Yes, Yet Another Book About Walking the Camino. And a Fabulous One At That!

Book Title: The Way, My Way – a Camino memoir

Author: Bill Bennett

Book Cover - The Way My Way by Bill Bennett. A camino memoir

Promotional Blurb: “I’d never done anything crazy like this before – a pilgrimage walk. I was not a hiker, and I wasn’t a Catholic. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I was a Christian. On the last government census when I had to state my religion, I’d said I was a Buddhist, mainly because they’ve had such a hard time in Tibet and I felt they needed my statistical support.

I was also not an adventure traveller. For me, adventure travel was flying coach. All this backpacking and wearing of heavy boots and flying off to France to walk ancient pilgrimage routes was a new experience, and not one that made me feel entirely comfortable.”

And so Bill Bennett, an Australian based film director, sets off on an 800-kilometre walk across Spain to Santiago de Compostela, not sure why he was doing it, and not feeling entirely comfortable. His discomfort increased markedly a few days later when his knee gave out – so the rest of the walk was a “pain management pilgrimage.” But he kept his sense of humour, and his memoir is at times hilarious but also deeply moving, and insightful. In the vein of Bill Bryson and Eric Newby, The Way, My Way takes you on a unique spiritual journey, and gives you a hearty laugh along the way. Source.

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A Literary Journey – Following Laurie Lee’s Footsteps Across Spain

Book Title: My Midsummer Morning – Rediscovering A Life of Adventure

Author: Alastair Humphreys

Book Cover - My Midsummer Morning. Source: alastairhumphreys.com
Source: alastairhumphreys.com

Promotional Blurb: Seasoned adventurer Alastair Humphreys pushes himself to his very limits – busking his way across Spain with a violin he can barely play.

In 1935 a young Englishman named Laurie Lee arrived in Spain. He had never been overseas; had hardly even left the quiet village he grew up in. His idea was to walk through the country, earning money for food by playing his violin in bars and plazas.

Nearly a century later, the book Laurie Lee wrote – As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning – inspired Alastair Humphreys. It made him fall in love with Spain – the landscapes and the spirit – and with Laurie’s style of travel. He travelled slow, lived simply, slept on hilltops, relished spontaneity, and loved conversations with the different people he met along the hot and dusty road.

For 15 years, Alastair dreamed of retracing Laurie Lee’s footsteps, but could never get past the hurdle of being distinctly unmusical. This year, he decided to go anyway. The journey was his most terrifying yet, risking failure and humiliation every day, and finding himself truly vulnerable to the rhythms of the road and of his own life. But along the way, he found humility, redemption and triumph. Source

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Sigh…Still Dreaming of International Travel

People standing on a ramp ready to board a plane that is not there

I have done my best to be patient. I have knuckled down and focused on my business and house-type projects I have been putting off for too long, and I have tried to look outside myself to help family and friends with their projects too.

But as hard as I try to distract myself, I just can’t stop myself dreaming of stepping on an aeroplane and jetting off overseas for an exotic adventure.

And sadly, it seems that dreams and dreaming will have to do for years to come…

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Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay Out there in the Wild!

Book Title: Wild By Nature

Author: Sarah Marquis

Book cover of Wild by Nature by Sarah Marquis
Source: Allen & Unwin

Promotional Blurb:The epic story of one woman’s 16,000 kilometre, three year trek from Siberia to Australia.  

Not since Cheryl Strayed’s Wild has there been such a powerful epic adventure by a woman alone.

In Wild by Nature, Sarah Marquis, a National Geographic Explorer, recounts her extraordinary solo hike that took her literally from one end of the planet to the other. Over 1000 days and nights she journeyed through six countries, starting in Siberia and finishing up at a place of special significance for her – a small tree standing alone in the vastness of the Nullarbor Plain in South Australia.

Walking for three years, Sarah overcame almost insurmountable odds to reach her final goal, surviving Mongolian thieves on horseback who harassed her tent every night for weeks, heavily armed drug smugglers in the Golden Triangle, temperatures from subzero to scorching, lethal wildlife, a dengue fever delirium in the Laos jungle, tropical ringworm in northern Thailand, dehydration and a life-threatening abscess.

Sarah’s story is an incredible record of adventure, human ingenuity, persistence and resilience that shows firsthand what it is to journey as a woman in some of the most dangerous and inhospitable regions on the planet, as well as some of the most beautiful, and what it is like to be truly alone in the wild. Source.

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How far would you go for your best friend?

Book Title: I’ll Push You

Author: Patrick Gray and Justin Skeesuck

The cover of the book I'll Push You
Source: Book Depository

Promotional Blurb: Two best friends, 500 miles, one wheelchair, and the challenge of a lifetime.

Friendship takes on new meaning in this true story of Justin and Patrick, born less than two days apart in the same hospital. Best friends their whole lives, they grew up together, went to school together, and were best man in each other’s weddings. When Justin was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease that robbed him of the use of his arms and legs, Patrick was there, helping to feed and care for him in ways he’d never imagined. Determined to live life to the fullest, the friends refused to give into despair or let physical limitations control what was possible for Justin.

So when Justin heard about the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile trek through Spain, he wondered aloud to Patrick whether the two of them could ever do it. Patrick’s immediate response was, “I’ll push you”.

I’ll Push You is the real-life story of this incredible journey. A travel adventure full of love, humour, and spiritual truth, it exemplifies what every friendship is meant to be and shows what it means to never find yourself alone. You’ll discover how love and faith can push past all limits and make us the best versions of ourselves. Source

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Wandering & Pondering in the Australian Alps

Book Title: From Snow to Ash – Solitude, soul-searching and survival on Australia’s toughest hiking trail

Author: Anthony Sharwood

Cover of book - From Snow to Ash - published by Hachette

Promotional Blurb: The incredible, inspiring story of a solo journey through Australia’s toughest and most beautiful hiking trail – the Australian Alps Walking Track – for fans of Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer or Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and anyone who dreams of iconic wilderness walks.

At the start of the hellish, fiery Australian summer of 2019/20, Walkley Award-winning journalist and suburban dad Anthony Sharwood set off on a journey. Abandoning his post on a busy news website to clear his mind, he solo-trekked the Australian Alps Walking Track, Australia’s most gruelling and breathtakingly beautiful mainland hiking trail, which traverses the entirety of the legendary High Country from Gippsland in Victoria to the outskirts of Canberra.

The journey started in a blizzard and ended in a blaze. Along the way, this lifelong lover of the mountains came to realise that nothing would ever be the same – either for him or for the imperilled Australian Alps, a landscape as fragile and sensitive to the changing climate as the Great Barrier Reef. Source

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Finding Yourself When You Are Lost in Nature

Book Title: Bewildered

Author: Laura Waters

The cover of the book BewilderedPromotional Blurb: What would move you to ditch your life and take off into the wild for five months? For Laura Waters, it took the implosion of a toxic relationship and a crippling bout of anxiety.

 Armed with maps, a compass and her life in a bag on her back, she set out to walk the untamed landscapes of the Te Araroa trail in New Zealand, 3000 kilometres of raw, wild, mountainous trail winding from the top of the North Island to the frosty tip of the South Island. But when her walking partner dropped out on the second day, she was faced with a choice: abandon the journey, or face her fears and continue on alone? She chose to walk on.

 For five months, Laura battled not only treacherous terrain and elements, but also the demons of self-doubt and anxiety. As the kilometres fell behind her, nature did its work, stripping away her identity and guiding her towards a new way of being. At the end of Te Araroa, it was the hard-earned insights into the power of nature, emotional wellbeing and fulfilling relationships – with others as well as with herself – that were Laura’s greatest accomplishments. She emerged ‘rewilded’, and it transformed her life. Source 

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Movie Review: Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago – Does it Really Show What it is Like to Walk a Camino?

A person admiring the view over the Pyrenees. Source: People walking the camino. Source: caminodocumentary.org
Source: caminodocumentary.org

It is time for me to don the black skivvy, slide on the intellectual-looking glasses, and assume my movie-reviewer persona. Definitely not a hard transition to make when today’s movie review relates to walking a camino in Spain.

 Grab a cuppa and a couple of chocolate biscuits (you’ll need some energy for all that walking).

Pull up your comfy chair, sit back and relax, and step out into the Spanish countryside….

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Movie Review: The Way – Does it Really Show What it is Like to Walk a Camino?

Silhouette of a bull against a cloudy blue sky in Spain
Only in Spain…

It took a particularly wet and miserable Autumn day to keep me inside. As a rule I love rainy days as they happen so rarely in Australia and it was the perfect excuse to dust off my well-loved copy of the movie, The Way.

I put my hand up and admit that this is possibly my sixth or seventh viewing of The Way so obviously I am a bit of a fan. It never fails to create a sense of wanderlust and the urge to walk out my back door and just keep going.

But, how accurate is it? Does it really portray the highs and lows of walking the Camino Frances to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain? Or is it all glossed over with a thick layer of Hollywood schmaltz?

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5 Walking Books to Inspire You to Pull on Your Backpack and Walk Out the Front Door

Just because we can’t physically travel at the moment doesn’t mean we stop dreaming of travel and planning our next adventure.

What it does mean is that we can walk in the footsteps of others, all from the safety and comfort of our cosy armchair.

Here are five tantalising travel books to inspire and deliver a solid case of both envy and admiration.

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Women can be adventurous too, even in the olden days…

Book Title: The Valley of the Assassins And Other Persian Travels

Author: Freya Stark

Front Cover of The Valley of Assassins book by Freya Stark
Source: penguinrandomhouse.com

Promotional Blurb: Hailed as a classic upon its first publication in 1934, The Valleys of the Assassins firmly established Freya Stark as one of her generation’s most intrepid explorers. The book chronicles her travels into Luristan, the mountainous terrain nestled between Iraq and present-day Iran, often with only a single guide and on a shoestring budget.

 Stark writes engagingly of the nomadic peoples who inhabit the region’s valleys and brings to life the stories of the ancient kingdoms of the Middle East, including that of the Lords of Alamut, a band of hashish-eating terrorists whose stronghold in the Elburz Mountains Stark was the first to document for the Royal Geographical Society.

 Her account is at once a highly readable travel narrative and a richly drawn, sympathetic portrait of a people told from their own compelling point of view. Source  Continue reading

A trip down memory lane & the back roads of America

Book Title: The Lost Continent. Travels in Small-Town America

Author: Bill Bryson

Book.jpgPromotional Blurb: ‘I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to’

And, as soon as Bill Bryson was old enough, he left. Des Moines couldn’t hold him, but it did lure him back. After ten years in England, he returned to the land of his youth, and drove almost 14 000 miles in search of a mythical small town called Amalgam, the kind of trim and sunny place where the films of his youth were set. Instead, his search led him to Anywhere, USA; a lookalike strip of gas stations, motels and hamburger outlets populated by lookalike people with a penchant for synthetic fibres. He discovered a continent that was doubly lost; lost to itself because blighted by greed, pollution, mobile homes and television; lost to him because he had become a stranger in his own land. (Source: http://www.penguin.co.uk)

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The True Spirit of Adventure

Book Title: The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow. A Mirror Odyssey from North Wales to the Black Sea

Author: AJ Mackinnon

book
Photo: Black Inc. Books

Promotional Blurb: A couple of quiet weeks sailing the River Severn was the intention. Somehow things got out of hand – a year later I had reached Romania and was still going…

Truly hilarious books are rare. Even rarer are those based on real events. Join A.J. Mackinnon, your charming and eccentric guide, on an amazing voyage in a boat called Jack de Crow. 

Equipped with his cheerful optimism and a pith helmet, this Australian Odysseus in a dinghy travels from the borders of North Wales to the Black Sea – 4,900 kilometres over salt and fresh water, under sail, at the oars, or at the end of a tow-rope – through twelve countries, 282 locks and numerous trials and adventures, including an encounter with Balkan pirates. Along the way he experiences the kindness of strangers, gets very lost, and perfects the art of slow travel. 

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The politics, religion and culture of India.

Book Title: Inhaling the Mahatma

Author: Christopher Kremmer

book
Inhaling the Mahatma. Photo: Harper Collins

Promotional Blurb: ‘When a Gandhi dies, nobody is safe.’ An assassination, a romance. A hijacking, several nuclear explosions and a religious experience … just some of the ingredients in the latest tour de force from the bestselling author of the Carpet Wars. In the searing summer of 2004, Christopher Kremmer returns to India, a country in the grip of enormous and sometimes violent change. As a young reporter in the 1990s, he first encountered this ancient and complex civilisation. Now, embarking on a yatra, or pilgrimage, he travels the dangerous frontier where religion and politics face off. Tracking down the players in a decisive decade, he takes us inside the enigmatic Gandhi dynasty, and introduces an operatic cast of political Brahmins, ‘cyber coolies’, low-caste messiahs and wrestling priests. A sprawling portrait of India at the crossroads, Inhaling the Mahatma is also an intensely personal story about coming to terms with a dazzlingly different culture, as the author’s fate is entwined with a cosmopolitan Hindu family of Old Delhi, and a guru who might just change his life.

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Armchair Walking in Spain…

Book Title: Sinning Across Spain

Author: Ailsa Piper

Topic: Walking a Camino from Granada in Southern Spain to Santiago de Compostela.

coverfb
Sinning Across Spain – front cover

Her Promotional Blurb: “I WILL WALK OFF YOUR SINS: Pilgrim seeks sinners for mutually beneficial arrangement. Seven Deadlies a specialty.

With these words Ailsa Piper’s journey begins. Less than a month later she finds herself hiking through olive groves and under translucent pink blossoms, making her way from the legendary city of Granada, towards the cliffs at Finisterre in the far north-west of Spain.

On her back she carries an unusual cargo – a load of sins. In the tradition of medieval believers who paid others to carry their sins to holy places, and so buy forgiveness, Ailsa’s friends and colleagues donated sins in order to fund her quest. She’s received anger and envy, pride and lust, among many.

Through glorious villages and inspiring landscapes, miracles find her. Matrons stuff gifts of homemade sausages into her pack. Angels in both name and nature ease her path.
Sins find her too. Those in her pack and many others tempt her throughout her journey.
And she falls in love: with kindness, with strangers, and with Spain”.

My Thoughts:  I had known about this book for a number of years, and I finally got around to reading it in early 2015. This was a really bad idea as all it did was reignite my wanderlust. As if I need any encouragement!

Australian woman, Ailsa Piper, first walked the Camino Frances and then came up with the plan that, like in the days of old, she would offer to carry the sins of other people for a fee. This gave her a way to fund her trip plus a novel angle to develop a story and ultimately this book. Clever thinking.

It was wonderful to read about the early part of her walk, the first 400km before arriving in Merida. It appeared to be very similar to the Via de la Plata but with slightly differing landscape. It was then equally enjoyable to read of her experiences once she joined the Via, especially when she wrote about places I also walked through in September 2014.

I know I am picky but a couple of times I noticed she got the towns of this path out of order. Perhaps Ailsa wasn’t expecting that a portion of her reading audience would be experienced walkers or familiar with this part of Spain. For accuracy, you would have thought she would have checked her map and then simply rejigged her paragraphs. But maybe I am just being too pedantic, especially if it doesn’t detract from the story.

The thing I really liked was the fact that Ailsa walked a lot of the 1400-odd kilometres on her own. She discusses this in detail and shared how it opened her up to a whole range of different experiences as well as meeting new people.

It inspired me to do my next camino (the Camino Portuguese in May/June 2016) solo. Yes, like Ailsa there were times when I was a bit antsy/afraid and lonely, but I think the opportunity to reflect, and the complete flexibility of walking solo, far outweighed those small downsides. (See my post under the Two Feet heading for my discussions of the pros and cons).

This is an easy read and truly captures the sights and sounds of southern Spain. If you enjoy vicarious travel and have no intention of ever walking a camino then this is the book for you.

The way she has structured the book means you get a clear picture of her experience – both good and bad – but also some insight into the people for whom she is carrying the sins. Periodically throughout the book she checks-ins with the sinners back in Australia, and spookily, their lives as changing the closer she gets to Santiago. A nice bit of serendipity or poetic/writer’s licence? Who’s to say.

ailsa
Ailsa Piper

Author bio: Ailsa Piper is a writer, director, teacher and actor. She has been nominated for Green Room Awards as both an actor and director. Her play, Small Mercies, was joint winner of the Patrick White Playwrights Award in 2001. She is director of LuminoUS, which investigates and illuminates classic texts through detailed work with actors and light. She is yet to win an award for walking. (Source: Melbourne University Press).

Author blog or website: http://ailsapiper.com

Pages:  288

Published: April 2012

Publisher: Melbourne University Press

Available from: Book Depository ($20.40), Melbourne University Press ($24.99)