Day 30 – Villar de Mazarife to Astorga

The guy in the bunk below me is from Brazil. When I arrive in the dorm he is in full flow with a French woman about how the Brazilian election result is a good thing. His argument revolves around nearby Venezuela being socialist and people starving on the streets. He starts to include me in this conversation as I take my clothes off. “What do you think of when you think of Brazil?” and he throws a gesture and look to me. I immediately reply “Poverty, overcrowding and crime,” but he’s not listening. “Beaches,” he says, “Big hotels and fucking beaches and food but it’s not like that…” I am not equipped to comment, knowing next to nothing about Brazilian politics or Brazil but he is passionate here, and he’s not a very listeny person right now. His argument is inherited but it’s vehement – the fury of the convert. At one point he plays us an audio clip of someone else talking. The speaker we listen to repeatedly uses the phrase “I tell you.” His argument is incoherent but angry and mostly aiming to convince us that fascists aren’t fascists, we are using the wrong language, we should stop calling each other names and warm up the vats and get dissolving. He points at his phone. “That is what I think,” he says proudly about these nonspecific utterances made by someone that isn’t him. The more he shows me and the more he talks the more I am concerned by the simplicity of his thinking. He’s an ant. He’ll do what he’s told by the queen. “There is overcrowding and crime,” he informs us. I cut off. “I’m sure these guys will help with the overcrowding,” I assure him mildly, and go and have a shower.

Normally I am careful not to roll over too violently when I’m sleeping on the top bunk, out of respect for the person below me. I’ll sleep freely tonight.

I’m in Astorga.


I haven’t seen the town properly because I got here quite late and it gets dark earlier now. I’ll have a potter around tomorrow when it’s not Monday and things are open. Today was glorious but cold. The wind is relentless and icy. All the blood is tingling in my face. I had four layers under my windproof and was soaked when I took them off during that Brazilian harangue. I forget I’m on a Catholic pilgrimage sometimes. It was beautiful despite the wind. Big skies, maybe made more lovely by the fact they were defined by clouds.


I’m bumping up against many of the same people again and again now, and it’s pleasantly familiar.


Last night I ate with the odd guys. They were pleasant. I’m not in a pie. They’re odd towards me because I’m not doing it right in their eyes. They do this every year and it’s a social exercise for them. They do it to make friends. “Why have you taken so long to eat with us?” I don’t even know how to answer that. I just haven’t.

I get on with people even if I don’t see eye to eye with them on this route. I’m not here to make friends, even if Luisa was a breath of fresh air. I often reject unthoughtful behaviour, even if personally I think too much for my own good. Faith though – faith is an act of heroic thoughtlessness. I respect faith and people of faith for that reason – it’s hard, particularly in this environment.

The arguments against specificity in belief structure are eloquent, compelling, unbreakable and extremely boring. It’s why, in my pantheistic fervour, I practice a Buddhism that rejected idols and priesthoods and rebranded as a non-hierarchical lay-society. It fits me. It’s a rebel faith with a history that fits my priorities. And I can clean stones in the moon and dabble in shamanism without anyone telling me I’m a heretic. And you’re welcome to whatever faith structure you like when you’re around me. I’ll never tell you you’re wrong because nobody can because we are all right and wrong simultaneously.

My  concern with this stone cathedral faith is that it puts the answer outside of you. That’s all. I’ve met plenty of extremely thoughtful, intelligent and wide angle people with strong faith in this monolith. But there are also – by necessity – a lot of unthinking obedient ants. The guy in the pulpit talks to the guy in the sky. He tells you which ants are good and which are bad. None of them are us. Like the guy on the internet – “I tell you.” So off we chitter to do the bidding of the queen ant.

It’s the guy with the loudest voice, the guy with the best connections, the guy with the money or the position. It’s not you. Not in this faith. I’m to blame. I’m not worthy. Lord. Father. Senõr.

I’ve started to chant to the path now. Hoping I can resonate it a little bit kinder. I’ll try to web good energy to the guy below me tonight. It’s getting messy in the world. Even when I get the local London news someone has punched a woman on a train for speaking Spanish into her phone. If the assailant was here he’d be asking for chips, in English, in capital letters. It’s abject. But there’s nowhere to move to because the world is fucked. I remember the barman in Dubrovnik again, two weeks before the Brexit vote. “Ahh you’re English. Terrible international responsibility.”

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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