Wednesday, 21 September 2011

El Camino...

Now sitting in an internet café in the South of Spain, it is hard to believe that less than 2 days ago I was standing on a craggy cliff on the edge of rugged Galician mountains, gazing out at an Atlantic that stretched onwards endlessly and merged with the sky in a blurry line on the horizon. I was in Fisterra, an idyllic, unspoilt stretch of coastline in the North West corner of Spain. Also known as the "Coast of Death", it is more or less the final destination on the ancient Jacobean pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela - El Camino de Santiago. Though the route culminates officially at the cathedral in the city, some pilgrims continued until they reached the coast in order to bathe in the sea be cleansed of their sins. For me, the simple prospect of reaching a beach was ample encouragement to pause only briefly in Santiago and continue for a further 3 days until I reached the coast. It was certainly worth it: finally arriving at the ocean, dumping my pack on the beach and running (or hobbling) into the water, was quite a powerful moment.

 However, over the 28 days that I was walking, I came to realise that meaningful moments are almost Camino-fashion. I met no end of people keen to share their life-changing camino experience: some had found spiritual enlightenment, others (often men) described how when walking on their own they suddenly found themselves sobbing uncontrollably. Sadly, as far as I know, I´ve had no such experience. Granted, the Baywatch-beach-entry was a special moment, but on a physical rather than emotional level - after 800km my weary, aching muscles and blistered feet were in dire need of attention and a bracing ice-bath in the Atlantic was the ideal remedy. I can´t help but feel slightly short-changed: despite walking at least double the distance of some I wasn´t met by any dramatic bout of self-realisation. If I did find my inner-self, it´s not had much of an impact: I´m still vegetarian and enjoy gin and tonics...

To be fair, I didn´t embark on the pilgrimage with any spiritual goals. In fact, one of my main motivations was the hope that I would be struck by creative genius and return with all the ingredients for a bestseller in my head. The unquestioning simplicity of the day certainly allowed for thinking and writing time- get up when you wake up (unfortunately often pre-dawn), walk in time to the sunrise, stop whenever you find a shop, talk to whoever you meet, sleep whenever you feel tired, stay wherever you end up. The unthinking routine set the mind free to reflect on anything, everything and nothing. However, I seem to have fallen short of that aim as well: though I have filled a diary (and overflow notebook) with scrambled descriptions, any coherent prose remains elusive. In fact, the only comprehensive sentences I have written were disappointingly mundane - the result of a frustrating, sleepless night...

I was staying in a particularly grotty government hostel - a dingy, damp room with white-washed walls and bunks squashed in as if it was a battery farm. Despite my surroundings, after a 36km day my exhausted limbs felt as if they were literally dissolving into the bed and I was asleep almost as soon as I lay down. However, shortly after the lights-out curfew, an elephant-like snotty rasp dragged me from my dreams and in the space of minutes, the hostel was filled with a cacophany of room-shaking snorts coming from two or three chronic snorers. By no means can I claim to have never snored, but this snorting-chorus, puncuated periodically by an offensively persistant trumpet ring tone that someone decided not to mute, must have been scraping the top of the decibel register, and the combined efforts of Nick Cave, Tom Baxter and Enya on high volume on my ipod all failed against the onslaught.

I spent a painfully long night smarting with the injustice that some troll-like beings behind me dreamt soundly while their incompetent breathing denied others some much-needed shut-eye and when I stopped for an extra strong coffee the next morning, a tirade of abuse simply flowed from my pen. Unfortunately, cutting through line upon line of uniformed vineyards in La Rioja, stomping across the stark, barren plains of Castilla y Leon and climbing through the luscious valleys of Galicia has failed to unleash similar verbosity from my pen... An indignant rant about a bad nights sleep is a fairly disappointing yield from a 28 day plod across the breadth of Spain. I can only hope that my current weariness and raggedeness is temporarily inhibiting the inevitable creative burst and that it is just a question of digestion time before the erratic scribbles in my diary become legible paragraphs.

Spiritual enlightenment may have eluded me but perhaps a few duvet-clad nights and PG Tips mornings will tease out something mildly creative...


  1. can i ask how much money did you spend for preparation and how much you spent during el camino?

  2. I spent very little in preparation as I already had walking equipment - pack and boots etc. The actual Camino is relatively cheap. Accomodation usually hovers around 5 euros - 10 euros maximum - and most hostels have a kitchen so you can buy and prepare food from a supermarket. If you do want to eat out, many restaurants offer three course menus for 10 euros so all in all, its an inexpensive trip.

  3. Hmm... sounds like it can be done :)

    thanks for reply