Images from Paraty. Or Parati

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TV star

For some reason still unclear to me , upon arrival in Aparecida I was asked to give an interview to the local TV station

Well, I thought it was local. Apparently it’s broadcast across Brazil

So millions of devout Brazilians can watch me respond to the question :”how did you feel about arriving at our national shrine ?” With a non stop stream of whining about blisters, “stupid” mountains and endless sugar cane fields that made my life a misery

Oh and I think I may have used national Brazilian religious TV as a vehicle to publicly appeal for information about leg stress fractures. The reporter looked bemused

“And another thing: make the sugar cane farmers replace the signs when they plough into them otherwise youll have more idiots like me wandering around lost

“And if that bus driver who refused to pick me up near Sao Simao is watching : I want you to know I hate you”

“But Bobby did you like Brazil?”

“Suppose so”

Tv journos huh ?

Same the world over

They arrived 45 mins late.and the cameraman was just like every other camerman I’ve ever met

Grumpy. Pissed off and secretly thinking to himself “This ain’t a story”

After the obligatory walking around shots and “noddies” we were driven about 6kminto the countryside to recreate our triumphant arrival

The TV pool car was also like every pool car I’ve ever been in. Creaking. Wheezing and with bits of the dashboard missing.

Filming was marred only by the fact I’d forgotten my rucksack and walking boots and everyone seemed to be ignoring my increasingly plaintive references to “stress fracture” as they made us walk and walk again for those atmos shots

But to be fair they were professional. The reporter reminded me of me. Thirty years ago when my journalistic future still seemed bright

He’ll learn

And I do like Brazil. Very much

I’m a celebrity. Now I’m out of here

One of the most bizarre but secretly pleasing things about walking the Caminho da Fe was finding myself the centre of attention in the most unlikely places

Whether it was because my good Brazilian friend Sidney had telephoned the pousada to warn them that a hapless, exhausted English man was on his way. Whether it was an entry I’d put on the Caminho web site chat room

But I suspect the main reason could have been my habit of writing my name in the sand and mud all along the Caminho

I did this not out of a sense of egotism but simply to let other hikers and bikers know they were not alone. That somewhere down the trail there was someone going through the same hell

Two couples on mountain bikes left me bemused when they stopped me and shouted “Bobby!” before embracing me and waiting on the next hilltop to hold hands and pray with me. Or for me

A grizzled farmer limped to his garden gate with the same greeting “Bobby?”. It was more of a question really as if he couldn’t quite believe I’d made it that far

A car went past with windows down and both driver and passenger shouting my name

At two bars they knew who I was and refused any money for food and drink. Which was much appreciated

But this sense of unreality reached its height in Aparecida itself when I was interviewed at some length by the national religious station , Aparecida TV

More of which later.

Oh and if anyone has personal experience of a stress fracture in the lower leg please let me know. Cos I think that’s what I may have

And that is that

Thirteen million people a year make  pilgrimage at the Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida

Yesterday – with blisters popping, calf muscles twanging and a worrying undiagnosed pain in my left leg – I was one of them

I made it you see. After more than 500 km of sugar cane plantation, coffee bushes and mountain tracks , I staggered into Aparecida with Val – an obviously devout Brazilian Catholic dude who’s been my walking buddy for the last 4 days

The approach was frankly uninspiring
Through a run down suburb and then a few kms of light industrial units and car workshops
Then under a flyover with a few homeless people cooking something over an open fire
Then past the trinket sellers and hustlers trying to lure you to their hotel
But the Basilica itself is like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s enormous

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They say it’s the biggest Marian shrine in the world. And second on my in size to St Peters in Rome

The place was packed with long queues filing past that statue of Our Lady of the Appeared

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At the moment I can’t claim to have had any great revelation on arriving here

Just an overwhelming sense of relief that I made it.

And though I stand to be corrected I think I may well have been the first Brit to do this