The Camino is not just for Walking

Pilgrims, Hosts and Ghosts

along the Way 

by Danielle Aird

Now available through Amazon in your country. 


Papa après avoir pris sa retraite. Il aimait bûcher; il a aussi planté beaucoup d'arbres.

(Written by Mom)

Maman a écrit ce passage le 4 mai 1997:

C'était en 1950, l'année de la naissance de ma quatrième fille, Diane, née le 10 avril. J'avais alors 25 ans. Nous demeurions à Val Senneville en Abitibi. Cet été-là, Lucien, mon mari, avait obtenu un contrat pour défricher ce qui devait devenir l'aéroport de Val d'Or.

Lucien s'est équipé de ce qu'il fallait pour bûcher et aussi il s'est acheté un petit moulin à scie afin de produire du bois de construction. Ma Soeur Carmen, âgée de 19 ans est venue demeurer chez-nous à ce moment-là et s'est installée pour prendre soin des enfants.

Sur ces entrefaites, à la fin de l'été, nous avions trouvé à acheter une maison de chambres de Mme Jos Lessard qui était âgée et voulait se reposer. Nous devions prendre possession de la maison le 1er novembre. J'étais enceinte de Nicole née le 24 mars suivant. Au futur aéroport qui était pour le moment seulement un chantier, nous avions trois petites bâtissses, une pour nous pour coucher, la deuxième pour le dortoir des hommes, quatre lits à deux étages et la troisième, qui était la cuisine, car il fallait nourrir tous ces travailleurs. Et devinez qui était la cuisinière!

Toutes ces bâtisses n'avaient que des moustiquaires et nous y sommes restés jusqu'au 1er novembre. Lucien et ses hommes coupaient du bois le matin, le sciaient l'après-midi et Lucien livrait les croûtes le soir aux gens qui les achetaient pour chauffer leur poêle.

Je me levais vers 5 heures pour allumer le poêle et faire le déjeuner pour tout le monde. Naturellement, j'étais enceinte de ma cinquième fille, Nicole, qui est arrivée le 24 mars suivant. J'ai été chanceuse, je n'ai été malade qu'une fois: un gros mal de cœur et faiblesse qui n'ont duré qu'une demi-journée.

Pendant que j'étais à 'l'aéroport', Carmen se débrouillait avec les enfants. Une fois, elle m'a conté que Diane avait été malade et elle lui avait donné une Baby's Own écrasée et Diane s'était étouffée, probablement parce que c'était comme une poudre. Carmen avait eu tellement peur. Elle m'en reparlait des années plus tard. Il ne faut pas oublier qu'elle était seule dans le fond d'un rang, pas de tétéphone, pas de voiture, il fallait se débrouiller avec les moyens du bord. Pendant ce temps-là, je faisais la belle vie à Val d'or!!!

Une chance qu'on n'avait pas grand chose à déménager, ça n'a pas été long pour le démenagement du premier novembre, à part ma bedaine!

Pandemic time is time to relive wonderful moments from the past.

Today, I am remembering the year Malka and I went to Jaipur. We had collected funds from ten friends or groups of friends in Kingston in order to have ten rickshaws built and distributed to men who earned their living transporting passengers for a few dollars a day. These men would normally rent the rickshaws they used. The yearly rent they paid was almost equivalent to the cost of a rickshaw.


A couple of years before, I had bought a rickshaw for a man I had hired in Jaipour for a whole week. He told me that he could not read or write but if I wrote down my name and my husband's, he would have them painted on the back of the rickshaw. 


When my sister Marie heard my story, she gave me funds to purchase two. One would be a Christmas present for her five grandsons, and the other, from money she had collected selling her beautiful jewellery, would be for anyone who could use one.


A big hug to take home for my sister from the wife of the 

rickshaw puller 


Marie and Scott' grandsons' Christmas present

When I was there, with Malka, my friend Laxman's brother took me on his motorcycle to visit families who would receive the rickshaws. Unfortunately, we only had time to find 7 families to receive the rickshaws. 

The Hip, always generous

Our rickshaw builders

Three of our donors agreed to donate their funds for the purchase of blankets for the residents of a leprosy clinic instead. Those residents all wanted their photo taken with Malka and me. It was wonderful to see how happily they lived together, and with such dignity. It was not at all what some imagine a leprosy colony to be. 

How can we jam all these blankets into that
 tiny rickshaw and leave room for Malka?

Some of the wonderful people we met at the clinic
They could teach us a few life lessons

Malka and I so enjoyed meeting them. It is one of our best memories of that trip. 

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

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.

Bed and Breakfast in beautiful city of Cienfuegos, Cuba

My hosts Norma and Oswaldo could not have been more pleasant. 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 impeccable 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 was impeccable and with a definite Cuban feel, and the newly renovated bathroom had lots of convenient hooks and shelves; hot water was available at all times. My room had air conditioning although I did not use it. In the alcove of my room, a small refrigerator was at my disposition and a stock of water, beer and soft drinks for me to purchase if I wished. Oswaldo and Norma's was the kind of house where 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 $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 three days, although I had planned only on two.
The Pearl of the South is a great place to visit even for older travellers 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, tel (01)(43)534596 Unfortunately, I don't have an email for them but you can find them upon arrival in Cienfuegos or call them from wherever you land. (also, Norma or Oswaldo can accompany you from the airport or the bus if you wish; they can also offer their services to show you around; This would be a perfect place for a novice solo traveller. ps. B & B's are called Casas Particulares in Cuba

Kala Charlu, an incredible woman

Kala Charlu, in the purple dress, holding her grandson, is with 3 of her dedicated friends and volunteers. Kala lives in Bangaluru, India. I met her at the market square in Kingston one Sunday in the summer of 2010. We talked for 5 minutes, no more. She liked what I was doing (raising money for Calcutta Rescue) and gave me her card. "Look up my website," she said, and invited me to visit her next time I came to India. Three months later, I was in India; I emailed Kala from Delhi. "Can I come to visit?" When she picked me up at the airport, she said: “I can’t believe you are here. We only met for a few minutes and here you are.” ”When people invite me, I show up.” We had a good laugh and spent 3 wonderful days together. Kala showed me what she is doing to commemorate the life of her daughter Mitu who was killed in a car accident in her early 20’s. I showed some of her friends how to make gift bags and headbands and we were able to raise funds by selling those in Kingston.

One of Kala’s many initiatives is to help supply sanitary products to poor women; this is something that we take for granted in Canada, but without them, these young girls might quit school as soon as they get their period, or if they are working, they will skip work several days a month to save themselves from an embarrassing situation. Kala is working hard to sponsor as many needy young women as she can.

A man in Karnataka invented a machine to produce eco-friendly napkins out of banana leaves which cost about $8. for a year’s supply (and hiring women in the process). When I realized that for less than the cost of a lunch out, I can help keep a young woman in school for a whole year, I decided that I wanted to help Kala reach her goals.

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