Sunday, 29 March 2009

Scratching the itch - a story of addiction

My name is John and I’m addicted to walking Camino routes

A friend of mine, David Boyle, is an author. He writes a lot. One his books I like is called Tyranny of Numbers – Why counting can’t make us happy.

He’s right. I’m doing a lot of counting at the moment and it certainly isn’t making me happy. First I’m counting the days until the end of Lent and second I’m counting the days of the next three weeks until I walk a Camino route again.

It’s funny how the yearning to walk creeps up on me. It starts with the odd thought about walking a pilgrimage route. Sometime this is prompted by bad weather. Looking out a rain streaked window at grey London is sure to stimulate thoughts of walking through the Spanish countryside on a sunny afternoon.

Admit that first thought and other soon follow. They gather like symptoms:

Route planning
Ordering or re reading guide books.
Surfing pilgrimage sites
Googling pilgrims’ blogs
Spending longer and longer looking a photo libraries
Reaching into my bag on the train to find that I’ve replaced the novel I am reading with a Guidebook
Talking about the last route walked
Becoming aware that friends/family are getting bored listening to talking about the last route
Leafing through the diary as if to will time to become available

Repeating all of the above with increased frequency.

You’d think though that booking the time to go and then the flight would provide some relief…

I did this recently. A week became available so I’ve decided to walk the Camino Inglés again. I very much like the route whether walking from Ferrol or A Coruña as pilgrim friends Bridget and Peter did recently:

This route takes three days and historically is the more authentic arm of the Camino Inglés. It is however less than the 100 kms distance necessary to qualify for a Compostela

That’s why many modern pilgrims walk from Ferrol.

There are two ways to get there. Either fly to Santiago with Ryanair and get a bus to A Coruña or Ferrol or fly direct to A Coruña with Click Air. Me and my compañero decided to fly direct to A Coruña because when you add up the extras which Ryan Air charge these days there was actually very little difference in price.
I’m delighted with this plan because I love A Coruña. I think it claims to have the longest promenade in Europe. Whether or not this is true – it is certainly long. You won’t hear many, if any, English voices. This is the place Spaniards go to enjoy the beach. The place is bursting with restaurants. Dozens of simple roadside bar/restaurants which serve up fish and seafood caught that day. The catch determines the menu. Can’t wait.

We set off in three weeks.

So, err…why am I writing about this now? Well the truth of the matters is that the most seductive thing about this process is the delusion that all of these symptoms will go away when the trip is arranged.

However it is like scratching an itch. You get some relief then the itch moves and suddenly it is itchier.

Now I’m making up packing lists in my head, deciding what to take and what is going to be left behind.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. I’m interested in the shorter pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela – the Camino Inglés 3 or 5 days, the Camino Portugués 10 days, the route to Finisterre/Muxía 3 – 5 days, the Camino Madrid 10 days.

Whilst the Camino Francés is the best known route it takes around 30 days to walk and the Via de la Plata 36 – 40 days. Many people I’ve met think that the Camino is not for them because they can’t afford the time not knowing that these other shorter and very manageable routes exist.

But I’ve noticed that when preparing for a shorter route it is easy to take more stuff than is really necessary…instead of the usual 3 pairs of socks and underwear (one to wear, one to wash and one spare) it is easy to just stuff 5 sets into the rucksack for a 5 days walk. That principle soon spreads to spare batteries etc. I’ve now promised my self that I will absolutely stick to carrying under 7kgs of kit from now on and less in summer.

So far all of this has just been going on in my head but I know that soon I’ll pack and unpack my rucksack a couple of times and lay out the kit on the bed in the spare room just so I can admire it. And since this blog has a somewhat confessional air about it (being Lent and all) I’ll also admit that occasionally the kitchen scales come out and I have a jolly time working out how light I can make my rucksack.

Laugh if you will but ask any serious long distance walker and they will tell you that weight is a prime consideration. Carrying too much is the enemy. It causes blisters, sore joints and makes what should be a pleasure into a real pain.

I was on a flight from Santiago recently and I noticed the chap opposite bringing out an electronic note book, much like a mini lap top. I’m always interested in gadgets which might help with guide writing. I engaged him in conversation to find he was a pilgrim who was returning home from the Camino Francés. He’d been carrying 15 kgs including his little computer. He must have seen the look of astonishment on my face because he followed it up with “ yes it was heavy but I did it!”. As he stood up later I noticed that both of his feet were bandaged. That isn’t my idea of fun.

What is my idea of fun is the end of Lent quickly followed by the Camino Inglés…then I can start dreaming of the Camino Madrid in the summer!


  1. What a handsome looking pack you have...

    I will be starting Camino Frances about the time you begin you r next camino adventure. Like you I spread my things on the bed and pack, unpack, repack...I am travelling light. Very light. It frees me up somehow. What can I dispense with? So many things are just extra baggage.

    Thanks for the great post...

    In Sunny Santa Fe

  2. I understand, John, I understand. Hehehe.
    I leave for Spain in 2 weeks on a slow boat to there, but all I think about is the walk.
    Have fun. Wish we could all meet up again some time.

  3. Oh man, I've got it bad. Pouring over guidebooks & planning out my stopping points for each day. Haven't started packing yet, but then I'm not leaving until the end of August....

  4. Hey DG welcome. Never mind, if you become addicted the only solution is to take more more of the same medicine!

  5. Just catching up on blogs over the Easter weekend - honoured to find a reference to our recent pilgrimage!

    Also finding the itch coming back - I have begun planning our next bicycling Camino stage this weekend too - Limoges to Santander in September.

    God bless your journey!