thoughts

~ Heading Home ~

~ Heading Home ~

“Sometimes you wonder how many alien souls are also out there drifting through life, staring into space and skies, dreaming of something ineffable, a home that can never seem to be found here or there or anywhere. The eyes scan and search those grey streets for another of your kind, but you know deep down your fate is to wander alone through the wilderness of life, becoming ever more scratched and scarred by the wild things roaming around inside of you. You know you deserve a home, everyone deserves to feel like they have a home, even if it’s just for a short period, to stare into the eyes of another who finally understands, but ultimately nothing comes or arrives. Its the dark room of isolation. It’s the solitary shoreline. It’s the tired head against the bus window. It’s the trudging on alone through the swamps and storms, fighting through the muck and mess and madness in your own mind. Yet through all of this inner chaos, comes a great strength somewhere inside of you, strong enough to blast the darkness, to slay your demons and save yourself from the haunted places. In your own isolation, you gradually become a warrior of the wild – your own protector, your own saviour. You create your own world and forge your own path home. Even if you will never find it, you’ll always be out there hunting the horizon with wide eyes, moving fearlessly forward to the lands of your distant destiny. To the lands of salvation. To the lands of light and love and the life that is yours and will always be yours.”

asphalt-black-and-white-buildings-1722179.jpg

short stories

~ The Way of the Wanderer ~

~ The Way of the Wanderer ~

It was month six of being back in the routine of normal life. I was on the south coast of England in Brighton, working in a pub down by the marina. It was a typical bar job, only it left me even more wistful-eyed than usual having to spend my spare moments gazing out the window at the ocean while dreaming of sailing off somewhere out into the great unknown. Outside that glass sat dozens of boats lined up in the harbour, bobbing side to side in the water, their sails flapping in the wind – those pieces of cloth eagerly twitching to once again feel the air of freedom and adventure they were born to catch. In between pouring drinks and half-heartedly participating in small-talk with customers and fellow workers, I cast my gaze out to those waters while feeling the allure that only the bohemian soul feels each time they see those sails flapping in the wind, or a bird take off from a ship’s mast, or even something as simple as a singular raindrop swoop and swerve its way down the window glass. This yearning for freedom was only exacerbated by having to serve the group of fisherman who did a few hours graft out on the boats every morning only to arrive in the bar midday to sit around a table and knock back ale after ale. While I toiled away, they sat around jovially conversing and joking of the morning’s exploits out at sea. To me they seemed like men who figured life out: a way to get the job done, taste the fresh air of the life and get back to conversing around the tables of life, drunk, messy-haired and wild-eyed. Perhaps I was staring into my own distant gypsy future I thought, forty years of chaos and survival down the line, living on a scraggy old boat, still bobbing side to side through life’s waters at the mercy of the current of my own restless heart. It was a nice thought to entertain myself with. Other than those guys were some weary-eyed pensioners who sat in dark corners alone silently drinking themselves to sleep. The thought hit me whether they had spent their entire lives on the grind just to afford the privilege of drinking themselves slowly and solemnly toward death. I looked side to side from alcoholic fisherman to just the standard alcoholic. As always with my extensive daily ethnography of the human race, it was hard to say exactly for sure which life was the one that had been lived well in complete certainty. 

      There was one thing I still felt certain about in my flesh and bones: a man wasn’t made to endure an entire life of relentless workplace bullshit only to descend toward death in a dark and depressing manner. Of course, not all jobs out there were like this – seemingly just the majority (which of course naturally included my low-skilled job). It had been increasing in absurdity as the last weeks had gone by and it was right about when my power-crazed supervisor was belittling me for pouring a couple milliliters over on a whiskey and coke that I decided to quit. Having someone scrunch their face and speak down to you about something so trivial in order to make herself feel important was enough to make up my mind. Often in these jobs one had to deal with such souls – bitter souls, vengeful souls, spiteful souls – and there was only so much I could endure of the professional human-being before the deluge of absurdity caused me to crave the sweet release of the wild. I had been thinking about walking the Camino de Santiago through Spain for a while, so naturally it seemed like the next trip now I had decided to pack my bags yet again. Summer had just began and my skin awaited to feel the rays of the Spanish sun while wandering freely across an entire country. It wasn’t long before the final decision was made. I handed in that old and familiar notice and left the bar and scowling supervisors alone once again in that world I was destined to never understand or belong to or even tolerate for any extended period of time.

      Two weeks later I touched down in the French Pyrenees in a town called Bayonne. From there I would travel to St Jean Pied du Port to begin the 500 mile hike across northern Spain to Santiago De Compostela. The route was traditionally an ancient christian pilgrimage where lone wanderers would slowly and surely make their way across an entire country to achieve some sort of religious salvation. Nowadays the hike was completed by all sorts of lost, nomadic souls in search for something that would alleviate the pain of what it was to exist as a human-being in a seemingly meaningless universe. That had been part of the reason the trek had appealed to me. Being back in the neighbourhoods of normality always numbed my flesh and bones with a sense of sadness. Life just lost its magic when you were surrounded by sensible people content in their own lives of structure and sanity. Predictability and order were the slaughterhouses of the soul. I felt a greater thrill when I was surrounded by the desperate and deranged, the crazed and wild – the misfits and outcasts who threw their lives into a flimsy backpack and walked solo across a country just because something deep inside possessed them to get totally lost in the mystery of the unknown. 

    I couldn’t have gotten off to a better start meeting cockney Pete straight off the plane – an eccentric, bald-headed, retired army soldier with no home or plot or next of kin. He was a person who walked the camino again and again simply because there was no other place for someone like him left in society to reside. This time was number three of the year and number thirty-one in total. The man had walked so much the blisters were permanently marked into his mind as well as his feet. Hearing him speak, it was clear to me that he was a scratched and scarred soul, and naturally my alien flesh felt a natural affinity to such a being.

      Having had him befriend me and a young Danish guy, we all walked together in the rain through the town of Bayonne toward the train station to try and catch the last train to St Jean. Pete lead the way marching through the streets while giving us a briefing on the journey that awaited us. With an erratic nature and a childlike sense of awe, he told tales of the classic pilgrimage and basically how we weren’t cut out for it and that we should just go home. 

       “Lads what you gotta understand is this isn’t your usual holiday. I hope you didn’t come here to piss around. If your heart isn’t set on it then just turn around and get back on that plane right now. I’ve walked this walk over thirty times now and I see people like you all the time starting this walk, thinking it’s a breeze, a booze-up – a walk in the park. Let me tell you right now, it’s not what you think. This journey – it’s a mental journey as well as a physical one. Be prepared for the unexpected. Out there on that trail you have a lot of time to yourself and a lot of people aren’t ready for what things they have to face and deal with in their own minds. Especially in the Mesetta part of the walk; it’s a lot of nothingness and I’ve seen people break down and quit.” He kept wiping his bald head dry with a cloth while he briefed us, still clearly thinking he was in the army. “Did you see those two other English guys who were on the plane? Tourists. Tourists the both of them. I can see it how they walk, how they dress – how they speak. Did you see that little guide book they had? They will turn around and be heading home before the end of the second week. I’ve walked this walk over thirty times now so I know what I’m talking about. Thirty times. Over thirty times I’ve walked the camino now.”

      Pete was delightfully mental. Already just off the plane the trip was well and truly off to the start I had hoped for. The scripted small-talk conversations about jobs and studies were a long way away now. I was back home in foreign lands, walking in the rain with a deranged and wild soul, on the precipice of it all: sanity and society – joy and despair. He invited us to stay in a hotel with him, but I wanted to get to St Jean so me and the Danish guy left him to it, at which point he got offended and stormed off into the rain. I knew I would see him again so I didn’t get too sad about the whole situation. Someone that crazy was only good to have around for small periods of time only, and I hadn’t quite gauged to what degree of insanity he was operating within just yet. I liked him but I didn’t really fancy waking up in a hotel room in a strange foreign town with a knife to my throat just a few hours after landing. The descent into chaos needed to be gradual at times – the breakdown piece by piece, rather than the entire engine exploding in your face as soon as you turned the ignition key.

       The next day I got started on the walk, making my way over the last batch of hills in the Pyrenees before dropping down onto the plains Spain. It was a short and rainy stop in France and now I was in the lands where I could practice the awful Spanish I had picked up on a couple of trips in South and Central America. At the end of the day I emerged from a wooded trail and arrived in my first ‘albergue’ – army-like barracks where all the wandering camino souls lined themselves up to eat, drink and try to sleep after a long day on the trail. 

      The first one I stayed in was an old converted cathedral which housed over two-hundred people. Looking at the sea of faces, it was clear that the walk attracted a diverse group of people of all shapes, sizes, religions and bizarre personalities. From young South Koreans walking to put it on their resume, to recently divorced Italians, to old married Ecuadorian couples, to adventurous young Europeans, to the usual midlife crisis crowd – it was an eclectic pick and mix of modern-day pilgrims trudging their way slowly towards the shores of some distant destiny. In the evening we all sat around tables eating ‘el menu del dia’ while talking about life and travel and anything in between. As always the randomness made me feel good; it made me feel relaxed to be sat in circles of other people also drifting aimlessly through the great wilderness of life. Listening to them all, it was clear that they were people of different forms, of different experiences – of different confusions and delusions about life.

      In the first days I walked the trail with a Croatian, an American, a Danish guy and, of course, Pete who continually appeared on the trail talking the head off some slightly concerned stranger before shifting to another. Everyone on the trail knew who he was by the end of the first few days. He was known as ‘Camino Pete’ – the man who walked the trail again and again simply because there was no other home for him other than the rugged, dusty path of the camino. I gradually began to learn that his life was even more chaotic than I imagined after recently losing the last member of his family, his brother, when he was killed by American friendly fire in Afghanistan. It made sense why the man wandered perpetually like he did. His life may have been chaotic, but it made me feel good knowing that there was someone like him out there relentlessly hunting the horizon for some sort of personal salvation and liberation. The more I spoke to him and watched him talk the head off of strangers, the more I realised this ‘something’ was probably a wife – a fellow soul to spend the rest of his days with in a more peaceful way than the absolute anarchy that had been the last years and decades of his life. Again I sympathised with Pete; often I had stared into the pretty eyes of passing women in the streets thinking they could save me from this life of chaos I had drifted towards. It is true that many a man has been driven to death and madness by the lack of a woman’s love. Camino Pete just needed his break, like we all did.

      Besides him I gradually began to learn why so many others walked this path of the pilgrim. Conversations were had with many walking besides little streams, wooded pathways, old cobbled lanes, golden fields of wheat, or sat around restaurant tables sipping wine on some street corner in a small town in the middle of nowhere. As usual with solo travelling, the social mask was off and people were more willing to speak from the heart when they were surrounded by people they may never see again far from home. This lead to moments where I was walking alone down the trail only to find myself five minutes later listening to a complete stranger’s life story like I was some sort of therapist. Like I had noticed before in my life, my receptive, introverted personality attracted people who wanted to vent the storms and thunder that raged inside their skulls. Maybe I was destined to become an actual therapist, I considered at one point. The idea of people confiding in someone like me was enough to shake my head in utter confusion and bewilderment. Didn’t they know I was on the edge like the rest of them? That I was also a chaotic mess? 

     Still I thought I’d give it go anyway, test the waters and see what desperation and madness was stirring within the skulls of my fellow pilgrims. Speaking to those first people I met on the trail, I found out that the Croatian walked because he was a Christian at a point in his life where he needed to decide where to take his career in dentistry – a decision that possibly involved him moving to my home country: the U.K. The Danish guy walked because he had just left his job and didn’t know where to go next on the road of life other than the fact his Chinese girlfriend was still studying in Denmark. The American guy walked because he could – a modern nomad who made money from renting out a couple of apartments in New York (although I suspected he too was searching for a girlfriend). Other than that some people simply walked for leisure, including myself I thought. The people asked me if I had a reason to walk, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I just simply walked to walk. There was an equilibrium about this way of life which made far more sense to me that the conventions and traditions of my society. Putting a backpack on my shoulders and and just moving through the present moment from town to town gave me a sort of monk-like contentment that could not be found in the things I considered trivial and frivolous back home. Job promotions, cultural box-ticking, mortgages, cars, material goods, the weekend, public holidays, television soaps and sitcoms – all of it just confused me to the core. Nothing about it excited me and made me feel alive in any way. More noble – more fulfilling – was this bohemian life out on the trial, speaking to people about life, living hour to hour, day to day, meal to meal. Perhaps I was fooling myself again though – something I’d been guilty of in the past. I’d go from thinking I’ve discovered the secret of life to being sat in a bar from a Belgian family feeling as hopelessly lost as ever. On one particular occasion after the first week, I sat with a Belgian family watching the world cup football while awkwardly trying to justify my nomadic lifestyle to them. The parents were both teachers and were walking with their young son and daughter during the holidays. I’d look at them and ask myself whether I wanted what they had. Did I want that life? A life of family? Of career? Of stability and security and suburban sanity? Certainly they seemed happier than I on the surface but I knew that that sort of predictable life would probably drive me to a high-story ledge eventually. As always, I felt doomed and carried on walking wide-eyed into the unknown. 

     The journey went on as the weeks and miles passed by through the plains of northern Spain. Each day I awoke after a bad night sleep in a crowded dorm, chucked my clothes into my dirty backpack, grabbed some light breakfast, rubbed my eyes and let my the soles of my shoes hit the dusty trail once again. It amused me that I didn’t even have a map for the whole operation; I was totally reliant on these little flicks of yellow paint that lay on the sides of rocks and street signs and dilapidated old buildings. Like with so much of my life, there was no set plan and I felt strangely at home in the unknown. Often I wished life was as simple and peaceful as the trail life. Just following that yellow paint road towards the end left me in a meditative state, only stopping for paella and red wine and moments gazing out at pretty landscapes. The fields and quiet little towns I passed through allowed me to drift my own little world, and I spent time sitting wistful-eyed in cafes, staring out and observing the settled lives of the residents there. After a long day’s walking I would sit back and watch swallows fly in sunset skies as I sipped my coffee in a hazy state of mind, scribbling some poetry and short stories in a notebook. Soon I forgot about my everything else outside the camino. The trek began to feel like a small lifetime, and the process and stages emotions of the walk encapsulated this. Sometimes I walked in a group; sometimes I walked alone. Sometimes I experienced joy; sometimes I experienced sadness. Sometimes I felt lost; sometimes I felt found. 

      If the camino was a little snapshot version of life itself, then it was only natural that some female came along at some point to steal your heart and leave you confused. The moment came in the middle of the day as she stood there like an apparition, a fleeting mirage in the midsummer heat. There a little further down the trail I watched her blonde hair blowing in the breeze and tanned skin shining in the sun. The path had presented me with many things so far and now it had presented me with a goddess here to destroy me. Naturally I knew I didn’t have much of a chance with such a creature. The gods had cursed me by offering me conventional good looks, but also by leaving me with a strange, unrelatable personality that left most girls running for the hills like scared deer when they saw what really lurked beneath the surface. They got lured in but the second I opened my mouth I could see them mentally packing their bags and bidding me goodbye with a confused and disappointed look in their eyes. I knew it was a hopeless task, but still I figured I’d get speaking to her anyway to see what exactly had driven her to walk the camino. 

      Sharing some red wine around a table in a court-yard in an albergue that evening, we spoke about life and travel and everything in between. Unbelievably the conversation went extremely well. It turned out she was a twenty-four year old student from Denmark, studying theology and religious studies while working in a homeless shelter. Her name was Laura and she was a lover of philosophy, astrology and anything that involved mystery and magic and a little bit of hippy madness. Despite her model good looks, she was uncorrupted and still remained a bit of gypsy spirit unafraid to pick up bits of dirty string from the road to use as bracelets, or bite her nails, or pop the blisters on the feet of other hikers. Trying and failing not to be lost in her raw beauty, I carried on sharing my mind with her while she let me in a bit deeper to hers. It appeared, like a lot of camino wanderers, she too wasn’t quite sure what she was searching for or even doing in this thing called life. 

       “Yeah I don’t really have any idea what I want to do in life” she said. “Like you I would to travel half the year and then work the other, maybe work in a non-governmental organisation – a charity abroad or something. I don’t think I want a settled life, but I’m not sure. I don’t know.”

     I emphasized with her lack of certainty about her direction. Like me she was in her mid-twenties which meant her mind was feeling the effects of over two decades cultural conditioning. The expectations to conform to the expectations and traditions of the older generations were at their peak in the twenties, especially as the end of education beckoned and ‘the real world’ awaited in all its stern-faced, cross-armed seriousness. The heavy hands of society, parents and teachers would fall on the quaking shoulders of young people standing at the crossroads of life, wondering what the hell they should do for the rest of their lives. I felt that after the age of thirty most of the pressure and tension was gone; if you weren’t part of the cultural machine by that point, people simply gave up and labelled you an outcast, hippy or simply crazy. Being the tender age of twenty-four and at her most vulnerable, her mind was no doubt full of noise about such choices in life. Still, she needn’t have worried too much I thought – a girl who looked like that was never going to have too much of a tough existence in this world. At least I imagined so anyway. 

      The next days we wandered together along the path talking relentlessly about anything and everything that lingered in the recesses of our skulls. There was a closeness between us that was altogether rare to experience in someone you had just met. By the end of the second day we had told each other so many private things about ourselves that we never thought we’d share with another. I had even shared with her some of my writing which I had never done with anyone directly before. In between this we shared music with each other, sat and rested under the shade of trees, and enjoyed good coffee and ‘tortilla de patata’ in cafes – little bits of cake mashed together with potato, egg and cheese. Throughout all of this I felt a strange sense of happiness and joy I had yet to experience amid the grand journey of life. The thought hit me that it’s strange when you feel something that you haven’t felt before; especially in the third decade of your life. By then you imagine by then your brain has felt it all: the pain, the pleasure, the thrill, the desperation, the fear, the humiliation, the ecstasy, the anger – the crippling sense of loneliness that comes creeping up on you out of nowhere on a busy street corner. What could be left to feel? To taste? But it was true: there on that path with that girl I felt the world shine clear in a new colour alien to my eyes; I felt my flesh burn with a tingling sensation that made me feel strong enough to march against a thousand armies and brave the deadliest storm. The simple sight of her smile was enough to make me feel like I had arrived at the end of my camino – that there was nothing left to strive for, to search for, to wander for.

      But wander we did, on and on, over the hills, to every new town and every new sunset. New friends came and went as each horizon disappeared only to be replaced by another beckoning me further forward into my hazy future. Soon enough the inevitable happened and I awoke one day to find Laura’s bed empty. I had been up late drinking and by the time I awoke the whole albergue was silent and deserted. Hungover and bleary-eyed, I grabbed by bag and started walking alone out on the trail. By then the crowds from the early stages of the walk had dispersed and it was sometimes an hour or two before I saw another soul on the trail. That day I walked alone expecting Laura to eventually come back into sight. Somewhere down on the trail she would appear again, her tanned skin shining in the sun and blonde hair blowing in the summer breeze like it had that day when she had first appeared. But the miles and days drifted on and on, and it soon became clear she had left my world as quickly as she entered. I was not to see her again on this trip. The peace and contentment of sharing my path with a fellow soul I had searched for so long was gone. I felt a sinking feeling in my gut. I knew she was a rare find. She was a person I had searched for back home in the eyes of strangers of streets, the eyes of strangers of trains – the eyes of strangers in bars and clubs and restaurants. Finally I had found her out somewhere in Spain but now she was gone in a camino instant. 

      And so back to wandering alone through Spain I went, spending the days drifting alone down the path, listening to some music and philosophy lectures on my phone, reading in hammocks, staring up into the sky and smiling at the immensity of it all. It was just me and my own madness as it had always been in my life, heading toward the horizon of the unknown, lost in the dream of life while marvelling at the sights along the way. I missed Laura of course but I soon realised this was how it was no doubt meant to be for someone like me. It was all I ever knew: the state of wandering alone; of moving through new lands; of observing and watching the world from behind the looking glass of my own eyes. In many ways this camino business was probably the most natural thing I had done in my life. 

     Eventually I met some other pilgrims along the way and was back to my therapist ways. This included one of the more interesting characters I had met – Marti – a young eighteen year-old from the U.K out on his first travel adventure. At first he didn’t seem like someone I would have too much in common with, but I soon got close to him and learnt about his world. Coming from a rough neighbourhood, he had gotten involved with gangs back home until he eventually made the decision himself to remove himself from that scene and begin broadening his horizons. He had done this by moving to France where he was working as a floor tiler, and now by taking time off from work to come and walk across Spain. The more I learned about him, the more clear it was he had a tough time in the past – including the fact that he had never really known his parents and was raised instead by his uncle (and to a large degree himself). I could see the fire in his eyes begin to blaze when he spoke about such things. I knew he needn’t worry about his troubled past; the fact he was where he was now, doing what he was doing at such a young age, told me his fight was going to be a victorious one. His quest out in his wild had begun, at a much younger age than my personal quest, and I knew he’d be alright in the end.

      Other than Marti came Monica. Monica was a twenty-eight year nomad from the states, one of the ones somewhere down south in the desert. She was small in stature, but titanic in personality. One of the most extreme travellers I had ever met, her adventures had taken her to every continent across the world, to over three-thousand different rides from hitch-hiking, to fighting off Mexican truck drivers with a knife, to being a fire breather in the circus for three years – all the way to meeting a German guy in Guatemala and spontaneously hitchhiking to Vegas to get married. Her way of wandering was more like being blown around in a violent storm and it was clear that the thunder and lightning had left its mark in her crazed eyes. She was the most extroverted creature I had ever met, and although it was fun listening to her story, I eventually found myself trying to get away from her at moments just so my introverted mind could catch its breath. By just running her mouth she had a habit of pulling you into her own madness. I already had the mess of myself to deal with, and someone as wild as her was simply too exhausting to tolerate for any extended period of time. Still, I liked her, and eventually I learned that she was walking the camino to come to terms with the fact that the guy she spontaneously married in Vegas had ended up moving back to Germany where he suddenly fell ill and passed away, effectively leaving her as a twenty-eight year old widow. She said she was walking just to walk, but I could see and hear in her voice that this was the real reason. Her way was a redemption; it was an understanding and coming to terms with the situation that had just befallen her. There she walked: wide-eyed and wild, another wandering soul out in foreign fields, marching her way through the tempestuous wilderness of life. Eventually we parted ways and I carried on walking alone on the trail.

      As I reached the green hills of Galicia and approached the end of the great pilgrim’s walk through Spain, I thought some more about all these weird and wonderful people I had met along the way and why in the hell I was also out here drifting from town to town with no plans or ticket to even return home. Yes, it was true that I liked to walk just to walk, that it was own personal nirvana to be wandering freely through a country in the summer sun with just a backpack and the clothes on my back. But perhaps like some of the others I was fooling myself and there was something I was subconsciously searching for. Perhaps there was something gnawing at me inside after all. I kept expecting to have some epiphany as I walked along the trail, or while I was sat in another cafe staring into the sky, or when I was swimming in a river after the end of another day. But sure enough nothing came or arrived in my mind. The days went on and on and eventually I found myself stumbling into Santiago towards the finishing line. I had walked the five hundred miles across Spain, completed the ancient pilgrimage – another travel experience seared into my soul – and all I could do was stand underwhelmed in the cathedral square of Santiago and watch the other pilgrims congregate together and celebrate their personal journeys. Some cried, some posed for photos, some hugged, some sat alone and soaked in the atmosphere. I guess I was one of the latter, and I sat and stared expecting some great revelation to sweep over me but nothing did. I was still another wanderer on his journey into through the wilderness of life. I hadn’t found anything or been found myself. Despite the fleeting feeling of arrival I had felt with Laura, I was still just whipping around in the unrelenting winds of existence as ever – a relentless wanderer of life, sitting on steps and staring up into skies overcome by the wonder of it all. No finish. No end. No arrival. The road carried onward..

       In the days and weeks that followed the camino, I carried on travelling in Europe. For once I didn’t have such a burning desire to keep on living nomadically, but I also had no desire to go home and work at some job I had no interest in either. I had enough money to keep on travelling and I decided to use it by travelling down the coast of Portugal with an American guy I had met on the camino. We headed first to Porto and then onward to Lisbon. After this I flew to Budapest to party for a week. It was a strange time in my life and for the very first time, I felt tired and bored with the act of travelling. Uneasy with this feeling, I decided it was because I was now off the trail and travelling around conventionally with buses while staying busy city hostels. With this thought in mind, I took a bus down to Slovenia to start a three week hike there that would return me to the style of travel I had become accustomed to back in Spain.

     Walking the first days on that hike, I soon came to realise and accept that I was still not feeling quite right. The hike itself was beautiful, but it was extremely isolated and all the mountain huts were closed. I had a little shelter with me I had picked up from a camping store which was far too small for my six-foot plus frame. At times I was cold, wet and miles away from another soul. I quickly began to see what I was doing was a bad idea. Still I kept on moving until one night when the sun had set and left me enveloped in the darkness of the forest. My head-torch had failed and I used the last remaining battery on my phone to help me put up the shelter I had. With little room on the mountain side to place it, I settled for a damp patch of mossy turf. I erected the small nylon structure and then crawled inside like an insect trying to shelter from the night. 

      As I lay there gazing up at the starry sky, unable to sleep in the cold howling wind, I thought about my shambolic situation. Truly I was no longer where I was supposed to be – shivering in the night, tired and alone in a foreign country, fighting off the spiders from crawling into my tent, hoping no wild animals would come across my momentary lair in the absolute middle of nowhere. Feeling hopelessly lost, I started playing over the whole camino trip in my head. I thought of the places and faces along the road. I thought of all the little exchanges with other people. I thought of Pete, Laura, Marti, Monica and all those wandering souls out there in the world making their way through life. Thinking about it all, suddenly, I had the urge to write more than ever before. I remembered something Laura had said to me – “why don’t you write a book about your experiences and share how you feel.” I had been feeling it gradually within me for a long time now. My phone notes were littered with notes of things I wanted to write down when I was reunited with my laptop that was waiting for me back home. More than ever before, I had a strong existential desire to express the contents of my soul, to share my own story from the past few years of bohemian madness. A few weeks after finishing the camino, that epiphany had finally arrived and suddenly all I wanted to do was to be home and write and write and write. It played over in my head through a sleepless night and the next morning I accepted I had wandered too far through the wilderness. I was no longer fighting the good fight. I was no longer on the path where I belonged. In the realisation of this, I got up, picked up my backpack and marched back along the trail to the last town I had come across. Once I was there I went and caught a bus to Croatia. Once I was there I booked and took a flight back home to England and prepared to write my first ever book. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      You know, when people ask why I travel I still find it a hard question to answer. It is true that I was never able to find what I wanted from regular life. The jobs. The education system. The consumerism. The conventions. The expectations and traditions. Like others I met on the trail, I was a born explorer and found myself stuck in a system which seemed to sedate me into a passive existence. So I guess I did what I felt was necessary and started to explore my outer worlds without any compromise. I ventured as far out into the world as possible. I climbed the mountains. I worked the terrible jobs. I got lost in the eyes of strangers. I travelled far and wide until the journey eventually led me inward into the kingdom of myself. And truthfully it was there where the real gold lay; it was there where I found my passion and purpose. From England to Australia, from menial jobs to medical trials, from being down in the dumps to being high in the mountains – it has been a crazy journey through the wilderness, and no matter where I’ve been out there, it appears the only home I have ever found is right here at this keyboard expressing myself. I have travelled the world and found the greatest adventure at the end of my own fingertips. With each word I type, my soul is racing to the horizon with wide eyes and arms open. It is the greatest act of exploration I have known, a journey into the soul where there are far greater treasures than one can possess physically. It is an act where I am finally able to express myself in a world that left me feeling misunderstood and voiceless. It is an act where I am able to share my experience and the experience of all those other wanderers out there roaming the world. It is an act where I am able to create a place I could finally call home.

    When I got home from that period of walking the camino and travelling in Europe, I found myself glued to the keyboard for months after. I got a seasonal job working alongside my dad at a courier company, and every day after work I just sat alone before my keyboard, writing down the thoughts and tales of my journey onto a blank page. For the first time in my life nothing else mattered. I had no external desires other than where I was and what I was doing. Everything else faded from sight and I knew that finally I had found what I was subconsciously looking for all those years out on the road. I no longer cared about the adventures or the girls or what was over the next horizon. I no longer cared about that long, meandering trail. I no longer cared about the backpacks or hostels or foreign countries. Like the other pilgrims in the square of Santiago, finally my journey was over. Finally, my camino had finished.

As the words poured out onto the page, for once in my chaotic life, finally:

I had arrived.

poetry

~ Drenched in Defeat ~

~ Drenched in Defeat ~

The world was not what you told me mother
How could you bring me into this pain?
I want to live, and not just be another
broken soul trying to shelter from life’s rain.

Yeah my eyes drip with sadness
and I am soaked to the bone;
lost in the storm of my own madness
destined to drown on my own.

And how could it be you promised me
a life full of happiness and joy?
when the winds of this society
require me to consume and destroy.

How could it be that you told me
the world is sunshine and rainbows?
when the hollow heads attack me
and get their highs from my lows.

How could it be you encouraged me
to chase my dreams and my desires?
when the world is clouded with hatred
and corrupted by users and liars

Yeah you lied to me too mother
And that’s why I stand here now
Drenched in defeat
Shaking like a leaf
Shivering and beat
Losing hope and belief

I guess I will just keep convincing myself
that the good times still haven’t begun
and maybe one day this storm will pass
so my soul can dry out in the sun.

short stories

~ Moving Forth ~

~ Moving Forth ~

A dreadful silence filled the room. The surrounding walls looked at me with suffocating stares. I lay flat and still on my bed as the weight of the entire world pulled me down into the mattress. The dream had abruptly ended and I was back in my old bedroom, living at home with my parents after travelling around the world for one and a half years. From Brazil to New Zealand, the grand adventures had come and gone – all those soul-stirring experiences lost in the mist of mind and memory, and now I was back to where I grew up: penniless, alone and depressed, with no one close by who truly understood or cared how I felt.

On top of this I had returned back to my old job in the local supermarket. It was not something I had planned to do but having been reckless enough to come home with no money and a considerable amount of debt, I immediately returned to a place I could walk into work straight away. This created some sort of time warp in my brain, as if the last one and a half years had all been nothing but some sort of surreal dream. As I walked down those aisles and stacked those shelves, I felt my heart being crushed slowly and surely by the old familiarity of it all. It really was true that absolutely nothing had changed. The same customers came in at the same times; the same scripted conversations were endured; the same items were stacked in the same places. As I worked, I stared emptily into space and let my mind wander. How could so much have changed within me while everything here remained exactly the same? How could I live this other lifetime while people had stayed set in the same mode of existence? How could I go around the world and now feel so lost in my hometown?

Inevitably, I felt as if everything I had done was for nothing; I felt that all the life I had gained had been stolen off me. A total pointless waste of time. What a foolish dreamer I was, thinking that my big, post-graduation journey actually meant something. It all suddenly felt meaningless. And not just for me, but those close to me. Besides the obligatory ‘how was it?’ question, no one really had an interest in what I had done.

“So, I guess it’s time you joined ‘the real world’ now hey.”

     “Welcome back to reality.”

     “Time to get a proper job.”

These were the comments people shared with me about my trip. Misunderstood and alienated, my heart soon raged against everything around me. Reverse culture shock set in and I began to feel more foreign than I had while on my trip. This just about peaked on a bank holiday Sunday evening where I stood in a pub listening to everyone talk about jobs, football and television shows. Suddenly, standing in silence at the bar, I was mocked for wearing casual clothing and working in a supermarket. It was right there and then that I realised I had become a stranger in my own town. This was supposed to be home, but now it was clear the bohemian madness had finally claimed me: I now had no home. I was an exiled alien, lost somewhere in the great cosmic ocean of existence, devoid of a place of any real human belonging.

As I experienced this conflicting state of affairs, I thought of my companions I had shared my adventure with. Where were they now and what were they doing? Were they also back home, beset by the same doom and gloom as me? I racked my brain and remembered the moments of getting drunk on Copacabana beach on New Year’s Eve with Ana. I remembered partying on a balcony overlooking a beautiful lake in New Zealand with my twenty housemates. Hiking to Machu Picchu with new friends. Climbing mountains in Bolivia. Cycling around wineries in Argentina. Yes, yes! All of those things! All those beautiful things swept away by the merciless waves of transience which eventually enveloped us all. The tides had turned, the fleeting friendships over and I now stood alone in what might as well have been another world altogether. Thinking about it all, I felt a strange feeling start to stir in my stomach. It was going to be a tough time, I knew.

The weeks and months continued to go by in tremendous solitude. I soon avoided going out as I couldn’t face the others. Consequently, those bedroom walls gradually suffocated me more and more. It wasn’t long until felt like a prisoner of some sort. In times of desperation, I let society’s influence set in; I went online and applied for those career jobs that I wasn’t interested in. This was the script I had told myself – that this big solo trip around the world after graduating university was my final blowout before retreating back to the world of normality to begin a steady career. It wasn’t until I went to an interview that I realised my delusion. As I sat there lying and pretending to be someone I wasn’t, I felt tremendous inner conflict burn inside my blood. Within me a great fire roared and raged against it all. I quickly began to realise I was facing the music – that I was finally acknowledging that I wasn’t going to walk the straight path society wanted me to. I had been avoiding it for a long time it had seemed. From an early age I knew in my gut that I didn’t belong to the world of careers and contracts – to sensibility and suburban sanity. I had suppressed the fact that I was incompatible with that world for many years and now it was time to accept that things in life weren’t going to be so straightforward for me. Acknowledging this, a personal crisis ensued. The dark clouds gathered inside my head and the rain poured down.

In the midst of this storm, I found myself visiting the nearby farm fields in the countryside daily. I guess it acted as a little bit of an escape from society. The allure of nature occasionally allowed some of the pain to momentarily reside, as if there was some whispering voice of wisdom in the wind and in the streams, trying to tell me something that would alleviate my suffering. Although it helped at times, it wasn’t enough to stop the terrible storm inside my head. As the weeks and months went by, the thunderous noise increased in tune with my own despair and desolation. I gradually began to realise that these feelings were nothing new. It was true that I had felt out of place all of my life at home. From a young age I knew deep down something inside of me was vastly different from the rest. Perhaps that was the source of past bouts of anxiety and depression, I considered. I had always known I didn’t fit into the world I grew up in, and it seemed I had subconsciously blocked out this fact to spare myself the pain of facing my isolation as the black sheep I undoubtedly was. But finally, at the age of twenty-four, the realisation had caught up with me. There was no denying it any longer: I was an abnormal outcast, a wretch not belonging to my place of birth.

Eventually one day I was walking in those fields and the weight of it all became too much. I couldn’t go on the way I was any longer. I stopped and stood alone in the middle of a field. I then looked up to the sky with tears of pain and rage, before collapsing down onto the ground. For a long time I just lay there motionless in the grass, feeling the wind whip against my skin and the pain and madness howl in my mind. I felt myself sinking down deep into the earth beneath me, swallowed up whole by this world. It was true: I had been broken – the lowest I had ever sunk in my life. I was a destroyed man, shackled down by my demons, lying helpless and alone in the torture chamber, feeling myself disappearing into a state of non-existence.

Then something strange happened.

Somewhere deep inside of me, something changed. Something was destroyed. I’m not sure what it was exactly, but at my lowest point I felt it implode on itself and dissipate into nothingness. In the wake of this, I then started to feel the pain gradually start to reside. I sat up and breathed in, wondering what the hell had just happened. Perhaps it was the sudden death of a demon within me that had been causing me all this pain. Perhaps it was the shackles of my mind which had finally split under the weight of all the pressure. Whatever it was, I felt its sudden destruction within me, followed by a feeling that was like coming up to the surface for a life-saving gasp of air. It was then that I realised a critical point had been reached; a peak of pain overcome. Feeling some strength start to return, I picked myself up from the hard ground. I then limped on home, knowing that something inside of me had changed forever.

In the months and years that followed that troubled time, I have still been limping on home. I wasn’t completely cured from my problems altogether. Something like that which brings you to the edge of destruction doesn’t just fade totally. But it was a moment that was pivotal for me – perhaps the most pivotal in my entire life. In that field that day was the moment I finally let go of a whole lifetime of suppressing my true self. In that field that day I allowed a persona I had been burdened with by society to be killed and faced the fact of who I really was. Since that turning point, I have gained mental clarity and been able to overcome my inner conflicts and struggles; I have been able to summon the courage to become the person I was born to be, and not the one society tried to mould me into. With a new profound faith in my own inner being, I have continued my adventures all over the world, I have summited the mountains, I have trekked the countries, I have wrote the words – I have stopped caring what other people think of me and come to terms with the fact that I am a born outsider. With myself adjusted to this new state of being, I have found my true calling and followed it fiercely with all my heart and might and passion. The tides have turned once again, and I now stare into those morning mirrors, proud to see my authentic self gazing on back at me, ready for whatever’s next upon the great journey of life.

You know, it is true that many times in this life an individual suffers tremendously with coming to terms with who they really are. Human society and the cultures we exist in are enough to send any man or woman into isolated states of despair and depression and desolation. With everyone around you trying to mould and shape you from a young age, it’s easy to get confused and lose yourself in the madness of it all. It truly is a fight to be yourself in this world, especially if you are driven by a deep inner desire that leads you away from the herd. But if anything is worth fighting for, then it is the essence of yourself, and no good warrior ever won a great battle without having to go through some struggles. On the quest to your own destiny you will undoubtedly face isolation. You will face discomfort and doubt. You will face the situation of being misunderstood by those around you. But please, if you feel that fire within you then have a little faith in your inner voice, don’t keel over to something which insults your soul, and don’t give up on yourself just because sometimes you may have to walk alone through haunted places. No, stand up tall and walk wide-eyed into the wilderness. Descend into the depths of yourself and meet your demons face to face. Fearlessly explore every ounce of your own being. After a certain amount of time exploring your inner self, you will go back out into the world as a warrior of the wild, and from that position on you will be stronger and more resilient than ever before. Your eyes will blaze with brightness. Your heart will ache with passion. Your gut will rumble with thunder. With a ferocious tenacity for life, you will live the life that sets your soul on fire – the life that your very heart screams out for. Your path will be thrilling and magical, and when you reach the end of your road, you will have no regrets about the life you lived. You will have a victory of personal authenticity. You will have a victory of individual courage. As you become the person you were born to be, you will have the greatest victory of all:

you will have the victory of yourself.

45387105_1921561121253224_5530518787356360704_n

thoughts

~ The Medicine of a Mountain Wilderness ~

~ The Medicine of a Mountain Wilderness ~

“How beautiful life was that day when you allowed yourself to forget the stress of life and just be happy in the moment. With just a backpack on the trail and the playful hunting of the horizon, how beautiful life was when nothing else mattered except putting one foot in front of the other and just moving forward through time and space. How happy you were when you looked at the world like a child once again and saw the simple beauty of a singular flower swaying in the valley breeze.

In all our civilisation and development, we have led ourselves astray from real wealth – from what really matters. The greatest beauty of the world is so often missed every day because we are too caught up in a convoluted system in which we fly around like electrons in a circuit board. We seek status but not contentment; we seek products but not peace; we seek future but not a connection with the present moment – the only thing we can ever truly experience.

The system has us confused and sometimes all it took was a backpack and a walk in nature to discover our humanity once again. Because out on that trail, I have seldom seen faces of fear and stress and hate that march down busy city sidewalks. The reason why is that everyone shines a little brighter the day they rediscover the playful joy of the natural universe – when they reconnect with their childlike spirit. Everyone shines a little brighter the day they remember that life is a mystery to be experienced, and not a battle to be won.”

49725153_2011504128925589_8172445263814721536_o.jpg

thoughts

~ Home In The Unknown ~

~ Home In The Unknown ~

“A new adventure waited beyond the horizon as I stood alone in that departure lounge once again, feeling the straps of my backpack pull on my shoulders, enjoying the unique atmosphere that comes with having a group of people momentarily enclosed in one space before the explosive power of jet engines left them all scattered sporadically around the globe. As the others buzzed and shopped around, I stood still and stared out the windows dreaming of the upcoming adventure. The planes lined the tarmac outside and my stomach stirred with excitement and apprehension. I was flying solo into the anarchy of another adventure and as always I didn’t know what awaited me out there in the big wide world. Friends or foes? Pleasure or pain? Love or heartbreak? Life or death?

Like always, if I could have known, I wouldn’t have wanted to. For me predictability and order were the slaughterhouses of the soul. To me it seemed too much of all that only took the spark from your eye and the fire from your stomach. It was out there in the eternal mystery of the unknown where the magic and wonder lay. It was out there in the unknown where life was lived at its more furious and fullest. That was the beauty of the adventure which always made come crawling back from the suburban life of security and comfort. So far my ventures into the unknown had brought me many treasures and pleasures. No doubt they had also caused me pain and discomfort too, but it was a small price to pay for the wonders I had stumbled across on my journey through the wild. My soul was stirred by it all. The grand memories. The inner discoveries. The new friends. The burning passions. The feeling of living life at its fullest, knowing that if you were to die in an instant, you would leave the world behind with no regrets at all. That was what kept me returning from the safe and familiar.

When you really thought about it, it didn’t seem to make sense to have such a fear of living in the mystery of the moment. At its core life itself was one big journey in the unknown. At every second we are incarnate in slowly decaying bodies, riding a spinning rock through an infinite universe with nobody who knew to what end. One day we were all going to die and go on the biggest journey into the unknown yet. Still, despite our shared fate and circumstance, so many fearfully refuse the unknown their entire life. They try to organise their lives on a spreadsheet right up until their funeral. They iron out any mystery or wonder. They stamp out any possibility for surprise. For some life is one big wait in that departure lounge, staring out the window but never getting up to take their flight.

Thinking about it all, I suddenly remembered bumping into my uncle walking down the street the week before. After conversing about life, he started to quiz me about my travels. I went and told him all about my adventures and what I had done, and what I had planned to do. As I told him all of this, I could see a spark in his eye, one of bewitched curiosity but also one of sadness. He went on to tell me how he had wanted to do all of that stuff when he was young, but didn’t because he was too set on the security of a steady life. Now all of that had gotten him to where he was now: living alone in an old people’s home, too old and tired to go on the adventures he wished he had went on when he was young.

Thinking back to that conversation I was as ready as ever to hurl myself into the abyss of the unknown. I had even more courage and faith to throw myself into the wild. The gates had now opened and my flight was ready for boarding. I shook myself back to life and I headed toward the plane to begin another voyage out into that big wide world. I thought of the people I was yet to meet, the sights I was yet to see, the feelings I was yet to feel. I thought of the epic adventure that awaited me. I was flying to a country I had never been to, totally alone, but the fluttering feeling in my heart made me feel good. It made me feel like I was going back to a place my soul missed. Back once more into the wild. Back once more into the chaos and madness. Back once more into the beautiful unknown – the only real home I had ever truly known.”

airport-architecture-dawn-227690.jpg

thoughts

~ The Outsiders ~

~ The Outsiders ~

“Too often in this life I have stood before non-understanding eyes, unable to explain how I feel, unable to communicate my total and profound incompatibility with absolutely everything that surrounded me. Too often it has been a case of standing on the sidelines and observing how mindless conformity was rewarded while originality and genuity was neglected. At first, like many, I thought something was wrong with me; that there was an illness that must be cured so I could be like the others. With this in mind I silenced my inner voice and tried to fit myself into the paradigm of my society; but like a jigsaw piece taken from the wrong puzzle, any attempts to slot myself into place only twisted me up and left me worse off than ever. Confused, I returned to those sidelines, trying to make sense of my place in the world. It was a place that was empty; a place that was solitary. It was the place of the outsider.

To others out there who stand on the sidelines and stare in, know that you are not alone in this madness. The problems with cultures is that they seek to mould and meld every unique individual into a particular shape and form – into a being who sees reality in the same way as everyone else, who follows the same path as everyone else. It is a mechanical system and not all of us were meant for such a rigid path or confined state of being. The truth is the second we join a crowd and fit in we sell off a part of ourselves – and for some of us that part of ourselves is simply not worth selling off. There are as many ways to experience life as there are as many people on the planet, and if we were all to follow that same path, the world would quickly become a nightmarish, Orwellian nightmare devoid of art, originality and colour. A fresh perspective is truly priceless in this world and any society needs its outsiders to create the novel, to see the new and rescue the wisdom from the wilderness. This normally comes at a great cost to the individuals who are destined to walk their own path away from the herd.

From the outsiders who do not follow the script of culture and convention, we are often troubled. We suffer anxiety in a crowd, we remain frustratingly misunderstood by those around us, we often turn to the bottle to try and create some excitement. But the cost of all of this is one that must be paid to protect ourselves; it is the price that must be paid to protect the heart of original thought and being. For it was the outsiders who pushed the boundaries of art and science. It was the outsiders who charted the uncharted, who said what hadn’t been said, and who saw what the others could not see. And no doubt in this age it will be the outsiders who will save us all from losing our minds and destroying the very planet we live on.

So here’s to the outsiders, misfits and eccentrics. Here’s to the artists, adventurers and explorers. Here’s to those who march to a different beat; who dance to a different tune. Don’t be afraid to stand up from the crowd and be your true self. Go out there and shine your light. Wear your colours. Scream a little with whatever sets your soul on fire. Fearlessly explore the new and original. Fight for what you believe in. Go forth into this world and don’t compromise your unique nature. Your free soul is a precious and beautiful gift. So hold onto it all you can. Stay wild. Stay weird. Stay wonderful.

This world needs you more than you know.”

art-background-backlit-333850.jpg