The Guides on The Way

By now, you would have figured out that Su could not join any part of my 3-week sojourn on the Camino, which was not our plan. Given the choice, Su and I would rather be together for all our travels, which was what brought us together in the first place.

When I was still holding a job, I was required to travel, sometimes rather extensively. Typically, I traveled in a group with adequate logistical support and we looked after each other. On most work trip, we very seldom had chances to go beyond one square mile within the hotels in which we stayed or held meetings. I recall that I once flew to New York on a Monday night, rather late after work and dinner, arrived the Hong Kong Office for a meeting Tuesday morning and was back to Hong Kong Friday morning same week for another full day work. In New York, I was taken to a jazz concert after dinner one night and I slept through most of the programme. Such was the routine of my schedule at times those days that I sometimes could not recall where I was going on a Monday morning until the driver gave me the itinerary he received from my able secretary. Later, Rosita got wiser and worked out with my secretary a system whereby she would fax my itinerary to her beforehand so that she would not need to ask me where I was going. Looking back, I certainly could have done better in keeping Rosita informed.

After Rosita died, I had been paying singles supplements for those group tours and I became rather used to that. I did not exactly enjoy the experience though, for very often, I felt rather lonely during the travels. I told Gwen, the lady from Ireland who joined our coach tour, how I met Su and how we decided to get married after two months because we had lined up a series of travels for that year. Gwen somehow developed the notion that I married Su to avoid paying singles supplements for our travels and thereby concluded that the process was rather unromantic. A week later, I told Sylvia from the walking group the gist of the same story, but she concluded that I was a sweet talker and even suggested that the marriage proposal was rather romantic. Perception is a rather funny thing indeed; and it must be: Buddhist teaching categorizes mental formation as one of the five aggregates, which in the end are nothing but emptiness.

Back to my El Camino experiences, let me say upfront that I did not feel at all on this trip the loneliness that I had in the years after Rosita died and before I met Su, even though I was also traveling alone and ostensibly paying singles supplements. There are obvious differences, of course. Although we were thousands of miles apart, our minds were never separate. We talked on the phone more than a few times, particularly at critical moments, and we exchanged emails quite often. Indeed, I received on my iPhone during the walk the longest email I’d ever received from Su since we met, in which she told me what was on her mind, what she had been doing, how the market was performing and what the weather in Hong Kong was like. In one exchange, I even went as far as suggesting that the physical separation could have done both of us some good.

Let me now talk about the tour guides who traveled with us. There were two: Iago was the guide for the Coach Tour and Pierre, the Walking Tour.

First, Iago. Gus and I both said that we have never met anyone in real life with that name. Iago is Shakespeare’s creation and can easily be one of the most notorious and mysterious villains of all time, having spent inordinate amount of time plotting against Othello and Desdemona and eventually convincing Othello that his most faithful wife has been cheating on him. Many Othello scholars would thus agree that Iago is someone with immense capacity for cruelty and a natural gift to destroy the lives of friends, particularly his best friends. It is no wonder that very few people, if any, would choose such a name for himself or his son. But our Spanish guide is unashamedly called Iago; and he is such a jolly good fellow. Once again, it shows how dangerous perception can be. Indeed, Shakepeare, through Juliet, has questioned, “What it is in a name, that which we call a rose, by another name smells as good.” In Buddhism speak, name and form both reflects the impermance in life.

Our Iago was born in the City of Santiago de Compostela. He had read a Degree in Tourism and his knowledge of the City was only parallelled by his professionalism and dedication to his work, even though apparently his spoken English was a lot worse than his Spanish and even though he was not much of a singer, he tried hard. He took care of our two meals each day and introduced us to some classic, simple and wholesome food. The Spainards have slightly later meal hours than ours, so that it is normal to start lunches after 3pm and dinner 9:30pm. It took some getting used to initially, but we all survivied. Iago was flexible and sympathetic with the itinerary and he knew when to leave us alone. He tried to take care of our daily needs and had been generally helpful. We were therefore delighted when we learnt towards the end of the Walking Tour that he would be our guide for the half day – actually more than three hous – city tour of Santiago.

Turning to the land guide, Pierre is born French, from Danish and Polish parents. He met his Spanish wife in Belgium and had a career in finance going until his wife had to look after her family estate of some 380 hectares in Salamanca which is where he is now grounded, somewhat reluctantly. Pierre spoke fluent English and confessed that he had never really learnt Spanish properly, which explained why he was not perfect in interpretating the menu at times. Besides French, he also spoke some Russian. He was somewhat carefree and even appeared aloof; and he enjoyed a few drinks after work. He was somewhat an unfortunate contractor of Camino Ways, the tour operator based in Ireland from which we booked both of our tours. Camino Ways apparently was somewhat understaffed and was unable to provide him sufficient logistical and ground support to satisfy our very reasonable needs. But he tried hard; and in general, we had a good time together.

I would talk about other aspects of the trip in my next letter.

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