The Abandoned Camino of 2019 (republished September 2023 while walking the Camino)
Updated: Oct 6
The best laid plans of men and mice often go awry.
This saying is adapted from a line in the poem “To a Mouse,” by Robert Burns, the18th century Scottish poet. It describes my doomed attempt to walk the Camino in 2019 to a tee.
In truth, my carelessly laid plans went awry the moment I picked up 5g of cocaine from a known dealer on La Ramblas in Barcelona at 08.30 in the morning of June 30th.
I'd just arrived in to the city on an exhausting overnight flight from Hong Kong, and was already in a precarious mental state from a coke-binge that only ended hours before I got on the plane.
The four hour train journey to Pamplona later that afternoon was the stuff of nightmares such was my state of cocaine-induced anxiety, paranoia, and fear, while seated in the claustrophobic carriage.
The grand olde plan devised in earnest (perhaps, by a madman) had been to spend a quiet night in Pamplona, catch a bus the following afternoon to Saint Jean Pied-de Port, and start the month-long walk to Santiago de Compostela early the following morning.
Alas, it was not to be, for just over a week later I was back in Asia, having checked in to Hope Rehab in Thailand to finally deal with my long standing addictions to alcohol, drugs and gambling. The best laid plans of men and mice most certainly went awry!
It was in Pamplona, the city so beloved by Ernest Hemingway, that the plan came a cropper in the early hours of July 01st 2019. A solitary man, lonely and distraught in a confining hotel room; cocaine, my former friend having betrayed me, finally revealing herself as the toxic turncoat, full of empty promises, that she truly is.
The darkness, chaos, and insanity which had viciously and relentlessly enveloped my mind for decades eventually lead to a mental capitulation. The haunting silence of the night accelerated the unravelling of my mind revealing the only two disturbing options remaining; change or suicide.
The game was finally up, and I knew, and accepted it. When desperation meets realisation, opportunity arises. I frantically latched on to this opportunity with the same desire an embittered prisoner harbours for his distant lover, long since in another man's arms.
I was truly blessed. I believe that everyone has their breaking point. Sadly, not everyone makes it beyond it. It’s a crushing reality of the nature of mental health illness and addiction. Suicides are all too common. To those that didn’t make it, I understand. The lost deserve our empathy and understanding, not vilification or dismissal. Hemingway claims that:
The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those who will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.
By sunrise on the first of July 2019, after an excruciatingly painful night, I had paid the deposit to Hope Rehab in Thailand, and had also booked a flight back to Asia. I was now past the point of no-return.
You can listen to an extended version of this story in the video below recorded in 2021.
With seven days to kill before my first flight from Barcelona to Hong Kong, I knew the safest thing for me to do was to get out and walk. Therefore, I covered a distance of approximately 160km from Saint Jean to Viana, just outside Logrono, in five days. I was in a very agitated state of mind throughout this period but without doubt walking kept me sane.
I'm a firm believer in the mantra oft attributed to Saint Augustine:
“Solvitur ambulando: It is solved by walking.”
From Logrono, I hopped on a train to Barcelona where, you'll not be too surprised to learn, I spent one final miserable night taking cocaine by myself in a dingy (in my mind anyway) hotel room in the city.
The 2019 Camino de Santiago may have ended prematurely but a much longer camino had just begun. The Camino of Life. The most beautiful and rewarding camino.
I am happy to report that I am now over four years free of alcohol, gambling and drugs. Life has been transformed in the most magnificent of ways. I was truly blessed by God, and given a second chance at life, of that I have no doubt.
You can hear more about this on my 'A Lust for Sober Life' podcast channel.
The Camino de Santiago has been a profound, and often, life-changing experience for many pilgrims throughout the world, including Paulo Coelho, Shirley MacLaine, Bill Bennett, and Tim Moore, all of whom have written famous books about their experience walking it.
***I have now returned to finish the full Camino Francés (September 2023) for Saint Augustine also said:
“Where your heart is, there you will find your treasure.”
Camino Frances September 2023