I’ve been meaning to mention that I’ve noticed lots of people with
purple birth marks on the left-sides of their faces. Amusing myself,
I postulate that it some sort of ham-poisoning. It also makes me
think of this kid in our school who was from Liverpool and had a
birth mark on the left side of his face, he said that the kids in his
old school used to call him ‘splat’ which is only funny when said in
a Scouse accent, or at least we thought so when we were young.
I left Portugalete, not sure how far I wanted to go, but there’s a
place called Castro-Urdiales that seems like the natural choice. I
have a palmera for breakfast from a local bakery- the guys last night
told me I had to get one. It’s basically a pastry covered in
chocolate and it’s about the size of my face. I eat it all.
walk itself I can remember very little of. The last 5kms of the 38kms
I do, are very fucking difficult. I’m just having trouble putting one
foot in from of the other- and, for the first time, my feet really
ache. It’s been a lot of walking on concrete, so it’s to be expected.
weirdest/best thing that happened on the walk was when I was
wandering through the wilderness, I hadn’t seen a human being for
ages and, as usual, I was singing to myself. And I started to think
about the idea I had for a show where at the very end I sing
something, but it has to be A Capella and it has to be a ballad and
it has to be something difficult to sing so that I do so with
imperfection, but the imperfection is what makes me human, it’s what
makes it work, it’s what makes the audience go, “Fuck, that was
brave, I really felt his soul open up then.” And I thought that if
I sang the song and was almost crying, then that would be even more
powerful as if all the pain of anything and everything was channelled
into this song for the live audience (it’s sold out obviously). So,
this was going through my head as I’m singing, ‘I Can’t Make You Love
Me,’ by Bonnie Rait, although I’m singing a version that is somewhere
between that of Bon Iver and Prince, who both do excellent covers of
the tune. And I’m really feeling it, I’m really, “in the moment,”
as actors say, and I can feel that the tears are about to come and
I’m pretty fucking proud of my acting ability here, I’m using
Stanislavsky and the American Method and Meisner technique and some
Polish theatre style that I studied once and it’s all coming together
in this rehearsal (?) and just as the tears are about to pour from my
face, I turn a corner and a short distance off there is a couple
looking at what is coming down the hill. As in, me. Immediately I
stop singing and then I choke back the tears that were about to come.
Thankfully they’re so embarrassed they wave and then crack on ahead
of me at pace. After ten seconds of embarrassment I begin to laugh,
although I am annoyed that they ruined a fine performance.
get to Castro-Urdiales, at the tourist office someone explains where
the Albergue is. I roll on and find this tiny building next to the
Plaza del Torros. It appears to be deserted, but I just saw a couple
walk around the back. I do a lap of the building, hoping to find them
and back at the entrance I see two figures. I say hello and they turn
around. One of them is the Catalan guy (Andres), we both cheer and
spontaneously hug. The other person is a woman from Valencia whose
name I think is Paulina.
go inside, the owner is not around, I plonk my stuff on a bed and
shower. Andres and P take off into the town, they tell me to find
them there. I want to but I can barely walk, I go a few hundred
metres down the street and grab some seafood salad thing in a shitty
bar, the food is good though. I go to another bar and watch a bit of
football and then go to another bar, really close by just for a last
walk A and P. They are lit up, her in particular. She basically loses
her shit at every joke I make, one in particular about ‘the Spanish
just putting shit with sugar and calling it a beverage’ kills. Andres
enjoys it too- it’s funnier in Spanish and if you’re hammered.
There’s clearly something going on between them, even though she’s
married and has a two-year old. Anyway, we do shots of some horrible
yellow liquid- shots here are 2ozs obviously, and shot of brandy and
another brandy and it’s a great time.
at the dorm I’m asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow around
midnight- which is very late for me these days.
am properly hungover. I feel like a sack of shit. Walking a long
distance and then boozing hard does not leave one feeling great. This
was bound to happen at some point. It’s cool. What follows is
psychologically one of the most difficult days I can remember
popped out to grab food… where was I?
in the morning, the only two people in the building are the German
kid I ran into in Bilbao and some Hungarian woman. The German kid
make some kind of comment about how I look. He gets one, everyone
gets one. As I’m packing my bags the Hungarian woman comes in and
tells me she’s Hungarian, she tells me she lives in Vancouver, she
tells me about how great the nature is out there. I couldn’y give
literally one fuck about anything she’s saying. I don’t speak, can’t
speak, I am truly broken. I mentally wish for her to fuck off and
somehow she recedes into the background.
later I hit the trail. My primary motivation to keep going is that
those cunts don’t catch up with me. I’m sure they’re lovely. They
probably are. No, they’re cunts. After that the day is pretty much a
blur. I remember some German woman asking me the way to Laredo and me
pointing her down the street only to watch her turn off in the wrong
direction. I remember the constant self-sabotage that my hungover
brain enjoys. I remember the constant inner chatter telling myself
that it’s going to be okay. I remember finding it so physically
difficult just to put one foot in front of the other.
there were two great dog moments that weren’t them trying to kill me.
Whilst wandering through a village one dog went alongside me and
began barking, I made myself small and edged forward, but it
continued barking, thankfully a woman poked her head out of a window-
I thought to call off the dog, but she told me I was going the wrong
way- once I changed course the dog relaxed and went and sat back in
its spot- it was telling me I was going the wrong way. Ha! Cheeky
fucker. Much later I was walking down a hill in the middle of nowhere
and I felt something on my left hand, I’m hungover and jumpy and by
now I’m used to phantoms of all kinds, but I turn and there is an old
dog smelling my hand. I start and the dog barely reacts but follows
me a short while with the meagre indifference of a dog that’s seen it
make it to the town of Laredo, which is clearly beautiful, but I’m
too tired for any of this shit. I grab some terrible food at a nearby
restaurant. It’s the worst thing I’ve eaten so far, but I really
don’t care at all. Thankfully the place I found to stay had a bath
and I bathed for almost an hour, using thousands of litres of hot
water. I’m asleep by 8.30pm having walked 32kms. That day was a total
motherfucker, I wish I could go some way towards recreating the
mental torment, but it’s gone.
Apple, Pear, Nuts, Dates, Orange, sweets, shitty fish/potato thing
with “salad”, 11/2 beers, 1 glass white wine (albarino), 3 litres
My soul. My essence. My feet.
of the best days so far, well it had to be in contrast to yesterday,
didn’t it? I walked through Laredo a bit and sat and had a good
breakfast- tortilla, bread, OJ, coffee and then walked along the
beach in the direction of the trail. Some woman explained to me that
I had to turn inland to reach the trail, the reasons she specified I
couldn’t really understand. A man shortly afterwards told me to
follow the coast.
little while later I realised I should probably turn inland, a map
indicated the trail was nowhere near where I was headed. I walked
through sand dunes for a while, then through an equestrian
school/park with tiny ponies and horses and prices per hour to ride
them. I wanna! Then I found my way back onto a beach and realised I’d
been going in a circle of sorts for the last 7-8kms. So I continued
up the coast along the beach and then realised there’s a passenger
ferry that jumps across a short spit of water, meaning you don’t have
to walk the 7kms around. I chat to some locals who say the ferry
doesn’t run until April. I turn around, ready to walk back around the
bay and then, inexplicably a boat arrives and takes me and one other
person over to Santonio. It’s a beautiful little town. I’m just happy
I don’t have to walk back around.
wander through the town itself, ask which way Escalante is, which is
apparently 11kms and then follow the trail. There’s a stunning
coastal walk around a cliff, the sort of path a mountain goat would
love and then I’m on a beach. I walk the 4-5kms along the beach and
reach the town. It seems I’m in Noja, which according to the map I
have is 20kms from Santonio. Maps here are fucked. I ask someone
where I am- which is a weird question. The woman thinks I’m on drugs,
obvs. I’m in Noja. Cool, I think, I’m making great time.
follow the sign to the tourist office, it’s 3.50pm and not open for
another 10mins. I stop and see why people are gathered in the square.
There’s a funeral. Hundreds of people wait outside the church until
the parade arrives, 7 or 8 cars, all BMW’s and Mercedes. The hearse
is decked in huge wreaths, women in large black sunglasses embrace,
locals stand around in jeans and t-shirts, a young girl cries and is
consoled by an older woman with cropped grey hair. I try and assume
an air of sympathy and think, not knowing anything about who has
passed away, to reflect upon everyone significant to me that is dead.
It seems appropriate. I then spend sometime eulogising various people
that are still alive, something my brain tends to do from time to
get a shitty map from the tourist office and walk 2kms to the only
Albergue there is. It’s 11 euros a night. There’s just myself and a
young German lad in the entire place. He looks exactly like the Fawn
from Pan’s Labyrinth. He’s a sweet and intelligent guy. We walk into
town and get something to eat. There aren’t many options but we make
do. He’s quiet. That’s totally cool with me. It’s not that he doesn’t
speak, just that he saves it for when he feels the need. We wander
back to the dorm and I’m tucked in by 11pm
Apple, OJ, tortilla, bread, 2 coffees, 2 oranges, banana, chocolate
(that tastes like hay), nuts, anchovies, bread, potatoes, salad
(lettuce, tomato, olives, egg, tuna), 1 small beer, 2 rose, 1 red
Just my left knee and the heels of my feet.
Almost none today.
Richard Herring with Steve Coogan- excellent interview.