Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Road to Santiago de Compostela

It is March 2020 and with the very recently concluded sale of our business and a newly acquired no-longer-working status, Mrs C and I have turfed up at our apartment in Spain. Something called SARS-CoV-2 is beginning to make a nuisance of itself around the globe and our intended four week stay turns into five months as we decide to spend the resultant lockdown enjoying the double-digit temperatures and sunshine of Mar de Cristal as opposed to the UK alternative. Effectively sentenced to house-arrest for what turned out to be the first ten weeks of the Spanish lockdown, there is only so much painting of the apartment walls and ceilings you can do without compromising both the internal square meterage of the apartment and your own mental health. Despite never having previously been a great reader, I had considered that my new found status might allow me to rectify this personal shortcoming and as a result of which I had brought a Kindle with me. With both time and confinement now on my hands, I set upon searching for a suitable Spanish-flavour read and came upon My Reign in Spain: A Spanish Adventure by Rich Bradwell. In brief, Rich went to Spain for three months in order to attain sufficient competence in the language to be able to deliver a best man speech at his mate’s upcoming Spanish wedding. Rich went from linguistic zero to hero in three months and I was intrigued to find out quite how he did it. Having read and enjoyed Rich’s book, my Kindle imparted the information that he had written another book. Footsteps: A Journey of Redemption on the Camino de Santiago. Apparently, there’s a well-known five hundred mile pilgrimage route across the North of Spain which is known as El Camino. 

Oooh, that sounds interesting.

I have long held a romantic view of life on the road, walking from town to town and place to place, carrying life’s essentials in a rucksack on your back, stopping to eat and drink whenever and wherever you fancy and regaling the inhabitants of said bar or cafe with tales of adventure and derring-do. Always being savvy enough though never to outstay my welcome. Leave ‘em wanting more and all that.

Clearly, at the age of sixty three such fantasy demands a location where the weather is warm, rain is against the law and all overnight accommodation has en-suite facilities.

This romantic view however does not appear to be on offer. After finishing Rich’s book and then reading several more El Camino books by other writers, it was beginning to dawn on me that walking fifteen miles a day, every day, over the course of five to six weeks was not the proverbial stroll and my walking experience amounted to pretty much just that - the (occasional and) proverbial stroll. Yet this whole El Camino thing was beginning to draw me in. 

I am not religious. The nearest thing I have to religion is football and whilst that may sound like a glib comment, it is not meant to be. The Christian version of religion (and probably most other religions) appears to me to be much about community. Football too - the People’s Game - is about community mixed with tribalism, both being fundamental drivers of human need and behaviour. In my opinion of course. So maybe the appeal to me of this particular pilgrimage is the community aspect, described in pretty much all the books I had read as the “Camino Family”. That and the fact that it occurs in Spain, a country I love and in which I am lucky enough to spend much of my time and of course where it tends to be warm even though they haven’t gotten round to banning rain yet.

But I suspect that the real reason is as a consequence of what I can best describe as my later-midlife-crisis. I have never been good at birthdays that have a zero on the end of them. Every ten years, my latest “big” birthday takes even more getting over than the previous big one. Whilst I readily accept that growing older is better than the alternative, the six and the zero combined to hit me right where it hurt and forced me to start contemplating my personal mortality whereas previously I was invincible. Funnily enough, ages sixty one and sixty two have been fine as that is early sixties but going from having a five at the start of my age to suddenly seeing that usurped by a six took me a good few months to get to grips with.

All blokes have a mid-life crisis but I had already had mine at the age of forty one when I jacked in a twenty-three year career with a major UK high street bank having realised that I didn’t actually like banking. That decision led indirectly to starting the business which we had now only recently sold, the sale proceeds from which would be funding retirement. Retirement, that’s a funny word isn’t it. And similar to having a zero in my age, I discovered that retirement is a word I am not comfortable with, certainly insofar as it applies to me, with all its implications of infirmity etc. Bloody hell, I appear to have gone from respected, successful entrepreneur (my description, nobody else’s) to not-quite-dead-yet in one fell swoop. There really ought to be a better adjective than “retired” to differentiate erstwhile respected, successful entrepreneurs from the time-served recipients of a retirement clock but I couldn’t find one and it bugged me. 

In the months leading up to the sale of our business, Mrs C and I had had plenty of opportunity to discuss what life after work might entail for us and much of this discussion centred around Spain where, post-Brexit arrangements permitting, we were intending to spend a lot of our time. We wanted to explore the country, away from tourist Spain, and the prospect of searching out real beer and real football as an excuse to do so sounded like a pretty damn good plan to me. But whilst we had made it out to Spain as planned, SARS-CoV-2 was now messing us about and our mission to explore Spain on this noble quest was being denied us. Blimey, we weren’t even allowed out of the front door. Painting, reading, watching TV and doing jigsaws just wasn’t cutting it for me. 

Twenty years earlier having walked away from a job I really wasn’t enjoying, I was lucky enough to embark upon a completely different journey, starting up and building my own business, and I enjoyed pretty much every minute of it. But it was always a means to an end and that end had now been successfully reached and I needed a new journey. How about a five hundred mile journey? 

So I confessed to Mrs C my romantic view of life on the road, told her about the El Camino books I had been reading and how I thought this could be a great adventure for us, even if rain might be involved and en-suites might not. She is a wonderful woman Mrs C, the love of my life, and she knows me well enough not to take as read that every idea, plan, scheme, proposal or similar that I might come up with is either brilliantly conceived or foolproof. Generally speaking though, I don’t have too bad a track record in the new ideas department but this one was the first I had ever come up with that involved walking five hundred miles. She loved it.

Over the ensuing weeks and months, we discussed logistics and timings and determined that Spring 2022 would be a great time to undertake this adventure. And now, here we are. It's Spring 2022 and in just over a week, we fly out to Biarritz airport on our way to our Camino start point at St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees. We have accommodation booked for the first night. And that's it. Thereafter, we play it by ear. Can we really walk five hundred miles or are we just kidding ourselves?

Only one way to find out!

1 comment:

  1. So, it's nothing to do with the fact that I included Santiago de Compostela on my wish list when we were in Hebden Bridge Dec 2019? Just checking.