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Monday, 12 November 2012

Post-Camino Syndrome

I got it bad, you don't know how bad I got it
You got it easy, you don't know when I've got it good
It's getting harder, just keeping life and soul together
I'm sick of fighting, even though I know I should


In the beginning there is no end; or at least the end is so distant you don’t give it any thought. A bit like life and death, I suppose. And then, contrary to logic and reason, when the end does come within reach and the towers of Santiago cathedral emerge from the thick sheets of wet cloud you just want to go on and on and on. You make detours, continue to Finisterre - then Muxia. Anything to not come to an end.
Might as well face it you’re addicted to wanderlust. 
It’s more or less six months since I completed the Camino de Santiago; the Galician rain relented for one whole day allowing my ‘family’ and I to bask in sunshine at the End of the World. Thirty-six days, nine hundred kilometres; just as well the Atlantic Ocean was there to stop me, there was no way to go but home.
The ‘don’t stop walking’ sign that is my avatar was spotted on the difficult second day, when the euphoria from crossing the Pyrenees begins to ebb and the reality – the aches and strains – sets in. I have to be honest, there were times I hated my fellow pilgrims with an irrational intensity and there were several long sections of the Camino Francés – across the Meseta and the long trudges in and out of cities which were so depressingly dull I came that close to quitting. Close to quitting but not to stopping walking; for several days the Picos de Europa loomed tantalisingly on the horizon, only a bus ride away. But I persevered and was rewarded with one solitary day in the mountains north of Villafranco del Bierzo.
A solitary day on the Camino Francés? It can happen, it did happen; but that’s another story.
But there’s more to the Camino than landscape and camaraderie and by the end of day three – Pamplona – I was already hopelessly hooked on the act of putting one foot in front of the other; by the time I got to Astorga the obsession had taken such a hold that the world as you know it had long since ceased to exist. It had become utterly irrelevant and I no longer wanted to be part of it. It’s that liberating aspect of the Camino – of any pilgrimage or long, long walk – that’s intoxicating. At St Jean Pied de Port five long weeks of walking – and only walking – stretch out in front of you. It’s dangerously enticing and I bought into it. Big time.
Do all good things really have to come to an end? The 'family' joked about how we’d cope with reinsertion to the ‘real world’ and I tried hard not to repeat the old mantra about ‘reality’ being nothing more than a construct, a state of mind.
The joke soon wore thin. I caught the train from Santiago to Irun on the Spanish/French border from where I was to catch the midnight bus to Paris. Wandering around the town, still clothed in the classic peregrine uniform of rucksack and boots and taking great care to display classic ramblanista ‘nomad’ chic, two locals asked whether I was looking for the albergue, assuming I was about to set out on the Camino Norte.
You don’t know how hard it was not to seek out that hostel and return to Santiago, this time along the coast. Another eight hundred kilometres. And then what? There’s always another path, another track or road but I’d run out of money.
Did I go home, knuckle down and return to some semblance of normality?
Did I hell. I still haven’t stopped walking; still need my fix on a daily basis. My natural inclination, first thing in the morning, is to slip into my boots and rucksack, not a smart, chic outfit from my increasingly neglected wardrobe. It doesn’t get any easier; in many respects it’s getting worse. Since I responded to a tweet about the Camino last week I’ve been getting flashbacks – and no, I’m not taking the piss, I know what genuine flashbacks are – and I spent most of the weekend planning next year’s journey; it'll be longer and harder, naturally. Like every junkie, with every next fix needs you need to up the dose.
And like every junkie I don’t expect the world outwith my tiny little mind to sympathise or understand; I don’t really want it to. The Camino left me homeless and penniless and played havoc with my hair; it also left me with a hopeless addiction to liberty I’ve no intention of suppressing. If you were to dangle a cure in front of me I’d chuck it back in your face.
Yes, it’s been said before. Not so much a rebel without a cause as a rebel without a clue. 

You must be joking, you don't know a thing about it
You've got no problems, I'd stay right there if I were you
I got it harder, you couldn't dream how hard I got it
Stay out of my shoes if you know what's good for you

Lyrics: 'Wouldn't it be Good' by the awesome Nik Kershaw

3 comments:

  1. Please write up your Camino....

    I've yet to walk a real, long walk. I daydream about crossing the Pyrenees, the GR10 or Haute Route from the Basque Country to Catalonia.

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  2. Hi Martin

    Thanks for your comment. This was my first real long walk and, for all the overcrowding on the Camino Frances, and the sometimes long, dull, flat sections, it's probably a good place to begin. However, my post about post-Camino syndrome was only half-written in jest and I still spend a good deal of my time not just day-dreaming about the next walk but actively planning a route. There are times when nothing else matters.

    The GR10 is also high on my list but so is the Via de la Plata from Sevilla to Santiago. At the moment I'm looking at a convoluted route that links together several of the other less popular Caminos that would take me, in a roundabout way, from Barcelona to Santiago and include more rugged/mountainous sections. It works out at about 1600 km and should take two months. The advantage of following one of the caminos is that they offer cheap accommodation in albergues - anything from 5 to 20 Euros per night for a bed, and they usually have a kitchen.

    Of course, the problem for most people is being able to take a month and more off work. I'm self-employed so it's easier but it left me with a severe cash-flow problem that's going to take me several months to resolve. And of course, any spare cash is going towards funds for next year's adventure! See what I mean about walking taking hold of you! My hair's only just recovered, too - there's lot's of it and it got very, very dry - but because I've carried on walking I've managed to maintain the level of fitness I achieved on the walk. Physically it's left me in much better shape, emotionally I'm not so sure.

    I am going to blog about my Camino, with a view to publication of a book - tentative title 'Saints and Cynics: a postmodern pilgrim on the road to Santiago'. I let you know when I've made my first post.

    A good initial guide to the various Caminos can be found at http://www.santiago-compostela.net. I don't claim to be an expert but if you have any queries about the path do get back to me.

    In the meantime - buen camino, as they say (over and over again, ad nauseum!!)

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