Foundations

I'm going on the Camino again tomorrow. 500km of walking and 25 days of space. I'm looking forward to the distance from the intensity of London.

When you haven't written in a while there's an urge to acknowledge that absence. I last published something here in January last year. Since then, the main bullet points were getting severely ill in Edinburgh, surviving my final uni exams, recovering through manual labour in Italy and then building a new life in London where I've been for the last 12 months. Through all of this, writing seemed like a luxury that I couldn't afford. I was clinging to any energy I had left and was reluctant to spare it on anything deemed extra to the immediate challenges in front of me. In hindsight I think this was a mistake; Creating, even something small and simple, helps you feel alive. While it takes energy, it often gives back more or gives back something different. 

I was travelling through Washington and California earlier this year and ended up in a hostel in San Francisco that Joe and I went to 6 years ago. About 30 of us went to a local Indian restaurant for dinner and I was sat next to a group of 'lads' from Melbourne. Most of the chat was about where people were travelling to next and reflecting on the pros and cons of American and Australian sports. Towards the end of the evening one of the guys said something accidentally profound that stuck with me. He was talking about his life in Melbourne and said no matter where he goes and how long he's away, Melbourne will always be home for him. His friends, family, the culture, the way of life, the beaches, the food will always be what he came back to. Some people appear to be comfortable settling into a completely nomadic lifestyle but the thought of having somewhere relatively consistent to return to is appealing. 

The constant moving of the last 6 years have been great but also disorientating. The four 'homes' of Rome, London, Sydney and Edinburgh are in continual rotation. Overall, however, London is becoming the place where I return to. It's big enough to keep exploring but with individual pockets of community that you can eventually settle.

Belhaven

Belhaven

An obligatory NYE walk at Belhaven Bay in Scotland sparked the usual planning for the upcoming year. As much as possible I wanted to try and build foundations here. London has its challenges, it can seem like seeing your friends is a once a quarter battle rather than a regular involvement in each others lives. That's not always the case though and when two people are both willing to make the effort there will always be time to connect.

New people too. I'm joining a new lacrosse club, I go to a board games club (lol), being regular at Church and home group, getting more involved in my livery, joining the squash ladder. You have to keep trying, keep putting yourself out there. The people you naturally connect with will be obvious. One of my closest friends is someone I didn't know this time last year and we have played squash every week for the last 7 months.

I'm excited about this time away and equally excited about coming back with hopefully new energy and fresh ideas.

A presto,

TJP

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.
TJP

Recovery and Pain

A few days ago I was limping into the desert town of Los Arcos questioning why I would submit myself to such an onslaught of repetitive pain. I think I naturally have a wide emotional scale but I have felt particularly stretched on the walk so far. Incredible highs with beautiful scenery and meeting many inspiring people to various lows of dealing with the heat, long walks and physical tiredness.

Navarra
My flatmates have recently completed a cycle ride to Fort William (check out the accompanying great blog) and I messaged Mike talking about the relationship between physical and mental tiredness. Ideally your alert brain could push past any physical barriers and assess a situation without being overly influenced by the reluctance in your legs to take one more step. Tiredness and pain can make the view above seem like a never ending journey to the next resting point instead of a glorious amble amongst golden Spanish scenery. I'm currently listening to 'Thinking Fast and Slow' which has provided a fascinating analysis into how our thought processes occur. I need to adjust the balance slightly so that it can continue to be a physical challenge but also a time of peace and exploration.

I wanted to do this walk as I needed a bit of clarity and to rediscover that feeling of discovery, hope and expectation that had been suffocated by long Edinburgh winters and ugly Italian grammar. Reading back through my journal, I can see that this has been in part successful. There is a lack of distractions and with a mind that is able to make the most out of the simple authentic existence there is a lot to be gained. Pushing myself too hard has been and will be detrimental to what I want to get out of the next couple of weeks so instead of a relentless 40km pace, I think I will drop back to 25km and continue next year if I fall short of the final destination.

Edinburgh is full of incredible people who I feel blessed to know and spend time with. I am currently having a rest in the south of Menorca and these last few days with Jamie, Richard, Lawrence, Emily, Tash, Amelia, Lizzie, Bel and Issy have been a welcome break with people I feel completely comfortable around. Thanks to various year abroads it will be over a year till I see most of them again.

The people I have met on the camino couldn't be more apart and distinct from the typical Edinburgh demographic and this immense diversity opens you up to new perspectives that occupy your thoughts as you wander from village to village. I met an American Vietnamese war veteran called Harper on the walk from Ventosa; He had a silver pony tail and volunteered as a firefighter in his native state of Colorado, he has recently sold his house and is travelling the world with no plans and only a one way ticket. You don't get to meet this person in your student halls. I've bumped into him twice on the way, latterly when we stayed in a tiny village of 17 people called Ciruena. There were 4 people in total staying at the albergue and we shared an incredible 3 course traditional Basque meal. It was my second favourite evening behind the night at Logrono, which I will leave for another post.

Today is the last day in Menorca and I will be back on the path by Thursday. If any of you have any book recommendations then please drop me a message!  - I'm currently enjoying Mediations by Marcus Aurelius and Bank 3.0 by Brett King. Till next time - TJP



Arrival in Saint Jean

I stumbled into a foggy Saint Jean Pied de Port half asleep from the winding bus journey through the French Pyrenees mountains. Edinburgh had fulfilled its yearly obligation to give me the latest possible exam and after the standard rapid 48 hour turnaround I had landed in this strange, small French town close to the Spanish border.

Fifty pilgrims were searching for the respective raincoats and ponchos and realising that most of us were going to be heading to the same solitary pilgrims office, I decided to lead the way up the hill. The queue to get the pilgrim credentials was already twenty deep while the hostels and albergues, that lined the steep rue de la citadel, all had signs outside stating their respective lack of capacity. A door opened and a bustling Frenchman exchanged the ´no space left´ sign to a ´2 beds available´, needing no further motivation with the rain starting to turn into a menacing downpour, I stepped inside.

It was a perfect start. The owner of the albergue was hosting an welcome ceremony just as I walked through the door. Over various glasses of port and wine (free wine is included in every ´menu del peregrino´) all the travellers introduced themselves, talked a little about their background and some of their motivation in wanting to complete the camino. The people ranged from ages 19 - 60+ walking in groups of 1 to 4. This variety coupled with the diversity in nationalities give the camino so much depth.

Italian walkers have been a blessing as I have been able to practicar mi Italiano for 20 minutes+ each day. My A level Spanish is also being slowly revived. Grammar is the main issue with most of my sentences being a collection of words stringed together. Meaning is more or less translated thankfully and today I enjoyed a 10km section with 3 Basque walkers from Navarra. Football and politics were the topics of choice.

I am relying on the albergues having a free computer to write on here so it might be a while till I next get a chance. I love this new way of life I have find myself in. I sleep 11pm-6am, meet people from all around the world in the day and read and write in the evening.

The occasional picture might work its way onto here if you are interested. The scenery over the last 3 days has been epic, changing from misty mountains at the start to far stretching golden corn fields that I found past Pamplona today. I have a huge 44km+ walk tomorrow with my goal of reaching Burgos next Tuesday still on target. Then I am having a short break with some friends from Edinburgh before hopefully reaching Santiago within a couple of weeks.

Hasta Pronto,
TJP

Camino Preamble

Three weeks today I will be starting a long walk. Starting in south west France and, if all goes to plan, ending in north west Spain 800 kilometres and about 23/24 days of walking later. Clarity is something easily lost and often forgotten.

From the start of term it will have been 19 weeks till the start of this trip, an endless countdown till I could start something new. University is much more than simply the work which is why I have probably survived it till now. I've been able to get enough perspective to realise I'm not fully happy with this current situation but a solid alternative is tricky to find. Breaking out is a difficult thing to realise as ironically many of the best ways to be challenged in new environments is by sticking out the status quo for just another 24 months. I'm relatively optimistic of scraping through the latest examination ordeal which would culminate in an exciting but daunting new life in Rome this September.

This walk has intrigued me for the last 2 years and the idea of doing it has grown in my mind till it was inevitable that it had to be done. I've often sat on a thought for a while and suddenly you revisit this thought or desire and it has grown to something where you can't ignore it any longer. I might write a few thoughts on here as I go along but mostly it will be an individual thing, learning from the other people on the way and reflecting on the hows, whys, shoulds over the past year and hopefully the next few steps going forward.

One of the things that I feel most fortunate and grateful for is the sheer variety of people I have come across over the past 3 years. Inspiring people who have a talent and passion for business and others who forsake the typical western lifestyle to explore the world. People who share my enjoyment of climbing, sailing and sport with others who are incredibly creative and simply aspire for beauty. Travelling with the girls last summer, opened my eyes to a more creative side of travelling that particularly encouraged me. I guess I find it hard to wade through it all and find some kind of order and rationality.

One of my aims of the walk is to rediscover some kind of purpose or order. Maybe a shift of priorities. I'm going pretty open minded. It will be quickly followed by a sharply contrasting London lifestyle and harmonising these two contrasting worlds will be a strange and difficult adjustment to make.

The start is tangible now and I've allowed myself to look forward to those nervous first few steps from Saint Jean Pied de Port...