April, 2nd 2013.
I’m taking my first steps on the Camino de Santiago, along the “main” French route. I see the way, I see the yellow arrows, but it doesn’t yet seem real.
The day before was April Fools’ Day, but this was no joke. Of that much, at least, I was aware.
My serious intentions were to get as quickly as possible to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and walk the whole way to Santiago de Compostela. A mere 800 Km on foot, along one of the most famous pilgrimage routes in the world.
If I don’t do this while I’m 22 and freshly out of university, then when? There is never going to be a similar set of circumstances in my life, again.
The energies and thoughtlessness of youth were on my side. I had no job, no family, no commitments. Only the slightest idea of a life plan, with a move to Germany already scheduled in June. Beyond that point, nothing.
Compared to that, the Camino seemed like a very well planned endeavour, despite me arriving in Saint-Jean in the late evening of April 1st, 2013, with no booked accommodation and nothing to eat.
Upon first inspection of the town, there was neither food nor shelter to be found. Most of the inhabitants were already asleep.
Then an old lady, with as many pets in her house as ex-husbands, kindly took me in, together with some other stragglers. I’m sure that all her pets had already had their feed, as they looked lazily upon the rugged band of wannabe pilgrims who had just invaded their premises.
We made our way to a small room upstairs, with a few bunk beds. My preferred choice is always to take the one at the bottom, and so I did this time around.
I remember that the night before leaving for the Camino I could hardly sleep. Excitement, a pinch of fear and a worry of not being up to the task before me: it all mixed together and kept me awake throughout the night.
There in Saint-Jean on that night of April Fools’ Day, however, only excitement remained. My stomach complained and complained about the lack of food. I had eaten nothing since leaving Italy in the morning. There had been no time to eat. Only the next step to get me to Saint-Jean mattered.
I woke up very early in the morning and quickly left the house.
At the Pilgrims Office they warned me that the “high route” to Roncesvalles was not recommended due to harsh and unpredictable weather conditions.
Someone had just died there, the week before. A Canadian pilgrim, who did not listen to the advice of the locals and unfortunately paid the ultimate price.
It’s all I needed to hear.
The “lower route” it is then, through Valcarlos and up to historical town of Roncesvalles.
I was all set. Never in my life I had felt such determination, such non-negotiable will to complete something.
As I look back to that morning, today in 2023, I feel compelled to tell that story, more to myself than to others. But if I do write it down, then I might as well share it with you.
The writing and sharing of this story has been nagging at me for the past 10 years, even thought it’s just the story of another Camino like thousands before and thousands after. On my old blog (available only in Italian, sadly), that story is available in probably its purest and most unfiltered form. You can tell I wrote it during my early twenties, if you read it. I’m sure that Deepl and Google Translate will do a decent job these days at translating it, even if you miss some nuances and swear words.
I already have a draft manuscript from many years ago which screams at me to be picked up again, revised and maybe published.
What’s stopping me then? Some say that inexperienced authors would rather go unpublished than face the almost inevitable lack of recognition (or even outright bad feedback) that they’ll get if they publish their work. Maybe that’s true for me as well, at least in part.
On the other hand, I’ve been so focused on many other aspects of my life during these years, that I’ve practised writing more on freaking PowerPoint or Outlook than LaTeX (which I used to create my book draft).
We all know how it’s ironically more difficult to do one small thing consistently, rather than big pushes every now and then. This is one clear example of that, for me.
Good focus time is hard to come by these days, and even when the conditions might be right, smartphones or video games barge in and take it away.
Luckily, at least, no other lives will be changed whether or not I share my ramblings online, so I don’t feel particularly guilty when I lazily say: “tomorrow”.
It’s still annoying, however, as I know I could do it if I really put myself into it, but just don’t.
Now that I think of it, “just don’t” could be the slogan of my footwear company or, even better, my consultancy company.
So here we are, ten years later and with a bit of nostalgia for those days on the Camino. Longing for that feeling of lightness, grit and recklessness which guided my steps all the way to Santiago.
I should try and conjure these feelings again to put the story of that Camino black on white (or white on black if you, like me, prefer dark mode on your screens).
Stay tuned in case that happens. But until then, don’t hold your breath over it.
Thank you though, for following me this far.