Last month, Dusted’s very own Jake Peet embarked on the famous Camino de Santiago, a network of pilgrimages which take travellers to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. Alongside his father, he trekked the arduous trail for a noble cause, as they pledged to fundraise £30k for Parkinson’s UK in memory of Jake’s late aunt.
Dusted was honoured to contribute to Jake’s fundraiser, both in support of the good cause and of our employee’s self-fulfilling endeavour. If you want to read more about the fundraiser, click here for the Just Giving page.
Without further ado, we’ll let him talk about his pilgrimage.
Doing the Camino
When my Dad said he was “doing the Camino” I assumed he was talking about some new Latin dance craze he’d seen on TikTok. Then I came to my senses and asked “The what now?” It turns out it’s just a long walk. Actually, there’s more to it than that, a lot more.
El Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St James, refers to any one of the ancient pilgrim routes that crisscross France and the Iberian Peninsula, culminating in Santiago de Compostela in Northwestern Spain. Here it is said that the remains of St James the Great – one of the 12 Apostles – are still buried. Despite its origins in the 9th century, it is still an incredibly popular pilgrimage today, with nearly 350,000 trekkers from around the world walking it yearly. There’s even an Emilio Estevez movie about it that features himself and his dad, Martin Sheen.
But none of this helped me understand the depth and meaning behind pilgrimages. So I decided then and there to get a taste of the Camino for myself by walking the first stage of the French Way with Dad from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in Southern France to Pamplona in Spain – about 68km/42 miles. He had already bravely decided to complete the whole 769 km/478-mile trek on his own – but he was delighted when I told him the news. And although my two brothers have also decided to join him at various stages, I will point out to you – as I reminded them – that I chose the hardest part, the crossing of the mighty Pyrenees.
Why do this?
Well, money is one reason, money for charity.
Parkinson’s is a horrible disease that strips away the patient’s motor functions and ultimately dignity and, eventually, their life. It took Dad’s sister too early, my dear Aunty Mo. And so, our target is to raise £30k for Parkinson’s UK.
My employer, Dusted, has generously supported our efforts – as have many of my colleagues. The irony of the story is that Dad is a retired molecular biologist and research scientist with a long career in drug discovery for big pharma names such as Eli Lilly and Novartis. Yet despite everything, the only way he feels able to help nowadays is not by trying to cure the disease, but by raising money to bring a better quality of life to long-time sufferers.
The other reasons for doing the walk are more complicated, so bear with me. For me anyway, it was to offer moral support, grab some quality time with the old boy, and see what all the fuss was about. For Dad, it was bigger than all of that. During the lockdown, he was stuck in Japan and was unable to attend Aunty Mo’s funeral, which has eaten away at him ever since. Then interestingly, at breakfast on the first morning of the walk, Dad revealed he’d had something of a spiritual awakening in recent years, one that seems to defy the man of science path he has been on until recently – so it turns out that this journey is also his way of saying goodbye to his sister Maureen by walking and thinking about her and celebrating her life, whilst contemplating the meaning and purpose of his own.
Jake’s El Camino diary
Saturday 1 April 2022
The journey to the official start point of the Camino Frances went something like this… Trains from Reigate, Surrey, to London Victoria, to Tottenham Hale, to Stanstead Airport, to eventually board a very delayed plane.
Once finally on the plane – with everything packed and stowed and turbines whining – the pilot announced that we would have to stay like this, in a state of readiness for two hours. We’d been allocated a slot by French Air Traffic Control (whose operations were disrupted due to industrial action) but in two hours’ time. The state of readiness was necessary because that slot might be brought forward at a moment’s notice, at which point she’d need to gun the throttle and get us airborne tout suit.
I managed to send a text to Dad who was already at the hotel, warning him of my delay, but by the time I pressed send, our aviatrix was back on the tannoy with good news. We had a go slot for 10 minutes time. All 189 passengers let out a conjoined cheer, myself included. A woman behind me asked no one in particular “Was that an April Fool?”.
However, the highs and lows don’t end here. Whilst landing, I overheard my seat neighbours talking about the Camino, so I asked how they were planning to get to Saint-Jean. The guy replied, “Well, train, but the last train is at 6:19 pm”. He looked at his watch, visibly gulped, and then announced, “It’s 5 pm”. We had an hour and 20 minutes to grab our bags, disembark, clear passport control (more strikes meant two guys checking all 189 of us), find a taxi and get to Gare de Bayonne, some 15 minutes by car. Needless to say, by the skin of my teeth as I write this now, I’m on a train, a very nice train and I’m looking forward to the first pression of the evening.
Sunday 2 April 2022
This morning it was raining. Not just water, but cats and dogs. And a few goats and cows too by the way things looked from our hotel window. So instead of waiting for French ATC to allocate a departure slot, today we waited for the weather.
Once underway, the scenery was beautiful, wet and green, with ferns and mosses, slate and waterfalls gushing from the mountainsides. We saw lush valleys and farmland full of cows, sheep and horses, it reminded me of my many holidays in North Wales.
The usual Napolian route was closed due to snow higher up the mountain so we took the lower route and broke the journey to Roncesvalles over two days. After arriving at our first overnight stop in Valcarlos, we bumped into two peregrinos Dad had met on the previous day and we enjoyed sandwiches and beer with them.
It was an easy day, all in all. 13 km with an elevation gain of 320 m. It rained most of the day and it is still now as I sit writing this, resting my feet in our accommodation in Spain and admiring the mist-strewn mountain meadows in opposite France.
Tonight’s sleep looked likely to be compromised due to the old ‘box-over-the-thermostat’ trick employed by the owners of the accommodation, but I managed to hack the situation. I’m not normally renowned for my long, thin fingers but somehow I managed to prise the cover wide enough to extend a freezing digit up to the dial and ramp the wheel to the max. Instantly the boiler fired six times, in fact, making a sound rather like the thump of distant artillery – a reassuring sound in this instance, seeing as I knew what was about to come would prevent our toes from dropping off.
Like after so many triumphantly solved challenges in life, the resulting periods of bliss are often short-lived. This night was no exception. Seems like Dad finds it perfectly acceptable to strike up a conversation with people at Soul’s Midnight upon their return from the bathroom. I can’t quite remember what he asked me but I do remember this much: his chipper tone and apparent level of alertness were so similar to his 3 pm level of consciousness, that I assumed I was dreaming. I was not and the situation was promptly dealt with by the tactical use of some rather unpleasant remarks.
Monday 3 April 2023
When the alarm went off too soon at 7 am, I woke from what felt like death. My body screamed, “I thought I was supposed to be lying here for all eternity!” But on the flip side, dressing in the dark requires little thought when the majority of your clothing is black.
Breakfast was actually quite triumphant compared to yesterday’s meagre croissant and yoghurt affair. I was handed eggs that were halfway between fried and scrambled. I never appreciated how the way in which eggs are cooked changes the way they taste more than I did today – they were quite excellent and perfectly seasoned. The accidental rashers of bacon that arrived with the eggs were quickly deposited on Dad’s plate and dispatched, much like the chorizo that seemed to float up from the bottom of my haricot blanc soup during the previous evening’s meal. Yes, it’s true – a broth of baked beans cooked in a smokey pork stock is more delicious than I could possibly have ever imagined, even as a strict pescatarian.
A pile of eggs, toast and coffee later, it was time to leave. Today was tougher than yesterday, mostly because of the 823m elevation we incurred, but also because the prunes Dad had purchased in the supermarket and consumed with his coffee this morning, were starting to prove fruitful (forgive the pun) in their efforts to elevate the sudden change in diet. Let’s just say that the stiff South Westerly wasn’t the only wind I had to contend with today.
I’ll only mention one more gastro-related anecdote by revealing to you that today we discovered that beer, chips and calamari are best consumed after a long day’s walk. And it appears that every other walker in that particular bar anyway, would agree.
We arrived at Roncesvalles after 13km taking four hours, with an 823m elevation gain.
Tuesday 4 April 2023
Firstly, we took advantage of the fine breakfast foods and beverages the magnificent Hotel de Beneficiados had to offer by loading up on a plethora of delicious items. Coffee, omelettes, yoghurts, fruits, muesli, toasts, pain au chocolates, cheeses and juices and even a minute cup of gazpacho soup – which later served well as a condiment for my toasted cheese sandwich. The old adage of ‘make hay while the sun shines’, in this instance anyway, translated roughly to ‘load up while you can’. Normally this food tactic serves little purpose other than weight gain for me, but today it became more than that.
We smashed out 22 km in the sun, this time with much less elevation but instead, a descent that almost broke our calf muscles.
Our triumphant accomplishment was rewarded by two cold beers… but the bubble was soon burst by the barman who took a step too far in being rude to us and several fellow peregrinos. Eager to avoid a night in a Basque jail, Dad dragged me in the direction of the Pension. Here, we stretched and showered, which distracted our thoughts away from a person whom we thought would welcome hundreds of thousands of trekkers a year passing through his establishment – instead of finding ways to upset them.
Don’t ask me about dinner. This is why today I’m glad I made hay.
Wednesday 5 April 2023
Today began with eggs and coffee, as most days should. The preparation of the eggs this time was tortilla Espanyol (omelette with potato) which was quite delicious. Sadly, the more elaborate tortillas were loaded into the display after I’d already ordered – cheese, tomato, mushroom, ham, chorizo and so on. In fact, the tortillas looked like cakes with fillings in the middle and sliced into wedges. Egg cakes. With mayonnaise fillings. Wonderful.
The walk was long at 21.25km with an elevation gain of 408m but it was very warm and incredibly beautiful. It largely followed the Rio Arga as it bubbled down from the Pyrenees towards our destination. There were meadows, fields of crops, ponies, sheep and cows. We saw butterflies and birds, including Griffon vultures (presumably waiting to feast on the fleshy carcasses of lost peregrinos) and I saw a grass-green lizard with a black stripe down its side.
The last mile is always the longest in any journey and today was no exception. Arriving at the outskirts of the city gave us a false sense of completion. Today’s trek didn’t finish for another hour yet, but when it did, we were greeted by the very clean and pleasant Hotel Leyre. The friendly greetings continued in the form of cold beers, wine, olives and gherkins, more tortilla and eventually a bowl of ramen followed by sleep. Utter bliss when you feel you’ve earned it.
As I sit now at the airport waiting for the (delayed) plane, looking back over the last five days, wishing I could continue on with my Dad the whole way (by now I’d caught the Camino bug), a few things strike me:
One, the perceived passing of time is very different when you do something like this compared to when you are in a routine, so I’d say it’s a good thing to do now and then.
And two – when loved ones do not live nearby, take and make time and spend it with them. Even if it means joining them on their own personal pilgrimage, it might be theirs but you become an important part of it. And actually, it’s all part of your own pilgrimage from cradle to grave – you know, the big one we all walk.
You see, it strikes me that a pilgrimage is more than just a long walk, it’s a model for a good life. You strive both physically and mentally to reach a daily goal, not a life goal. So, you live in the moment as you stay fit and focused. You are away from the creature comforts of modern Western living, so you appreciate the simpler things more. You meet people along the way and you talk, offer help, exchange stories and feel part of a community, part of a bigger thing than the rat race or the daily grind. All in all, it really does remind you that life is about the journey, not the destination.
In case you too are keen to do a good deed this month and you have enjoyed reading this article, check out Jake and his father’s Just Giving page. We’re hoping you’ll help them give just a bit back to those who have passed the point of ever enjoying a pilgrimage in the hills ever again.
And if you want to keep up with what people at Dusted are getting up to, check out our blog here.