Jul 24, 2014

Reveries of a Solitary Walker

When I walked the Camino de Santiago in January and February 2010, one of the most precious aspects of the experience was the solitude.  I'm not an anti-social person, but I do enjoy my own company.  I found that walking for hours on end by myself gave me a chance to do a lot of reflection.  By the end of the day, I'd be ready to sit and write in my travel journal for a bit and then possibly find internet access to upload photos and write a blog entry.  My days began and ended in prayer, and that was a very good thing.

There were also days when I had company.  The three days I spent walking and talking with Javier (a bank manager from Madrid) led to some great conversations.  I learned a lot about botany from Šárka in the time we spent together.  Jan and Michaela, Pascal, Antonio and Arancha,  Luis, Joseba, Regina and her brother - all people I walked and ate and laughed with.  Although I hate to say so because of all the goofy newage stuff that's been written about the Camino, the depth of the bond that forms between pilgrims in a short time is remarkable.  And yet...

The days I walked in silence are the ones I gained the most from.

The Camino is not very busy during the winter months, and from everything I've read so far about walking to Jerusalem, I will meet even fewer pilgrims.  Once I reach Italy, there may be a few who are travelling the Via Francigena to Rome, but from the Balkans onward I don't expect to see anyone but locals.  My early diligence in studying Turkish and Italian has waned, the French I learned in high school is three decades behind me, the snippets of liturgical Greek I know let me keep my place in church services, but Macedonian and Albanian?!?  R-i-i-i-ight.  I do have some basic survival phrases written out, so I won't starve or freeze, but I suspect meaningful conversations will be few and far between.  Even the lexica I've downloaded to my smartphone will be too cumbersome for a fluent discussion.

Oh yes, I'm bringing a smartphone on this trip!  This is mainly so I can give periodic reassurances to my family that I'm still alive, but this thing is an incredible piece of equipment.  When I began working on my master's degree in 1996, my computer was slower and had less RAM and two orders of magnitude less storage space than my BlackBerry Q10.  With a 64 Gb memory card onboard I can load up on music and podcasts and lectures to keep myself entertained, and I've got the Kindle app installed on my phone.  I'll have at least 3G data access available to me whenever I'm in range of a cell tower, and in western Europe I'll probably be picking up LTE.  Then of course there's always WiFi.

Hmmm.  As Melvyn Bragg and his guests pointed out in the programme about The Philosophy of Solitude, being alone is not necessarily the same as being solitary.

Apart from acquiring occasional GPS fixes, I'll be leaving my phone on flight mode almost constantly.  I may check email on a daily basis, but don't expect me to be keeping up with FB, Twitter, G+, Flickr, Instagram, etc.  I do intend to update this blog several times a week and that will be automatically reposted elsewhere, but I'll be incommunicado for six months.

I'm no Rousseau, but I hope that at least some good will come of my long solitary walk.

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