Sharing a special personal journey through Spain

Walkers make their way along the Camino de Santiago. PHOTO: ALLIED PRESS FILES
Walkers make their way along the Camino de Santiago. PHOTO: ALLIED PRESS FILES
The lesson of shared humanity has been reinforced for  Peter Lyons  as he takes on the 790km pilgrimage of Camino de Santiago.

The  late afternoon sun is streaming into the second storey pension. The double doors open on to a large patio. The view of the neat rows of Spanish grapes is idyllic and picturesque. The only slight blot is the rotund German lying spreadeagled and exhausted in his walking gear on the bed opposite. His snoring has a loud spluttering inconsistency, not unlike a malfunctioning plane engine. That would be a jumbo. He has been a travelling companion for over a week.

I am on the Camino de Santiago. A 790km pilgrimage that has taken me over the Pyrenees into the north of Spain. Basque Country is surreal in its beauty. Rolling hills, endless vineyards, historical villages with medieval churches. A kaleidoscope of visual treats, even for a fuller-figured blind man with blisters the size of bouncy castles.

Yet the landscape is just the backdrop. It is a beautiful stage for a more nuanced journey for most pilgrims, including myself.

I am not into new age mumbo jumbo hippie speak. I am not doing this to ``find myself''. That would likely be a disappointment. I am fairly happy in my own pasty, pock-marked, bog Irish skin. I am an economist by training. My emotional range generally only varies from lust to greed. I make puddles seem deep.

Yet there is something very special about this journey. It is a stream of people. A rolling maul of daily interactions. A sharing of experiences, ideas, generosity and kindness from those on the journey. We are hugely varied in age, shape, nationality, languages and beliefs. I have met Trump supporters, gay clergy, religious fundamentalists, ex-cheerleaders, hedge fund managers and brickies and mechanics.

The sheer physical nature of the journey lends itself to an immediate intimacy, absent in most daily interactions. Trudging with a pack over 20km day after day in the blazing sun soon strips away any pretensions. It's difficult to maintain a glamorous facade or haughty demeanour when your feet ache and you've just ploughed a fresh bull turd.

The power of the Camino may lie in its analogy to life itself. The end becomes irrelevant. The journey is what matters and how you conduct yourself along the way. Many people play a part in your journey. They enter, walk along with you then leave. Some play a bigger role than others. Ultimately the journey is your own.

Possessions quickly reveal themselves as hindrances. Often they are discarded as a burden. I imagine the op shops in the villages along the way are a treasure trove of hair dryers, fancy cosmetics and designer jeans discarded by exhausted pilgrims. Possessions are distractions from what is most important in the journey . Simplicity is the key to an easier journey.

The biggest lesson the journey has reinforced for me has been the idea of ``shared humanity''. Part of this is the recognition of common human suffering. We are bought up with the fairy tale of ``happy ever after''. We often believe there is someone out there living a perfect or better life. This is a costly delusion for many of us.

No-one gets through life unscathed. Illness, divorce, tragic losses, betrayal, redundancy, financial ruin. Every one of us has a story. No-one is living a perfect life. There are plenty of these stories on the Camino. People tell their stories as they trudge along in the scorching heat. Often this helps lift their burden. We are all learning resilience in one way or another.

If this sounds like a hike for morbid depressives in need of serious medication and significant counselling, it is not. There is much laughter, serious wine consumption and great conversations along the way.

There is something very special about this journey. The fuller-figured German has just snored himself awake. I will buy him a beer in a minute from the tavern below. I am trying to teach him a sense of humour. It is my cross to bear on this special journey. Bon Camino.

Peter Lyons teaches economics at St Peter's College in Epsom and has written several economics texts.


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