A few months before I set out to walk my first Camino in April of 2013, I arranged via a forum site to share a taxi from Biarritz airport to St. Jean Pied de Port.
The three people who shared that taxi with me – two Hungarian fellows and a beautiful young lass from Holland – would become friends for life.
Foolishly, I had started my Camino with a dicky knee, born from too much over zealous training. By the time I’d walked to Pamplona, the knee had ballooned out to the size of a bloated grapefruit, and I was in a lot of pain.
As I was limping up to the massive walled city I met up with the two Hungarian blokes – Balazs and Laszlo. The three of us checked into an albergue, then they arranged to get my knee iced. Balazs bound the ice against my knee with his expensive hi-tech towel.
Later that afternoon he took me to a large department store where he urged me to buy some walking poles, because he said there was no way I would get to Santiago without using poles. Later he would tell me he didn’t believe there was a chance in hell I would finish the Camino. He thought my Camino was already over.
The next morning he and Laszlo prepared to leave the albergue to continue their walk, and as a parting act of generosity Balazs said I could keep his towel, as long as I promised to keep my knee iced.
I remember waving them off – sad that I would never see my two Camino buddies ever again.
I spent the day resting, and fuming.
I wasn’t going to let my knee thwart my desire to complete the Camino. So the next morning I set off, determined to try and catch them up. But both Balazs and Laszlo were fast walkers. I heard along the grapevine that they were now way ahead of me.
I knew what day Balazs was due to fly out of Santiago, so I set my sights on being there the day before so I could give him back his towel.
During the walk I criss-crossed with Rosa several times – always a delight – and Laszlo too, who had surprised himself by walking so strongly.
I got to Santiago two days early – but Balazs had gone to Muxia and Finisterre. So I waited, and the day before he was due to fly out the four of us met in the square in front of the Cathedral where I ceremoniously gave Balazs back his towel.
It was Balazs’s towel – or at least the need for me to give him back his towel – that got me through the Camino.
The four of us then went to the midday Mass, after which we had a very long lunch at the O Gato Negro where we ate too much pulpo, drank too much wine, and laughed way too loudly.
Since then we’ve kept in touch – and when Jennifer and I decided to come to Budapest I let Balazs and Laszlo know. Yesterday morning Laszlo picked us up from our hotel, after driving for three hours from his village to come and collect us – then he drove a further hour to where Balazs lives – in a beautiful town to the north of Budapest.
Both men took the day off work to show us around the town – Szentendre – one of the most picturesque towns in Hungary.
We then returned to Balazs’s house where we met his lady friend, a beautiful woman named Kinga – then he cooked us a truly amazing meal. Several courses of restaurant quality fare – the highlight being the best duck breast I’ve ever had, cooked to perfection – 12 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius, said Balazs.
It would be the catchphrase of the evening.
Balazs also provided some magnificent Hungarian wines. Man o man this country makes some good plonk
Laszlo is an architect and during the evening he showed us on his laptop the wonderful work he’s been doing, and later he sang several traditional songs from his village. It was very moving.
A great dinner and evening. Our only regret was that Rosa couldn’t be there with us.
This morning Balazs got up early and went down to the bakery and brought back some beautiful fresh pastries, then made us coffee which was of a standard that an Australian would accept – meaning that it was bloody good.
After breakfast we said our goodbyes – sadly – knowing though that we would see each other again sometime, somewhere, some other place.
This is the thing about the Camino – in a very short period you can develop incredibly strong bonds of friendship that can last years, even lifetimes. It kind of defies logic really.
Who would have thought that a taxi ride from Biarritz to St. Jean could be the start of such a friendship…