Cloister in Los Arcos on the Camino de Santiago

Cloister in Los Arcos on the Camino de Santiago

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Way to Easter

I attended a unique and engaging book launch two weeks ago. The Spanish Cultural Institute – El Instituto Cervantes – in Dublin hosted the launch of the book “Buen Camino” by father and daughter team, Peter and Natasha Murtagh. Natasha and her father walked three hundred km of the Camino previously before deciding on walking the whole route last summer.

The journey began fittingly enough at Dawn on the last Sunday in July on Croagh Patrick. They had climbed the stony mountain during the night to be able to watch the dawn rise in the East and light up the Reek and the islands in Clew Bay. They made their way down the mountain and over to Knock Airport where they caught the plane to Bordeaux, the TGV to Bayonne and the little puff puff train to St Jean Pied de Port (the one we hope to take).

Then began an epic 800km journey across the north of Spain. Not content with that epic walk they then walked the further 95km to Finisterre. The book launch comprised the reading of extracts from the book by father and daughter. Peter is a managing editor with the Irish Times and so it cam as no surprise that his pieces were well composed. The surprise was the maturity and poise of Natasha, who was only 18 last year and was awaiting her Leaving Cert results. I was delighted that many of the pieces they read dealt with towns known to Barry and myself from our trip in 2006 – Pamplona, Los Arcos, Estella, Puente la Reina. We are looking forward to meeting them again next month.

I had not intended to buy a book. My house is full of books I buy and have never read. I was so impressed by the father/daughter performance that I bought a book and asked Natasha to dedicate to my daughter Lucy. The chances of Lucy and I completing a Camino are slim but hopefully we will get in some good walks together, beginning this summer in Tenerife.

I had never made the connection between Croagh Patrick and the Camino. I climbed Croagh Patrick in 2009 for the first time. The main day to climb the Reek is on the last Sunday in July which is also the feast day of St James, (Santiago), and the major day of celebration in Santiago de Compostela. My birthplace is Murrisk which is at the foot of Croagh Patrick on the Eve of Reek Sunday which might partly explain my fascination with the Camino.

Last Sunday saw some serious preparation for the Camino. A group of us walked the half marathon from Leenaun in Galway to Maam Cross as part of the Connemarathon. I sported a tee shirt with Haven Logos. It might explain why I got some very nice words of encouragement on the walk.

We left Leenaun just after 11.00 – a few minutes late. Our bus first broke down and then took the wrong route – but that is all part of the fun. With an hour head start over the runners, it was about 12.30 before the first runners started catching up and passing us. One of the first to pass us was a slim African runner – he was completing the ultra marathon 40 miles – we had completed about 4 miles at this stage and he had competed 31! The locals were marvelous. There were teams of local people offering us water every few km. I couldn’t quite reconcile the green credentials of running with many participants throwing nearly full bottles of water to the side of the road.

We had heard horror stories of walkers being pushed aside by impatient runners, tales of spitting and peeing all over the place, none of which materialized. 99% of athletes were perfect ladies and gentlemen. 95% of athletes seemed to be enjoying themselves – the other 5% who were dragging tortured bodies along the asphalt should have been doing something else with their time.

I don’t believe I have ever seen so much Lycra before in my life. The runners came in all shapes and sizes. I had no idea God had so many designs for bums, legs, arms and shoulders. Clearly God had a different mould for every one of us.

In preparation for the walk I gave up the booze 29 days ago. I count the days – I can even tell you the hours. I cannot remember last when I went without drink for four weeks – on Monday it will be a full month. To advance the beatification process I have given up eating meat – for 4 days so far. I have been reading some Buddhist writings recently. I am not sure about the morality of eating another of Gods creatures. This fad will not last long however. I can eat just so much of Cadburys chocolate as a substitute. I think the Buddhists have it right in so many ways – if we leave aside the dubious theology.

All paths lead to St. Jean pied de Port. We are having our first formal planning meeting on Monday chez nous when I hope to conjure up some Spanish food and wine for my fellow pilgrims. Providing wine and meat which I will not share myself – is it heroism or bad manners, hypocrisy or sanctity – or just plain mad?