The Camino Frances

Camino de Santiago is A Journey For the Masses

The Camino Frances“But I don’t think I can walk that far.”

“You can,” I protest. “The Camino is completely different from the Appalachian Trail.”

“How so?”

This is a sample conversation that I have had with countless potential pilgrims. Believe it or not, some of these conversations have been fruitful (resulting in the person deciding to attempt the popular Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Europe).

The Camino de Santiago was actually a big part of European life during medieval times. It is said that 500,000 pilgrims per year attempted the cross-continental journey on foot to the great Gothic Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. At the end of the Middle Ages, the Camino fell out of favor for almost 500 years; but in the last twenty years it has staged a stunning comeback. What accounts for this storied pilgrimage’s continued success?

Since the earliest human peregrinations, people have wondered how to travel more fruitfully, more fulfillingly, more soulfully. Interestingly, the word travel is derived from the word travails, which connotes beleaguerment. That brings up an interesting irony–in this day and age of supersonic jet travel and instantaneous electronic communication, it has become harder to travel well. Modern tourism so often seems to be about destination. One can often subtly hear the frustrations of travelers who return from their long journeys. Deep in their subconscious seems to be the thought, ‘Is that all?’ The hope of the sublime, life changing encounters somewhere along the way usually proves elusive.

Pilgrimages on the other hand are much more about transformation. The nature of the daily routine on the Camino is such that it is virtually impossible to not make authentic relationships. Pilgrims typically walk about 25 kilometers (15 miles) per day, taking a coffee or sandwich break along the way. In the early afternoon pilgrims usually begin arriving in the pueblo of their destination, and reserve a bunk at either municipal, private, or parochial albergues. It is then customary for most pilgrims to take a shower, do their laundry, and perhaps take a shower. In the early evening everybody heads off to local restaurants, usually looking for taverns that offer a ‘Menu del Peregrino’ (Pilgrims menu). This includes a first and second dish, bread, olive oil, dessert, and red wine (Hint: Bad wine has yet to be invented in Spain). Everyone then heads back to the albergue for a typical 10:30 curfew.

At almost all times, a person can expect to be surrounded by fellow pilgrims, hailing from countries the world over. It virtually impossible to not make some acquaintances. Better yet, these will not be the superficial ‘waiter-customer’ or ‘desk clerk-guest’ conversations that typify more conventional travel, but rather more authentic human interactions. Relationships just develop naturally and organically on the Camino. I spent a large amount of time joyfully traipsing through the Spanish countryside with a large group from Paris. Of course, the cultural rivalries and differences of French and Americans are legendary; but the Camino reaches beyond such narrow concerns.

Perhaps the best part of the Camino routine is its sheer balance. It is a compelling daily equilibrium of struggle, socializing, spiritual, history, food, and wine. Besides being a  babble of languages, the Camino casts the widest possible net in terms of age, abilities, and gender. I’ve seen pilgrims as young as six (which make for great photos), as well as pilgrims in their eighties struggling valiantly to Santiago de Compostela. While the Camino is certainly not an easy trek, it is clearly less difficult than America’s trail of the masses, the Appalachian Trail. For starters, it is a much more manageable size (500 miles to 2,180 miles). Better yet, pilgrims carry less weight, you never feel terribly isolated or fear getting lost, and there is no serious danger from either rabid animals or crazed humans. The Appalachian Trail has made great progress in gender participation; but the Camino de Santiago is probably the only popular footpath in the world where women equal roughly half the participants. And given that women are the fastest growing segment of adventure travel, I would look for women to eventually outnumber males on the Camino de Santiago.

The bottom line is this: If you like people, you will love the Camino de Santiago. This is all very fitting. While modern pilgrims have all kinds of motivations, the fact is that this storied pilgrimage has Christian roots. And Christianity by its very nature is a religion of the masses. Absolutely no one is excluded as, for instance, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca which requires its pilgrims to be members of the Muslim faith.

The modern Camino almost reminds me of a grand social experiment. Sizable chunks of humanity are thrown together for an intensive several weeks of travel on foot. I can honestly say that I have been struck over the course of my three pilgrimages at how civilized the vast majority of pilgrims are able to comport themselves over such a lengthy journey. In fact, it is striking how much less coarse language one hears or gawdy acts are committed on this pilgrimage compared to the other footpaths I have walked.

Yes, this old-new way of travel is here to stay. Let the masses go forward.

Bill Walker is the author of The Best Way – El Camino de Santiago He is also the author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trailand Getting High–The Annapurna Circuit in Nepal.

Buen camino.

Camino Voices

The tapas was excellent – so good that a restauranteur from a smart part of Bilbao was raving as much as I was as we nibbled plate after plate. I ought to know. I had tried most of the dishes which kept being passed through the hatch every few minutes. The chef behind loved playing with vegetable combinations. One minute it would be her inventive take on the classic tomato spread over toast that had me snapping up several plates and had them all laughing behind the bar; the next it’d be a superb aubergine concoction I would fail miserably to describe in words.

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I loved this bar beneath the church and the couple who ran it. Don’t worry, I’m not talking through the haze of their excellent wines. Indeed, I could repeat that sentence several times and place you in many a location along El Camino, so charmed was I by the people who looked after us along the way.

Where do I start? Perhaps with the force of nature that burst forth from an ancient beamed cafe-cum-bar set within one of the private albergues. She gleamed with such enthusiasm as she served the seemingly endless stream of pilgrims who consumed her delightful food. Or maybe with the man playing his banjo as he sold trinkets he spent the winter making. Or even the wacky man with huge eyes which swivelled round to lock in on you as his mind absorbed and solved one weary pilgrim’s problems after another.

IMG_1326Ought I start with the loving man to whose small albergue I will donate a bit of the profit when, or if, my Camino book ever makes money? Or to the main beneficiary, the voluntary pilgrim’s advice office in St Jean which is open 364 days of the year – closing only on Christmas Day?

There are many oases at the end of a long and tiring walk, but let me mention one at the end of a path skirting a busy main road. I was so charmed by this place that I, as did many a traveler, stopped over for an extra day to help clean and cook for the next night’s walkers. You step off a dusty road, open a gate and enter a paradise of plants and flowers which give your weary body an instant lift. To your left an organic vegetable plot is being tended by a volunteer from Barcelona; a volunteer cook from London rushes out to cut what is needed for the evening meal; a dog sidles up, smiling and then saunters over to wag its tail at the volunteer from Italy who is sweeping the paths.

There are chairs laid out under beautiful trees. In a dream, you register inside what is a private house, shower and emerge in time for the yoga class. A voluble late-middle-aged man, a city banker, looks dubiously at those starting to recline upon yoga mats, but three bright young women he has met along the way grab his hands and pull him into the yoga space.

Front cover copyUnable to do the stretches, I jealously watch. After the session, the banker’s face has softened. I see him go up to the hostel owner and, with welling eyes, say he had dismissed yoga as a New Age thing, but this has blown his mind. The owner’s eyes well up too as they gaze at one another with mutual adoration. I saw this happen all along El Camino, indeed it happened to me several times and not only with men. And I and the women with whom I had fallen in love were not about to have an affair, for we each, each time, knew that this is the magic of El Camino. No matter how hard you are, you melt and become a child again. Time and time again.

By the end of five or six blasting weeks of such open hearted emotion set against the daily rigour and discipline of walking, you have been transformed. So how can I, a man in a rusty white van called Le Van Blanc, who requires crutches to move more than a couple hundred metres, state such things?

At dawn my wife left me yet again, veering off from a place at which we had met after days apart. For the past weeks, to amuse myself, armed with my sketchbook I had attempted to capture the way as best I could. A constant string of pilgrims, or as most preferred to be called, walkers, stopped to chat. Over 500 hundred of them. Remarkable individuals from around the world and from all walks of life. Around my sketches they would let me write, anonymously, the humorous, wise or revealing things they said and as the days unfolded, many, many people asked me to turn my sketchbooks into a book.

The process, although I was unable to “Do The Camino”, was my Camino. It transformed a sceptic into a man who spent the summer and winter of 2015 creating a book to honour those hundreds of remarkable people; consequently, I have called it ‘Camino Voices’.

See sample pages of ‘Camino Voices’ at – iaindryden.com/books and there’s a bit more at – https://www.facebook.com/caminovoices

Walking for Peace

I met Mony, one of the authors of Walking for Peace, at a conference about the Camino de Santiago in October 2015.  I found Mony an engaging person to chat with and discovered during one of our talks that she had written this book. Because of that, I bought and read the book.

“Walking for Peace, an inner journey” is co-authored by Mony Dojeiji and Alberto Agraso.  The book is the result of Mony wishing to walk from Rome to Jerusalem; a walk of 5,000 kilometres over thirteen months and through thirteen countries.  The book is relevant to anyone who wonders what walking this distance is like, or anyone interested in pilgrimage or peace – though really the journey becomes an inner journey rather than an outward, so if you are interested in personal transformation you will likely enjoy.

What do Others Think of Us

11 - Border Crossing

It is fairly obvious from the start of the book that Mony is going to be asking many questions of herself:

“If I mentioned I was on a spiritual journey, a quest to know myself, would they think I had become a religious fanatic?”

Neither Mony or Alberto follow a religion, but both are continually seeking spiritual growth.  That spiritual growth comes about by personal change, not by any external changes in circumstance.

“prophetically, to change the world, I needed to change myself first.”

Even when we know this it is interesting how we still fight against change – the implicate threat in changes moves us out of comfort into areas where we have not yet learned to adjust.

Mony had visited a friend in Germany, who she had met on the Camino de Santiago, to ask if she would walk this route with her.  Hannah, her friend, did not want to walk, she appears to want some stability of place and work; though Alberto who Hannah lives with feels he see signs that tell him to go on this pilgrimage.

Alberto asks if he can come along and a shocked Mony says yes.

Friction Between Mony and Alberto

Alberto could not join Mony at the start of the walk out of Rome and Mony walked the first 120 km alone.  After twelve days they meet in Rieti.  One of the themes throughout the book is both of them being challenged by either others view of the world – however Mony is challenged by Alberto more.

Alberto does not have the money to stay in hotels and hostels each night.  His solution is:

“Since this is a pilgrimage, a spiritual way,” Alberto replied, “I was thinking I could sleep in churches and monasteries. I met an old man on the Camino who had no money, and so called on the churches for help. They usually gave him food and shelter. I won’t ask for food, money or even a bed, only for a roof over my head. I can sleep on the floor. If they refuse me, I can always sleep in my tent.”

Mony appears to have a strong sense of independence that forbids her asking for help when she does not need it – but I can’t imagine her never needing help, but rather being more comfortable when helping others.  The idea that they should sleep in churches and monasteries turns out to be a great idea that helps their journey through various countries.

However, Mony says:

“I’ve gone from being an independent woman walking for peace to a poor pilgrim seeking refuge. All because of Alberto.”

They discuss carrying a sign for peace, they had already bought yellow stick on paper for the letters a few days before.

“I agree the timing is good,” I replied, “but I don’t want to tell people we’re messengers.  Its sounds presumptuous. I mean who are we?” (highlight is mine)

12 - Foggy Croatia

Who am I? What right do I have? These are questions I have asked myself often.  Who am I to write a book about the Camino? Who am I to do anything that is worthwhile almost.  It can appear that someone else is more qualified, always. Fear?

The best description of fear that I have ever read is from the Life of Pi:fear

“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always.”

 

Personal Identity

We all have one.  It is our solid ground on a sea of time and a constantly changing environment.  Like many my personal identity helps me in some areas and is a road block in others.  This identity was created long before I knew it was there, with few decisions from myself.

Mony’s identity is rooted in business, an MBA, a great job with a software company, marriage, a dream home – but it appears that this did not produce happiness or contentment.  And then one day it all fell apart when her husband “announced he was leaving for another woman.”

On her search to heal and find meaning she started to discover “that I was the creator of my world, not its victim…” this results in Mony leaving her job and travelling the world.  Eventually, she found her way to the Camino de Santiago.

Conclusion

I bought this book in October and had a quick look through it.  I saw areas that would challenge me and my beliefs and, therefore, decided to put off reading the book until the Christmas holidays.  Despite some experiences I am firmly rooted in the physical world – I hold no or very few metaphysical beliefs.  This book challenges those beliefs and it is an area that I am not comfortable occupying.  Books speak to me differently at different times.  For example, I can read a book that has a profound effect on me and later in life re-read and wonder why it had that effect the first time or vice versa.  This is completely down to where I am in life at that moment.  My daily life, like most people, is work and business – while here I can become too cynical of anything that does not agree with my reason.  Hence waiting until Christmas when work would be out of the way for a few weeks.  I am glad I made that choice as I thoroughly enjoyed Walking for Peace.

28 - Jerusalem Collage

I will leave the last word to Mony and Alberto, they quote the following – which was popularized by Nelson Mandela when he mentioned it during his inaugural speech for the South African presidency. It came from the book “A Return to Love” by Marianne Williamson

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?   Actually who are we not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do.   We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

You can buy Walking for Peace on all Amazon stores, US here, UK here, and at all good bookstores.

The Way, My Way by Bill Bennett Book Review

theway-mywayI asked for book suggestions a few weeks back on the Camino Facebook page and on the weekly newsletter and The Way, My Way by Bill Bennett was suggested in both, so I bought it and read.

First off so you don’t have to read to the end to get my overall view – this is the best Camino de Santiago travelogue that I have read to date. It is funny, at points heart wrenching, insightful, and like the best of these books brutally honest. On top of all that it is a dam good read, one of the few that I found hard to put down in the evening.

You can buy the book here on Amazon.com and Amazon UK  – it is available on all amazon store and various other outlets.

However when I started the book my immediate impression was “I am not going to like this book or this guy.” Perhaps the book was deliberately written this way as it highlights the contrast between the thinking at the start of the Camino Frances and the more gentle thinking that develops through the book.

How Heavy is Your Rucksack?

Once on the Camino many of the first question that people ask each other is about weight, and there are lots of comments along the lines of “wow, look at the size of that pack”, keep the weight low is important. On the forum some members have even weighed everything and posted the information for others. Bill says:

I’d become obsessed with the weight of my backpack. Before leaving Australia, I’d weighed everything on my digital kitchen scales. I did this secretly, up in my office, in case my wife discovered I was weighing my underpants.

Why Walk the Camino?

I written about reasons for walking the Camino before, but I’ve never really figured out why it keeps drawing me back. Bill also asks why, he asks why a lot throughout the book:

I’d never done anything crazy like this before – a pilgrimage walk. I was not a hiker, and I wasn’t a Catholic. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I was a Christian.

And

I was also not an adventure traveller. I’d never kayaked down the Amazon or climbed Machu Picchu or trekked across Siberia. For me, adventure travel was flying coach. All this backpacking and wearing of heavy boots and flying off to France to walk ancient pilgrimage routes was a new experience, and not one that made me feel entirely comfortable.

And

No, I was doing this pilgrimage because… Yes Bill, why ARE you doing it? I had no idea why I was doing it. All I knew was that I had to do it. There was no question about it. I simply had to walk the Camino.

I met my other half on the Camino ten years ago so the Camino still comes up in conversations, and I still struggle to answer the question simply and easily why I walked.

Bill, like many says he wanted to think. Now apart from the fact that a lot of thinking is overrated, many who walk state this same purpose. Are we unhappy looking for a better way to live?

Lessons Learned

At that moment, I realised I was facing my first real test of the Camino. I quickly saw that this was more than just a decision about my naïve notion of what it was to be a pilgrim. This was a decision about my flexibility. My capacity to do things differently. My preparedness to take on change.

One of Bill’s first lessons was learning how to do the laundry, however there was much more than this to learn. He had started off with a romantic image of how a pilgrim should be, and part of that was trekking with a wooden walking staff.   However he, like many, suffered problems with his knees, legs, and feet. He had to discard the walking pole for sticks:

That then raised the question: Why are you doing the Camino? Was I doing it to indeed bring forth change? Did I truly believe that I actually needed to change? Or more importantly, that I could change? I was nearly sixty. At that age can you press the reset button and hope that you’ll default to a nicer less complicated human being? That you can expunge the irksome characteristics of a lived life, and rid yourself of those personality traits that have made life so unnecessarily difficult? For you and for those around you?

These are questions that I have asked myself; how much can I change? Shortly after Anna met me on the Camino she informed me that I was one of the grumpiest pilgrims that she had met. I am still not known for my sunny outlook, but the grumpiness has a bit more humour now.

Later in the book he says:

This damn Camino is like a psychiatrist’s couch.

I now prefer to think of it as a month long walking meditation that allowed me to see the constant circular useless thinking noise in my head that would not be quiet for a moment, and gave no benefit in return.

But he goes on to say:

I realised the Camino had just cold-cocked me again. It had brought up stuff from forty and fifty years ago that was obviously still coiled in some dark grubby little recess of my psyche.

Snoring and Farting

Noticing that one of his dorm mates on the first night snored; he thought he was doing her a favour by having a quiet word telling her that she snored. However

She told me that I not only snored, I farted. Then she left quickly, for which we were both grateful.

Other people in the room helped reinforce her statement, and Bill’s picture of himself was having to change.

I snore. There it is, it’s out. If you sleep in the same room as me earplugs will be necessary – earplugs are an absolute necessity on the Camino. And even I as a snorer use ear plugs as others snoring before I get to sleep keep me awake.

One night in a hostel on the Le Puy Camino, I was fast asleep snoring and apparently others who came in late could not get to sleep and were making some noise and whistling to disturb me. I slept soundly through it all, though they woke everyone else in the hostel…

Where Next After The Camino

I’d be in Santiago, and then this whole episode in my life would come to an end. It wasn’t just four or five weeks of walking that would end, it was more than two years of anticipation and planning and dreaming that would no longer occupy my life.

Part way along my first Camino I picked up a small booklet that discussed where now after the Camino and where are the yellow arrows in your life? I found my answer in mediation.

I’d become obsessed with the Camino. How would I cope when I got home?

I missed walking when I arrived in Santiago de Compostela. Initially my days appeared without purpose; yes I was going home, but to what kind of life now?

It took walking the Camino for me to see that there was another way, a simpler way, to live. Without fear, and without excess.

I wish I was there; I live with less excess now. As I get older some fears dissipate and some stay with me. Living and acting without fear would really be great.

Bill wrote a blog while on the Camino you can access it here http://pgstheway.com/ during the Camino he asked himself questions: Who am I, What am I doing here, What really matters? I suggest you click the Past Posts menu on the right and go back to the beginning, there are great photos and more writing as he walked the Camino.

Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found

I enjoyed reading Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed. I found the book very gritty, ruthlessly honest and inspiring. All that from a book that at first glance is about walking the Pacific Crest Trail. It is, but the book is also about Cheryl’s life to that point.

You can buy the book on Amazon Kindle here – Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail or the movie, here are the links for UK Kindle and movie.

Walking the Pacific Crest Trail was not a long held dream that came true; it was more how to escape from this mess of a life right now. The inspiration to hike was accidental, like many things, it came after noticing a guidebook in an outdoor shop while buying something unrelated. This relates to the Camino, I know many who just heard of the Camino because of the film or friend and got hooked and wanted to go. But yes, there are also others who had the dream for some time.

Cheryl’s mother died young of cancer and this is a thread throughout the book:

“It was the same when I tried to pray. I prayed fervently, rabidly, to God, any god, to a god I could not identify or find. I cursed my mother, who’d not given me any religious education. Resentful of her own repressive Catholic upbringing, she’d avoided church altogether in her adult life, and now she was dying and I didn’t even have God. I prayed to the whole wide universe and hoped that God would be in it, listening to me. I prayed and prayed, and then I faltered. Not because I couldn’t find God, but because suddenly I absolutely did: God was there, I realized, and God had no intention of making things happen or not, of saving my mother’s life. God was not a granter of wishes. God was a ruthless bitch”

I did say the book was gritty, and when it comes to sharing her personal life she is just as forthright – I doubt I could ever be that open in public.

I find that there are many who walk the Camino because they have reached a point in life where they have had just enough but don’t know what to do about changing. I fall into that category.

“I would want things to be different than they were. The wanting was a wilderness and I had to find my own way out of the woods.”

I learned many things on my month on the Camino Frances. Perhaps the most important was that I am not a quitter – for some reason that was one of the beliefs I held about myself.

“Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid. I was working too hard to be afraid.”

Walking and talking with other people everyday let me begin to see some of the fears that dogged my thinking. It was easier to listen to strangers while in Spain, and easier for them to provide insights. I remember clearly on the first day, walking up the hill from St Jean, my head is noisy – I just don’t stop thinking and I had doubts to how helpful and useful that was.

“I was consumed only with my most immediate and physical suffering. Since I’d begun hiking, the struggles of my life had only fluttered occasionally through my mind.”

wild

In many ways I became like this during the first and second day. My feet were so sore and my body ached from carrying too much in my backpack – it took a week to settle into walking.

“These were the questions I’d held like stones all through the winter and spring, as I prepared to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. The ones I’d wept over and wailed over, excavated in excruciating detail in my journal. I’d planned to put them all to rest while hiking the PCT. I’d imagined endless meditations upon sunsets or while staring out across pristine mountain lakes. I’d thought I’d weep tears of cathartic sorrow and restorative joy each day of my journey. Instead, I only moaned, and not because my heart ached. It was because my feet did and my back did and so did the still-open wounds all around my hips. And also, during that second week on the trail—when spring was on the very cusp of turning officially to summer—because I was so hot I thought my head would explode.”

I took a new journal with me on the Camino intending to write everyday my thoughts about how I had got to that point in my life. I ended up writing very little and spent more time with other pilgrims.

“I stopped in my tracks when that thought came into my mind, that hiking the PCT was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Immediately, I amended the thought. Watching my mother die and having to live without her, that was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Leaving Paul and destroying our marriage and life as I knew it for the simple and inexplicable reason that I felt I had to—that had been hard as well. But hiking the PCT was hard in a different way. In a way that made the other hardest things the tiniest bit less hard. It was strange but true. And perhaps I’d known it in some way from the very beginning. Perhaps the impulse to purchase the PCT guidebook months before had been a primal grab for a cure, for the thread of my life that had been severed.”

Walking the Camino is the hardest physical thing I have ever done, the one that cured me of the idea that I was a quitter. And I can agree again that the physical and emotional disturbances in life bring different challenges.

“I’d torn off the cover and all the pages I’d read the night before and burned them in the little aluminium pie pan I’d brought to place beneath my stove to safeguard against errant sparks.”

To keep the weight down she burned the pages from her guidebook after she had completed that section. I met someone on the Camino who did the same; the pages from that day’s walk went in the bin.

As for eating out on the Camino, it was the same clothes day after day.

“I was going out to a restaurant with six men, and I had nothing to wear but what I was already wearing, I realized glumly.”

This gave me freedom – I was just the same as everyone else, we all looked a bit rough after the first week.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do With your one wild and precious life?”

I have an answer to this now. For many years I just followed the expected path. Fear kept me on that path, I wasn’t the type of person that just followed their heart and made it work for them.

I like many walk around with regrets, regretting my own actions and sometimes those of others – but it is mainly my own that I whip myself with. Reading this line in the book made me pause:

“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have?”

She unpicks this one in the book even further by asking: could she forgive herself for something that was wrong, knowing that she would do the same thing again if in the same situation? Could I, can you?

“The PCT had gotten easier for me, but that was different from it getting easy.”

And it is the same with the Camino. Walking 30 or 40km became standard, but I was still very tired at the end of the day.

“I didn’t know how living outdoors and sleeping on the ground in a tent each night and walking alone through the wilderness all day almost every day had come to feel like my normal life, but it had. It was the idea of not doing it that scared me.”

And I got to Santiago and stopped walking and missed it hugely. Maybe that is why I went back a few times to walk again and built this website. But that sleeping in dorms with many others, sharing showers, and never having privacy had all become okay.

“Most of the people I met on the PCT passed only briefly through my life, but I was enriched by each of them. They made me laugh, they made me think, they made me go on another day, and most of all, they made me trust entirely in the kindness of strangers.”

There is something about long distance walks, the Camino, the PCT, even the West Highland Way in Scotland – the people I have met left me more than they took.

If you haven’t read the book I highly recommend it, even though it’s not about the Camino it is a great read.

I am currently reading The Four Agreements, but I am looking for more inspirational writing – any suggestions? Let me know in the comments below.

The Camino

A Million Steps by Kurt Koontz

It is not often that I find myself being judgmental of an author while reading his or her book, but with Kurt I was.  We are of similar ages, backgrounds, both of us had addiction issues and both of us left those behind many years ago – even though they are still something that defines us.  So, sorry Kurt, although I enjoyed reading the book, initially I was not going to write anything about it.  However, after my other half read the book I asked her what she thought and she really liked it.  So here I am getting over myself.

kurt_cropped

The title of the book seems to have come from some math that Kurt pondered on his thirteenth day of walking.  You know those thoughts where you just decide to work something out.  He counted his steps between kilometer markers and did the math – hence A Million Steps – I like the title.

This is a travelogue and not a travel guide, though it will give anyone who has not walked any of the Camino de Santiago routes yet a good idea of what to expect.

Kurt walked the Camino Frances in 28 days and the book is split into those days with a twist – each day has a topic along with some information or what happened on that day.  For example: day 1 explores the topic of Albergues, day 5 covers Arrows and Signs, day 14 covers Gratitude – I think it was a very smart way of covering all the Camino topics while staying on the day to day rhythm of the walk.

He talks a lot about his current relationship in the book from the Foreword till the End he weaves it into some of the stories.  He was trying, it appears, to make a decision; I was wondering while reading the book if we were going to know what he would decide – we do and I will not ruin it by stating the outcome here.

39WindMeetsTheStars

He also states at the start of the book that he wanted some alone time for an internal journey – I think that many of us who walk the Camino look for the same.  I thought before I went to Spain that I would have a lot of time on my own to think about some things and scribble in my journal – I had much less time than I thought due to meeting and talking with so many other pilgrims.  I think that meeting and talking with others was much better than me being stuck with my head for a month…

I read almost all my books now on a Kindle app on my iPad.  Something I did not see coming until I was in a country for a while where I could not get English books easily.  One of the great things about the Kindle is seeing what other people have underlined in a book and how many times each part has been highlighted.  I also use it for keeping notes – great for book reviews.

This line has been highlighted by the most people and is typical of the treasures within the book:

There is no way to be happy yesterday or tomorrow.  The only time to be happy is now.

I have written about happiness before and I strongly believe that I have more happiness and enjoyment in life when there are other people to share with- the Camino is great for that.

This book is available on Amazon as in Kindle and paper form, and also available in some bookstores.  It was published a year ago and is still relevant today.  Interestingly the book has had 272 customer reviews on Amazon, 200 are 5 star, 52 are 4 star – not too bad at all.

You can buy the book here for the US and here for the UK and this is his website.

Buen Camino! Book Review

Buen Camino! by Natasha & Peter Murtagh – Book Review

If you are looking to get a very good impression of the Camino Frances or bring back some of the memories from your own journey you can’t go wrong with this book.  I found myself unable to put the book down and wanted to read what happened next – something I am used to in a good novel, but this is real life.

The book is available on Amazon US and Amazon UK here, both as paperback and in kindle form.

Buen Camino! Book Review

The book, (Buen Camino: A Father and Daughter Journey from Croagh Park to Santiago de Compostela), is a father and daughter joint writing venture and all the better for the two voices. The book changes author back and forward sometimes giving different views on the same part of the journey and at others each cover a separate part. It was their second trip down the Camino Frances and this time from St Jean Pied de Port all the way to Finisterre.

This is the first book bar travel guides that I’ve read about the Camino. Although an avid reader for some reason I have not read any travelogues about the Camino. I recently read Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, and loved it – this seems to have inspired me to read more of this type.

They start their journey walking up Croagh Patrick in Ireland on St James Day, the 25th July 2010. Croagh Patrick is an important pilgrimage site in Ireland.  Nearby Peter found two scallop shells beside the sea that they attached to their backpacks to declare themselves pilgrims and they headed off for France.

The book tells it like it is, their experiences along the Camino and this includes:

  • Incredibly helpful people local Spanish and pilgrims
  • The pains of walking every day, muscle strains and sunburn
  • Washing clothes, not getting a bed, and the snoring
  • The developing friendships with other pilgrims
  • Annoying pilgrims – there are a few

Developing Camino Friendships

For me this is how I remember the Camino, not the blisters, sore back and legs, or hand washing my clothes.  The relationships I developed were and have been the most important memory of my Caminos.

It is the same in the book, I was interested to watch the relationships develop.  Was there going to be more than friendship between Natasha and Andrew?  I leave that one for you to read about.  The efforts the group made to stay together also illustrated how after being part of a “family” on the Camino pilgrims did their best to stay with the group.

There is everything in the book, love, tears, upset, disappointment – and a lost camera.  There are some highly touching moments where Peter writes a letter to Natasha and she later does the same to him.  Peter, also a journalist & editor, moves easily into the history, myth, and legends that have built up around the Camino Frances and weaves this information into the sections as they walk.

I highly recommend the book Buen Camino to all considering any of the Camino routes, it is a great read and full of useful advice and information – but mostly it is a love story of the Camino route, between Pilgrims, but mostly between a father and daughter.