Package holidays eluded me for the first three decades of my life.
And when I did dip a toe into the delights of cattle herding on cheap flights and apartments at Mediterranean resorts, it lasted all of three one-week holidays.
My idea of holidays was picking up a rucksack and travelling around, either using public transport, or walking long distance footpaths.
So, when Susan Toy asked if I would be interested in reviewing My Camino Walk by Timothy L. Phillips, I was intrigued. A double bonus, a long distance walk, and set in Spain.
Oddly when Phillips gives reasons for why people do the walk, he doesn’t include the simple one that people enjoy long distance walking. He concentrates on the spiritual aspects, and the journey of personal discovery as main reasons. Some years ago, some Spanish friends asked us if we wanted to join them on it. We politely declined, what would we do with the dogs? It sounded more polite than saying we don’t want to walk with you.
I have to say I’m impressed that a 60-year-old man decided to walk 800kms from south-western France to north-western Spain, Santiago de Compostela in Galicia province. Not something I’d be up to right now despite being a few years short of 60.
Phillips tells his story in three ways really:
- His practical daily walk, the weather, aches and pains, stopping for meals – foodies will be pleased to hear there are quite a few meals described – his accommodation for the night, and descriptions of the countryside and some of the towns he passes through or stays in.
- In keeping with a journey of self discovery, he also revisits his past, and reflects on the good, the not so good, and how things turned out.
- Finally, he observes other walkers on the camino, and we get to know many of the people he meets, walks with, separates from and reunites with later. It’s a fascinating dynamic.
I found it an easy and relaxing read. Probably because I wasn’t the one walking 800kms, so armchair/sofa walking was extremely pleasant.
Some of the shared intimacies, ie conversations, between the walkers seemed very in-your-face. Not sure I could have handled them. To me walking is about enjoying nature, local architecture, local food, rather than sharing your life history with a complete stranger. Or being interrogated by them. Each to our own.
For me though, it was a real page turner, and I looked forward to picking it up each day, and travelling a little further.
Each chapter was titled with the route of the day, although I would have liked day numbers too. I guess they were similar to the chapter numbers. A route map would have been excellent for this travel planner.
Finally, I was impressed by the long epilogue. It was a total surprise and an excellent way to finish the book. A very good ending.
My Camino Walk is a good read if you are into reading about walks and/or introspection/self reflection.
I’ve read other books about personal journeys through Spain, Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out being the classic. P D Murphy published a book two years ago called As I Walked Out Through Spain In Search Of Laurie Lee. This was a decent read, but faltered on the editing, especially on inconsistencies in the Spanish, and seriously irritating literal translations after every single Spanish comment. Phillips, on the other hand, avoids that annoying technique.
However, when considering friends who might join him for the walk, he ruled out one because they were vegetarian! Now, that was annoying.
Later he said to his friend Pepe:
“Oh, I didn’t realize that it was possible to survive as a vegetarian in Spain. It’s a bit of a pork lover’s paradise here, isn’t it?”
Aaaaagh! And I’ve been here 15 years. However Pepe puts him right:
“No, no, we have everything,” Pepe says dismissively and a touch defensively. “There are some very good vegetarian restaurants in Madrid. There›s a vegetarian restaurant in this town just two-minutes’ walk from the church. We’ll see what they have.”
The meal is ordinary without showing any great culinary expertise, though I am intrigued to experience a Spanish vegetarian restaurant and make a mental note for the friend whose potential participation in this journey I had rejected.
I’ve had some excellent vegetarian meals in Spain, my favourite restaurants being in Tarragona, Málaga, and Los Boliches. I think we were the only foreigners in the first two.
Onto a proper excerpt though:
Perhaps deciding when to call it quits is as much a part of the Camino as continuing to the very end. It’s a letting go, an unloading of baggage, an acceptance of the inevitable when we’re forced to face no longer being able to do the physical things that were possible when we were younger.
There’s no shame in having tried our best, especially as we get older. There’s therefore as much learning to be gained from ending the walk prematurely as there is from walking to the end. I might rationalize it this way, but I would hate to be in that situation—I possess a stubbornness that demands I continue to the bitter end.
I wonder about this choice of words: why does the end have to be bitter? Perhaps it’s bitter if one fights all the way. It’s possible to be graceful by letting go without fighting.
I surmise that death is the final liberation. This doesn’t have to be bitter either. It’s only another stage of life. Bitter suggests we fear the experience or that we regret how past events transpired. It’s one thing to hold on for a long time, but not to the point of anguish. However, what do I know about the subject of dying? I’m no expert, only a student in the art of living attempting, albeit sometimes imperfectly, to be here in the present moment.
Where on earth am I going with this train of thought? Sounds a bit morbid. All I’m doing is taking a bus to León. I’m not letting go and not dying, as far as I can tell. There’s still another thirty minutes before the bus is scheduled to depart, so I take a short walk to get some fresh air.
Timothy L. Phillips, went from hospitality to healing, managing luxury hotels and restaurants in London, Paris, Vancouver and Toronto before entering the healing profession in 1994 as a shiatsu and massage therapist.
Through walking the Camino, he has gained precious insight about his own inner journey as well as bearing witness to the journeys of others.
He lives in Toronto with Patricia, his life partner.
For more information: http://www.caminodetim.com
All photos courtesy of Tim. Thanks to Tim and Susan for a copy of his book, and for the pix.