Tuesday, December 29, 2020

 You know you miss the Camino when you even miss this.




Wednesday, December 23, 2020


At last, my book is finished. Now, to find a publisher...please wish me luck.

I don't have a definite title yet, but maybe: 

Pilgrims, Hosts, and Ghosts of the Camino.

My American and British friends will notice that I use Canadian spelling.

Here is my first page:

Pilgrims, Hosts, and Ghosts of the Camino

The Beaten Track


Pilgrims have walked to Santiago de Compostela for about as long as to Jerusalem or Mecca. The most beaten path to Santiago, the one I would follow, is the Camino Franc├ęs. A thousand years ago, they came to it from as far away as Northern Europe and Ireland, the south of Italy, and everywhere in between. Now, one is just as likely to find herself alongside a pilgrim from Seattle, as from Buenos Aires, Seoul, Tokyo, Timbuktu, Pretoria, Canberra, or even Mumbai. One might even meet an occasional Spaniard.

What is perhaps less known about the 730 kilometre trail is that it is highly addictive. There is no caveat emptor. The number of pilgrims along the Camino has tripled in fifteen years to over 300,000 a year. Many of them are repeat business. They walk a part each year or the entire length in one go. And they come back again and again, sometimes along the same path. More often, they explore a different trail, either from the south near Seville, or from Portugal, or they try the Camino del Norte, closer to the sea, or one of the lesser-known ones, but always with Santiago de Compostela or even a further four or five days’ walk to Finistere (Land’s end) as their ultimate destination.

A repeat pilgrim will not be surprised to meet an eighty-year-old or a family with a toddler or two. Unbelievable but true, one might even stumble upon a handicapped person being helped along in a wheelchair, even lend a hand to get chair, pilgrim, and belongings over the crest of a brutal hill. Inspired by the Americans Patrick Skeesuck and Patrick Gray’s compelling book of that title, I’ll Push You is a recently created association of volunteers helping the handicapped make it to Santiago. I have seen dogs, horses, and one donkey on the Camino. Cycling pilgrims pass us occasionally along stretches of road or even on some of the rough trails. One cyclist had his dog in a basket. I even met a man pulling a home-built cart with his belongings. There are also those who go by car.

The Camino de Santiago used to be for pilgrims intent on earning indulgences to atone for their sins or asking for a particular favour. Nowadays, its hikers are still called pilgrims, (peregrinos in Spanish), but few of us would fit that definition. Many have never set foot inside a church.

No one can accuse me of being religious or spiritual. I have even been called pragmatic. My sins are much too abundant for my slate to be wiped clean from a mere walk in the woods, but the thought of spending several weeks on a nature trail listening to the birds’ early morning songs, the bleating of sheep, or raindrops splashing off my brand new poncho were quite enough to lure me onto the Camino. Visions of venturing into mysterious groves, past warbling brooks, fields of wheat waving in the wind, vines, orchards... had been filling my daytime dreams for a while now. What more could a vagabond old lady wish for? Wouldn’t it be enough to occasionally sit in the shade of an olive tree, dip my Camino-weary toes into an icy brook under an old stone bridge? When I enumerated all this to my husband, he couldn’t help but add, “Or listen to the snoring of thirty pilgrims in a stuffy dorm at night”. One thing was for sure: I wasn’t looking for transformation. Isn’t life itself an ongoing metamorphosis?



Sunday, June 16, 2013

Taking care of Auntie



To fly from Pune to Calcutta, one must go either via Delhi, Mumbai or Bangaluru. Having already visited both Delhi and Mumbai, I opted for Bangaluru. And, since I was stopping over, I might as well stay a couple of nights and visit. A quick email from a Canadian neighbour from Bangaluru said “Forget Bangaluru; visit Mysore.”
I arrived at my hotel very late but enquired if there was a tour to Mysore the next day. In India, everything is possible. A quick telephone call and I was booked for a 7 o’clock pick up the next morning. For the equivalent of $10. I would be picked up at my hotel to join a bus of Indian tourists for the 140 km drive south to Mysore, a tour of the city, and return to my hotel.
Promptly, on Sunday morning, a taxi arrived at my modest hotel where I seemed to be the only tourist and the only woman; I was delivered to the tour bus. There was one seat left at the front, by itself: the only seat with view to the road from where I would enjoy the semi-tropical flowers and the palm trees during the two-hour drive to Mysore. In India as in Mexico amongst others, for some reason unknown to me (but I suspect it is to prevent road fright) a curtain is drawn at the front of the bus, behind the driver. On this particular bus, the curtain was actually only ¾ of the way so that I luckily had unobstructed view.
I was the only non-national on the tour and was thus offered that seat, the very best one on the whole bus. It was a little humbling but, knowing the hospitality of Indians, I knew every single one of them was proud to let me have that seat. Shortly, a young woman behind me asked: “Excuse me, Madam, what is your country?” I was used to the question and thankful for all the times it had been used as an overture to conversation. The young woman was part of a group of 6 young people from all parts of India, all university graduates spending 2 months in Bangaluru training in I.T.
I ended up spending the day with these lovely students; it was not the first time that I experienced the hospitality of Indians. When I tried to purchase their lunch in order to show my appreciation, they flatly refused. "No, no, Auntie, you are a guest in our country." At dinner time, I managed to sneak payment for their meals to the waiter but when they realized what I had done, they firmly refused to let me pay and asked the waiter to refund my money.
Back in Bangaluru around 11 pm, the bus driver announced that unfortunately, it was too late for him to drop everyone off at their original departure point as he was supposed to do. The 6 students refused to leave until a solution had been found to have me safely delivered to my hotel. Not being familiar at all with Bangaluru, I had not wanted to take a taxi, and eventually, the kind bus driver talked to his supervisor who instructed him to drop me off at my hotel.
I was sad to part from my young friends but the memories will remain.

Friday, June 1, 2012

New Song in a Strange land by Esther Warner

New Song in a Strange land is a memoir by Esther (a woman from Iowa) about her time in Liberia in the early 1940's, when she was about 30 years old, while her husband worked for the rubber company. Esther was a first class writer, an absolutely fascinating woman, intrepid to the extreme, intelligent, avant-garde, art collector, appreciative and respectful of the culture she was getting to know; she had great talent for showing the highly developed philosophical side of that people without ever any condescension, with lots of self-deprecation and humour. She is wonderful at using the language as spoken by the natives. I found a copy at a rummage sale and could not put it down. This book is beautifully illustrated by Jo Dendel, a man she met while in Africa. (She ended up leaving her husband and marrying Jo); the book should be re-edited; it would be a New York Times best seller; it is as interesting today as it must have been after its first publication in the mid-40's. I could not put it down. It is just one of those lucky finds at a rummage sale. Lucky me! I am keeping it for my granddaughters so they will find a new hero, a new role model, in Esther. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bed and Breakfast in beautiful city of Cienfuegos, Cuba


My hosts were Norma and Oswaldo. As is often my luck when I travel solo, I received royal treatment on a small budget during my stay in this Unesco site nicknamed "The Pearl of the South".
Norma and Oswaldo's impeccably clean house is located one block off the Prado, about 3 minutes' walk down to the Malecon and 5 minutes walk up to the spectacular Parque Marti with its Colonial architecture
reminiscent of a more elegant age, including the Teatro Tomas Terry where the likes of Caruso and Sarah Bernhardt once performed, and many other buildings so delicious you want to wrap them up and put them in your pocket to enjoy them again later;


I could not have found a more inviting place to stay and more attentive hosts.


My room had a definite Cuban feel, and the newly renovated bathroom had lots of convenient hooks and shelves; hot water was available at all times. I had air conditioning although I did not use it. A small refrigerator was at my disposition and a stock of water, beer, and soft drinks for me to purchase if I wished. I did not even lock my bedroom door so confident did I feel of my hosts' integrity.

As for the meals, they were worthy of a reputable restaurant and always beautifully presented, and at the hour I wished. I paid about Cdn $30. for bed and breakfast and about $6. for a wonderful dinner of fish etc.

I enjoyed Cienfuegos so much that I ended up staying longer than planned.
The Pearl of the South is a great place to visit even for older travelers because it is flat and the sidewalks are not crowded. There are no touts or beggars. The malecon leading to beautiful old mansions,


the Prado which runs for several blocks and is lined with benches, and where you will see Cubans rocking peacefully in the shade




and the pedestrian mall are perfect for strolling; this nostalgic Colonial city is well worth a visit. And if you don't feel like walking, a bicitaxista will take you around at your leisure for about $2. an hour.


If you know anyone going to Cuba who needs a nice, safe place to stay, here are the details:

Norma and Oswaldo, Hostal Soto, Avenida 40, #3712 (between Calle 37 and Calle 39)Cienfuegos, Unfortunately, I don't have a recent email address or telephone number for them but you can find them upon arrival in Cienfuegos. Just hire a bicitaxi for a few dollars at the bus station. Oswaldo and Norma can also offer their services to show you around; This would be a perfect place for a novice solo traveler. ps. B & B's are called Casas Particulares in Cuba. If you go to their place upon arrival and they are full, they will find you an adequate place to stay; there is always somewhere to stay :)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Visit to my rickshaw wallah's home in Jaipur



A visit to someone's home in India is always a wonderful experience.  Papu was my rickshaw wallah in Jaipur. The family of five lives in one room; The kids sleep on roll-up mats; the couple share a single bed. One trunk that holds all their clothing. A washroom in the building serves all the apartments (about 12) When I visited, Papu's wife offered chai, as all good Indian families would do, and they sent the chidren to buy some cookies for my chai. The whole neighbourhood came by to meet this strange white-haired lady; I was a real event in their neighbourhood. I had only a few words of Hindi then and so it made for a rather fun visit. The warmth of these people is absolutely legendary. I never feel lonely even when travelling solo in India.

Beautiful people in Jaipur




Another year, when I returned to Jaipur, I carried with me money my sister Marie and her husband Scott had given me to purchase another rickshaw for a deserving family. I met these two beautiful girls and their whole family; the father is a rickshaw wallah, and the two young women make bracelets for a living, earning between the two of them 50 rupis (about Cdn $1.25 per day.) The family of 9 lives in one room. My sister's and her husband's rickshaw was a present for their 5 grandsons for Christmas that year.