Travel: BUSKING TO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA - What do pilgrims do at Christmas? Get a cake sent poste restante, of course

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The Independent Travel

The Italian Blisterman leaves Astorga at dawn, vowing to cover 40km. The Snails' Club follows less manically, climbing into the Len Mountains past dry-stone walls and abandoned villages. Thorn trees grow through shattered roofs, snow lies in patches by the track. In the village of Manjarin, only the hostel is still standing. Geese and chickens crowd the porch.

It's more than spartan: bare stone floor, rough wooden table, and a wood- burning stove spouting smoke into candlelit murk. Even at noon it's gloomy here, but it's warm, and the warden is a legend. Once he dreamt he was a reincarnated Knight of the Temple of Solomon. Now he lives up here with horse and sword, dedicating his life to serving pilgrims - including Mr Blister, who's receiving minor foot surgery as we arrive and chatting with a bewildered American.

Tomas the Templar burns with ideas. He brings out wine and a guitar. With wind and snow rattling the roof-tiles, we sit and sing Beatles songs. Just like the 12th century. Well, almost...


Snailing onwards, together with Mister Blister and Jason the American, all thoughts focus on Christmas. Can we organise a party?

We would if we could communicate... German, French, Italian and two flavours of English mix in joyous confusion. Everyone speaks a bit of everything, but not much of anything. Weird flowers bloom in the grammatical garden. Cooking instructions: "Du brauchst un poco de vinegar." After a few days we can't even speak our own languages - "Hombre ja!" meets "Grazie beaucoup".

Somehow we lay plans. Sister Snail e-mails a friend in Germany to send us a Christmas cake - poste restante. Will it survive? Blisterman knows a Galician hostel complete with chapel. Everyone starts writing invitations and leaving them around. Four languages should be enough...

In the evenings we sit and plot. Amazing how wine lubricates linguistics! When it's all too much I chat with Jason. At least we share a common language. In theory. I tell him that in a hostel in Ponferrada I heard the quote of the millennium: "This hostel's the dog's bollocks." "The what?" Translation. Thoughtful silence. "We don't have bollocks in the United States." It's worth walking 2,000 miles just to hear it.

For more information on the charity trombone walk, visit bonewalk