Sunday, 15 September 2013

Cultural differences and niggles

I suppose that it was inevitable that today would be anti climatic!  The fellowship that had sustained me for nearly two weeks was definitely over, the Pyrenees which had been so much of a focus for over a week were crossed, and there was a new reality to adjust to. Change is a natural part of life, how we adapt to it is the challenge.
The first indicator came yesterday evening when I asked the lady at the lodgings about supper. The restaurants open at 8.30 she said ! I was amazed that here in a high Pyrenean valley, and on the Camino normal Spanish eating times apply. With a couple of exceptions in France the evening meal was over by 8.30 and the dormitories quiet by 10. I was reminded that Andre at Aire Sur L ' Adour had said that the Spanish Camino is hard walking during the day and fiesta at night!
Last week Raphael had amused us by saying that the Camino is typified by three things- the sunrises, the afternoon shower and the evening sharing. Many of the owners of gites have turned the evening meal into a real ritual with quality sharing and fellowship. It will be a real impoverishment if that is not the case here in Spain.
I had arranged to meet Hubert at 6. I first explained to him about the eating times and said that I would ask about tapas in the bar . I had also brought the names and numbers of the gites that I had booked for Monday and Tuesday. He asked me to phone them on his mobile- he doesn't speak a word of Spanish! I said that I would ask the barman to do it as it would be cheaper. I had forgotten that tapas are called pinchos in the Basque Country. Anyway we soon had Ham, Cheese and bread. I arranged to meet Hubert outside the church at 7.30 and headed back to my lodgings. I had a comfortable and undisturbed night and got up just after 6.On the back of the door in my room it said that breakfast was between 7 and 9. At 6.50 I headed downstairs quickly followed by a clearly unhappy Spanish lady. She confronted me saying that breakfast was not until 8!   Clearly put out she said I suppose that you want some coffee, ushered me into a room where a table was set, and disappeared. It is a response which I have often experienced with latins and one that we Anglosaxons can learn from. When a person is put out they make it quite clear, vent their anger, and then it is over!  So it was this morning. After a few minutes the lady appeared with a large bowl of melon followed by toast, jam and butter and then a jug of coffee. She then disappeared and switched off the lights in the hall. I wondered how I could pay her. I needn't have bothered!  As soon as I entered the hall she reappeared. I paid her and, despite her earlier annoyance she told me not to hurry-tranquil she said. She was amazed when she saw my sandals. You will get wet feet .
I wandered down the deserted street and found Hubert finishing packing his rucksack. As we set off ,the first of those who had stayed at Roncesvalles were coming down the street many of them with lamps on their heads. Hubert had been watching TV and said that the rain was over for the day. He also said that if he had understood Spanish TV then Nelson Mandela was dead. On the Camino I have no interest in the news but this is different. We are talking about one of the giants of our age. Serenity and Graciousness are two words that I would use to describe Mandela and they are virtues that you pray for on the Camino.
I must now tell you about my daily penance. It comes from walking poles!  They are wonderful and the estimates that I have is that they reduce by 20-30% the stress on hips and knees. Unfortunately they have one irritating flaw, their tips!  When I was buying mine I asked for rubber tips to put over the metal. You won't use them said the shop assistant. How wrong he was!  Much of the Camino is over roads and, today, over paths which have been paved in places. When you walk with someone for any length of time, the constant clip of their poles is a real penance. Another source of both danger and irritation today were the cyclists. The authorities in Santiago accept three forms of transport, foot, on a horse or donkey, and cyclists. Today the cyclists have been plentiful. I don't understand whether mountain bikes don't have bells. If they do nobody uses them!  Some cyclists are most courteous slowing down when they see you, others shout, but there are those who try to pass you at maximum speed. At one point a cyclist gave me a real shock. In the afternoon I bumped into Paul from London and he had the same complaint. Just before I reached the village where I was staying I met a French couple who I had met at St Jean. It is the Padre they said what a wonderful time we shared with you at St Jean. It was a nice way to end the day. 


  1. Man cannot live by pinchos alone! I have just watched the film "The Way" which is about four pilgrims who meet at St Jean and stick together until Santiago - and beyond. When they cross into Spain the Spanish speaker insists on ordering tapas only to be told that in the Basque country he should be ordering pinchos. They too were at the mercy of cyclists. The film seems to be a true representation of the physical experience, so beware - in the film the pilgrims flee a lodging when they realise the owner is as mad as a hatter!!
    Keep going.

  2. Back at home there are also three important things:
    - dreaming of the sunrise in the morning
    - dreaming of the shower after many hours walking
    - dreaming of the evening sharing with many nice and interesting people, who are on the same way to Santiago!