Saturday, 12 July 2014

Road to Astorga

I've written several drafts of this post yet hadn't come close to putting anything solid together. Partly because I feel particularly attached to this little journey and want to do it right but also because writing/reading in London is proving tricky without concerted effort to be in a better environment. I watched Boyhood this evening and in a similar way to the Before trilogy it was thought provoking while being relatively understated - I'd recommend it.

Travelling from Menorca was a bit of a hassle and after a taxi, plane, train, bus I found myself wandering around Burgos at 2am in search of somewhere to crash, a surreal car ride with some strangers resulted in a expensive 5 hour sleep in a 2* hotel. I got the bus back to Santo Domingo and would spend the next 4 days wandering back to where I was before continuing to the next big town of Leon.

Coming back to the way I was fortunate to land in a eccentric, happy, varied, daily changing group of walkers from all around the world. Walking more or less 25km a day resulted seeing familiar faces over and over again. Landing in your 5 euro albergue felt a little bit like you were heading home and about to have a big dinner party. This was epitomised in one of my favourite nights at Bercianos del Camino, a tiny village a couple of days short of Leon. At the edge of the village was a huge looming crumbling farmhouse which operated as a volunteer run albergue for pilgrims; with a welcome free communal dinner and breakfast it was an easy sell to our walking group of 10 for the day and we gratefully crashed amongst the rows of creaking bunk beds. After typical afternoon consisting of the local bar, a siesta and reading (Into Thin Air - top book) about 50 of the pilgrims staying descended onto the dining room to enjoy the communal dinner. This meal had a special atmosphere as if everyone was just satisfied to be in there in that moment together. The vast majority of people started walking alone yet now found themselves in a unique shared community with the central aspiration of the way uniting them together.

A lot of people come to the camino at turning points in their life. They have left their job/partner/home and are working out their next few steps. It is a time to recalibrate, rethink and dream about new possibilities. All of this makes people much more open and receptive. Everyone you pass or passes you shares a 'Buen Camino', in the evenings people discuss their lives in the past and what they hope they will find when they return.

I met Pablo, Martyn and Nagori on my second day back and I stayed with them for the remaining 12 days till Astorga. You quickly form deep relationships on the walk. You have hours to listen and understand people, and join them as they work through their hopes and challenges of life outside and inside the camino. I think you need this level of depth to have meaningful friendships. The fleeting nature of our interactions with people in the UK makes this more difficult. Pablo, a Spaniard of course, had previously lived in Edinburgh and had a warm personality that he shared with all the various people we came across on the camino. We stayed with his doting family just outside of Burgos. Spanish homelife for 2 days was incredible. We had too much food and had a chance to get some rest which was needed after a few hard days back to back

Pablo was also the leader in the various renditions of Camino songs that are discovered as you walk along - the favourite being a glorious remastered version of La Bamba, entitled 'para ser peregrino' it contained mostly chat about bread and wine.

Our time in Leon coincided with their annual city festival and there were numerous exuberant marching bands that lined every street playing thumping anthems until the early hours. The city was packed and about 20 of the pilgrims tapas bar crawled our way through the melee. I had a bit of distance to cover till my departure city of Astorga so it was effectively the last time I would be seeing most of them. Through all the noise it was a chance to reflect on the previous couple of weeks. It's a magical thing to do, maybe a little crazy but there is no one I wouldn't recommend it to.

The transition back into a UK, but in particular, a London lifestyle is tricky. I met a 24 year old American after Burgos who recently completed the Appalachian trail; he talked about how after he had finished the trail in Maine and got to the local town he found the general traffic, city noise was like another world for him. He had been walking alone for 6 months through winding forests and his senses were so intune with that environment, the adjustment back to general Western civilisation and society expectations took a long time - and probably weren't at the levels before he set out.

Experiences leave a mark on you, especially ones which placed you in a refreshingly challenging, beautiful environment that is in contrast what you have previously considered normality. Your reality and way of life moulds to where you are.

I'm working in London until September and then I will get on a one way ticket to Italy for my third year at university. I hope to walk the last stint in Galicia over the snow in December.

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