I walked the long pilgrimage route from St Jean Pied De Port in France to Santiago in the far west of Spain. Being truthful I had never heard of the route before and became vaguely interested due to the fine food and wine around the Basque country. Nor did I realise just how much time I would be spending around christians, monks and priests. I spent several nights in monasteries and some medieval dwellings. The road was long arduous, painful, sometimes emotional but very liberating. I have always lived in cities so the landscape of farm land and mountains was a welcome change. It took around a month and yes many strange things happened, I didn’t see god and become a christian sorry to disappoint, but it did develop within me an empathy with the animals we consume, in rural areas the food chain is much more obvious, supermarkets remove respect from the animals we eat and waste, I witnessed animal suffering that shook me, I met sick and dying people eager to finish the camino as penance.
Somehow along the way you begin to feel a transient invisibility, can’t really explain that. I watched bull-fight and one of the rare occasions a bull fighter gets gored by a bull, and felt a sense of elation that the bull had won. I read Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway to try to grasp the culture involved in bull fighting, the risk for the fighter is considerable, and he must kill the bull cleanly and quickly or the crowd will jeer, seems there is a limit to how much gore they will allow. Hemingway wrote that in Bilbao during a bullfight the crowd would cheer for the bull rather than the fighter. I tasted bull meat, it was bad yes, very tough. In Portugal bull-fights are more a travelling circus that tours the country during summer months. The bull is not killed, a team of bull fighters grab the bull and judo hold it until it submits, one grabs tail, another grabs horns. The bull survives.
Since then I have spent several nights high in the Pyrenees alone with only tent, which sounds idyllic but it can be very cold and conditions can change very quickly. The most striking thing about spending the night alone in the mountains is of course the weather, you could lose your tent in a cloud, which I did but was lucky enough to find. The last night I spent there the stars kept me awake, a mesmerizing night-time ocean of universe, so beautiful. As the sun begins to rise there are cloud inversions below in the valley, like huge puffs cold blue candy floss. Birds of prey follow the sun as it rises over the mountains, vultures soar looking for damaged goods, groups of wild horse begin feeding. The hike from St Jean Pied Port to Pamplona takes 3 days, on the first day it is possible to leave the Camino route for more remote path. On arriving in Pamplona suggest eating as many croquetas and plates of Iberian ham as you can.