It is Day 24 on the Camino de Santiago and the furthest I’ve ever walked continuously without taking a rest day. While I try hard not to be goal-driven, old habits die hard, and I’m aware that I’ve already walked more than 370 miles (600km) across Spain and covered 1,180 miles (1,900km) since beginning my pilgrimage from the Isle of Iona to Findhorn a few weeks ago.
While each day on the Way of St James tends to follow a familiar pattern, each one is delightfully different. I like to be up by 6am, munching a quick breakfast snack at my albergue (pilgrim hostel) that can be as simple and unimaginative as a small tin of sweetcorn. Then shrugging on my backpack I’m off into what seems like the middle of the night.
The weather has been amazing with a succession of gorgeous sunny days, although when I set off it is pitch dark and very cold – around 3 degrees C, sometimes with traces of frost. I navigate by the moon and Jupiter which has been very bright in the sky. There are also numerous Camino signs or yellow-painted arrows to keep pilgrims on track.
Often I have to use my headtorch to confirm I’m on the right path as I pick my way through sleeping villages and towns. The Spanish aren’t early risers and I usually have around two hours before I encounter locals, who are quick to shout helpful directions to those who have taken a wrong turn. The standard friendly greeting is Bon Camino Peregrino!
In the beginning I was amused that the symbol of the Camino, which you see everywhere, is the shell adopted by the international oil company that has been much in the news lately, especially with its greedy intentions to frack pristine areas of the Karoo in South Africa for natural gas. Here the shell symbol is synonymous with a search for higher meaning rather than devastation of the environment through the process of hydraulic fracturing which relies on a dangerous cocktail of chemicals that can poison life-sustaining groundwater. But I digress…
My favourite time of the day is before sunrise when I choose to walk solo and silent, even if I leave the albergue with other pilgrims. I’ve always been an early-bird so being up before the birds is natural for me, and others have to adopt a similar routine whether they like it or not – the hostels insist on lights out at around 10pm and expect their guests to have vacated the premises by 8am, which is still around 45 minutes before sunrise.
I walk fast initially, usually clocking six miles (10km) by 9am, and love watching the birth of the new day. Night gradually gives way as the sky is painted pastel hues of pink and blue ahead, while when I look over my shoulder the palette is of various shades of red and orange. Then, suddenly, the sun peeps over the horizon behind me, creating a giant striding shadow that looks like a caricature of a pilgrim propelled by twin trekking poles.
Mercifully cities have been few and far between, as it seems to take forever to walk through the ugly industrial sprawl on the outskirts along with those monuments to materialism: endless new-car showrooms lining the way. I have to admit that some of the latest models are works of motoring art but I no longer lust after them. They’re beautiful, but I’m happy with my transformation from Petrolhead to Pilgrim.
The Camino gives plenty of time for introspection and I ask all the obvious questions. Where is home? Is it South Africa and especially Cape Town, my favourite city in the world? Or the Findhorn Foundation community in Scotland that has become a spiritual home? Or is it wherever my feet take me today?
And who am I? Am I Geoff Dalglish, former magazine editor and car-fanatic? Or Earth Pilgrim Africa, a wanderer with a purpose? Or simply a soul traveler who has inhabited this body for the purpose of a spiritual evolution?
I find pleasure in reading the thoughts of other pilgrims, sometimes in graffiti-scrawls on walls and the backs of road signs. Sitting on a bench in the early morning sun, I admire the magnificence of the cathedral of Leon, as I gradually thaw out, removing my gloves and beanie.
The words of one graffiti artist come to mind: “Jesus did not die for my sins – that is a lie preached by the Church. He was executed by the State with the complicity of the Church authorities because he was a threat to their power. If we stopped crucifying our brothers and sisters across the world, there would be no need for all the crucifixes along the Camino!”
Just as important as the answers we are receiving, are the questions we’re all asking ourselves. The quiet solo time is an incredible gift. By raising our consciousness we can create a better world, one step at a time…