BUSKING TO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
Sunday 14 November 1999
Storms flay the hills above St Jean-Pied-de-Port. A good time not to go walking. Relax in the hostel and watch pilgrims by the dozen head for the hills, defying wind, rain, common sense. They'll learn ...
On the third morning, a Dutchwoman arrives: tall, beautiful, 60 years old with the smile of a six-year-old. She has walked from the Netherlands. Takes one look at the weather, decides to join me. The wisdom of experience.
As we sip our tea, there's a thundrous knock. Open the door to a blond giant, backlit by lightning. Ye Gods, it's Thor! Tall, muscular, handsome, I'm about to die of envy when he grins and says: "I just walked from Switzerland, but I'm not walking in this! Any chance of a coffee?"
He'll do. The three of us sit all afternoon like traditional pilgrims: swapping stories and playing cards. If only Chaucer could see us.
Sunshine at last! Set off with Liesbeth and Bastian. Overhead, flights of migrant storks drift up to the border pass above Roncesvalles - then reappear going backwards. Windy up there, is it?
We climb for hours, swapping life stories. Liesbeth's a housewife, walking to Santiago for peace. I've never met anyone so tranquil. I'm a trombonist. And Bastian? An architect and former jet fighter-pilot. Some people ... Cross the pass into Spain, battling a screaming gale. Liesbeth and I look like scarecrows. Bastian is photogenically windswept. Wearing Ray-Bans. Turn green, Val Kilmer!
Reach Roncesvalles in time for a celebratory meal. Our first ever Spanish dish. An Iberian classic. Fish and chips.
On together towards Pamplona, ambling gently as slit-eyed pilgrims zoom past. We've done 5,000 miles between us, we're not hurrying.
Fantastic vistas open up: rolling hills, immense red-tinged fields, golden beech woods. It's worth going slow. Stop for lunch in a tiny hamlet, ask for something local. What do we get?
Ham, egg and chips.
Reach Pamplona disillusioned with Spanish cuisine. The hostel has a kitchen. Suddenly, Bastian rules. Orders fly. We run to obey as he juggles pans. Soup, salad, stew, chestnut cake, is there no end to his powers? We applaud rapturously. He blushes. "My ex-girlfriend's a chef. She taught me."
Liesbeth and I stare at each other. He's single? There and then we know our fortune's made. The three of us toast a brand new business venture. We're auctioning his telephone number.
For more information on the charity trombone walk, visit the website at www.netplaycafe. co.uk/bonewalk
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