Sunday, 31 July 2011

the unprepared pilgrim

So that's it. It's been decided. The one way flight is booked. Leona and I meet in Biarritz on 19th August and on 20th August we start the 778km pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela from Saint Jean Pied de Port.

Yeah... let me write that again... 778km. So we might do that in two goes (two weeks this year and two weeks next year). In fact that's what Leona has decided to do. But I'm going to see how it goes. If I get into the swing of things I might keep going and do the whole enchilada in one go.

I've wanted to do this since my late teens. I attribute this partly to my heritage; I'm half Spanish- half Gallega to be precise and the pilgrimage of course ends in Galicia. I remember visiting the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela  as a child, hearing my mother talk about the pilgrims wistfully, telling me how we all have to do the journey at least once in our lifetime and watching the giant botafumeiro swing over the entire congregation. The smell of incense was overwhelming.  

Later Paulo Coelho's contemporary take of the journey reignited my interest. Then my working life began and I found it hard to take 4 weeks off. I reckon a big dollop of fear was holding me back too. Four years ago I prepped and planned to do it after managing to convince my then employer that taking my holiday leave all in one go wasn't such a bad idea. For various reasons that never materialised. 

Two years ago I met Leona on a kundalini yoga retreat in the south of France and while we were making the sharp decline from the foggy top of Montsegur talking about the cathars , and realising that we were both 11:11ers we also got talking about the road to Santiago and decided there and then that we were going to do it together one day. And so we are. 

Since then, we've done a fair bit of walking together (including Glastonbury) and separately (I went back to that region of France this year with my husband and we scaled Bugarach (albeit a bit too early to be saved).  But don't let that fool you into thinking that we're (or at least I'm) prepared this time round. Have I walked for hours and hours, day after day with a heavy load on my back? No. Have we meticulously planned the journey, where we're going to stay, eat, or take rests? No. Do I know what walking boots I'm going to use; the new light ones, or the old heavy but trusty ones? No. I am prepared enough to know that I'm very unprepared. And this was confirmed this weekend by the guy who sold me my light walking boots. When I told him what they were for and when I was going he chuckled, gave me one of those withering looks and said 'well, you're only ever going to be that unprepared once'. 
Well, unprepared I am. Magnificently so.