It’s been over a year now since I walked the Camino Frances, and the changes that I experienced during the walk are still within me. Here’s an example:
My wife Jennifer and I are traveling through the US at the moment. It’s a massive road trip – already we’ve covered more than 3,000mls in ten days.
In the past, whenever I’ve traveled, I’ve always stayed in good digs. And by good, I don’t mean expensive good, I mean reasonably priced good.
One of the things that terrified me before I walked the Camino was staying in albergues. The notion of dorm styled accommodation didn’t sit well with me. I liked my privacy, my creature comforts, and my security. I liked my own bathroom. I knew I’d have none of these sleeping in an albergue.
My first night in St. Jean Pied de Port was spent in an albergue. And I continued to sleep in albergues for the majority of the walk. I liked the camaraderie, the friendships formed, the discussions over communal dinners – and I liked the feeling of stepping outside my normal pattern of behaviour. Doing something different. Challenging myself.
Yes I stayed in a Parador once – and I loved it. I was sore and exhausted, and I needed it. And I stayed in hotels now and again too, when I needed privacy and space.
I’m not one to extoll the virtues of albergues because I believe it makes the pilgrimage more pure. I think that’s a complete nonsense. Whether you sleep in Paradors or Church cloisters, it makes no difference. You’re still a pilgrim.
Cut back to: My US road trip.
A couple of nights ago Jennifer and I stayed in a forty buck a night motel in a small sleepy town in Mountain Home, Idaho. It was called the Highlander Motel, and I know I would not have stayed there if I hadn’t walked the Camino.
There was a Best Western a mile away – costing $129 a night. Before the Camino, I would have stayed there, no question.
But I drove in to the Highlander, walked into reception, and was given a boisterously warm welcome by the manager, an Indian fellow by the name of Jalan Patel. I asked him where in India he came from – he told me a village north of Bombay – and it turned out I’d once driven through that village.
It must have been very strange for him to be talking to an Australian in Idaho about his ancestral home in Bombay. For me, it was rewarding to be greeted so warmly, and to find a personal connection with the fellow.
I asked to see a room and he gave me a key.
The room was fine. There was no reason not to stay there, other than it was cheap. And that thought – that fear – defines one of my changes post Camino.
In my work as a filmmaker, I’ve had to stay in some dives, let me tell you. Early in my career when I was making documentaries, I traveled all around Australia, all around the world, and the work took me to some very remote places where there was little or no choice as to where I slept.
I remember once sleeping in shearers quarters in the Outback, with a huge red-belly black snake under the bed. It lived there. I had to be careful where I put my feet when I got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. I discovered the red-belly black snake often shifted to the cooler bathroom at night.
The other side of the coin is that in my life as a movie director, I’ve stayed in some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. For two months, Warner Bros put me up in a five star hotel on Park Avenue in New York. The suite had four bathrooms, all with marble floors and gold taps. And I was there by myself. Try as I might, I couldn’t use all four bathrooms at the same time.
The motel room in Mountain Home Idaho had everything I needed:
- Large bed with comfy mattress – CHECK
- Bedside tables with lamps – CHECK
- Power outlet by bed – CHECK
- Table and chairs – CHECK
- TV (not plasma screen, but hey…) – CHECK
- Clock on wall – CHECK
- Fridge and Microwave – CHECK
- Air-conditioner – CHECK
- Hanging space with hangers too – CHECK
- Eco-friendly lights – CHECK
- Washbasin with nice colours – CHECK
- Bath with nice colours – CHECK
- Shower with shower curtain – CHECK
- Additional toilet paper – CHECK
- Free wifi, that worked – CHECK
- Vending machine by front door – CHECK
- Free parking – CHECK
The swimming pool was not really suitable for swimming, unless you were a frog or a mosquito larva.
The grounds needed tending, admittedly –
But in a corner for some inexplicable reason there was a patch of green grass complete with sprinkler.
And I liked the signage out front.
As I was about to leave, I swapped cricket stories with Mr. Patel who was upstairs collecting the linen from the rooms that had checked out.
The Camino has taught me that there’s something wonderful in simplicity, and thrift.
The Highlander Motel didn’t have four bathrooms with marble floors. It didn’t have gold taps. But it had a firm bed with clean sheets, it had free wifi that worked and was fast, it had good bedside light and power outlets where I didn’t have to shift a bed to plug in my laptop.
And it was $41 for the night, including taxes.
The way I looked at it, It was way better than some of the albergues I’d stayed in. It had everything I needed for a good night’s rest.
If I hadn’t walked the Camino, I would have stayed in the Best Western. I wouldn’t have met Mr. Patel, I wouldn’t have talked cricket, and I wouldn’t have had nearly as good a time…