Sunday, 11 April 2010

Whatever happened to Paco?

Thinking about this week’s blog I was astonished to realise that this is the 100th post since I began telling stories in February 2009. Thank you to everyone who comes to visit.

Despite all of the ups and downs of life I’m fortunate to have been able to keep walking. It was a huge pleasure to share with you my pilgrimage on the Camino Inglés in the Spring of 2009. I’m very fond of that little route where pilgrims from northern Europe arrived by boat. Simply pick a set of steps at the harbor in Ferrol and begin. Then my summer project was a revision of the CSJ guide to the route from Madrid to Sahagún. This is a glorious camino although temperatures at that time soared into the 40’s. I was glad to have the messages of support which people left on this site. This week the finished Guide has been sent off to be posted on the CSJ website. This will mean guides to 8 routes are now available to download for a donation. The latest guide, just like the others, will be kept up to date through the information sent in by pilgrims who walk the routes. Thanks to all those who read the drafts and suggested useful additions.

The year closed of course with the Camino Hogmanay and for many years to come I will look at the little film of that journey with huge pleasure.
These caminos were the inspiration for many stories both real and fictional about life in Spain and the people I have encountered along the way. On 28 May I told the story of Paco who had descended into alcoholism and lost everything. He bummed his way around the camino routes sleeping in albergues and stealing from pilgrims. He hated pilgrims but one night he decided it was time to climb out of the gutter and make the change to become a pilgrim himself. It was at the point of his resolution he was asked to leave the albergue because he didn’t have the correct stamps on his credencial. In the weeks that followed that posting I was touched to get some emails asking “whatever happened to Paco?”
I’ve been thinking about him this week. I’ve also been thinking about Mari in the Pilgrims Office who got married in a gorgeous little church outside of Santiago. She is now managing a larger staff in the office as they all try to cope with the increased numbers of pilgrims in this Holy Year.
Remember Susana the secretary of the Archicofradía? When I asked her what her three wishes might be, her face took on the farthest away look I’ve ever seen as she answered, “amor”. I visited her recently in Santiago. She had news. The dental braces she had been wearing for years had been removed. She looked like a different lassie. Her face beamed with the news that she was going to get married. Don Jerano the Canon of the Cathedral in charge of the Pilgrims Office officiated at the wedding yesterday. Congratulations!
And what of the fortunes of the diminutive bar owners in Seville? I told that true story as the second post on this blog. I called into their bar just after midnight on New Year’s Eve. They were at first suspicious then astonished when I explained that although they were strangers, the custom in Scotland was to give the first person encountered after 12 o’clock a piece of coal, a cake and a bottle whisky. I handed them over wishing that they always have enough heat, food and drink – and good luck for the year to come. When I returned later that year I was given a royal welcome. They had won the lottery.
I’ve caught up with them since then. With their new wealth they decided to renovate their little bar in one of the busiest streets in Seville. They leased another bar along the road whilst the work was underway. The new place was successful and when they reopened the old place they decided to keep both. “Maybe we’ll add a third” they boasted when I had a drink with them in the very busy new bar. I was back there for a long weekend some months later. The original bar was closed with a To Let sign in the window. In the busy new bar the lady of the house was working non stop. Where was her husband? I enquired. She sighed and explained that the work and worry of two businesses had become too much. Then came the recession. He had a serious mental breakdown and was in hospital. There’s a lesson there for all of us.
Back home I continued to meet for drinks, laughs and lots of one-up-man-ship with five friends in the neighbourhood where we all live in South London. One evening the founder member Sean announced that following some chest pain and a referral to hospital he had to undergo minor heart surgery to fix a blockage. Although Martin the Plumber offered to carry out the procedure himself the boys set to the more beneficial task of devising a daily fitness routine for Sean. In short he started walking every day and found he loved it. I’m glad to report that the surgery went well. Two weeks ago he had a checkup and was discharged from the care of the hospital. He’s still walking.
In this last year La Terazza has hosted two large dinners for the Confraternity of St James including a Galician style Burns’ Supper. I’ve also had the pleasure of lunching there with a number of pilgrims returning home through London from their Caminos. Amongst others I’ve been inspired by tales of the Le Puy route related by an Australian friend, the Via de la Plata by an American daughter and father and the Camino Levante from Valencia walked by Andy, my friend from Birmingham.

Yesterday Andy assembled a luncheon party in La Terraza. He and his wife Bharti and daughter Meenakshi traveled down from Birmingham. We were joined by Taffy and Barbara who walked to the restaurant from their home nearby and their daughter Margaret and grandchildren Michael and Rachel who live in South Wales. This was truly a gathering of pilgrims as it turned out Barbara had walked the Camino Frances in the 1980’s long before it was popular. Then she and daughter Margaret walked from Glasgow to Iona the Scottish centre of pilgrimage where St Columba first arrived. Clearly walking is in the blood because 4 years ago Margaret and daughter Rachel, then aged 11, walked the length of the United Kingdom in one continuous journey from John O’Groats on the northern tip to Land’s End the southermost point.
The conversation was engrossing and at points deeply moving. We had all walked different routes, at different times, for very different reasons. Yet the bond was tangible and so were the common experiences – the help from local people, the longest day, the shortest day, the most memorable moment. The fact that these journeys impact so much we still talk about them all the time!
Apart from fellowship the common purpose of the meal was to present La Terraza with its very own sello designed by Bharti. Don Antonio was touched by the presentation and duly stamped the Inaugural Pilgrim Passport. Now even more pilgrims have reason to visit La Terraza for their first or last stamp and their first or last bowl of Caldo Gallego.
But I can hear you ask, whatever happened to Paco? I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for that story. I have to pack. I’ll be in Santiago tomorrow and will write to you all from there.

Here’s to the next 100 posts!


  1. Thanks John!! Not that you needed to do a thing to keep me coming back...but I do need to hear about Paco! At the very least, he is now assured of even more prayers and thoughts! Enjoy Santiago, and give the "him" a hug for me if the chance arises! God Bless, Karin

  2. thanks your stories....btw thanks for Easter Eggs esp the hermit comment didnt get posted somehow...

  3. I have visited this site and got lots of information than other site visited before a month.

    work from home

  4. Congratulations John! I look forward to your next 100 posts - they never fail to brighten, enlighten, or make me smile.

  5. Thank you Johnny Walker! I found your site via Andy's... and am delighted to be in the wide community of pilgrims that gather on the web! I live in Fremantle, Western Australia where the 'camino salvador' has just been inaugurated - a short pilgrimage to the Benedictine monastery of New Norcia in the red-dust country of the mid-west. This is a tremendous country for walking. There is also the Bibbulmun Track - a thousand kilometres from Perth to Albany. This is Nyungar country where people have walked for upwards of 40,000 years. Maybe you come and walk here one day :-) ... all the best and buen camino! Lucy

  6. Sounds like you have an extended stay in Santiago.... you must have time to write more about Paco now!!