Varanasi
Mar13

Varanasi

It's me Paul this time. I think it's better to write a few days after being somewhere, distance lends a certain completeness. ( Judy I know you like the relationship stuff ) We are getting on fine together as good travelling companions, but with a few what is the meaning of life conversations as well! I'm writing this next to a beautiful lake, in the Himalaya with tantalising white glimpses of the highest peaks in the world. Thinking about Varanasi and our time spent there. After giving up trying to get a train, only one a day and booked weeks in advance, we cheated and flew. Obviously now the Indian middle class mode of transport. Brand new Airbus, one of dozens continually taking off and landing going literally everywhere in India. Western priced planes with western priced fuel and no shortage of business. India is indeed a land of twin economies. Met at airport by our driver. This totally takes the hassle out of arriving at new places. Now Indian roads are scary places. Like most Indian phenomena, not designed for Western sensibilities. Dangerous and with absolutely no rules whatsoever. Don't believe any advert for a second hand car with only one careful owner in India. If you could choose a driver you would do so on the basis of age. Being old and still alive is a reassuring thing. Ours was young, with a young mate at his side and not only was he mad like the rest but he was fast and mad, and I'm sure closer to death than his older colleagues. Wo. There was no vehicle or place where he would not overtake, I was forced in the end not to watch, a bit like closing your eyes at the dentist. The roads became increasingly narrow and busier until gridlock set in. He finally abandoned the car and grabbed our bags and we hurried off through narrow lanes where only feet and small mopeds ventured. It was quieter, getting dark. Glimpses of everything and anything. Total diorientation. Finally a dark passage, a few loiterers, slight unease and rush into a doorway. We had found the Shiva Ganges Guest House. Presided over by a small elderly Brahmin lord. He was Mr fixit extraordinaire. “It is a pleasure to serve your every need sir. It is my duty to see you want for nothing” with a slight rocking of his head. This was his mantra, repeated many times, and actually true insofar as he literally could fix anything. We had an AC top floor immaculately clean huge room overlooking the whole of life that is the Ganges....

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The return of Lumbini
Mar11

The return of Lumbini

Yes Lumbini part two, as Ellen signposted I'd like to say something too. Not much to look at in Buddha Nagar the small commercial hub. Even Clint Eastwood would have wafted through and not paid much attention while drifting the high planes. Maybe a gnarled old gunslinger chatting to a colleague too young to be dead yet. We chose our room cheap and got what we paid for. Chose the Lotus cafe for beer and food. Does anybody do bad food? Chatted to some lovely Canadian women and a Thai guy. They came from the equivalent of Cornwall, prince so and so Island in the Far East of Canada. It gets very cold there. Back to Lumbini, the only example I know of a Religious United Nations setup. Some bright visionary brought up the land surrounding the Buddhas birthplace, a sizeable chunk of the marshy mosquito and malaria infested area of Nepal called the Terai. It's a long slither of land separating the Himalaya and the Indian hoards. It gets pretty steamy and grows most of the food. The purchaser did some extensive land and waterscaping and set up 40+ lots so that each country's Buddhist tradition could set up their own temple. You have to hand it to the Buddhists, great idea. Imagine Christians contemplating a similar setup. We hired bikes to get around the site. The whole place is only slightly down at heel. Lots of guards. Loads of non-urgent building work going on. Some sumptuous temples. We chose the most pristine, which of course was German funded according to the gate keeper. The only blades of grass out of position were those that had grown a little in the hour since they were last cut. The large heavy prayer wheels ran as smooth as a Merc. It was beautiful in a kitch way. The Puja that Ellen described was in full flow. After a few seconds settling in at the back with other Western gawpers the atmosphere could be appreciated. Obviously a holy and venerable place. But interestingly not holier than thou. The young boy monks shifting fiddling and nudging with big grins. Teenager monks whispering jokes to each other. The lama often just looked around cleaning his glasses. And in amongst all of this a tall lanky youngish monk was slowly going round all the assembled dishing out tea from a huge tea pot. Then I saw that as well as the usual cushion to sit on and small table to place holy words most monks had a collection of other goods including tea cups hidden under the desks. This was a living service, a...

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Just when I thought it was all over.
Oct29

Just when I thought it was all over.

We arrived in Santiago yesterday, with the usual long haul to be expected coming in through the outskirts of larger cities. Slightly disoriented we found ourselves the perfect small hotel bolt hole right in the middle of this ancient city. We even managed to sort our certificates out after hunting down the well hidden cathedral office. All that was left to do after good food and sleep was attend pilgrim's mass at midday today.     Off we go to a very well attended mass in a really beautiful cathedral. Every church architectural style is represented here with the emphasis on 1075 Romanesque. Gold dripping from every orifice. The whole set as a cross with one slightly larger knave facing the alter. We were half way down the North aisle. A nun with an angel pure voice led some quiet chanting. Then the assembled male clergy made their way in. Dressed in striking red and white this time. We still cannot make out a word of ecclesiastical Spanish. On this occasion it was an advantage. As well as the hoards of religious tourists there were many recognised faces. I was able to wander and review in my mind. There was a genuine air of goodwill suffusing the cathedral. As I went up to receive the rites, I was quite surprised to feel a warm tear of emotion, I went back to my pew gave Ellen a hug. We had finished, job done all's well with the world. Or so I thought. The camino still tantalisingly had the power to surprise. Suddenly it was as if somebody had charged the air with static. There was an excited murmur. Four purple robed men strode purposefully from the four corners of the cathedral towards the great rope that tethered the giant censor (incense burner) otherwise known as the famous Botafumeira, that hung centrally above the priests head. It weighs 80kg and dangles from a 30m ships rope attached to some sort of 500 year old iron mechanism embedded into the top of the main tower with an accompanying Masonic eye. It is only rarely used and we had no inkling that today we would be lucky enough to see it in action.   The four men in practiced unison, manoeuvred themselves into position and lowered the giant receptacle. Each officiating priest shoveled it full of burning charcoal and incense. They stood back. There was a moment of absolutely ladened heavy silence. Then the organ broke the impasse, moving straight into top gear, each pipe ripping out sound. The nun serenely sung a gentle heavenly moaning chant, totally out of kilter with the...

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Motorway life.
Oct21

Motorway life.

Well here we are. Only managed 20k today. Spent the latter half in a surreally steep wooded narrow gorge, abundantly beautiful. This was despite the random hunting shot gun explosions and the huge motorway that joined us. The motorway was like the background of a computer game. It was real, giant and stupendous but had nothing to do with us. It had no contact with us, we saw no vehicles as it was above our heads and only heard echoes as cars hit bumps above our heads. Finally our paths crossed. A junction and slip road led to the local village and service station. Where we are now. Yes we are staying in a service station! The reason. Ellen's feet are not to be beaten. Despite a valiant bacterial effort to render her ill and lame, they admitted defeat in the face of pharmaceutical attack. Reinforcements were called in and the other foot decided that it was going to finish the job. She now has peroneal tendinitis which has done the trick. Can hardly walk. The service station is a place of refuge. She is bit down about it, but I have to say I am not. We are in Spain and this is clearly where mainstream spaniards congregate. 3 random differences between a Spanish service station and it's UK counterpart. Guard Dog             Fountain of nectar               The knife cabintet. Sorry my photo does not do this male fantasy of space justice. It is big, glitzy and attracts just the sort of admiring looks from just the sort of people you would expect. So here we are with a perfectly adequate room, sitting at our standard service station table drinking beer. Ellen is studying the menu. Only 7.00 so a bit early yet. The menu contents and many other menus LIKE it will be the subject of another post. Needless to say, few surprises. Starters: Galician soup, soup stew, seaman's soup, soup of the day or omelette with eggs. Mmmmmmm. I like leaving in the dark, like we did this morning. In the old narrow streets just as the sky was starting to lighten we passed a battered old white 4×4 with a trailer. Shaded men were present as were camouflage jackets, rifles and dogs penned in a caged trailer. I know this is my soft mentality coming out here, but we were both disturbed. Especially as a few minutes later a small convoy of such vehicles passed us on the main road out of town, dogs fully pepped up howling and braying. Sorry it's just distasteful....

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Back to the hills.
Oct20

Back to the hills.

Haven't posted since the lovely small city of Astorga, so here are some diary details. We left at 8 in the morning, sunrise is 8.36. Very quiet everywhere, with just the occasional ghostly pilgrim in the distance. Our peace was disturbed by an early morning troop of running club enthusiasts and four noisy late middle aged men in identical shiny smart track suits out for what I presume was a regular morning promenade. We generally decide to delay breakfast and get a few km's out of the way before tucking in. I really like Spanish coffee and most bars do properly squeezed orange juice, using one of a variety of complex juicing machines. I would love to have one at home with a giant sack of oranges. Drinks are accompanied by a pan chocolate or tortilla sandwich. Since leaving Leon and especially Astorga the camino has become much more busy again. Lots of new people just doing the last few sections and I think quite a few people who skipped the Meseta and used wheels. Consequently compared to the mean and lean lot entering Leon, five days down the track there are a lot of hobbles again. Some really don't look in a good way. I am currently looking over my beer at a giant German with an equally large ice pack strapped to his ankle. Not a happy looking German. I'm keeping quiet. Ellen has had her little battles. Her feet really don't stand up that well to pounding. Yesterday a manky looking little toe, escaped to affect the rest of her foot, which swelled up complete with a red line of infection going to her ankle. Medically this is not great so I fired off a quick text to Jeremy the base camp doctor, requesting pharmaceutical advice. Ellen did some nursing care on herself and this morning we spoke to a pharmacist. She was very helpful and a few minutes later we came away with dressings, loads of ibuprofen and the erythromycin recommended by Jeremy without prescription. I must admit I though the EEC had its rules, but maybe not in Spain. Ellen is now lounging in a bath soaking the sore toe and generally chilling out. She has been pretty brave, as the toe / foot thing looked pretty inflamed and tender. Yesterday was a really lovely walk mostly through mountains, still getting used to the larger number of pilgrims. We got up to over 1400m, so it was a bit chilly but the weather held out and the views were great despite the wind farm paraphernalia of turbines, pylons and scarring paths littering the landscape....

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