Noel Braun’s book takes one on a spiritual and emo- tional journey of self-discovery. From the start of the book, as a reader, I felt great admiration for Noel as he relied on his strength, both physical and emotional, to walk these Camino routes.
Each day as he walks, the descriptive pictures which he gives – the terrain, the villages, the people, the foods – allow the reader to follow his path. One is able to visualise the vistas which he describes as he walks, taking you into the hills and valleys of France and Spain, and later on a second Camino, into Portugal.
Noel details his experiences of walking along busy roads, trucks roaring past at thunderous rates, causing one to recall those days when the peace and tranquil- lity of walking with nature are absent. He conveys so well the sense of relief experienced by the walker when the tall silence of the forest is reached.
Evident in Noel’s story is that unique sense of camaraderie to be found with fellow walkers – the delight in sharing the tales of the walk at the end of the day around communal tables is recognisable. Surely all who have walked have shared the pleasure when at the end of a long day’s walking there are familiar faces to be seen at the albergue. The close friendship which develops between Noel, and Mat and Laura, and later baby Maggie Rose, is lovely to share.
A constant throughout his story is the very deep sense of loss felt by Noel follow- ing the death of his wife Maris. There are poignant references to her throughout the story, but there is also the sense that he is managing to achieve times of recovery during his Camino.
Noel is often referred to by other, younger, walkers as ‘the old Australian’, not in a derogatory way, but rather in tones of admiration at his level of strength and fitness, something to be admired also by anyone who has set out to walk a Camino. He is seldom without dinner companions, showing a friendly and accept- ing spirit to all those he meets. I enjoyed descriptions of an array of restaurants and cafes, and of the local delicacies sampled.
Noel’s experiences as a hospitalero provided an insight into the demands of this role. His descriptions of the role, and the wide range of duties, made for inter- esting reading, while providing a segue between his two Caminos.
In his last few sentences of the book, Noel writes “My pilgrimages have breathed a new zest to my octogenarian spirit”. In reading Noel’s book I felt that his writing of the people and places to be found on the Caminos were such that this book would breathe new zest into the reader.
Editor’s note: While Julie has walked several pilgrimages, she has never walked the Camino routes to Santiago de Compostela, and so has reviewed this book through different eyes to ‘Camino-holics’.