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Pyrenees to Pamplona

Gregorian chants to Gregarious Groups

Woken to the sound of Gregorian chanting in a seventeenth century monastery sounds idyllic, but at six am, after a night of stereophonic snoring no sound was music to my ears. However the chants were a melodic reminder of the historic relevance of this walk so even after discovering they were emanating from a large CD player the message was clear.

I must admit I was roused and eager to continue, the excitement was with me, this place the mission, the feeling of being part of something bigger, something more important than myself. Everyone here shared the same goal, to become more at peace with themselves and process life's lessons to become more at peace.

Breakfast was simple, and quick. I was last out of the tiny shower that morning and was very happy to discover the lovely Nicole and Maxine just finishing breakfast before me. So after a quick coffee and some fresh baguette with the local confiture, I grabbed my apple, threw on my rucksack and joined the ladies on our walk. It turned out to be a lovely morning and we made good way. It was reassuring to hear the click clack of the walking sticks they used and to see the twinkle in Nicole's eye as we attempted to converse about the more important, more interesting and profound subjects..all in French so for me with some difficulty. I learned that both ladies were involved in a charity that took donations of clothes and gave the profits of any sales to the homeless. A very worthy cause, blighted only by the cynical attempts of other businesses, who would seek out any clothes that were profitable and buy them for resale at profit. Sadly, greed permeates even the most honorable of causes.

The day grew hotter and hotter, I eventually I broke away from Nicole and Maxine and sought shade under a leafy tree, I reached for the apple I had saved from breakfast and bit into the juicy flesh. Moments later two men passed me by and after seeing me hiding in the shade, they stopped to say hello, The most talkative of the two introduced himself as Scot, a tattoo artist from Canada, he was with a quiet, shorter guy from Mexico, Guillermo, who stood smiling as we chatted. It was obvious that Scot was proud of his tattoos, his body was a human canvas on which he displayed his artistic preferences. I must admit, that I am not a fan of tattoos, I love art in all forms, but feel the body is such a beautiful thing naked, unadorned that it seems brutal to permanently alter the purity of it's delicate surface, no matter how creatively. Scot was charming however and instantly won me over with his boyish smile and cheerful attitude. I said goodbye, wished them both 'Buen Camino' and finished off my apple before falling in line again with the ladies, who had stopped for lunch a little further ahead.

We eventually arrived in Zubiri, our stop for the night, a quiet little town with a pretty bridge spanning a shallow river that tempted everyone to bathe their hot, swollen feet after a long day of hiking. After registering with the ladies at their albuerge for the night, I decided to sit by the river for a while. It is necessary to present your Camino passport for the obligatory stamp on arriving at your albuerge ( hostel) for the night. This proves to the owner that you are a genuine Peregrino or 'Pilgrim' in Spanish. The accommodation is always inexpensive and simple, but intended only for genuine pilgrims, encouraging those who wish to take this pilgrimage not to be discouraged by cost.

I sat by the river alone for a short while, watching the braver pilgrims swimming in the cool water and was soon joined by the group of friendly, young American students I had met in our dorm at the albuerge. They were young and fun, full of youthful energy and humour, about the same age if not younger, as my daughter. I felt quite free talking to them, their mood was infectious and I enjoyed telling them all about life in Edinburgh, I entertained them all with a few tales of Moroccan adventures fpr good measure. It wasn't long before I noticed Scot and Guillermo walking towards us along the river bank, they joined our group and shared their own stories to add to the adventure. Scot's tattoo tales were quite close to the bone and I found myself fascinated by the psychology of tattooing; who wanted what tattoo, where on their body and why?

The evening beckoned and after sharing stories it was time to find somewhere to eat. Scot, Guillermo and I set out to find a restaurant, a tricky task, given that we were only ever in one place for a night, so no recommendations were available. Most of the local eateries offered a Peregrino menu at a very reasonable price, so we found a good table at a place that looked promising and ordered pinchos, the region's version of tapas. The food was delicious, potatoes in a spicy, garlicy sauce that warmed us enough to feel the need to order the other local and better known favourite: sangria. It wasn't long before a few of Scot's friends joined us until there was quite a crew gathered at out table. Our international crew consisted of a blonde hungarian woman named Eniko, Andi, the cheerful, witty German, Bob the sporty seventy-three year old Australian, J. D the bearded bear- like American photographer and of course Scot, Guillermo and myself. A happy bunch and I felt very happy chatting with them, at home from the start..although a bit reactive when the subject of Brexit came up..me being the only british person at the table..Oh dear!

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