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My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - Journey in an Unknown Culture

WORLDWIDE | Friday, 11 February 2011 | Views [420] | Comments [1] | Scholarship Entry



I have never caught a big plane by myself before.  I felt like I was hanging by my fingertips…during the turbulence.  Then I grabbed the man’s hand next to mine.  It was instinct.  For an instant, his hand was clammy with soft hairs.  Then he squeezed mine as we dropped 8,000 feet.  We didn’t even look at each other.  I think he wore glasses with a bandaid holding the two lenses together. 


After a cervaza, we shared a taxi.  I had never taken a strange man’s hand, nor travelled with one so willingly.  But I was in a strange land and being with a strange man – suited. 


I had resolved to be open to anything on this trip.  Whom was I? Whom could I become?  Do I like who I am now?


I remembered that last beer as I sipped a Rioja wine, four days into my pilgrimage.  I am a convert.  Not in the religious sense, though I do worship the way that red stuff teases me on the path during the day.  My reward.  "El Camino de Santiago" is taking a lot out of me.  Thank God.


The street of my hotel in the bullfighting town, smell of burnt chickpeas and new cement.  My sticky fingers pressed primera on the cracked mission brown door frame.  A small woman with the face of a dried fig smiled and shuffled across the cream and white tiled floor.  Her brawny fingers brushed against mine as she beckoned me inside.  I had perfected my greeting as I am a good mimic.  Her thin eyebrow raised and she powered into a barrage of words, peppered with hand waving with there was an invisible fly.  Then she stopped abruptly as I raised my other eyebrow. 

Ewe – oss-tral-ee?



That was it.  She turned on her heels and my backpack straps scuttled across the pebbled foyer in time.  In Spain, not everything is spelled out to you.  You have to wait for answers to come.


Pamplona.  I even loved the sound of the name of this town.  Pampa.  Pamper.  Lona.  Loner.  Pamper the loner. 


My room had a breeze (but do I have the energy for hand washing?) and three pillows (two for under my sore blistered feet).  The bath braced for my gentle sinking and shallow breathing as my feet singed and toes burnt.  Both back heals had fresh deep wounds and each jutting angle from every edge of my feet looked like a blow torch had swept through.


The pain was nothing!  I was in Spain.  I walked 28 kilometres today.   I ordered breakfast in Spanish.  I said hello in Spanish.  I avoided every English speaking conversationalist.  I gave the right money in Spanish.  I made a joke in Spanish.  Without the mime.


Once dry, with fresh socks and compeed dressings, my elation floated me into the street as I traced the “path of the bulls.”  They were resting for a few months, so I didn’t need to look behind.  

Before the prearranged three course pilgrim’s meal, (included mum’s new milk), I limped lovingly round the course.  So many older people.  All dressed up. They seemed to know each other.  Do they eat and drink café con leche every evening at 10.30pm?  The toddlers play close by.  Why aren’t they in bed?


Later that night when I am sure I should be in bed, I swan into the lavish green café in which Hemingway wrote.  Grand.  A Fairyland.  The waiters are older men and it seems they do this all their lives with dignity.  This is their career.  Their duty.


Perched on a wooden stool, I am the only one alone.  But the loneliness was left in that taxi. I am free and I am me. 

Tags: #2011writing, travel writing scholarship 2011



hi dave

  mkeily Feb 14, 2011 11:55 AM

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