud owner of four blisters, but this last one has affected me badly. I could feel it later on in the walk yesterday; the pain increasing as the day wore on. I covered them in Vaseline and plasters, but that didn’t make much difference and I started to feel vulnerable and tired and sore. For the first time I am starting to think I might not make it. 

Then the Camino weaved its magic spell, just like I knew it would.

I was feeling in a bad way just the other side of Viana, where all the cafés had been closed. I was cold and hungry and desperate for a rest. Should I turn around or carry on? Then a Spanish man came past and pointed to a café just out of view and less than 50 metres away. It is called El Cajon de Pan. I ordered eggs and bacon, two croissants, a doughnut and a cup of coffee and in not much time I had an empty plate in front of me. The Camino must be the only place in the world where you can eat 20,000 calories a day and still lose weight! Then Joe came in. 

Father Joe, the Irish priest who cured my blisters
Father Joe, the Irish priest who cured my blisters

We had shared an albergue together in France and he had given me his pillow, so we remembered each other right away. Joe asked me how I was and as soon as the word blister came out, he was searching in his backpack for medical remedies which he laid out in front of him. They didn’t seem particularly impressive or sufficiently powerful to make any difference – just a few plasters, a roll of adhesive tape and a white tube of Vaseline which looked almost empty. He commenced work on my feet and before too long, he was all done. Joe told me to put my socks and shoes back on. 

‘You must stop worrying now,’ he said.

I looked down at my feet and I could feel a strange tingling sensation which I was unfamiliar with and is hard to describe. Something was different. 

Joe is really Father Joe, he began telling me. He is a holy man from Connemara, Ireland and a senior ordained priest for The Columbans, a Pentecostal group of Christians who specialise in spreading the word of God. Joe had spent 30 years in The Philippines on holy business. 

He started talking to me, slowly and distinctly with his melodic Irish accent. We were standing up, eye to eye and he held my hands in his – both of them – and Joe said he would pray for me. He said he believed in me and that he could sense something inside me, some sort of power, so he said. I would reach Santiago – Joe was quite sure about it, then he was gone and there was no pain. Anywhere! I left the café and nothing was making sense. My bag felt so light. It was all quite remarkable. You may not believe me, but it happened. I was there. I saw it. I felt it. After a couple of kilometres, I stopped on a grass verge and took my shoes and socks off and stared at my blisters. I half expected them to have gone, but they were all still there, looking just the same – but without the pain. 

I couldn’t work out what had happened, so I just carried on towards Logroño and it was all so easy and effortless. I checked in to a cheap hostel close to the cathedral and tried to review what had happened and no matter how many times I relived that day’s events, there is no way of explaining it that makes any sense – and certainly not viewed through a scientific mind.

I couldn’t stop smiling and just when I thought today couldn’t get any better, I received a text from Paul, my German son. He wants to meet me at a place called Navarette, which is 13 kilometres away and will necessitate a 6am departure. I can’t wait to tell him what has happened.

Next month

I have now walked 260 kilometres to reach the beautiful cathedral city of Burgos where El Cid is buried

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. It is also available as a hardback and can be delivered to your house in Spain.