It is during July that my desire to leave, to get on the ‘way’ arrives. The destination? Almost always I decide in the spring, although the journey in my head begins much earlier.
The months preceding the journey are loaded with thoughts, images and expectations, because I am certain that the ‘Way’ will allow me to discover new corners of Europe and of myself. I have known this since 2005 when I started to spend my summer holidays on the cultural routes: first to Santiago de Compostela, then on the Via Francigena, on the way Podense, along the way of Stevenson and Via Tolosana. The destination has never been too important to my slow travels to the rhythm of 4km per hour. The important thing is always the contact with the road, with the paths, cultures and traditions. I love losing myself on these routes and being reborn on these paths. The Breton reminds us: “Walking is as useless as all essential activities. Act superfluous and free, it leads to nothing except to yourself, but only after many detours. “
I am ready to accept the unexpected; the blocked roads, rain or extreme heat. I do not expect anything. But I am sure that in the end, like every time, I will receive much more than what I leave on the road. Now here I am again ready to go: this year my legs and my back pack will travel on the Portuguese way. I do not know yet whether on the official route or along the coast. As always, there will be a lot of improvisation and few certainties.
I am in the stage where I start to think about my backpack – my travel companion for several hundred kilometers. What should I put in this bag, including both the material and immaterial?
It will be a light backpack. I will try to not exceed 8kg. In there will be my whole world – the essential things only. I do not need anything else. Some advice: always bring a good book. Something you can read during the siesta in a forest in the afternoon or in the evening before going to sleep. In the backpack I always put too many of my fears, weaknesses and frailties. They will get lighter on the way.
1) Basic information about your destination with information on local culture, food, traditions and history.
2) Tried and tested shoes and with many kilometers behind them. The best asset on the Camino, ensuring your feet with not suffer on the trip.
3) First-aid supplies: It is essential to have the necessary equipment to beat the heat, the mosquitoes and to expertly treat blisters with bandages, needle, thread and disinfectant.
4) Notebook and camera (or smartphone). Photos and travel notes are invaluable, especially once the trip is over and you’ want to relive it years later. They help us to capture every moment of our trip. In recent years I have learned to memorize the beauty that nature has to offer: I stop to contemplate a landscape – glimpse it for a minute in silence. Then I close my eyes for thirty seconds and try to frame it in my memory, where it will remain forever present, indelible.
5) Crossroads and the unexpected. Love the crossroads along the way, the ones where you cannot decide which direction to take. Often in retrospect I realize that I have chosen the longer route, but in the end I it allowed me to experience a corner of wilderness, natural spa oases, an unexpected meeting, a fruit tree waiting for me, a place to listen to the water flowing down a stream.
6) Stay at least one night and sleep under the stars, with a sleeping bag or a tent, in contact with nature. Let us not forget that the journey itself is an authentic discovery of nature, we are immersed in it, absorbing the energy. Stay the night on a grassy field. At night, it is a kind of ancestral experience that binds us to the umbilical cord of Mother Nature.
7) Start at least one stage before dawn. Waking early is never easy, but is soon rewarded by the joy of experiencing the sunrise along the way. It is one of the things in the world that is truly worth living for. It is a rebirth.
8) Be curious. Explore every corner that the path leads us to discover. Meet local people in a café and have a chat over a coffee, enjoy the cuisine and local wine, try to understand the language, dialects and expressions that are used. One thing that has always fascinated me is arriving by foot in a new village, town or city. It changes our perception with the local culture.
9) Slow down the pace. Take in the most important thing we have today. That which often escapes us: time. Time to reflect, to think to decide to listen, to know, to be silent, to write, to speak to those who walk beside us, to smile. Walking with other people at your side, even just fellow travelers, it transmits an indelible bond with these people. It is said that walking a whole day with a person is equivalent to seven years of friendship.
What do I like most of about these routes? The human dimension, the relationship with nature, the awareness of one’s limitations, a return to the essentials: the dawn, silence, sunset, night, water, streams, hills, meetings, sharing, tolerance, generosity. I love to be surprised by all these things, every time. In this universe I find a infinitesimally small space where I feel alive, compared to the immensity of a world that goes beyond me, it amazes me, fascinates me and is wrapped in a wonderful mystery.
Oh, I almost forget that there’s another thing that you must do along the way: these are the small pleasures and gifts that are offered. Finding fresh blackberries or raspberries along the way, a craft beer or an ice cream at the end stage. They always have a different flavor.